South African rapper Focalistic talks about his latest hit Gupta, his delight at seeing US rapper P. Diddy post a video dancing to his song on the beach.
Focalistic leans forward into the glow of a ring light, his expression blank as he waits for my video to show on his screen. He’s decked out in a diamond-encrusted cuban link chain, a Gucci Supreme canvas bucket hat, and a crisp beige Maison de Matthieu T-shirt.
It’s been a couple of hours since Focalistic dropped his latest single, Gupta, and the 24-year-old rapper is seated in the same studio at his home in Pretoria, Gauteng where he has spent most nights over the last year, churning out hits at a frenetic pace.
When I finally pop up on his screen he smiles and greets me warmly.
Focalistic has been teasing Gupta for several weeks and, ahead of today’s release, anticipation among fans had been feverish. “That was organic,” he says. “When I’m performing I’ll play, like, two songs that people don’t know, and they chose Gupta themselves. So it’s not like I was teasing the song, I was just playing it so people can hear the new vibes and vibe out.”
Focalistic’s rise over the last few years has been meteoric. His style has changed significantly since he emerged as an excitable and ambitious boom bap rapper a few years ago. Aside from the release of the hip-hop single Never Know, featuring SA’s heavyweight rapper Cassper Nyovest in early 2020, he’s shifted from hip-hop and embraced the emergence of Amapiano — a South African flavour of jazz inflected house music with Kwaito basslines — with a slew of hits alongside fellow Amapiano stars DJ Maphorisa, Kabza De Small, and regular collaborations with just about everyone else leading the genres charge to the mainstream.
That’s what it’s about, you always have to stay ahead of the curve, you can’t get too big headed in the moment because that’s not what it’s about, that’s not what you started this for.
“Coming from Pitori (Pretoria), you always wanna tell your story and try to figure out how exactly you wanna tell it. I think my music is different sonically than it was a few years ago, but when you listen to the subject matter it’s never changed. It’s just still inspirational, I’m still on my hood n***a sh*t. I think sonically I just found a better canvas to transfer the message. And that wasn’t intentional, I always say you don’t chase good things, they kinda chase you. It just happened that I’m having fun with the music right now.”
Davido X Focalistic = global hit
It’s been roughly three months since Amapiano enjoyed one of its biggest moments when Focalistic enlisted Davido for the remix to his biggest hit to date: 2020’s platinum-selling Ke Star. Ke Star Remix has since become one of the most popular songs across the continent and beyond. The spotlight only brightened when, in early March, hip-hop mogul P. Diddy posted an Instagram video dancing to the song on the beach.