Like a lot of young people in often-rough hoods like Mbombela’s Pienaar township, 20-year-old Smash Shadow got away from the noise through soccer.
But all his PSL dreams died when his respiratory system, on account of asthma, forced him out of the pitch. It was at this moment that young Shadow, while listening to J. Cole’s Friday Night Lights, had an epiphany — music.
“I couldn’t actually understand much, but my heart would get so emotional when I heard the beat bumping,” he says about his first encounter with hip-hop. “I cannot forget [Friday Night Lights], it dropped late 2010, around November. My December was hip-hop that year…I had to have a verse of my own to rap to friends”
Those verses got dope enough to get him some traction in his hometown. So dope that he bested four other rappers to win the Mbombela Lyricist Cypher competition in November. So dope that the young’un, while trying to get his matric, recorded and released his debut EP —October 06th: Birth of a Young King.
You recently dropped your EP. How was the process of you making it, especially considering that you were in matric?
All the studio sessions were special. I would always be emotional seeing the progress I was making with the project. I won’t lie and say it was easy and all that, but making October 06th was a living hell. My parents’ biggest fear was me failing matric because of music. I couldn’t compromise…sleepless nights trying to make songs and other sleepless nights of studying. I was writing my final exams when I was about to finish it.
You won the Mbombela Lyricist Cypher competition recently, how was that?
It was really amazing. I’ve never entered a competition that required my rap skills before. It was the first one, and I won? Really, it was a dream coming true.
Did you feel validated by your win?
Honestly, I did, bro. I overcame so much there. I overcame my nervousness and other rappers…who wouldn’t feel like that?
The Dope Nation ZA staff speaks a lot about regional hip-hop and how it never blows up. What makes Mbombela rap different from the rest of the country and continent? Is the new generation of Mbombela hip-hop even carrying that ‘burden’?
In my opinion, the talent, bro. We got a lot of talent here…it gets me nervous sometimes [laughs]. The likes of Pressure, First Class Audio, Imaan Ronan, Topaz […] it’s sad to know we are all still local artists with no national recognition. Hip-Hop is alive in Mbombela, bro. Homies is hungry with no Food to eat!