Realistic talk with Africa’s Hip Hop Sensation Cal_Vin

Story by Cal_Vin | Written by Gilmore Tee

Hip Hop music has been popular in Africa since the early 1980s due to widespread American influence. Senegal is one of the first African nations to consume Hip Hop. The French speaking nation has produced MCs such as Lida, MC Solaar and Positive Black Soul, who mixed rap with Mbalax, a type of West African pop music. The biggest Hip Hop festival in Africa is Festa2H which is held annually in Dakar, the capital of Senegal.

In same era, the genre moved to Southern Africa with Black Noise being one of the early groups from South Africa to express themselves through Hip Hop. They began as a graffiti and breakdance crew in Cape Town and then started emceeing in 1989. A few years down the line, Africa celebrates AKA, Cassper Nyovest, Tehn Diamond and Cal_Vin, amongst many Hip Hop sensations. I sat down with Zimbabwe’s Cal_Vin, who is heavily influenced by Jay Z, Snoop Dogg, Michael Jackson and a whole lot of realists. To date, Cal_Vin has 18 bodies of work to his name.

Gilmore Tee: You are launching your very first video, how are you processing it?

Cal_Vin: Yeah man, I am excited because it’s my first video as Cal_Vin, the anticipation from everyone is just overwhelming and it’s making me nervous.

Gilmore Tee: You were nominated for the Best Newcomer Award at the Zimbabwe Hip Hop Awards and you did not win it, do you think the winner deserved it?

Cal_Vin: Yes, unfortunately I didn’t win it and I don’t think the actual winners’ song is Hip Hop. The winner might be Hip Hop, but his song isn’t Hip Hop. The guy is more of Dance hall, but despite that he scooped 4 Awards on that night. Anyway, things always happen in their own way.

Gilmore Tee: We are now talking about Cal_Vin getting Nominated for Awards and shooting his first Video, but where are you coming from?

Cal_Vin: I am that Luveve boy, born Mgcini Calvin Nhliziyo in December 1985 in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Cal means devotional and Vin is conqueror. I am not religious at all, but I believe in God. In 2010, I went to South Africa and that is where I polished my music skills. 2013 I came back to Zimbabwe, but I am still that kasi boy no matter what. I grew up in a music background, my cousin Thulani was into rapping and he introduced me to Hip Hop. At 10 years old I started rapping and most of my influence were and is still from Snoop Dog and a whole lot of other artists. My dream was always to be on Television and do music.

Gilmore Tee: You used to sing Gospel Hip Hop, why the transition to mainstream Hip Hop?

Cal_Vin: I guess I was trying to find myself spiritually through doing Gospel Hip Hop. During the course I also realised that I had to find my feet financially, hence the shift. Gospel Hip Hop had so much exploitation from the church, people wanting you to perform for free all the time. At the end of the day, I needed to pay my bills and that financial support never came through from the church.

Gilmore Tee: What did the transition do to your following as an artist?

Cal_Vin: Soon after I stopped subscribing to “going to church”, my following dropped to a third of what I had on all social media platforms, even in real life. Some people wouldn’t even talk to me, and I felt that there was a lot of judgement from the church. The moment I dropped my first “Non-Gospel” track, I regained a huge following from other people I had never met.

Gilmore Tee: What is the broader picture for Cal_Vin the brand?

Cal_Vin: Right now I feel like I just started, the feeling is like going back to 1996 when I started dropping some rhymes. Everything is coming together; all the dots laid out are connecting. It took a long time though for me to finally arrive at this point. Ultimately I would like to become the face of Zimbabwe Hip Hop, because right now it has no face. The future is brighter and I wouldn’t want to limit myself, the desire is to go globally and occupy my space as a Hip Hop artist.

Gilmore Tee: I am a listener and follower, why should I buy your music in particular?

Cal_Vin: My music is real, I tell the truth through my music and it relates to where I come from. A lot of artists are creative, while I am a realist.

Gilmore Tee: What keeps you going as an individual in such a highly competitive industry?

Cal_Vin: My passions keeps me at it, even when I was not being paid for what I did, I would find myself still doing music. I am music and the now and future is to continue producing and equally getting paid for it. I have been calling myself the Angel of music, I know it is a little bit controversial, but that is how I feel.

Gilmore Tee: Hip Hop music is associated with a lot of negativity, and in the African society the stereotypes are greater. How do you challenge them?

Cal_Vin: Well, with my lyrical content I am really involved in the culture and on ground happenings. My music relates to the normal person walking on the streets, it is only when I mention the Hip Hop word that people are like “really”. I have managed to get the word out there and the genre after. But sometimes it scares a lot of people, because Hip Hop is a liberal form of expression, and when it’s done carelessly, people react.

Gilmore Tee: What have been your highlights so far?

Cal_Vin: Yo, it’s like every month there is something major happening. I will go back to 2014, where I had crazy running on the charts. My single was 11 weeks on Number 1 on the Zimbabwean Music Charts and it later on dropped off to Number 3, and a total of 14weeks on the ZiFM Stereo charts. During the same year I got nominated at the Zimbabwe Hip Hop Awards, of course I have my take on the selection process which I think is not properly carried out. I am a guy who likes earning for what he puts out, I work for everything. The nomination looked like I was a face saver for the Southern region of Zimbabwe. I went on to perform during the awarding ceremony, which was cool. I have collaboration with Zimbabwe’s Stunner, which was a cool project to work on. But right now, my first music video is coming out and the hype is ridiculous. I am building and slowly moving in the right direction.

