Here’s the Story Behind the Making of Rapper AKA’s Magnum Opus Album, ‘Mass Country’
Over the past few weeks the entire continent has been brought to a standstill by the gripping roll-out to AKA’s eagerly anticipated fourth studio album, “Mass Country”. While his untimely death has been a bitter pill to swallow for the world at large, The Megacy have been determined to celebrate the rap icon’s legacy the best way possible: through music.
With the family’s blessings, AKA’s team at Sony Music Entertainment Africa, T-Effect and Vth Season continue with aspects of the planned roll-out for the album, given AKA’s undeniable impact and contribution to the local music scene, the album comes out on the back of unprecedented public attention and support.
T-Effect co-CEO and AKA’s co-manager Nhlanhla “Nivo” Ndimande, shares some insight on the making of the album. “It’s been a two year process working on this album, from him giving us the vision and just telling us what exactly he wanted to do. It was tough in the beginning because we were like, ‘Wait, you want to mix country music, maskandi and hip-hop? How does that even make sense?”’ But as the music began to take shape, AKA’s grand vision became clearer and clearer.
What AKA wanted to do was create an album that the people of South Africa could embrace and cherish. As he’s done throughout his career by carrying the flag with him wherever he went, the Supa Mega wanted to create an album that sounded like home – an album for the “masses of the country”.
During the album’s stunning intro, AKA makes several references to some legendary South African moments like Sphiwe Tshabalala’s opening goal at the 2010 FIFA World Cup. He also pays homage to iconic local musical pioneers like Zakes Bantwini, Johnny Clegg, Skwatta Kamp, Khuli Chana, and makes reference to proudly South African beverage Oros and potjiekos. It’s all in the spirit of patriotism and celebrating South Ah.
The first session for the album was with the renowned BET Award-winner Sjava and “Mass Country” co-executive producer, Zadok. It was during these sessions that the team started to understand the sonic direction that would come to life during countless recording sessions across the country over the past two years. Throughout this process, producers like Oriah, Fdeeezus and Christer helped make this grand vision concise and cohesive.
While they followed a similar process and flow to that of previous albums like 2018’s stunning “Touch My Blood”, the entire team also incorporated new ways of producing an album. “The first big camp we did for it we went and recorded at a house in Mooi River. There’s something that he said a lot during these sessions: He kept saying he was trying to do something that he’s never done before, so he needed everybody that was on the team to do something that they’d never done before.” With his direction, the team was able to produce just that.
Apart from Mooi River and his Johannesburg base, they also held a recording camp in Vanderbijlpark. The last song recorded on the project was “Company” featuring Nigerian pop and afrobeats star KDDO, whom AKA previously collaborated with on “Fela In Versace”. “Company” was recorded in Los Angeles last month as they wrapped up the album. AKA flew out to the U.S, met up with KDDO in L.A and finished it there.
Rap star Blxckie features on two songs on the album, “Dangerous” and “Ease”. “Kiernan and I went to their studios just to vibe with the guys about two years ago,” explains Nivo. “We recorded two songs there and “Ease” was the one that made it onto the album. They were able to bounce off each other’s energy because they’re both fans of each other. We were able to also work with Blxckie’s producers and build something new off what both artists are doing right now.”
Then for “Dangerous”, AKA reached out to Blxckie on his own accord at a later point and got Nadia Nakai to lace a verse too. The result is an infectious, melodious cut that combines AKA and Nadia’s rap smarts with Blxckie’s unique vocal range.
AKA has always had an uncanny ability to bring out the best in his collaborators. That much was in full view with two of the songs that came out ahead of the release of the full album, “Prada” and “Lemonade”. Many have dubbed Nasty C and Khuli Chana’s respective verses as the most outstanding of their careers to date (which says a lot when you look at their incredible careers). Nivo credits this to AKA’s rare musicality and storied background as a producer.
“I remember with Emtee, half of that verse Kiernan wrote with him. Kiernan’s pushing him through the session like, ‘No, do it this way, do it that way’. He’s always had a vision. He always knew what he wanted and he was able to get that out of people.” One of the standout songs on the project, ‘Everest”, is one of the first songs AKA started working on with the project. Nivo recalls how, two weeks after Anele Tembe’s funeral, as he was walking to AKA’s house in the estate he was surprised to hear music.
“I’m like what’s going on, has this guy finally connected his studio? As I walk I look and see that Kiernan had his studio set up in the garden and he was busy chopping up that sample over and over again.” They then set up a session with AKA’s band to start enhancing the skeleton he’d put together. “That song to me was capturing Kiernan at his lowest emotionally, but showing his creativity the most.”
The album is undeniably one of the best of AKA’s sprawling career and sets a new benchmark for South African music. Poetically, in true Supa Mega style, AKA went out with a bang. “It’s crazy for me to say this, but I think spiritually Kiernan knew that this was his last project,” says Nivo.
“Him adding “Last Time” and making it the first song on the album speaks volumes. His dad used to play the original last time that he referenced. So it was like a ‘Let’s do this thing one more time guys’. That’s why I’m like spiritually he kind of knew. Kiernan’s never submitted an album so early in his life. Bhovamania was submitted at 9pm for a Midnight drop. Spiritually, he knew, even if he didn’t know consciously.”