To The Top

YSLA is an unassuming, mild-mannered rebel, a fashion icon in the making, a wild card, a lover who wears his heart on his sleeve, a young man finding and painting a picture of himself through uninhibited creative expression. On a Friday afternoon we make an appointment that’s thwarted by his class schedule and almost never happens because I get lost countless times trying to locate his house.

When I finally do I’m met by curious children playing in the street. One turns out to be YSLA’s younger sister who lets me in the house to await his arrival. Entering the house through the kitchen I’m greeted by the choking smell of steak grilling in the oven. On the bar stool enjoying the fruits of his labour his father introduces himself and after we exchange pleasantries I’m ushered into the living room. His sister who could not be more than 10 years old hangs around with a toddler entertaining their guest begrudgingly with questions about all things under the sun.

It is in this time of waiting that I fully appreciate the environment that breeds an artist like YSLA. It’s only a house full of love, doting parents, and toddlers needing guidance, reassurance and kindness on a daily basis from an older brother that would give a young man confidence to express himself however he sees fit. As part of a collective whose members have captured the imagination of teens and young adults throughout Botswana he has used and continues to use various disciplines as a vehicle.

While in conversation with him I notice a storm brewing in him and it’s clear that the upper middle class neighbourhood that is supposed to raise self-assured, self-actualized young adults has not quite done its job. It’s this side order of sadness from the drive thru of life however, that supposedly makes for good artistry. When the dread-locked, bespectacled 21-year-old finally arrives dressed in a tie-dye hoodie, slim fit khaki pants and black Vans, he is the picture of carefree youth. In an afternoon-turned-evening I try to fit in all my questions…

First off I have to ask you about the name.

I came up with that name when I was transitioning into a new persona. Before I was making music as Dougie so when I was leaving high school, my sound and style totally changed so I changed my name to go with it. YS stands for Yours Sincerely then LA is Spanish for “the” and Lanrouj is “journal” spelled backwards. So it’s Yours Sincerely the Journal.

You’re involved in so many disciplines, when did what start?

When I was 13 music was a hobby. It wasn’t like I was losing sleep or anything, it was something I did in my spare time and it’s not like I was great at it either. Then I met up with a group of people who were also making music and we formed like a young crew that was growing at the time…that’s when I recorded my first song in a proper studio and it got airplay. That’s when it grew into a passion for me because I met with different people with different styles that made my love for music grow.

Can you still remember the name of that song?

The name of the song was “Lil Dougie” released in 2009. It was playlisted on Metro FM, number one on the Mascom Top 10 for 4 weeks and it was on the chart for 11 other weeks not inclusive of the number one streak on Yarona FM. I get embarrassed about this story but I need to embrace it more [laughs].

I think I remember that one. Who was in this crew that you were running with or people you were around at that time?

At 13 I associated with Ryan Blaze and Veezo a lot. When I was 14, I think, I met OBADO and as our relationship progressed I met Ski Mask, Gino Pryce and Mane Dilla. Then I joined Faded Music Group in late 2013 transitioning into 2014. Ever since then I’ve been making music with them. I would say the highlight of my career is meeting Twisted Butterfly and Maxx Tokeyo — they’re both on my EP. I feel like I make the best music when I’m with them and just their influences man. They’ve had a huge impact on my music because they have a different style to making music. Twisted is loud — in a good way — her voice is so powerful when you’re in the studio with her. I’ve recently met Yaw Bannerman and he’s been a very great inspiration in my career so far. It’s been a while since I’ve felt confident [enough] to put anything out.

When did photography come into the picture?

I’ve always had a passion for visuals and imagery. Firstly, I didn’t get how you could capture something in a small little rectangular box. My dad had one of those old school Kodak cameras and that’s when I can say I got fascinated with photography. I was always interested in it but I only got active in late 2015 when I met a guy called Gino Pryce who shoots music videos. He was so involved in what he did and God…

Yeah he really went in with the faith

Yeah! But I wasn’t exposed to the Gino before the faith. I hung out with Larry Don Captain, who really makes dope music, and I’d take photos with Gino’s camera once in a while. But before that, a guy called Laone who had just graduated from photography school in South Africa had told me I had a great eye. Then Gino and Larry came along [and] I started taking interest. I didn’t have a camera at the time and out of the blue Gino gave me his camera.

Just like that?

Just like that! And that’s the same camera I’ve been using ever since. Everything including blogging, which I’ve been doing since I was 15, is a hobby. I’m starting to dabble in film-making now. I’m taking a motion graphics course.

What’s been your highlight in photography career?

The highlight of my photography?