Gilmore Tee: Do you think there is a strong Hip Hop culture in Zimbabwe that can stand out?

Cal_Vin: Not yet, why I am not mentioning a few artists, it’s because there is no one that has produced material that will represent us as people. Nigeria and South Africa have occupied their space in the global Hip Hop music scene. We have a lot of talented Rap artists in Zimbabwe, but people fail to relate to their stories. That is the exact reason why I mentioned that I would like to be the face of Zimbabwe Hip Hop to the rest of the world. A good example of good representation of one’s culture and nation is South Africa’s Hip Hop Sensation – Cassper Nyovest; the brother is pushing his music and his people. It’s relatable.

Gilmore Tee: Is there space for African Hip Hop in the global scene?

Cal_Vin: There is lots of space for African Hip Hop in the global main stream. Firstly, you need to keep it you, be cultured and find inspiration from your surroundings. People will feel that legitimacy from you. Just be real with your music and put yourself out there with good quality. The main problem we have is that many of us are trying to steal the lingo, image and everything about other international artists, hence giving credit to the one you are imitating. It is only when you are yourself that you are able to stand for what you are and that will always attract people. It’s hard to market another Jay Z.

Gilmore Tee: If an opportunity arises in the USA, who would you like to collaborate with?

Cal_Vin: I would like to work with Jay Z, man, I think the dude is dope. The gentleman is a business man and I draw a lot of inspiration from him. He blends in occasionally and he is well disciplined. I am a disciplined artist and he is my ideal person to work with from the US.

Gilmore Tee: How are you positively affecting your society?

Cal_Vin: I am staying out of trouble. When you are in the Hip Hop industry, there is always a negative vibe towards you as a person. I stay away from a lot of things and I have a lot of people in the hood idolising me and what I do. Elderly women want me to wing their children and keep them off their streets. Well, with the younger ladies I keep them on whatsapp to stay out of bad vibes with people.

Gilmore Tee: Hip Hop and Inking, what’s your take?

Cal_Vin: First of all, Hip Hop is an expression. People want to go to the extent of visually expressing themselves. I have one tattoo and I will not be getting anymore. I am a business man and I have other ways of expressing myself, hence my clothing label called Grade Street Collection. The label basically means, we are students on the streets, what we have learnt, borrowed and do, we got on the streets. Every day we are in a class right on the streets. With the same initiative, we produce t-shirts, Caps, backpacks and badges for the youngsters.

Gilmore Tee: What is your take on Iggy Azalea, Drake, Cassper Nyovest and Nicki Minaj?

Cal_Vin: I think Iggy is doing her thing, but I just do not think she is Hip Hop. But again, the fans are the ones that determine who you are at the end of it all. Everyone puts out their music and the fans will automatically become the judges. Drake is an amazing guy, he can sing, he is an all-round artist and has found balance in the industry as a whole. Conversely, I respect Cassper Nyovest and his influence on African Hip Hop. I respect his business side and how he has pushed his brand; I just think lyrically he is not pushing it harder like a few individuals I have gotten to know. I love Nicki for two things; she has these split personalities. She relates to both street and uptown people and has a mixed audience that cuts across colour. The last thing is that she writes her lyrics and her content is 5 stars for me. She is boss!

Gilmore Tee: Does Hip Hop music have a racial association?

Cal_Vin: No, it should not have colour. Currently it does have colour and I think we will see it differently if people are real in their rap. As I mentioned before I am a realist NOT a creative, other rappers create these spaces that even themselves can’t relate to. For example, why I think there is a lot of beef towards Iggy as a Hip Hop artist, is because she sings about things that she creates and it doesn’t add up to her as an individual. It is when you start talking about the ghetto or high society that we start putting colour to music; it should not be like that. Hip Hop is a real culture and you can’t talk to people as if they are robots.

Gilmore Tee: Do you earn enough from your music?

Cal_Vin: It’s a hustle daily, eventually it will pay off. Most of what I earn comes from production, I also produce music for other people and I took time to learn how to do that. I am hoping for more collaboration that will increase my reach and bank account at the same time.

Gilmore Tee: My music is…

Cal_Vin: Authentic

Gilmore Tee: My crush is…

Cal_Vin: …Mbo Mahocs, you did that on purpose.

Gilmore Tee: My latest video is…

Cal_Vin: … a must watch, the video is genuine. I partnered with Vault Cosmetics and Invision in doing my debut video and the feel was so real and organic, it happened just at the right time.

Gilmore Tee: When I am not doing music, I am…

Cal_Vin: …Thinking about doing music. I also watch a lot of comedy and funny enough I featured in a film named Sweet November. I would like to pursue acting; it allows me to get into another world.

Gilmore Tee: My inspiration is…

Cal_Vin: … LIFE. It is defined in my music.

After all, there is a huge space for African Hip Hop in the global music scene. For all on Cal_Vin, check out his website http://www.cal-vin.com and get to exchange dialogue with him. Get his Music on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/album/id845182386

Let me know your thoughts on Twitter @GilmoreTee & HashTag #OTNGtee. I would love to here from you.

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