Stanzo Hikupembe (SH) is a 20-year-old rapper, director, visual artist and producer who started dabbling in making music at the age of 13.
Stanzo was born and raised in Windhoek, to parents Steven Smith and Shane Hikupembe in 1997. The young rapper went to Academia High School until graduating in 2014, and thereafter briefly studied Sound Engineering at the College of the Arts.
Although he doesn’t yet have a long list of stage performances, he was a surprise opening act for South African rap sensation, Cassper Nyovest, twice - first in Kuisebmond in March last year for the #FillUpKuisebmund concert and then again for Nyovest’s Windhoek leg of his Refiloe album tour in July. Not bad, considering that Stanzo released his first official single in February 2016.
Building on that momentum, the young Namibian artist, who manages himself, is working full time on his craft, and has huge plans for 2017, including growing his already impressive fan base.
On his SoundCloud account, where he posts a lot of his work listed as Trip-Hop, Classical, Trap and Hip-Hop, Stanzo’s music has thousands of views, while his first single Still, featuring fellow artist LMPC, has been seen 15,839 times on YouTube.
His music videos are crisp, clear and creative, and take you inside the mind of this wavy kid.
He expects to launch his debut album Not Enough Has Changed later this month, which will include an exclusive screening of the visuals for the album.
Windhoek Observer entertainment reporter, Anne Hambuda (AH) sat down with the young rapper, who loves American singer-songwriter, record producer, disc jockey, activist and actress, Erykah Badu.
Stanzo also shared his pet peeves, which include music videos with naked women and cars in them, during an interview that gave a deeper insight into the mind of the music maker.
AH: What is a typical day/week like for you?
SH: I wake up, get ready and I probably won’t leave the house without cleaning, because I like cleaning. It gives me time to think. Then I go to the studio. I’m in the studio every day from like 15:00 onwards, and I’m always there until 02:30 or 03:00 the next morning.
AH: And you produce all your own music?
SH: Yes, mostly.
AH: Is your family musical?
SH: Not really, but they’re very creative in other ways. They do other types of art. Like my mom is very good at drawing and she used to design dresses in high school. I have an uncle that’s into music. Brooklyn Smith, I don’t know if you’ve heard of him, but he does music as well.
AH: When you were growing up, was music an important part of your life?
SH: Yes, I listened to a lot of music actually, because my mom had this huge stash of CDs, including classic RnB like Ginuwine and Lil’ Romeo. She has a lot of those CDs and she used to play them every day.
AH: Which famous musicians do you admire?
SH: Musicians with a dark aesthetic appeal, people who deviate from the normal, like The Weeknd and PartyNextDoor. Locally I like Jaleel and LMPC - people who try to make things that haven’t been done before.
AH: Who would you want to work with in Namibia?
SH: Riz Khali. We’ve worked together in the past; we’re going to work together in future. We’re really close friends. Jaleel, as well.
AH: How personal is your music? How much of it is ‘real’?
SH: All of it is real, because I only make music based on true experiences - either things I did or I am going to do. It’s never made up or some story I’d have to sit and think about. I just think back to my life.
AH: What’s the creative process like for you?
SH: I normally write music while I am creating the beat. Sometimes I’ll do the writing afterwards, because I feel like it’ll kill the idea. I’m normally alone, like 80 percent of the time. If I’m with people, it’s just to share ideas, you know, when people comment and make suggestions.
AH: When you’re recording do you cut yourself off from other people?
SH: Yes definitely. I’m getting a tattoo, and it’s like a ‘flight mode’ symbol and that’s how I feel. It’s the best thing ever. I put my phone off. Sometimes I feel like, if there was a way for me to access the internet without contacting people, I would definitely do that.
AH: You told me your dad is a South African and you’ve also worked with South African artist Cassper Nyovest twice, do you have plans to break into that industry?
SH: Definitely. I was there in 2015 and I stayed in Cape Town. Then I moved back to do sound engineering. I’ll go back to South Africa to perform this year.
AH: You were in Cape Town? How did you not party all the time?
SH: [Laughs] I did actually. It explains why the music is only taking off now. But it was a learning process.
AH: What’s your guilty pleasure?
