Black Coffee was at home in Johannesburg, South Africa hanging out with his mother when he learned that his 2021 album Subconsciously was nominated for the best dance/electronic album Grammy. “It was a surreal moment,” the producer tells Billboard.
One could also say it was a long time coming. The artist born Nkosinathi Innocent Sizwe Maphumulo has been a fixture of the global electronic scene for nearly two decades and has long flown flags for both house music and the vibrant electronic scene of his native South Africa. His nomination marks the first time a South African artist has been nominated the best dance/electronic album category.
This year, Black Coffee is also one of several scene stars nominated for the first time in this category — Major Lazer, Marshmello and Ten City among them — via his seventh studio album, Subconsciously. A sophisticated, often sublime, 12-song collection featuring collaborators including Usher, Diplo, David Guetta, Sabrina Claudio and Pharrell Williams, the album hit No. 25 on Top Dance/Electronic Albums, where it spent one week in February of 2021. Black Coffee also recently announced he’s returning to his residency at Hï Ibiza this May.
Here, the producer reflects on his album, his nomination and who he’s taking with him to the awards show.
Where and when was Subconsciously made?
As diverse in sounds as the album is, the places the album was made are as well. Being that I collaborated with a handful of the most talented artists from all over the world, all while being on the road touring, there were many sporadic studio sessions and lots of virtual work.
How long did it take you to complete it?
The full album completion took a couple of years and took many twists and turns along the way!
What non-album collaborator did you first play it for, and what was their reaction?
Swizz Beatz. I played him “Flava” and we had it on repeat in the studio that night, vibing to it.
Did you know the album was special, or “a hit?”
I truly believe that every body of work that you release has to feel special to you. It’s hard to gauge the success or overall potential from the start, but if it’s not feeling special to you, you’re doing it all wrong.
Why do you think the album appealed to Grammy voters?
While I was working on this album, it was so important for me to make it accessible to as many people as possible. The album challenges many sounds and styles, all while staying true to my roots. I wanted to make an album that could be listened to not only in the car or in the club, but while you’re cleaning your house, going through a hard time and everything in between. It breaks boundaries, and I think that’s where the appeal ultimately lies.
What were you doing when you found out you were nominated?
I was home in Johannesburg. I got the message while I was with my mother — it was a surreal moment.
A lot of your collaborators on the album — Diplo, Usher, David Guetta — are previous Grammy winners. How did they react to your nomination, and have any of them given you advice on the experience of getting nominated?
It was such an honorable moment for us to say we did that. Every single person on this album whether it be collaborators, my team, its supporters and beyond played such an intricate part to the album’s overall success, so it felt like we could all ride that high together.
The collection of albums nominated in the dance/electronic categories this year is really sonically diverse, from house to future bass to bass and beyond. What’s your take on disparate styles of dance music competing against each other in the same category?
Music shouldn’t be classified and stuck just by the confines of a genre. It’s something that I portray in many facets of my career. Subconsciously was the perfect example of that. Everyone expresses their art differently, so to me, it feels very exciting to be amongst other incredible talent that add a different edge to their craft.
What do you think the collection of nominated albums says about where the Academy’s tastes currently lie?
To me, it shows that the industry as a whole is warming up more and more to the dance music space. It’s only right that we’re all on an equal playing field.
Between both of the dance/electronic categories, only one woman — Amelia Meath from Sylvan Esso — is nominated. What’s your take on why women are so underrepresented in these categories?
Women are talented in everything — as much as men, if not more. I really hope in the future we see more female nominees.
Would you like to see the Recording Academy in any way expand or update the way they handle electronic music?
Given the reach and the constant access that DJs who play this music in clubs and festivals around the world every weekend have [to] lovers of this genre, it should definitely get more highlighted and given better exposure.
What does your nomination do for the South African electronic scene?
I genuinely try to carry the flag of my country in everything that I do, so to be able to represent on behalf of my people at such a prestigious and global level is a major honor. There is so much incredible talent coming not only from South Africa, but coming from the African continent as a whole, and being able to bring our culture to these types of platforms only opens the window of opportunity further and further for all of these incredible acts.
If you got the chance to perform on the televised show, what would you play?
I don’t load music I don’t like on my DJing hard drive, so I’ll play what’s on the drive.
What’s the best Grammy afterparty you’ve been to?
This is not only my first time being nominated for a Grammy, but my first time attending as well, so will have to come back to you on this one in a few months!
Are you going to Las Vegas for the show?
Absolutely, I wouldn’t miss it for the world!
If you win, how will you celebrate?
I’m planning to have my son, Esona, who recently started DJing, join me for the ceremony — and so it would be so special to me to have him there celebrating with me in whatever way we decide. I can’t even imagine what it would feel like at that very moment!