How about that private shoot with Bissau a few weeks ago? That was something…

Yeah that was really something [laughs]. I got to meet Boity Thulo and Tbo Touch in a private jet and spend the night with them. It was really great man, it was nice to see life on the other side. When you fly private, you REALLY fly private! Before you even get in the airport, the pilot takes your bags and your passports; all you do is walk in. We did four stops in one afternoon; flew from here to Joburg to Bloemfontein, back to Lanseria and then came back here. That was dope but the highlight [of my career] would be the shoot I had with Glotto at the beginning of last year [2016] simply because the photos I produced then was my best work to date.

You did a bit of modelling for them as well…

Before I got behind the lens I was modeling. I love modelling but it wasn’t really like hard modelling, I just thought photo-shoots were cool. There’s a shoot I did with Van de Aarde in 2015 which I directed, that’s how modeling started for me [that was me] expressing my visual aesthetic and like how unorthodox and obscure I found things. That’s why even the Glotto shoot is weird because I directed that.

With the recent one where you were the model, looking at the images and the poses, someone would look at it and say it challenges masculinity because of the poses and the way you used your body to express yourself.

I’m not a very forward person and that makes me shy. When I’m at a shoot I try to get comfortable. For that one it was a unisex line and I tried to express that. Here’s my biggest problem; where we live now there’s fashion with borders and it’s not just within fashion, we have borders with everything we do and cos of that we’re not going anywhere. When I’m here [in Botswana] I wear the same style shoe on both feet, I dress normally or what could be seen as normal… not because I’m afraid to express myself but I feel that way when I’m here. When I wake up in Joburg tomorrow I’m gonna go to Braamfontein with a red shoe and a white shoe, my hair tied to the side wearing this long camo bomber jacket cos that’s how I felt that morning — I didn’t feel oppressed in any way, I didn’t feel like there were any borders, I didn’t feel like there were any borders, you know?! Coming back to your question; if I could paint a picture that’s how I would paint it. I would find a way to bridge the gap with my imagery, I’d try to tell a story in a different way.

Is that the way you approach music?

That’s the exact same way I approach music.

Are you also a skater?

I’m more of a skate enthusiast, I love the culture. I had a skate show actually in 2015 called Monster Rush. It was every Saturday at 6pm on Yarona FM. It was a cool time.

You also a designer for Anti BHVR, I believe.

Nah, that’s a line that was started by Ammo Ski Mask that I really took an interest in from the start. I loved what he was doing and the designs and shit. I felt like at the time he wished he could do more but there was such a rift in the culture because at the time people were just printing t-shirts. I feel like with ANTIBHVR, it was more than just printing t-shirts cos he did a lot with it. I fucked with the movement so much that I had to get it tatted on my knuckles. There’s a new line coming out this year actually. It’s been a while since new stuff came out so people should look out for that.

Speaking of Ski, you’ve been appearing in their [Faded Gang] videos and their performances for a while. How is the relationship like?

The relationship is great man. How do I say it?! I feel like people confuse Faded Gang and Faded Music Group. Faded Music Group is a collection of artists. There’s about eight of us if I’m not wrong; it’s me, BNHKD, Mane Dilla, OBADO, [Ammo] Ski Mask, DeeNyc, Dos, Chapo Luciano uhmm yeah… we’re like a collective. Then there’s Faded Gang which is just OBADO, Mane Dilla and Ammo Ski Mask.

How do you move through these different disciplines?

I think I’m just expressing myself the same way. It’s not like you listen to my music and see my photography and you see two different people, it’s all me. Everything that I make all correlates.

Another highlight I forgot to mention is meeting Trey 5000. That guy is amazing, he’s a musical genius cos everything he knows is self-taught. He’s got no musical training at all. He taught me how to make hot songs that are 2-and-a half minutes long. If you can make it hot in that short amount of time then someone will go back like, “damn I need to hear that again.” When you compare it to a 4 minute song, someone is going to feel like they’re full like, “man that’s a dope song but [let’s hear the] next song.” Khoisan Sean also had that. He put out 4 tracks and because it was that short you had to play it again…

Give them a bomb ass plate of soup rather than a whole mountain of food?

Yeah. Khoisan Sean’s EP also changed my shit. First time I heard it I was like, “bro! How hard can one man be?!” When I first heard it — cos people always say you guys sound Western or European — but when I heard it I felt like this is Botswana’s Hip Hop sound, this is the 267 sound. Besides Khoisan Sean its Mane Dilla.

I’ll definitely check him out. How long did you take to make the EP?

I don’t even have a release date but the first single Ke Go Bone is out. I’d say it took me half a year to record. The first song on the EP “Hello” was recorded around October-November. I just recently got into a relationship and that song is 100% about the girl I’m with now. Without her that song would have never been recorded because how it got recorded was I was at Twisted’s place, Guan played the beat, my girlfriend called me, Twisted went into the kitchen and she said some things that really made my day. That’s the moment I fell in love with my girlfriend. I literally put my phone down, headphones in, the beat was playing, and I just did it. No exaggeration, that’s how I recorded it; Twisted had left when the beat was playing to make a drink and when she came back the song was basically done! That [recording process] was 100% feeling.

