When the skhothane scribe-in-chief Rofhiwa Maneta called producer Tumelo Mathebula one evening around 7 o’clock, the last thing he was expecting was the hit-making, versatile tweaker of knobs to be on the way back from an all-day studio session. “I’m actually on the road right now,” he said. “But it’s all good. Let’s talk.” What follows are Tumelo’s thoughts, filtered through telephone static and channeled through Rofhiwa’s writhing pen. #RespecTheProducer
Mathebula, more commonly known by his production alias, Tweezy, saw his ascent into South Africa’s mainstream hip-hop scene come full circle last year. He’s responsible for crafting three singles off AKA’s award-winning album Levels. If you’ve ever found yourself snapping your neck to Run Jozi and Sim Dope or doing the nae-nae to All Eyes on Me [which received the Best Collaboration accolade at the MAMAs], he’s the guy you should be thanking. And while it would be tempting to call him an overnight success, the truth is 2014 was the end result of years of knocking at the mainstream’s door.
“I started producing in 2008,” he recalls. “Back then I was just fooling around with FL Studio. It was really just a hobby. I only started taking it seriously a couple of years later.” In 2010, under the production moniker N20, he and seven of his high school friends formed a crew called Ghetto Prophecy. The crew announced their arrival with an EP called The Book of R.A.P – an announcement that was largely ignored by the rap scene. By the time they released their second offering – The Book of F.A.D (Faith and Dreams) – two years later, the group had whittled down to four members. “It was a bit disappointing. We were about to drop the project but people had to leave the crew due to other commitments.” The leaner crew consisted of him, Butho Ntini, Shakes “Sheezy” and (now) Cape-Town based rapper E-Jay.
While their first EP amounted to little more than a whisper, The Book of F.A.D was a reverberating shout at the mainstream. The album spawned three singles: Oh My (which was playlisted on Metro FM and YFM), “Great” and “Get the Party Started” (both playlisted on YFM). Even though he won’t admit it, he was the nucleus that held the group together. His versatility as a producer meant that the crew could never be accused of sounding monotonous. “Great“ for example, with its neck-snapping drums and gospel sample is a [Kanye West’s] “Jesus Walks”-type cut that saw the crew praying against the vices that mainstream success would offer. “Oh My“ – the crew’s biggest single – is a rap ballad that sees the crew crooning about finding “the one” while “Skothane se Rap”, is an archetypal “turn up” joint with a military drumline, staccato string section and rattling 808s that would easily fit into any nightclub’s Saturday night playlist.
“The response to The Book of F.A.D was amazing. It made me realise that I could actually make this rap shit happen. That’s when I stopped making music for myself and started making music that everyone could enjoy.” And while he appreciated the reception The Book of F.A.D generated, he felt it was time to start getting his name out as a solo act. He would continue producing for E-Jay (lacing him with the hard-as-cement “Baleka Mrapper” and lending a verse on the joint) while also handling the production duties on Bloemfontein-based crew The Fraternity’s “Bheka Mina Ngedwa“. It’s at this point that a mutual friend introduced him to AKA. “I rang Kiernan up and we met two days later. I played him about ten beats and I thought he’d take at least half of them. He didn’t take a single beat,” he laughs. “He was like ‘man, your beats are dope, but they’re missing something. But I wasn’t going to take no for an answer. I had to get onto his album no matter what”
The next few months saw him hopping between different studios (he didn’t have a PC to produce on at the time), perfecting his craft. “There’s this one beat in particular that took me three weeks to make. Laying the drumline was simple enough but the melodies didn’t sound right. I spent three weeks reworking the melodies exactly how I wanted them to” he recalls. That beat would later turn out to be AKA’s chart topping “Run Jozi”. With a chorus that channels TKZee’s “Sikelela”, a classic skhanda verse from KO and verses from AKA that employ Migos’ now-ubiquitous machine gun flow, the beat served as the centre of gravity that held all these divergent styles together. Similarly, All Eyes on Me (featuring continental superstar Burna Boy) samples the late Brenda Fassie’s “Ngiyakusaba” and reworks it into a bass-heavy party anthem reminiscent of the Bay Area sound popularized by DJ Mustard.
“It’s quite funny how that joint came about,” says Tweezy. “I was at home watching Mzansi Magic one Saturday and they were airing a Lebo Mathosa vs Brenda Fassie playlist. So “Ngiyakusaba” comes on and I immediately thought it would make a great sample. It’s weird because Kiernan called me a few minutes later and told me he was watching the same playlist and wanted me to sample the joint. That was all the confirmation I needed. I was done with the beat in half an hour.” The rest, as they say, is chart-topping history.
His work on Levels hasn’t gone unnoticed. Last November, he earned a nomination for Best Producer at last year’s South African Hip Hop Awards. But while he was flattered by the nomination, he felt he didn’t have an extensive enough catalogue to bag the award. “I knew I wasn’t going to win. I mean, last year Ganja Beatz [the eventual winners] produced half of Cassper’s album and so many other joints. They deserved it.”
Tweezy is still riding the crest of Levels’ success. A little over a month back, the album was certified gold and recently a video was released for “Sim Dope”, which is still enjoying regular airplay. He’s also responsible for the production on L Tido’s “Dlala Ka Yona” and recently roped in Reason for a solo release called “The Realest“. “Last year was cool, but I still have so many artists I plan on working with this year. I want to achieve way more this year; 2015 is going to be Tweezy year.”