“Ase Trap Tse Ke Pina Tsa Ko Kasi”. For the uninitiated, this is Focalistic’s trademark tagline; a quip that’s becoming quite iconic (Cassper Nyovest once famously borrowed it) and is symbolic of the central conceit driving the South African rapper’s music. Translating to “it’s not trap, it’s songs from the hood”, the tagline lays down a guiding context for how listeners should engage with Focalistic’s music, a proclamation of who, what and where he represents.
While he’s been around for well over half-a-decade, 2020 has clearly been a banner year for Focalisitic, a run catalysed by his willingness to make music inspired by, and for, the hood. As Amapiano grew into the global sound of South African townships and the toast of the continental mainstream, Focalistic became one of the first rappers to co-opt and properly commit to the sound, channelling the liveliness of his gruff voice over the booming beats of the House subgenre. Last year, he teamed up with production duo Major League DJz for a joint EP titled after his tagline, a thumping collection of club-ready songs that’s symbolic of his collaborative spirit with ‘piano producers.
This year, he’s featured on notable projects by Kabza De Small, Semi Tee and Vigro Deep, while also working with the latter for his biggest song yet, “Ke Star”, which appeared on the 3-song pack, ‘Blecke’. Very recently, Spotify named Focalistic as the fifth most streamed South African hip-hop artist on the platform, an achievement in a year where a global pandemic threatened to derail the upward momentum of Amapiano. Putting an exclamation mark on the year he’s had, the rapper dropped his second full project of the year, ‘Sghubu Ses Excellent’, comprising eleven new songs and all three songs from ‘Blecke’.
Following up his April drop, ‘Quarantined Tarantino’, which significantly dabbled in the sonic stylings of contemporary hip-hop, ‘Sghubu Ses Excellent’ is firmly planted in amapiano territory, and it displays how skilled Focalistic has become at adjusting rap cadences to fit perfectly over several variations of the intoxicating blend of Kwaito, Jazz, deep house and diBacardi. Where his preceding projects revelled in riotous exuberance, this new project is the sound of an artist settling into the plushness of superstardom. Standout song, “Onoroko”, distils these musical and thematic aspects into a rolling banger.
Produced by frequent collaborator Semi Tee, “Onoroko” is cut from the diBacardi-dominant corner of amapiano, where innovative use of percussion drives the composition forward and the other parts, in this case a psychedelic piano riff and sci-fi synth effects, create a constantly turning groove. This beat selection is in line with Focalistic’s affinity for production that’s slightly chunky and in perpetual motion, but rather than fight for space, he tends to inhabit them with a playfully magnetic cadence. On “Onoroko”, he’s even more lax, rapping with a carefree conviction that’s instantly infectious and so technically apt it sounds like his casually bending the beat to his will.
“Onoroko” refers to women’s undergarments, and on the song, Focalistic uses lust as the framing device for his rockstar lifestyle. Wooing a potential one night stand partner, he gets self-referential, using his fame and street credibility as his calling card—at one point, he claims that people in his hood call him Mandela, which doesn’t seem far-fetched since he’s already known as the hood Maradona. He’s joined by Ricky Rick and Reece Madlisa, the former being one of the few older hip-hop artists adapting rap to amapiano, while the latter has become a revelation with the headlining smash song, “Zlele”, and a standout guest feature alongside Ricky on Busta 929 & Mr Jazzi Q’s “VSOP”.
Together, the trio (and Semi Tee) build a palpable chemistry on “Onoroko”, playing off each other’s energies, from Reece’s animated yelps to Ricky Rick’s unflappable cool, and Focalistic splitting the difference. This is the second collaboration between Focalistic and Ricky Rick, following Ricky’s “UNGAZINCISHI”, the Tyler ICU-produced cut which converted amapiano elements into a swag rap stunner. Now two for two, their sterling collaboration re-emphasises the efficacy and wide range of possibilities for the convergence of rap and amapiano when done right.
Being the major ambassador of this delightfully oddball union, Focalistic is pushing the boundaries of both these genres, and as “Onoroko” proves, he’s having a lot of fun while doing it.
Listen to “Onoroko” here.
Featured Image Credits: YouTube/Focalistic
Dennis is a staff writer at the NATIVE. Let me know your favourite the Cavemen songs @dennisadepeter