Cape Town - He pulls up in a Jeep, his two assistants toting several outfits from a previous shoot. They’re on hand to style Zulu Mkhathini, but the rapper’s already looking sharp in a maroon shirt and matching tailored pants.
His hair’s closely shaven in a trendy fade cut, his hands freshly manicured. It takes work to look this good, but he doesn’t mind going the extra mile. He has a reputation to maintain, after all. Zulu Mkhathini is the slay king formerly known as Dash from the hip-hop trio Dreamteam.
After eight years with the group, he left in 2017 to make a name for himself as a solo artist.
“I didn’t want to limit myself to being just a rapper,” he tells us. “Not to sound self-absorbed or arrogant, but I’m a brand. It’s what I’ve always wanted to be, and the name Zulu Mkhathini is authentically African, yet it has an international ring.”
Now he’s a brand ambassador for a Swiss watch company and he’s making money through partnerships, endorsements and his own clothing line. But while his fashion game may be strong, music remains his first love. The rapper recently released a track with Moonchild Sanelly – who features on Beyoncé’s latest album, The Lion King: The Gift – and fans are going wild for it.
Shikisha, which means “shake your body”, is the first single off his as yet untitled new album which is due to drop in 2020.
“This is the beginning of something very big coming my way,” he says.
“We’ve all been through a lot in our lives, but let’s try to be happy. I just want people to be happy.”
He says he’s experienced some tough times in his 29 years and will always be grateful to the guys from Dreamteam for kickstarting his career in showbiz. He also wouldn’t be where he is today without the support of his ex-girlfriend, Ayanda Thabethe, he says.
“I was raised by my mom with the help of my older sister. They shaped me. Ayanda had the same characteristics. She was very affectionate. She motivated me to do better.”
They met when Ayanda was transitioning from the corporate world to working in entertainment.
“I had eight years with Dreamteam, so I was a bit ahead. She gave me advice when it came to my work and I did the same for her. I was creative and she was the logical thinker, that’s how it worked. It was great, we had a good run.”
The stylish couple dated for more than two years, slaying red carpets and serving couple goals with their tropical baecations. Fans were shocked to hear last year that they’d split.
“We just didn’t have time for each other and we drifted apart,” Zulu Mkhathini tells DRUM. “Both of us were going through so many changes in our lives as individuals – career, personal life, so many things were happening all at once.
“I was in the transition of leaving Dreamteam and finding my feet as a brand. It led to us drifting apart.”
He doesn’t regret his relationship with the actress and today they’re friendly exes. “God doesn’t make mistakes. He brought us together for a purpose and the same goes with drawing us apart.”
The last time he and Ayanda spoke was on the set of Celebrity Game Night where he was a guest. “We’re cool, we shot together the whole day and it wasn’t awkward at all. “It was like good mates catching up, no hostility whatsoever.”
He’s in no rush to get into a relationship and would prefer not to date someone in the industry. “I just want our spirits to connect before we start dating.
“I behave very differently from a lot of guys I know. I read books, watch documentaries and I study brands. I don’t like small talk. I can’t entertain a random girl I can’t have good conversations with – I’ll end up telling her to read a book.”
He’s always had a solid sense of identity. Born Mthokozisi Nqabakazulu Mkhathini, he grew up in Ntuzuma in KwaZulu-Natal, the only son of Nokuthula Gladness Mkhathini (59). “I’m the heir of theMkhathini home,” he says.
“My mom wanted me to change the black man’s narrative into something positive and the girl I date needs to be the same.”
He has great respect for his mother and sister, Ntombi (30). “Ntombi introduced me to almost everything I know. She started rapping before me, she was dancing and took the lead in everything. I was a rascal growing up, but I never got caught because she laid down the law.”
His late father, Hopewell Zenzamuhle Mkhathini, was a police officer.
“When I was one my dad was involved in a car accident while driving with three other people,” he says. He was the only survivor. “He was brain-damaged and paralysed from the neck down.”
After the accident his mom, who was a housewife at the time, was forced to find work.
“She had a one-year-old child and a disabled husband, so she had to work,” the rapper explains.
“She worked in an old age home while studying to become a nurse. We became like friends because she was very open about our situation.”
“If there wasn’t electricity she’d tell us and help us find games for the weekend.”
Although as a child his mom was his world. The rapper has fond memories of his father and still remembers the smell of his cologne.
“My dad was brain-damaged but he was more of a father to me than many fathers out there.
“My mom would leave for work early in the morning and come back late. My sister would cook, we’d feed my dad and wash him.
“I was very talkative as a child and I’d sit on his lap on his bed playing with my toys. He was very attentive. He made small gestures and said a few words.”
His dad passed away at home when his son was just 10 years old.
“I’ve never since cried the way I did when my dad passed away,” he says.
“No amount of pain can ever compare to losing my dad. So in everything I do, I make sure I represent the Mkhathini name the way my father would’ve been proud of.”