He’s a poet of the streets, a rapper whose lyrics are provocative and perceptive and a performer whose in-your-face style has helped him amass legions of fans and some of the top awards in the business.
With all this going for him, you’d think YoungstaCPT would be all bravado and swagger – but you’d be wrong.
Hip-hop’s man of the moment is rather quiet and reserved. He’s a self-professed introvert who doesn’t like being around too many people.
"I don’t mind being in the background. [I’m] often heard but seldom seen," says YoungstaCPT, whose real name is Riyadh Roberts. But he’d better get used to people wanting to see more of him.
He won big at the 2019 South African Hip Hop Awards, scooping the coveted album of the year award for his debut album, 3T (Things Take Time), and the best video award for the track (YVR) Young van Riebeek.
The 27-year-old can’t hide his pleasure over his night of glory when we meet him at his Y?Gen Apparel store in Wynberg, Cape Town.
"It feels good to be recognised by your peers and by heavyweights in the industry, because that’s when people start to take you seriously," he says.
He’s known for rapping in his vernacular – an instantly recognisable mix of English, Afrikaans and slang – and shoots most of his music videos in locations that showcase the diversity of the Cape coloured culture.
But despite his success, YoungstaCPT hasn’t always been confident in what he was selling.
"I was hesitant at first," he says. "But I knew it was a special product. I knew what I was producing wasn’t your everyday run-of-the-mill songs or subject matter.
"In my earlier music I tried to rap in an American accent because I was self- conscious about my accent.” But he stopped doing that because "I realised no one cares". And if they do, he adds, "I can’t please everyone."
As a boy growing up in Wittebome in Wynberg, YoungstaCPT was always intrigued by hip-hop culture. His mom, Rafieka Roberts, played a lot of music "so that the house wouldn’t be too quiet because there was just the two of us,” he recalls. “House music, lounge music, dance music – but out of everything she played I liked hip-hop the most."
When rap blared from the speakers, YoungstaCPT, then still a young boy, would pay attention. "I’d think, ‘Yoh, what are they saying here and how are they rhyming these words?’"
He was 12 when he released his first mixtape and by the time he was 19 he’d opened for American rapper Lil Wayne at the Bellville Velodrome in Cape Town.
To date, he’s made 30 mixtapes and several EPs and music videos. His award-winning album, 3T, is narrated by his grandfather Shaakie Roberts (81), whose photograph is on the cover of the album.
It deals with issues such as imperialism and slavery. Much of the album’s content is based on stories Shaakie shared with him. He jokes that his grandfather is the reason he won the award.
"First album, award-winning, without my face on the cover? I mean, what more do you want?"
The album is not only an ode to the Cape Flats and the complex issues of coloured identity. It’s also a means of safeguarding his grandfather’s legacy, YoungstaCPT explains.
"I lost my dad and then my grandmother, both within the space of two years," he says. "So I started getting afraid about who was left around me."
YoungstaCPT doesn’t speak much of his dad’s death but says they had a difficult relationship when he was growing up.
"When I started rapping, my dad listened to my music. He heard his name being mentioned and the things I spoke about him and he was like, ‘I didn’t know you felt this way about me.’
"That honesty in my music helped my dad understand how I felt about him and how I needed him more in my life."
Scooping to album of the year at the SA Hip Hop Awards
Winning the album of the year award came as a surprise but YoungstaCPT says he knew the best video category was his for the taking.
"There were good videos nominated in that category but nothing like what I did," he says. "I shot a video about slavery and based it on Jan van Riebeeck. In my version of the story, the slaves make it off the ship and are free. I’m Young van Riebeek. I’m the coloniser but I’m recolonising. I’m taking back what was taken from us."
Making the win even sweeter is that he’s an independent artist, which means he produced and marketed 3T from his own pocket.
"There were offers [from record labels] but I never felt like they saw the value in what I was doing," he says. "They wanted me but they didn’t want to invest in me. So I figured I may as well invest in myself."
It’s evident throughout our chat that the rapper has a soft spot for his community. Every few minutes a group of wide-eyed young boys stop outside the glass-panelled office in his shop to greet their icon.
And each time without fail YoungstaCPT flashes them a smile and waves. It’s these kids he wants to influence with his annual school tour.
Each year, he visits various schools in and around Cape Town to perform and give motivational talks.
"I want them to know that limits can be pushed," he says. "There’s a very low expectation of us as coloured people in this country. People don’t expect us to excel and become president or an award-winning rapper. So, because they don’t expect that, let’s show that’s who we actually are."
He has big plans, such as expanding his Y?Gen Apparel store, which opened in July last year. The store sells everything from T-shirts to sneakers and is just another way for YoungstaCPT to cement his brand.
"I’ve studied American rappers and they always have their own clothing brands. So naturally I had to have something that links to my music."
He also plans to build his own studio. "I want more independence, more entrepreneurship, more solution-building – self-improvement, self-awareness. More than just the music."
YoungstaCPT has used his underdog status to his advantage, he says, and hopes other up-and-coming artists see there’s value in doing the same.
"Sometimes being underrated or unappreciated can work in your favour. That way, no one thinks you’ll be the one to pull the mat from under them.
"And by the time they look up, you’re ahead. Because they were never paying attention to you."