Costa Titch: A young superstar gone too soon

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Constantinos (Costa Titch) Tsobanoglou died on March 11 during a performance in Nasrec, Johannesburg.  Photo: Gallo Images
Constantinos (Costa Titch) Tsobanoglou died on March 11 during a performance in Nasrec, Johannesburg. Photo: Gallo Images

The country is mourning yet another death in the music industry, as another hip-hop artist has lost his life just a month after the death of music legend Kiernan “AKA” Forbes. Constantinos Tsobanoglou, more popularly known as Costa Titch, passed away on March 11, after collapsing while performing at the popular annual Ultra Music Festival at the Expo Centre in Nasrec, Johannesburg. 

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The young performer lost his life at the age of 28 and tribute posts from fans and celebrities alike have been flooding the internet ever since.  

When Costa hopped onto the scene, no one could have predicted the kind of artist he would eventually become. He first came under the radar as a dancer in his hometown of Mbombela in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga. With a keen sense of rhythm, Costa pursued his dancing passions and tried his luck with hip-hop dancing and won his first competition at the age of 16 at the Hip Hop International Dance Championship in Las Vegas. He then joined the dance crew, New Age Steeze, with fellow dancers Phantom Steeze and Tumi Tladi. 

His breakout hit Nkalakatha Remix, featuring fellow rappers and late legends Riky Rick and AKA, became his claim to fame and put the artist on the map, where he eventually signed an international deal with musician Aliaune Damala Badara Akon Thiam, popularly known as Akon, and his music record label Konvict Kulture.  

My first and only encounter with Costa happened while he was still dancing at the Afrikaans Ghoema Music Awards, which must have been around 2017 or 2018. His presence alone made him intimidating and I remember looking at him on stage and thinking about how much star quality this short white man actually had.  

Unbeknownst to me, I would soon see him on my TV screen as he shined his light unapologetically for the world to see. Over the years, we’d come to know Costa as a man who embraced the spirit of our rainbow nation, with songs and lyrics in local dialects, such as s’Pitori, Zulu and Tswana.  

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In 2020, Costa came under fire for a viral video of him rapping in s’Pitori. Complaints that he was culturally appropriating black culture and only using vernacular languages for financial profit surfaced. While the backlash became as viral as the video itself, Costa ignored the haters and was eventually accepted as a predominantly vernacular rapper who made multicultural music. 

It took me a long time to understand Costa as a valid artist within the mainstream. As conversations surrounding cultural appropriation flooded social media, lines for what constituted this phenomenon had been blurred. At the surface level, it was easier to excuse Costa as nothing more than an artist with a gimmick that painfully looked for the validation of a mainstream audience. 

Historically speaking, this would have been the only thing that made sense. For years, we had creatives like Leon Schuster who paraded in black faces, cosplaying some of the worst stereotypes associated with black people, and a sudden surge of white creators on social media who used black culture as social currency. 

While many of these white artists only provided proof of the harm that came from cultural appropriation, Costa’s artistry existed on the other side of the spectrum. With an intense appreciation for the culture of the country he was born in and the experiences and people he was around and appreciated.  

Costa Titch joined the popularly known 27 club, a rather morbid term used to describe artists who pass away at the age of 27. Costa joined the club with the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse, all reputable names in the industry, remembered for their daring personalities that would shape pop culture for years.

There is a popular quote by US author Dan Simmons that says “Nothing helps an artist's career more than a little death and obscurity”. For Costa’s legacy, this could mean we see a rise in multicultural art that seeks to bridge the gap between artistic tropes that could be considered either black or white.  

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The question of whether Costa will be remembered as a legend is less about his lyricism and musical talent since he has always been right on brand with popular tropes that exist within the hip-hop industry, but simply more for the fact that he was an artist who dared to be his own kind of pioneer. This made him a valid asset to the industry, personifying the heart of the rainbow nation. Costa Titch died a hero in many people’s eyes and left behind a blueprint for how to appreciate culture without taking away from it. 

Costa en AKA
Costa Titch has joined the 27 club, a group of artists who died at the age of 27.
Son verskaf
Costa Titch leaves behind a legacy that personifie
Costa Titch leaves behind a legacy that personifies SA's rainbow nation.

 In part, I think this is why most will remember Costa Titch fondly. Long after his death, his name will be remembered for the beautiful ways that cultures can come together and blend with respect and adoration. Though he is gone, Costa has inspired a new generation of unapologetic and daring talent.

Meanwhile, The Tsobanoglous family has announced that Costa Titch’s memorial service, which was expected to take place on Thursday, has been postponed. They said they would announce a new date and venue soon.

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