The Makwa debacle: Unpacking the Urbantainment-RapLyf saga

Andile Sicetsha - 07.05.2021

High in debt and with nothing more to lose, Makwa opened a can of worms that cast a shoddy light on the industry’s big wigs.

If you had to ask the new age Jozi generation who the architect of Katlehong’s gritty sound is, most would point you to the man who uses his virtual MPC to echo the heartbeat of Zone 6 – Neo Makwa.

The Makwa predicament: ‘Music is a cut-throat business’

A true lokshin native, Makwa wears his heart on his sleeve and recently, this character trait has ruffled feathers in South Africa’s music industry that seldom finds itself under the microscope for its shoddy dealings.

Speaking to hosts of The Sobering Podcast, Makwa recalls his moment of epiphany when, one day, he opened a music law book at the SABC’s headquarters in Johannesburg and the first sentence he was confronted with was: “[the] music business is a cut-throat business.

This powerful statement would haunt Makwa throughout his career as a producer, from his early days when he gifted Fistaz Mixwell with production contribution towards his 2013 classic I’m Free which he was never credited for, to his later dealings with Urbantainment and RapLyf Records.

“[At the time] I didn’t know a lot of things. I just wanted to be in [the] studio and produce, that’s it,” he told the podcast crew.

In hindsight, Makwa conceded that he should’ve known better.

Alas, the producer firmly believes in what is rightfully his and things all went to a head when his royalties statement from the South African Music Performance Rights Association (SAMPRA) showed that in his decade-long run at the helm of the new-age Kwaito-esque ‘sgubhu’, he is only credited as a contributor in eight musical works.

This is where things get interesting. Makwa has produced and engineered for a number of records released by TLT, Kwesta, DJ Maphorisa and the entire RapLyf roster yet, his hand in many of these musical works is not included in royalty statements.

To make sense of this bizarre swindle, we delved into the set up of the producer’s dealings with Urbantainment and RapLyf, two entities whose common denominator is an unknown figure named Leroy Khoza.

The raw deal at Urbantainment

Makwa has been candid about his shortcomings in dealing with wolves cloaked in sheep’s wool, in his come-up as a creative from the dusty streets of Katlehong.

However, if we are to believe his version of how his deal with Urbantainment came about, it wouldn’t seem likely that he was afforded with a plethora of options.

In his version of events, the producer was allegedly coerced into entering a contractual agreement with Urbantainment, owned by Khoza and Nota Baloyi, as one-third of TLT.

Remember, Makwa made the beats and TLT composed the songs. The presumption is, Urbantainment’s offer to TLT was a recording contract which, in principle, is wholly different to a production deal.

Makwa would unknowingly forfeit ownership of his mechanical rights in the music he made under Urbantainment since on paper, he was part of the ‘rap’ crew.

He may have had his aversions to the offer but the pressure from his hometown mates who were itching to break out into the mainstream forced his hand to ink the deal.

Of course, this would prove to be the first of many rotten deals Makwa would naively accept.

Makwa and the bizarre ongoings at RapLyf

In the midst of the backend squabbles over money and split sheets, Makwa continued on his savage run of delivering hit after hit, helping the likes of Kid X re-establish his sound in his new venture as part-owner of RapLyf Records — or was he? That, we will cover at another time.

Makwa, still naive in his business practices, inked a solo deal with RapLyf and continued his reign under the helm of Khoza, with Baloyi still very much influential in the business runnings of the two entities that brought Kwesta and crew millions of rand in royalties and performance cheques.

However, only years later would he dread the decision he made to allow forged comradery to cloud his judgment. To date, the producer has defaulted on monthly instalments of his car which, by the way, is under the ownership of Khoza.

His vehicle insurance subscription has defaulted due to continued non-payment and he owes more than R7 000 in house rental fees.

The financial strain thrust Makwa into a severe state of depression and at a point in the recent past, the producer had publicly stated that the urge to take his own life has seduced him before.

Makwa reveals more in this tell-all episode which you can watch below.

The last encounter we saw from this saga was a documented quarell between Makwa and Nota that nearly ended in fisticuffs. With no clear directive on Makwa’s part, it remains to be seen what the producer does next.

One thing is for sure, the can of worms he’s opened has cast Kwesta, Nota and Khoza under a shoddy spotlight.