So it wasn’t written or anything, you just went off?

None of the songs on the tape were written, it’s all freestyles.

Woah! That’s different.

[Laughs] That’s another thing Twisted is always on my ass about [she’s always] like, “bruh, you need to start practicing your songs, you don’t even know the lyrics to your songs” [laughs].

When people put out their first project, the idea is to have just that particular artist on it and have it be basically featureless. Why did you decide to have other people on it?

It’s a 5 track EP. Three songs are solos and the other two have features [Maxx Tokeyo, Twisted Butterfly and Nights In Milan]. I felt like only those people could help me capture my sound. That’s the reason I had those same people on the two tracks. I felt like they were able to bring it full circle because truth be told, until those last two tracks I didn’t know what direction it was going. The name of the EP is The Experience — it’s about the emotions and the trials and tribulations I had while creating that EP. I woke up and said, “who makes the same music as I do” and at that time they were going through the same shit I was going through and our lives were so intertwined. We were going through some shit together me, Twisted and Maxx and we made that music and it sounded good. It if wasn’t for those two features the tape wouldn’t be what it is. Two of those songs with features we recorded recently in Johannesburg with Nights In Milan who is a really dope female vocalist based there, she’s South African.

Who would you say were your major influences on this tape in terms of coming up with material to speak on?

The love and the heartbreak in my life is from two sources in my life. Most people don’t get this but the love that I get from people I consider my brothers… every time I’ve hurt or I’ve been emotionally packed was because of my brothers. People that’ll break your heart the most are people close to you so my grief comes from that but the love comes from the relationship I’m in right now. Every time I’ve said anything super cute or whatever in any of my lyrics was definitely because of the girl that I’m with, Bame.

And your musical influences on this?

I’d say Andre 3000, Fela Kuti, The Isley Brothers, Oliver Mtukudzi, Sade and Erykah Badu.

I noticed there’s an absence of Faded Music Group members. Was it a conscious effort to be your own man and set yourself apart?

I’d say in a sense yes but not really. My understanding of Faded Music Group from the jump is that everyone’s gotta pull their own weight. OBADO, Ski and Dilla’s success comes from them pulling their weight. They’ve been doing this longer than me and they’ve made the sacrifices they needed to make to get to where they’re at. Not that I needed to prove myself to them, I’m just pulling my weight cos nobody’s gonna pull your weight for you. And you can’t be dead weight, you feel me? We’re all trying to win and everyone’s got their role to play. If we’re all broke Ski can’t go work two shifts so that we can all eat meanwhile we’re all at the crib chilling. We all got hands and we all got feet, we’re all smart. No features from them on the tape just happened. I went through an experience and I put it out. If I had planned it, it wouldn’t be an experience.

And this is a musical snapshot of your life right now?

Yeah, the music on this was inspired by the relationship I’m in now. I played the EP for someone and they said it sounded like I’m singing for people in the room like it’s directed to a woman. I’m very introverted so I make music for a small audience and I’m very intimate. Even when I record I stand really close to the microphone and that’s why you can hear [my gasping and sniffling] as much as that’s really bad, but I’m really very intimate with everything I do. I was feeling that way about my relationship and she evoked those emotions in me so I made that type of music. There’s music I made where I was rapping about some other things but the majority of the music I make is women-orientated cos I love women… it’s all about the experience with the African woman. No hate to the exotic women, the Caucasian women, all women [laughs] but Black Lives Matter [laughs] I thought that was appropriate.

Since the EP is five songs I’m sure you have recorded more than that. In an era of microwave journalism with their first listen reviews and an audience that moves on after a week how do you plan on keeping your audience interested?

The way people consume music doesn’t put pressure on me. If I believed that I’d sharpened my sword I wouldn’t be worried. Man, look at artists like Andre 3000 and Frank Ocean. I feel like artists have like a 4 year cycle in the game to be upcoming, popping, to people forgetting about you. Frank Ocean can go 3 years without batting an eyelid but people will shit bricks and the world will stop when he drops a project cos that’s how great the music is. Making music is all feeling based, and as I said most tracks on there are not written, they’re just freestyles. So since I’m always making music and I always have music, I can pick 8 random songs at any time and put them out.

So this is just practice?

Yeah I haven’t reached my peak so this is all practice.

Connect with YSLA Lanruoj on the interweb
Soundcloud: YSLA Lanruoj
Facebook: YSLA Lanruoj or Satorienso

Words by Kwaku Gyanteh — Researcher & Consumer of Culture | Writer | Digital Content Creator | Twitter: @KwakusNotAmused