Mass Country: AKA’s Last Gasp Sonic Effort

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In memory of slain South African rapper AKA, his ultimate album Mass Country was released on February 24th 2023, two weeks after he passed away. A posthumous project by Sony Music Entertainment Ltd. under exclusive licence from Vtha, the long-anticipated album is home to fourteen songs of the South African, spanning fifty-four minutes. Other African acts on board are Thato Saul, Manana, Emtee, Nasty C, Khuli Chana, Sjava, Baby S.O.N, 031 Choppa, KDDO, Musa Keys, Gyakie, Blxckie, Nadia Nakai, Laylizzy and Weathrd, most of whom are compatriots.

Legally known as Kiernan Jarryd Forbes and recognized as one of the country’s foremost rappers of his generation, AKA was shot dead together with his buddy Tebello “Tibz” Motsoane on February 10th 2023 around a restaurant in Durban while the pair were believed to have been on their way to a nightclub performance. The motive behind his death remains unknown and the assailants are still at large, as investigations have been ongoing to unravel the mystery.

The thirty-five-year-old had taken to social media to drop a cue on his then soon-to-be-released album Mass Country, hours before the tragic incident. The incident was caught on tape as he was seen greeting and socializing with a group of friends moments before the point-blank gunshot. The Fela in Versace singer had an illustrious music career, coming to the limelight with the single Victory Lap which is part of his debut studio album, Altar Ego (2011). Following the initial recognition, the rapper proceeded to release two more albums, Levels (2014) and Touch My Blood (2018), and a collaborative project with Anatii, Be Careful What You Wish For (2017), during his lifetime. He is controversially remembered for his 2019 Twitter feud with Nigerian Afrobeats singer Burna Boy, during which both of them traded words over Xenophobic concerns.

“I wanted to make an album that had an undercurrent of super South African country music,” AKA had told Apple Music in an interview, and further insinuated that the album was just as inspired by country music as it was poised for a South African nationwide appeal. “Country music is very much about heartbreak and pickup trucks and stars and stuff like that. So, I wanted to kind of get that feeling in there…But then with my obvious love for house music as well, and as time went on, Mass Country just grew to mean the sound of South Africa,” the Cape Town-born rapper intoned.

The idea of Mass Country was ignited shortly after the rapper lost his former sweetheart and fiancee, Anele “Nellie” Tembe in April 2021. But also, the enduring, growing-up memories of songs of American Jackson Browne and British Cat Stevens donated a token of muse to AKA’s project. Mass Country is hugely a personal reflection, with themes of love, grief, healing and self-discovery brought to the table; however, at this critical point of a post-AKA reality, the album sells best as an astounding but unpremeditated farewell for a custodian of African hip-hop.

The first track, Last Time is probably the most heartwarming (and arguably heartrending too) as the rapper reflects on the nature of love and his cathartic journey through life and fame. While the lyrics are stuffed with a plethora of references, one catchy, one-line moment recalls Siphwe Tshabalala’s famous goal for South Africa against Mexico at the 2010 Fifa World Cup. Next comes Mbuzi featuring Thato Saul, a freewheeling song that samples the legendary Mgarimbe’s Sister Bethina and rides on boom-bap effects. Thato Saul goes mostly native-tongued as he chips in pieces of English.

In Crown, AKA and Emtee take turns to deliver lines about their current statuses as successful individuals, while the outro of the song is reserved for Manana. Up next is Lemons (Lemonade), which involves another game-changing hip-hop act, Nasty C, as the duo deal with survival on both personal and artistic levels. The official video of the song is directed by Nate Thomas. The track Prada featuring Khuli Chana reveals the materialistic side of AKA as he obsesses over a particular designer brand, Prada. This song is immediately followed by Sponono, a foursome (including Sjava, Baby S.O.N and 031 Choppa) romance-themed sonic manifestation.

The seventh track, Company, deals with a fantasy life of unlimited love and adventure. Perhaps it is in the same spirit of wanderlust that the rapper has reached out to famous Nigerian record producer-turned-singer KDDO (Kiddominant) for the steady iteration he delivers on this particular hit. Paradise prolongs the love tales of AKA, with Ghanaian Afro-fusion artiste Gyakie recruited alongside South African Musa Keys for a solution that is just as soothing and patronising as it is soulful. Both AKA and Yanga Chief go hard on Ease as the flows reveal a story of friction between romantic partners and Blxckie rises to the occasion in his rendition of the chorus.
Sampling Brazilian musician Sergio Mendes’s refrain (“Oooo, aria raio”) from 1966 hit Mais Que Nada, AKA pushes for a cross-cultural appeal in the genre-themed Amapiano.

It is no wonder that he makes a pact with the Portuguese-inclined Mozambican rapper, Laylizzy and Angolan singer Weathrd. Amapiano is a South African house style and subgenre that evolved in the 2010s and has become popular among many African artistes of the current generation. A scintillating sensual effect is achieved in Dangerous as AKA and his at-the-time female lover, Nadia Nakai, use the opportunity to facsimile romantic gestures.

Everest, Diary (Anxiety) and Army are the concluding songs of the album; and in the first two soloist efforts here, the rapper tries to capture his psychological state following the demise of Nellie. For instance, in Everest, he expresses grief with the lines: “I have my whole life reset/ Cause you don’t really know life ‘till you know death ”. Perhaps this feeling of undesired reminiscence appears to be more evoked in Diary (Anxiety), as a lonely, supposedly bereaved persona in the company of his diary and no one else, laments: “Nothing comes close to the way I feel when I go back in my memory bank and I see that frame/ That shit burned my brain forever”. Whereas Everest and Diary have the rapper embark on an emotional freefall, Army makes him regain traction. But it is obviously too late, with all that self-energising monologue of the last song now eclipsed in the lethal twist of his own fate.

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