AH: What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you while you’ve been a musician?
SH: That’s tricky, because a lot of things have happened over the past six months, even dangerous stuff, like people trying to kill me. [laughs] I don’t know to be honest; I have too much going on.
AH: And in 2017? What can we look forward to? Talk to me about your next major project.
SH: My next project is an album titled Not Enough Has Changed. The second thing will be the visual album, which I’m doing an exclusive launch for. As in, the only time people will get to see these visuals is when they come to the launch. It’s all music that hasn’t been heard before; it is stuff I started making like four or five years ago. The field of visual albums in Namibia is very open, so to speak.
AH: You’re still new to the Hip-Hop scene. What would you say is the state of Hip-Hop in Namibia right now?
SH: Wow, I’ll be very honest with you; right now I don’t think there’s much going on because there’s no market for the music. People are failing to actually create the market for themselves.
AH: How do you plan on changing that?
SH: I actually have a very big idea, but I don’t think I should speak about it yet. It’s definitely in the pipelines. Let’s just say it’ll eliminate the middle-man.
AH: What is your music to you?
SH: My music? Let’s say I realised at a very late stage that I have something different, a gift, but for a very long time I’d been pushing it to the side. I’m really good at everything that I do. I can draw, I can play football and I’m really, like, multi-talented.
But the problem with that is, if you don’t give your full focus to one thing, you won’t prosper. So music is the one thing that people around me have been telling me, ‘you stand out doing that’. So ever since Grade 7, it’s been my main thing.
I believe my producing and songwriting capabilities are unique and I have the potential to compete and outshine on an international level. I just do not have all the resources or funding to get my sound to where it needs to be, because right now I cover it myself.
AH: Where do you currently market yourself?
SH: The internet mostly. It works great for me; it’s where I get most of my hype from, where most people got to know me. Shows as well, but I don’t perform much.
As an upcoming musician in Namibia, you do performances and the respect and treatment is really bad, so I prefer to skip that area and work towards what I wanna be, and when they call me for shows, then I make it as serious as possible. That’s why I’ve only performed with Cassper.
AH: What was it like performing with Cassper?
SH: It was an unbelievable experience, because who would’ve thought that during my first three months in the music industry I’d get such an opportunity? The person who contacted me to open for Cassper was someone that really liked my music from my SoundCloud, so they actually sent my music to him in advance, so by the time I got to talk to him he was like, ‘Nah, I know who you are, we’ve been playing your music the whole way from the airport, so it’s nice to meet you’.
AH: And did you learn anything from him?
SH: I learned a lot. The second performance was where we got to link up and I got to spend a lot more time around his Family Tree team and even himself. South Africans are very open-minded. They don’t want to believe that artists down here get paid N$5,000 per show, when people get at least N$30,000 on that side. They’re like, ‘the music here is so dope, but there’s no market’.
AH: Do you ever listen to your own stuff?
SH: I listen to myself the most. I’ll be very honest with you, if I’m not listening to Drake or Travis Scott, then it’s Stanzo. If it’s not Stanzo, I don’t know.
AH: You don’t get tired of hearing it? You produce the song, you write it and everything. Are you not tired of it by the time it’s a full song?
SH: The only time I really get tired of it is when I shoot the video, because then I have to listen to it over and over. But it’s gotten to a point where I love the music I make, it’s like I can make whatever I am in the mood to listen to. If it’s Trap, I can make Trap music. If it’s Hip-Hop, slow love songs or whatever, I can make it and listen to it.
AH: And your debut album? Is it going to be a mix of those things as well?
SH: Yeah, it’s a bit of everything.
AH: When exactly is the album coming?
SH: It all depends on the venue I choose for the launch, but in February.
AH: What is your own favourite song?
SH: It’s called Favourite Song. I called it that because I knew it would be someone else’s favourite song. So I just called it that from the start and then it grew on me.
Other Stanzo tracks you might find interesting are Loud and Statues. Find Stanzo on Twitter (@StizoFresh), Instagram (@Stanzo_na), Facebook (Stanzo Smith), SoundCloud (Stanzo_na) and look out for the Not Enough Has Changed album launch.