Celebrities act so weird & I'm the opposite of that: Nasty C
Thembalethu Zulu goes go-karting with Nasty C and discovers that he's not nasty at all
"Every scar came with a scandal, but it's nothing jigga jiggy can't handle. Should I tell you he doesn't introduce himself, and that's not because he doesn't have no manners," raps Nasty C when I ask him to help me write the intro to this feature.
He obliges after a moment of hesitation and claiming he doesn't know what to say. After confirming he should do it in the third person, he gets going. At the end he looks decidedly impressed. As am I. We even high-five.
But before the rapper gets comfortable enough to help me craft some of my work, he'd arrived a few hours before in the back of a dimmed-out MPV, somewhat sullen. He makes it clear face-to-face interviews are not his thing. He prefers telephonic or text.
We are going indoor go-karting as a way to break the ice. He had contemplated soccer but thankfully he changed his mind. He's got his hands in his pockets, headphones on, listening to music while he waits for me to organise our laps.
After choosing how long he wants to kart for (20 minutes, a compromise from his initial choice of 30) we head to the track. But not before his videographer, Teddy (also his best friend and oldest fan, he says), takes up position in the middle of the pit to capture the star unleashing his competitiveness.
At some point after lapping me at high speed he still has time to stick out a hand and wave bye to me.
After two 10-minute rounds, Nasty is decidedly warmer - physically after a fast-paced race, but also in personality. As the first people on the track we had the place to ourselves, but now a group of friends is getting ready to zoom about so we move
to a restaurant, despite his reluctance to go somewhere more public (in case people interrupt us).
KEEPING IT LOW-KEY
As we make our way through a sparsely populated mall - it's a Tuesday morning - Nasty pulls up his hoodie in a fashion familiar to those trying not to be recognised. He puts it down to a bad-hair day and the cold. He is determined not to be referred to as a celebrity.
"You don't see me with shades, you don't see me walking around the mall trying to get noticed, you don't see me in the club with models and all that shit," he says when I ask him what it feels like to be a celebrity. "Celebrities act so weird and I'm the opposite of that," he says.
Bling is being young, shining, creative and something that everyone likes ... strings is the guitars, the violins and also relationships and connectionsNasty C on why he called his new album 'Strings and Bling'
He's invited me to call him Junior like his friends do, part of his full name Nsikayesizwe David Junior Ngcobo. He orders still water (he declines anything to eat). He is dressed in tracksuit pants and sneakers, with a designer bag strung across his chest, and tells me about his sophomore album, Strings and Bling, which took him about a year to complete.
Its 17 songs were cut down from the 21
he recorded. He explains the album's title: "Bling is being young, shining, being creative and being something that everyone likes. I'm not wearing any bling right now, unfortunately [he's wearing two diamond stud earrings], but bling is one of the things that I put on. The strings part of it is the guitars, the violins, all the string elements. And then strings is also relationships, strings is connections."
A few weeks before dropping the album, the rapper teased fans with two singles dropped on the same day: King (completed over a year ago), and Jungle (the video for which was shot in London's seedy district of Peckham) and then a few days before the album release, Legendary (one of his favourites).
Nasty, who hails from the south of Durban, started rapping when he was "about 10 or 11 years old". He once walked 45 minutes to get to a studio where he recorded his first song. That is where he also got his stage name, originally Nasty Cat. His main influences were Lil Wayne and T.I., which might explain the slight American drawl he speaks with, infused with bouts of Zulu.
There's a dichotomy about him. One minute he's a fresh-faced 21-year-old laughing while bowled over the table, the next he is a heavier, more thoughtful artist who is quite guarded.
He references his growth as an artist and attributes some of that to reading "textbooks to pass life" like Think and Grow Rich, and The 48 Laws of Power. But then, just as easily, he speeds up in speech as he shares his love for PlayStation, sketching and watching stand-up comedy.
WATCH | The music video for Nasty C's single Jungle
The young rapper doesn't make a lot of eye contact but he's not distracted: in fact, even though his phone is right in front of him, he doesn't look at it other than to search for a quote he is currently using to motivate himself.
When speaking, he regularly looks at one point as if accessing the information from a file reserved for when he needs to deliver a well-articulated speech.
Conversation is flowing, although he admits he can be abrupt during interviews. Asking him about his family gives me a taste of this. It is one of the few times Nasty looks at me dead-on. He leans back as if sizing me up, deciding if he'll let me in further than he has.
TATTOO TRIBUTE TO MOM
Is his family important to him? Curt answer: "Yeah. Very." I wait. He maintains eye contact then eventually continues.
He's number seven in a family of 10 siblings with whom he is now close, he misses his older sister's cooking and he and his dad, who wanted him "to go to school ... be a doctor or a lawyer. He wouldn't give me time to explain or tell him what I want to be", are now in a "good place".
Nasty speaks with an earnestness that reveals his sensitivity, but just as easily and quickly protects his heart - over which he has tattooed a fuel gauge measuring empty with the words "unconditional love" inscribed underneath. His tattoos (he's not sure how many he has) are a telling canvas of his life so far.
One is a tribute to his mother, who passed away when he was 11 months old. He volunteers the information (which he has shared many times before) with ease.
But then he goes deeper, describing the tattoo that takes up most of his left forearm. It is made up of large ivy leaves (his mother's name was Ivy) that lead up to a mini forest.
"So this is also ivy trees but these are dead, so this (birds flying above the trees) is her spirit and her being free. This (an eye with tears streaming down) is the pain and everything that she went through to grow me, to give me life to feed me."
He designed it himself.
"I would rather look up to my mother than anyone who's alive. I know she sees everything that I do - the good and the bad. So I know she knows who I am, she knows what I am, and I'd like to think that she would never turn on me. A parent should be someone who'll never judge you for who you are.
"They understand you when you go do this and that and they still love you and they still guide you. A pure parent," he says of the woman he has written a number of songs for.
Strings and Bling is the first album that doesn't feature a song for her but the original rumoured album title was Ivyson (it's also the name of his record company).
As we carry on chatting, he tells me his first big cheque was blown on a Rolex, how one of his favourite meals is amasi, how growing up he used to make stuff out of clay and why he no longer drinks vodka.
For someone known for his bravado and typical rap swag, he is genuinely taken aback and uncomfortable with my suggestion that he is a genius, even though this is a popular opinion. He denounces the title with a charming and embarrassed boyish grin.
"I don't wanna say genius ... What's like genius's small cousin? I'm on my way to genius, young genius," he says. "I still have errors. In everything I do there is still so much to learn. I still have to read more, I still need to travel more, I still need to taste more, I'm not a genius ... yet."
• 'Strings and Bling' is out now.