Like many people these days, South African rapper Nasty C is hunkering down to stay safe. But even from the comfort of his home in Johannesburg, he keeps a tight schedule.
“I’ve just been trying to keep busy, bro. Trying to make sure I stay on my toes and I don’t lose my creativity,” Nasty C tells For the Record. “It’s a very crucial moment in my career.”
The emcee, born Nsikayesizwe David Ngcobo, has come a long way since he first started honing his mic skills as a 9-year-old growing up in the coastal city of Durban. After drawing attention from fellow South African artists like Cassper Nyovest and Tellaman and collaborating with stars from as far off as Nigeria and New York, he’s now poised to make a huge impact as he secures his place in front of a global hip-hop audience.
Nasty credits Spotify for helping introduce his songs to new listeners around the world. He was one of the top-streamed artists on Spotify South Africa in 2019 and also features prominently on much-streamed playlists like Most Necessary and No Wahala.
“It’s life-changing. It’s just made it so much easier to connect with people outside our borders,” Nasty says. “It’s almost as if it shops your music around for you.”
In fact, Nasty just signed a deal with Def Jam Recordings, the pioneering New York hip-hop label that’s also home to artists like Big Sean and Kanye West. And in June, he dropped “They Don’t,” a heartfelt single about social justice featuring one of his childhood heroes, legendary Atlanta rapper T.I.
“T.I. is the reason I picked up a pen in the first place,” Nasty says.
It was Nasty’s older brother who first taught him how to make beats and spit rhymes. Many South Africans are more familiar with kwaito, a local take on house music and hip-hop that first emerged in the 1990s. But Nasty was immediately enamored by the sound of American artists like Lil Wayne and Future. As he honed his flows and developed his voice, he also took inspiration from South African stars like AKA, who was integral in building a local English-language hip-hop scene in a country where many performers sing in South African languages.
Nasty was only 15 when he dropped his first mixtape, 2013’s One Kid a Thousand Coffins. Soon he was attracting industry attention and building a fan base across the country. In 2015, he won the Best Freshman trophy at the South African Hip Hop Awards. Not long after, he got a message from Nigerian Afrobeats star Davido inviting him to contribute a verse to a dreamy hybrid of Afrobeats and trap titled “Coolest Kid in Africa.”
Now Nasty is preparing to drop his latest album, Zulu Man with Some Power. With appearances planned from prominent names like T.I. and No I.D. (who produced JAY-Z’s album 4:44), the album represents a major step onto the global stage. Joining the Def Jam roster, Nasty can’t help but feel honored by this recognition from the hip-hop establishment in the United States, where hip-hop first started.
Naturally, this forthcoming effort also gives Nasty the chance to show the world what South Africa—and South African hip-hop—is all about.
“Without hip-hop, I don’t know how I would’ve made it to where I am right here. It’s given me a voice. It’s given me confidence to speak on certain things, to speak for a generation,” he says. “It’s a big step—it’s like me coming of age.”