In Studio: FonZo

July 27, 2017

From having multiple features in Hype Magazine to his countless releases, FonZo is an active member of Cape Town's underground hip hop scene. Having just dropped his latest release 'Memoirs from the Night Show' he came to Red Bull Studios to work on a new, more soulful expression of his sound. We chatted to him about getting into hip hop, his evolution as an artist, his latest project and hopes for the future.

Did you have a musical childhood?
Funnily enough I was not involved with music for a very long time. I’m from Port Elizabeth and my mom’s family is from Cape Town so it was always separated. So it was long car drives with an older brother, a mom and a dad. I’m not gonna lie and say I grew up to Wu Tang Clan and whatever. I was more Celine Dion, Peabo Bryson, Dionne Warwick, it was just a lot of soul music and a lot of sing along songs from my parent’s time that kind of driveled down into me. I didn’t actually have a very musical upbringing in the sense of I wasn’t surrounded by guitars, pianos and whatever. All of that started when I moved to Cape Town.

When did you discover hip hop and who do you consider your influences?
My mom has a younger brother and him being in his 20s in the 90s was definitely the spark at the time. Hip hop was this new thing that was taking over the world in terms of fashion and radio. Tupacs, The Notorious B.I.G., Nas dropping an album that in two years was already considered like whaat? He was 19 when he made that. My uncle left a Nas album when he used to stay with us for like 4 years or so. He left me the Nas album ‘I Am’ and I picked that up. I wasn’t at the stage where I could fully comprehend everything they were saying lyrically, but the fact that I could hear that there was this side to hip hop that wasn’t like Nelly or Ja Rule, Nas was actually telling stories and was actually trying to spread a message. When I realised you could do that with hip hop I was like what, there’s more to this? This is like a story from a different perspective.

My first encounter I think I was 12 years old when 50 Cent’s ‘The Massacre’ dropped, 2005. I’m a 93 baby. I actually cried for that album. It goes against everything my parents believe but 50 Cents was the biggest superstar I feel. To this day no one came into the music industry the way he did. I’m talking like people deep in the Congo were wearing G-Unit sweaters and the jeans and the wife beater and the Reeboks. 50 Cent had everything in a choke hold for about 3 years so being that kind of like 50 Cent gangsta, club music and then finding at 15/16 that Nas is actually telling stories with it. That changed my whole perspective on music, lyrically and content wise. Sonically again the soul was always there, it was always in the background. So definitely Nas. And Kanye West. When I was about around the same age when I realised Nas was talking about this and that I couldn’t necessarily relate to being on the street hustling at 19. I could vibe to it, it was beautiful music.

Then Kanye came along and he was saying I’m wearing pink polo crew necks, I’ve got a backpack, I’ve got jeans on, I make dope music and the first album for me was just like what? Who is this guy? Because he took everything I liked about hip hop and put it into one thing. He had the storytelling, he had the witty remarks, he had beautiful music. He had orchestra influences. So when Kanye came through it was late. That was when everything made sense. Combining the soul samples with the storytelling and just music that was appealing to the club and to your mind. Nas, Kanye definitely my two biggest influences.

You first release was in 2012. How have you evolved since then?
It was actually 2011. I don’t count it as my first release but I took beats off of YouTube and and did a project called 'No More Favours' which was actually technically the first release. But the first actual release, I was blessed in the regard that the first ever full length mixtape that I put out landed up in Hype Magazine. When I dropped my first project and I was in Hype I was like ‘yoh, I’m gonna make it now!’. And it just turned out that it was a solid offering and from there it was a bunch of growth. So it used to be a lot of introspection. A lot of optimism. Being 18, fresh out of highschool. It wasn’t easy, it just got harder and harder. Just trying to impress people and get people’s ear to listen to what you have to offer musically. ‘Therapy’ was rapping. The whole project played out as a therapy session and that’s what got me the review. And that was very pen. That was all me writing. 

Musically I feel ‘Lucid Dreaming’ was a turning point in terms of FonZo is now longer a dude with a pen and a pad. That’s when I consider myself making music. I’ve always made beats for myself but when I lined up with Yuri it was special. I feel FonZo is no longer a rapper. If you’re gonna ask me about who I was in 2012 and who I am now? I’ve put so much time, it’s been 5/6 years of dropping out of a chemistry degree to go study sound engineering, learning how to work these things, learning how to work the programs, the DAW’s, how to mix, learning scales - although I still rely heavily on Euden for the nitty gritty keys and chords. You can ask him yourself, I can make a nasty beat for you and that sets me apart from who I was in 2012 and who I am now. I think FonZo would like to be considered more of an artist. I wouldn’t say musician, that’s a musician. But in terms of who I am, I’m no longer a rapper. I feel like I’m an artist.

What have you been working on in studio?
First and foremost this is going to be completely different from anything that I’ve ever put out. Really, really soulful. When we got in I had finished another project which I have dropping. It’s called “Memoirs from the Night Show”, 13 songs. That’s dropping now. So when we came in here I told Yuri the only thing we’re going to do here is take it straight to the soul. Give me soulful keys and I’ll try and be the middle ground in terms of guiding you where to go with building the sounds and sequencing the songs and I’ll conceptualise the subject matter of the songs. We’re gonna have a three track EP. Calvin, my friend, my DJ, my brother. Euden as well, I went to school with both of them. This is not something that comes along often where you can be grassroots with sharing FL Studio 7 links between each other and now we’re at Red Bull Studios and we’re still friends at 24 after going through high school together. Calvin is my DJ when I perform. He goes by the name of Gremlin. And Euden Olifant that’s my right hand man in terms of music. With this I’m trying to be as soulful as possible and give people as much versatility as possible. That’s the one thing I want to cement is that FonZo was a rapper but now you’re gonna catch me doing a melodic hook here, and I don’t want it to sound forced. That’s the beauty of the progression, it’s just trying to not make it sound forced. I don’t know what we’re going to call this but it’s going to be a 3 track EP.

What does the future hold?
Cape Town videographers need to holla at me. We have ideas, we have beautiful music. Let’s collaborate. As much as you want rappers to rap together and singers to sing together, that’s all good and well. But creatives in this city are so separated. We have people ID magazine, we have people on like OkayAfrica, all these big platforms and you’re like that’s in Woodstock or Obs. So let’s come together as creatives. That’s what I want. I want visuals. We have a lot of ideas. I’m shamelessly asking for videographers to come forward. Let’s link! If money is going to be involved we can talk about that but in terms of creativity if you like what I do, I like what you do, I don’t even have to be in the video, as long as we can get visuals for something you agree with and something you like, then we’re living. That’s what’s next for FonZo. We’ve got this project dropping, we got ‘Memoirs from the night show’ dropping. So I’m always going to make music.

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