“I understand that being this Afrikaans kid from a small town, and being female on top of that, people don’t necessarily have you in mind as this hip hopper that makes super crazy beats. So I’ve always kind of loved those little moments of scepticism because they give me a bit of a secret weapon where people are curious to hear my beats as opposed to them thinking:‘Oh, there’s just another beat-maker in the room.”
WORDS: DAN CHARLES
PHOTOGRAPHY: STAN KAPLAN
Sometimes music journalists get it right. With the limited vocabulary at our disposal to succinctly describe sounds, the feelings derived from them and the people who make it their business to conjure them up, the job can sometimes be tricky. But every now and then someone manages to pull a sentence from the ether that just makes sense. Jon Landau did such a thing when he called Bruce Springsteen the future of rock ’n roll (well, the future as far as he could see it in 1974) and so did Angela Weickl when she defined Kay Faith as the antithesis of the hyperbolic and braggadocious culture typically associated with hip hop.
Over the years, Kay Faith (the enigmatic engineer/producer born Karien Barnard) has cemented herself as a staple in the liner notes of the South African hip hop scene. Since circumstantially enrolling in a course at Cape Audio College and finding herself behind the desk for a session with Yasiin Bey during one of her studio internships, Kay’s technical finesse has been sought after by the likes of Nasty C, Da Les, Kwesta, and a list that just keeps on extending.
But it was after finding inspiration from working in the studio with production legend Tweezy and then seeing her friends knocked out of the preliminary round of VUZU’s The Hustle – a televised platform to uncover the most skilled undiscovered MCs in the country – that Kay decided to start putting her name at the forefront of her work.
“I messaged this one guy to ask if it went well and he replied saying that they kicked out all of the Cape Town artists in the first round. And that just made this fire burn in me that made me want to do something that’s bigger and greater than what I’m currently doing and do it as a Capetonian artist so that when people go,‘This is a great artist!’ I can go, ‘And I’m from Cape Town.’”
Kay has been fighting for Kaapstad hip hop ever since. But she understands that, being a white girl from Knysna operating in a historically male-dominated industry, she may seem like an unlikely candidate to commandeer such a cause. However, Kay has weaponised that unlikeliness and has put it at the forefront of her identity and the concepts of her current works.
“Having that element of otherness has always put me in interesting situations so I was like, fuck it, I’m going to make a whole project titled Antithesis and play with this concept of otherness. So the EP is going to be a development and a maturation of that concept, by working with artists and putting them in spaces that you wouldn’t expect to hear them. This is also just me kind of cementing that identity of: ‘Yeah, I know that I look different and you wouldn’t expect me to do this but I am doing this and I’m going to do it in a really big way. So stop being shocked by it.’”
Antithesis, scheduled for release in early 2020, will be the follow-up to her previous EP In Good Faith, where Kay first started finding her knack for pairing artists with tracks that you wouldn’t expect to hear them on, with features such as Oh Gooch, Dope Saint Jude and one of SA hip hop’s godfathers, Ready D.
“Meeting Ready D and working with him was a big moment for me. I tell people that working with him was as big a moment for me as working with Mos Def (Yasiin Bey) because I grew up checking this guy’s music and knowing that he’s like the grandmaster of South African hip hop.”
Her reverence for the likes of Ready D shows that, apart from advocating her own sense of otherness, Kay is also set on championing the history and future of Cape Town’s significance in the world of South African hip hop. This is evident in her substantial contribution to YoungstaCPT’s latest album 3T – an album that she produced two tracks for, and contributed backing vocals to, as well as recording, mixing and mastering the entire thing.
“We don’t see an album like that coming out of Cape Town every day. And I felt like, as this person who’s trying to make this change for this music scene in this city, how could I not step up and do this?” As well as working with the heavy hitters of the scene, Kay is also invested in developing the future of local hip hop by giving time to every demo submitted to her in order to hopefully give a bit of guidance to the next wave of greats.
“My thing is like, if I can feature them on my songs and the song goes somewhere and then they become a bit more reputable, that’s cool. But I also want to give young artists the chance to go through the process of a proper production so that they learn from the experience. I learn from them and they learn from me – that collaborative energy is what I’m about. I feel like collaboration is really the thing that’s going to unlock amazing music in the future.”
At this point, Kay Faith has well surpassed the role of a humble studio engineer. At this point she’s been called in to do executive production on albums and A&R for some labels around Cape Town and South Africa as well – all while still honing her vision as one of the country’s most reputable producers. With all of this in mind, it wouldn’t be unprecedented to borrow some of the audacity of Jon Landau and say this: we have seen the future of Cape Town hip hop and her name is Kay Faith.
“It’s just about putting it out there in a way that makes people catch onto it and makes people realise that it’s dope and it deserves the credit that it’s due. I don’t think that Cape Town is at any kind of disadvantage at this point, I just feel like Cape Town doesn’t have the same kind of gatekeepers as Joburg right now. Ultimately, the goal is to become that gatekeeper for the city in a few years