I was at an award show last year that is meant to honour the best in local hip-hop. This fairly popular show drafts lists of nominees in various categories, from which a group of judges then selects a winner.
What I noticed, though, is that, for the most part, the same people won awards throughout the night. I was particularly surprised when it came to the sisters of hip-hop.
The category for best female rap artist included a name I wasn’t too familiar with and, from the 30-second clip they played as her face rolled across the big screen at The Lyric theatre, I knew she was probably the most gifted rapper in this category. But, in the end, the award went to a more established name and, for the remainder of that night, acts like Tyrant were overlooked for more commercial rappers like Kwesta.
Those 30 seconds stuck with me and I had to track Tyrant down.
“My name is Mmabutsi Jacqueline Mmatshepo Mathabathe. I was born and raised in Benoni, East Rand, but my home ground is Dennilton in Limpopo. I will be 22 this year,” the humble beast on the microphone tells me.
Tyrant has been a writer for 13 years and a recording artist for seven. The driven writer says she fell in love with hip-hop at a young age through her father’s music collection, which included artists like late rapper Tupac.
Tyrant explains: “My whole family loves music, especially hip-hop. My father kept a huge box of cassettes. We would listen to all his favourite hip-hop artists, including Tupac, and rap along to the songs.”
She became hinged on hip-hop so much that she even started writing her own verses to rap music. She honed her skills while being near her father and uncle, who would talk about rap regularly together, and studied the art under their guidance.
As for the method she uses to craft her music now ... “I research and study the world the best way possible. I make sure that every song I write has unique content to it. I like to keep my verses a bit complex. People lose a bit of excitement for your music when you rap about what they already know, or something similar to what they’ve heard from another rapper before.”
Tyrant is influenced by an array of artists. “My current international musical influences have to be Pharoahe Monch, Black Thought, Jean Grae, Rapsody and Busta Rhymes. I was featured on a rap album produced by Def Jam called Soul Purpose along with Pharoahe Monch, who I really wish to collaborate with one day. He’s my favourite rapper and has been the inspiration behind my lyricism. My local musical influence is most definitely Proverb.”
Her EP called Stress of a Genius is a hidden gem. I could quite easily liken her to a Bahamadia or a Yugen Blakrok. Parts of this record sound like they come straight from the Soulquarian era (Questlove, Erykah Badu, D’Angelo), so you might want to make sure you’re careful who you play this around. The production is relentless boom bap with a fresh sound and crisp production provided by MBzet, who has worked with the likes of Big Zulu, Proverb and Zakwe. It’s an emotive project that, for Tyrant, is the most essential thing to have in her music.
She is working on new music and informs me that we can look forward to a few videos and performances galore.
“My EP titled Stress of a Genius is available on all digital platforms for online purchase and streaming.”
There are few things I enjoy more than pointing out a wack rapper, so you can believe me when I say Stress of a Genius will be on heavy rotation at my house.