All hail the kingmaker: Pro paved the way for SA's rappers
Linda Mkhize philosophically accepts the lack of acknowledgement towards him for his role in building many local rappers' careers, writes Tseliso Monaheng
Moments into our conversation, I ask Linda Mkhize whether he feels he is not being acknowledged for his role in building many a rapper's career; for carving a lane in South African rap and running its course better and faster than anyone else.
His philosophical response catches me off-guard: "That commonly happens. It's like umunt' oyenz' iconstruction. Awumboni. Ei, maar istraat si-grand." (Loosely translated, construction workers don't get the spotlight but you'll see the road they built.)
"It's always the case. We [emerge] from the distance; we've never tried to be kings," and then: "We're peasants, man. All a king does is just wake up, stand there and [address] the village, and indulge. A peasant sits there, by the gate. They can tell when trouble is coming from [a distance], and they're the ones who make the king important. That's just my set-up."
Mkhize's known to the urban, peri-urban and rural massive as Pro, and Maqhuzu in Soweto, the hood he's carried on his decorated sleeve from the get-go. The release of his debut LP Heads and Tales was the most anticipated event in South African hip hop in 2005.
Prior to that he'd been getting championed by everyone from rapper and esteemed godfather to the scene, Amu, to then-radio broadcaster and one-time Y-Magazine editor Lee Kasumba.
LISTEN | Sekele from Pro's 2009 album, Snakes and Ladders,
Signed on a whim to Gallo Records — "I was No1 on [the radio show] Rhyme and Reason for seven weeks. Then uBab' Sipho Sithole washay' u-turn [in traffic] ... the next thing I knew, 'I'm announcing this on radio now. I'm signing this boy!'," he recalls — Pro went on to release DNA before switching lanes and signing on to Thembinkosi Nciza and Sbu Leope's TS Records. At that time it was the biggest indie label there was, with the mask-donning Kwai-comic Mzekezeke as its premier talent.
My assessment of DNA, that follow-up record on Gallo, remains; it was sub-par. Pro is more democratic.
"I suppose people weren't ready. That's why they can listen to [the first release on TS Records] Dankie San, and then Snakes and Ladders, and then go back to DNA and be like 'oh shit, oh this is what it was!'"..