Meet Jonny Joburg: a name that pays tribute to a city that is captivating the world with a fresh creative explosion from some brazen and ambitious individuals. Known in the early ’90s simply as Luthando, Jonny is the force and face behind his label Renaissance Rock Recordings, former member of the band SPAZA$HOP BOYZ and an individual who’s shaking things and showing no signs of slowing down. The SAMA-nominated producer has just released a new track ‘Mazishe’, which is also the introductory single from his forthcoming EP titled Sgebengu and he just shot a music video that personifies Joburg’s many characteristics to be released late July 2014! He’s also got a trip planned to head to LA… you’ll have to stay posted to hear the juice on that! We caught up with Jonny for a candid one-on-one about Renaissance Rock Recordings and hip hop in South Africa, use of vernac, and future plans of staging his own coup d’état!
How is your label Renaissance Rock Recordings doing?
RRR is doing well; we are currently representing 21 composers and a number of exciting artists who are busy shaking things, such as Loui Lvndn, Frank Marksy, Frankie Beagle and Dead Alphabet. We’re also in talks with underground rap legends Revivolution and a performance-rap duo by the name of Stash Crew who used to perform with A Brother Moves On.
You’ve also introduced RRR, your new clothing brand. Tell us a bit about this coming together of music and fashion…?
The name of the clothing brand is RRR and it’s a blatant merger of fashion and music. The clothing directly reflects the attitude of the company, which is punk rock. So we’re doing prints that evoke a sense of rebellion and social tension. It’s in the music and it’s in our society, so why not put it in the clothes?
What does ‘Mazishe’ and ‘Sgebengu’ mean? Is the use of rhyming in vernac important for you and what’s been the public’s response?
‘Mazishe’ is Joburg slang for ‘let’s do it’ or ‘light it up’. Sgebengu is a Zulu word for criminal. The use of vernac in the music is important but also second nature, there’s no way anybody can grow up in South Africa — especially in Joburg — and not be affected by the culture. I put the whole city on my back when I used it in my name because that’s how much I love being a Joburg kid and being a South African. The people have responded positively and overwhelmingly to the music and the brand. The kids can tell that I’m actually here for them and not just making a quick buck.
What are your plans for the rest of 2014? And the future?
During the second half of 2014, I’ll be releasing my EP, my DVD, my video, I’ll be going on tour with Revivolution, new clothing designs will be out and I’ll be expanding my brand to overseas. In short, we’ll be staging a coup d’état.
Where in Joburg do you feel most alive?
Downtown baby! Yeoville stand up!
Any upcoming gigs we can look forward to?
Definitely! My management keeps me busy.The biggest will be the the #LIVEFROMTHE011 launch that I’m hosting with GRIME TOWN at the end of July in Maboneng. I’m also branching into public speaking and will be speaking to children at a school in Alexandra township which I’m excited about!
How would you describe South Africa’s hip hop scene? Does it (and if so, why?) differ from province to province; city to suburb…? What are the most significant differences and where do you feel your style is most aligned to?
South Africa’s hip hop scene is growing very well and it’s on pace to be the biggest cultural influencer in this country. My only problem with it at the moment is that it’s very soft and safe. Nobody dares to talk about what’s really going on in society. That’s where I come in, and I think that MAZISHE being played on national radio is a testament to how hungry the public is for a hip hop artist who actually raps about something they can relate to.
My style is not regional, my style is street. I’m aligned to the streets. My experiences are from the streets. Street life is one of the most universal concepts known to man and it connects people from all over our country, continent and planet. I’m just speaking about street life from a Joburg perspective.
We are witnessing a handful of local acts which seem to be getting more support from overseas and by international promoters and labels than local ones. What are your thoughts on this?
I’ve got no problem with anything that serves to take my message further. Give us bigger venues and bigger crowds and you’ll see a bigger change.
How important do you think radio exposure is and how does it directly affect artists’ revenue?
I speak from personal experience when I say that national radio is the difference and performance royalties can be very significant if you’ve had a hit, but artists shouldn’t think about that too much when composing.
Would you still consider there to be an underground music scene with the increasing emergence of artists’ releasing their work online?
The internet only served to grow the underground music scene…
So yes, the underground is alive in Joburg.
If you could work with any local and international artist, who would it be?
Locally I would like to work with the producers Nyambz, PH-Superman and Brian Soko and internationally I’d like to work with Madlib and Pharrell. Ask me in five years if I made all of that happen!
Would you ever host a huge concert from a Spaza container? If so, who else would we see on stage?
When I was in SPAZA$HOP BOYZ, that was our dream so if one small seed is keen I’d love to partner on making that show happen. I’d have Revivolution, Dead Alphabet and STASH CREW open for me. It would be epic!
Tell us about where your style is at the moment… and for a little treat, give us a rhyme that sums up your style in 2014!
I changed my style to a form that I grew up listening to in the ’90s because I felt it would get my lyrical content across better. A rhyme from a song on my EP illustrates the shift… ‘I’m pissing off the government topless like I’m Pac.’
If you could invent a new genre of music, what would you call it?
My new genre of music would be called: ‘Don’t be afraid, be yourself’.
Stay posted to Renaissance Rock Recordings’ Facebook page for updates on Sgebengu, the music video to ‘Mazishe’ and his project in LA!
Interview by Matthew Alexander