This past Wednesday, SA was shocked by the news that rapper Riky Rick had taken his own life. Phumlani S Langa reminisces about the multitalented creator also known as Boss Zonke.
“Wrote a letter to my n****s, I’m hoping they read it/ Took a break from socialising, I’m feeling defeated/ I’m feeling fatigued, I cannot do it no more/ Emotionally in need of something I threw on the floor, I want a Gucci velour/ Wanted the praise from the fans; to tell the truth I only needed love from my friends.”
This is a snippet of what is said to be the last verse Riky Rick uttered on a track that is yet to be released.
That final recording and his ominous tweet on February 23, “I’ll return a stronger man. This land is still my home”, seem almost like he was preparing us for his death. A suicide note but with the touch of flair that has become synonymous with one of the most stylish rappers we have seen in South Africa.
We have all heard how, on Wednesday, Rikhado Makhado, who was better-known by the moniker Riky Rick, was found dead in his house after taking his own life.
We are only a few weeks away from his street/hip-hop festival Cotton Fest, which was to be the return of hip-hop to the streets after lockdown.
We were about to be outside and now the man responsible for the platform that gives emerging talent an arena to enthral has been taken away from us.
The kind King of Kotini
Anyone who ever met Makhado or was in his presence will know that he was a gentle soul housed in high kotini.
At every event we saw him attend, whether he was billed to perform or not, that man would walk around the entire room making a point of greeting everyone, whether he knew you or not.
A firm handshake or solid pound with direct eye contact and openness in his face was standard.
He became a household name based on the strength of one album, Family Values (2015), and his EP Stay Shining (2017).
His catalogue housed hits such as Boss Zonke, which had the streets shaking during the Boyz N Bucks era – which Makhado was pivotal in orchestrating and which merged local fashion and hip-hop like never before.
Makhado’s transition from vernacular to English raps was seamless and he was never scared to morph his style to fit the zeitgeist or sound palate of the streets. His attempt at riding over an amapiano beat on the track Ungazincishi combined one of the most lavish piano beats with visuals that looked nothing short of ghetto chic.
His run alongside Cassper Nyovest was one of the biggest the game has seen, despite the pair subsequently falling out creatively.
Together, they gave us bangers such as Le Mpitse and Fuseg, which sound as good today as they did when they were released.
Makhado was also on the song Ragga, which provided the game with the best Cassper Nyovest verse you will ever hear.
Shaping Riky Rick
Being raised in KwaMashu, Durban, where he was born on July 20 1987, shaped the essence of his music, and the rap and Durban kwaito community down there has been hit hard by his passing.
By sheer chance, on the day the news of Makhado’s demise was announced, I bumped into Garth Holmes, the co-founder of Afda, the film and drama college that was Makhado’s alma mater.
With a look of disbelief clear even behind his pink mask, Holmes said:
Holmes remembered Makhado as always having abundant charm and charisma, even back when he attended Afda from 2007 to 2009.
“We see a lot of talent coming through at Afda, but every now and then I get a feeling of whether or not someone will do just that [become a star]. With Riky, I always knew it was just a matter of time,” Holmes said.
Aubrey Modise, who has been a staff member at Afda since 2000 said: “It came as a shock to me on Thursday morning when I was listening to Mo Flava on Metro FM saying that Riky Rick had passed away on Wednesday morning. I remember Riky from his time at Afda as very friendly and always making jokes. I never saw him after he graduated until he dropped an album. I was so proud of him. This is a big loss for the entertainment industry. My thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues during this difficult time.”
Another person who was there at the beginning is Nkantu Luscious Dosi, who attended the same institution and is now a lecturer there.
He recalled: “He was such a cool guy on campus. He had something distinct, so spectacular, with how he dressed, spoke and rolled. He was a senior when I was a junior. I’d bump into him at times. Because of the seniority status, I’d give him that honour. But sometimes I’d ask him questions around his fashionable clothing, his style in particular. He was a man of many talents, one of them being a film maker, which most people didn’t know. He studied the craft and worked on several productions at Afda.”
‘Ok, nang’ uboss zonke’
A few weeks ago a video of Makhado and his wife, Bianca Naidoo, surfaced, showing them dancing together to a slow jam.
Makhado extends his arms to embrace his wife, who many said could have looked happier in that moment.
He suffered a fair amount of backlash for that post. It seems like a strange trend in which celebrities, who in their private lives are just regular people, find their lives scrutinised and ridiculed on social media. The same thing happened to actor Patrick Shai.
There might be something to be said for the amount of hatred we spew on Twitter for the sake of likes and retweets, only to lose the talent we humiliate.
Something similar happened to rapper Gigi Lamayne, who was close to the late rapper and fashion icon.
She voiced her feelings around the loss of her brother and confidant as she too struggles with depression:
“There was a time, I remember, when something hadn’t gone my way somewhere and I was going through a really tough time. And, you know, he made sure to show his love publicly. But just sending you that text message or coming to you in your dressing room and telling you to never, ever let people see you down, keep fighting until the end. Because it is a hard battle, this depression and mental wellbeing.”
Artists sometimes do tell us what they’re going through, but the melodies accompanying their pleas might be so infectious that we miss the message.
On a few occasions, Makhado came out and spoke about his issues with depression.
On the radio-friendly title track from his Stay Shining EP, he sang: “I try to get up/ They pulling me down/ They saying my name when I ain’t around/ Stay shining.”
‘Don’t talk to me about charts … Mina, I only do art’
The SA Music Awards (Samas), where Makhado once delivered a powerful rant to young artists about circumventing the traditional structures in the music industry and going it alone, offered its condolences to his family in a statement about his tragic loss, saying: “Riky had a sterling track record at the Samas. He was a winner in the best collaboration category for Imali Eningi by Big Zulu [Siyabonga Nene] at Sama27.”
That track changed the trajectory of Nene’s career and the rapper took to the studio to put one in the air for this fallen soldier of rap.
Podcaster, museum curator and organiser of the SA Hip Hop Awards Rashid Kay said: “I have known Riky Rick for years. We interacted through Back to the City [Festival] and the SA Hip Hop Awards. He was a really chilled dude. We would talk beyond music and what he was doing with Cotton Fest was an extension of Back to the City. I hope that will be carried on in his memory – Cotton Fest must go on in his memory.”
Kay also lauded how much time Makhado would invest in rearing new talent, which Kay says more of the older guard should be doing.
What this means for local hip-hop
His close friend, rapper Da LES (Leslie Mampe) could barely comprehend the news and sombrely told us he had no words to describe how he felt other than heartbroken.
I recall watching Makhado perform at a matric rage.
He had the tastes of those younger than him in sync with his own, and made a marquee of white teens lose their minds with delight at his set. Cotton Fest has now become an even more important event on the local hip-hop calendar.
His platform must be maintained, as it encompasses the beliefs he had and which he instilled in rising talent. You’ll be missed, OG, but your work will remain with us always.
Makhado always stayed shining and, damn, he loved Zulu women – all amantombazani, for that matter.
He showed us what summertime love was all about while chasing amacoins. Everything he did, we wanted to do. He woke up every morning singing for money, and we couldn’t be more grateful that he did.
He is survived by his mother, Louisa Zondo, his wife and his two children, Jordan and Maik Daniel.