Visibly fatigued, Solo meets me at a coffee shop straight off another interview. Still in work mode, he asks me if I got the pre-ordered physical copy from the betrgang.co.za site. I promptly respond that not yet, there was a mix up on the name of recipient. I was named Sizwe.
Solo immediately puts a reminder on his phone and tells me he’ll follow up with the distribution company after our interview.
“Man I’m tired. There’s recording fatigue, which I always anticipate but now with the BETR Gang model, I’ve become, more than a rapper. I’m now into logistic because of the foundation we’ve laid. I follow up daily on site visits, subscribers, and delivery of the album. I’m no longer just an artist but I’m also making sure my art is delivered to the people who want it.”
We expand further on the BETR Gang movement and how that translates not to only the music but his mindset on the whole SA hip hop scene.
“BETR Gang is an incredible team. That’s my squad. It always leaves me lost for words. Can you imagine that? A lyricist lost for words. BETR Gang leaves me like that on the commitment the dudes show to every move we make. I always feel what we doing has gotten bigger than just me, it’s for all of us. Al, Solid (Al DA 3rd and Solid The Gifted of DreamCatchers), Buks, myself…what I do, is for all of us.”
“We have been working together for a while, We Need A Title (Buks and Solo album) came at a time where I was almost complete with “Dreams B Plenty” and Buks was finishing “Pegasus”. It served as a great introduction to what we do. Who BETR Gang is. It also gave me time to fine tune and tweak Dreams B Plenty as you remember, it was supposed to come out last year”
We speak about his sophomore and how has it been since its release and immediately his voice changes into a mixture of confidence and optimism with a touch of a realistic tone.
“It’s crazy, I’ve been deep in admin since the album dropped. From ensuring that the digital part is in international iTunes and not just SA, to partnering with a distribution company in getting the physical copies nationwide. I’m proud of “Dreams.B.Plenty” and it sets me up for the plan I have had for a very long time.”
We quote a line from “Star Dust Remix” from his debut simultaneously, “Dreams A Plenty it would seem we incept / been a part of me way before I peaked your interest”
“[laughs] I’ve never lied in a verse my G”
As audible on records, the mixtape from 2010 Solo, ’14 debut Solo and status quo Solo sound different. I ask him if it was a conscious decision or it happened naturally.
“It happened organically my dude. The mixtape, “No Shades of Gray” was the prelude. This was in 2010. The Dreams plan was formulated in 2008. The debut was the guy who knows something but doesn’t know a lot more. The vulnerable newcomer. For Dreams B Plenty, I’m seasoned. I’ve learnt a lot about the game. I took close to a year just watching and learning.”
“The game is not built for artists like me. You don’t have to play to the game designed by gatekeepers. You look around and see artists leaving the game and ask yourself, are we the last ones left? Is it on me now? At that point, thats where it drives in you that being you becomes even more important. I couldn’t follow the path of others because I couldn’t be others. I’m Solo”
On talking about the album, he breaks down on how his discography is linear and connected.
“It took me close to 18 months to complete Dreams.B.Plenty. Putting in 18 hour days working on it. I wanted the concept to be as crisp and perfectly executed as I can. Everything in it needed to be to the T of the concept I have. We recorded the airport experience. We had actors on the skits. We had my family speak on their story, my mom and dad and my niece. My G, when I tell you that everything as I conceptualized it, it had to be as natural as its.”
The thing about concept albums is, you can’t half step on any detail. Any half step and the whole concept is broken. Many sleepless nights, many hours were put in this album.”
We debate the current climate of SA hip hop where there are more singles than albums.
“Take any start of the year, look how many artists preempt their year. They gonna shut the game down with their albums. We in the last quarter right now and many haven’t dropped an album. With me, I can’t wait. I’m proud of the work I put in to complete an album. I put work in to ensure that the album is a complete body of work. Fam I can’t just wait.”
I ask him how he feels his album fares against any releases this year, he chuckles a bit and with unwavering confidence says,
“We put in way too much work when it comes to albums. Way too much. If ever you wanna compare me with any artist pound for pound, album for album…come test me”
We rewind to the mindset before Dreams B Plenty. Fresh off Freshman of The Year at the SAHHA, becoming Crminal Damage ambassador, getting involved in Coke Studios and the Jeep Renegade campaign.
“You know at the time, there was the decision of Dreams A Plenty Deluxe because off all that was happening. The accolades, the nods, the campaigns…all of that. “Overtime” was the conversation starter. When I listened to it, I mean first line, “Sbali tell them not to provoke me”, that is definitely not vulnerable [laughs] It is definitely not, taking into consideration how vulnerable Dreams A Plenty sounded.”
So at that point, “Overtime” was the step in saying, “You came in the game all shaky and vulnerable, now you have learnt a bit of the game and you are looking at you next destination.” Which is really the point of the album is tell the story of the middle ground, the part where you destined for success and reflecting back.
When I asked him if theres a specific goal he wishes to achieve with this album, he leans back and looks away as if he is seeing it come to him.
“If people can see this album as a success story, a case study, of how a conceptual album is like, how different we can be in this climate, how we don’t need to abide by gatekeepers, how beneficial is taking control of your craft, how being yourself is pivotal…I would say I got the point across.”
“We have kids that want to live the rap life. Kids that look at rap stars and want to emulate that success. But few, scary if none, know how much work you have to put in. They don’t understand that success doesn’t always have to be shiny. We, myself and my squad, work tirelessly that for everyone who has resources abundant to them it looks like we trying too hard. Imagine I surpass all standards with this album, I would have crushed all myths of there’s only one way to be considered successful in this game.”
I ask Solo to round up his album with one word.
“[laughs] One word my G? Okay, the standard…classic.”