Three days before Nasty C self-quarantined in Johannesburg, his team secured cameras, lights, a sound system and other equipment so the rising rapper could stage virtual performances. His first, a YouTube #StayHome #WithMe concert followed by a Q&A, premiered April 27. “I’ve lost count of the days,” says Nasty C of his lockdown. “There’s nothing I can do about it, so I’m focusing on what I can do to stay in touch with my fans.”
Nicknamed “The Coolest Kid in Africa,” the 23-year-old born Nsikayesizwe David Junior Ngcobo was raised with his eight siblings in Durban’s KwaZulu-Natal province. His mother, who worked as an insurance agent, died when he was just 11 months old — he named his entertainment and touring entities “Ivyson” after her. His father, a hospital HR manager, didn’t initially support his career. (Nasty C grew up listening to Lil Wayne and T.I., and decided when he was 9 years old he wanted to become a rapper, too.) “He used to give me such a hard time,” recalls Nasty C. “But now, he sees all the hard work I put in. He’s proud.”
Nasty C is the latest in a growing contingent of African artists catching the ear of major U.S. labels. In 2016, Wizkid landed a career-changing feature on Drake’s “One Dance,” later signing a worldwide deal with RCA Records/Sony Music International. And in 2017, Burna Boy — whose latest album, African Giant, earned him his first Grammy Award nomination — signed a recording contract with Bad Habit/Atlantic in the United States and Warner Music International abroad (excluding Africa, where he releases music on his own Spaceship Entertainment label).
Seeing the trajectory of his peers, Nasty C says his decision to sign with Def Jam came down to one word: crossover. “We were ready to take this whole thing global, and Def Jam has been doing this for as long as I’ve even been around,” he says. Manager Colin Gayle, CEO of Africa Creative Agency (ACA), adds: “The fact that he signed to Def Jam, the epitome of hip-hop, is a loud statement to the world of where hip-hop is — and the opportunity that [Nasty C] has in front of him.”
The rapper has been working toward a U.S. crossover for the better part of eight years, beginning with his first mixtape, One Kid a Thousand Coffins, in 2013. The 2015 release of his second mixtape, Price City — with breakout single “Juice Back” (its remix featured Davido and Cassper Nyovest) — helped him secure a record deal with Mabala Noise, an independent label distributed by UMG Africa. Two years later his debut album, Bad Hair, arrived, and its rerelease, Bad Hair Extensions, featured French Montana.
By 2017, Nasty C landed a guest spot on Major Lazer’s “Particula” (also featuring Ice Prince, Patoranking and Jidenna), which peaked at No. 42 on Billboard’s Hot Dance/Electronic Songs and became the rapper’s first Billboard chart entry. That same year, Mabala Noise hired Johannesburg-based ACA to consult on the young artist’s developing career. When the label decided to exit the music business in late 2017, ACA came on as full-time management and Nasty C signed directly to UMG Africa.