The Boy Who Would Be King: The YoungstaCPT Story

Award-winning rapper YoungstaCPT has been unapologetically representing Cape Town through his music since 2010. Now, a decade later, he’s risen through the ranks and cemented his name among SA’s rap royalty. This is his moment.

A city’s acronym may only seem important to people who spend their time in and out of airports, but for rapper YoungstaCPT, the three-letter abbreviation for Cape Town does more than just show where he’s from – it tells the world who he is.

Humble Beginnings

Born Riyadh Roberts and raised by a single mom, the 28-year-old from Wynberg in Cape Town’s southern suburbs is a household name around the Mother City. Now he’s making waves across the country after the release of his long-awaited debut album, 3T – which appropriately stands for “Things Take Time”. The body of work that he’d been compiling since 2015 proved to be worth the wait – Youngsta scooped Album Of The Year at the 2019 SA Hip Hop Awards (SAHHA), putting himself, and Capetonian rappers in general, on the map.

But long before claiming the hip hop crown, Youngsta was exactly what his rap name describes – a kid. And like any kid his age, looked up to his favourite characters on TV. His passion for music and entertainment began when he first watched a certain Fresh Prince who moved in with his wealthy auntie and uncle in Bel Air.

“It all started from as early as Primary School – pretty much since I first saw Will Smith in Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” he recalls. “I always credit that as the beginning because I wanted to emulate him. Not necessarily be a rapper – I just wanted to be Will Smith. I would rap along to the theme song and try to match the outfits he wore on the show.”

Photography by IndexFinger88

Later on, he discovered the likes of 2Pac, Eminem, Snoop Dogg and DMX, who would shape his style of rapping and influence the way he delivers his lyrics. On any stage that he’s been given, Youngsta has electrified the crowd with his energy and powerful stage presence, but this wasn’t the obvious outcome when he was honing his craft in his bedroom as a teen.

“I kinda kept my rapping a secret because a lot of people would make fun of me for wanting to become a rapper,” he admits. “It wasn’t a cool thing at the time. Even the girls would make gat of me. How was I supposed to flirt with a girl and then say ‘I wanna be a rapper’ and expect her to be impressed? So, I kept working on it in my room by myself.”

YoungstaCPT x Muffin Man

This isolated dedication made young Riyadh Roberts want to chase his dreams even more, and towards the end of his matric year, he met someone who had a similar vision – DJ, producer and constant collaborator, Muffin Man. “I decided that as soon as I finished school, I would pursue this [rapping] full-time, and nobody could wys me otherwise. Then, literally, in the last week of school, I met Muffin [Man]. It was destiny.”

It was the beginning of a brotherhood that sparked a decade’s worth of creative endeavours – starting with the collective music and apparel brand Y?GEN. Youngsta and his team made merchandise to accompany the rap songs and live performances. What started as a couple of t-shirts became its very own store in Wynberg.

“Some people thought we always had a store,” he says. “And, in a way, we always did. We used to sell our merch out The Loft, which was a club by night, but we turned it into a shop by day. So having the official Y?GEN store has always been part of the plan.”

Momma’s Boy

YoungstaCPT wearing Arnette shades, available at Sunglass Hut

Along with an impressive skill for writing clever rhymes that weaved in some of Cape Town’s colloquial slang, the rapper also gained a lot of attention for his streetwear style and collection of sneakers. This eye for fashion stemmed from his mother’s love for clothes and artistic vision.

“My mom definitely schooled me on how to dress. And to this day, I still don’t have a stylist. I style myself. Even in my music videos. She also played a big role in steering me creatively.”

One of Youngsta’s recent collaborations with singer Kyle Deutsch involved both his wizardry with words and his taste in style. In the music video for “Face The Sun”, the rapper dons a pair of Arnette shades (from Sunglass Hut) while cleverly mentioning other sunglass brands in his verse. But while we, as mere mortals, might wonder how one can transition so smoothly from hard-hitting hip hop anthems to laid- back summer jams – for Youngsta, it’s just “another day at the office”. He also credits his mother for inspiring his taste in music of all genres.
“I’m lucky to have a mother that’s open- minded and supportive of my creativity. She allowed me to experiment and listen to different types of music. She would play a lot of R&B and House music – some Mary J Blige, Ashanti, Brandy, SWV and then some hip hop,” he says.

“And I’m proud that she did. Because it would benefit me a lot in the future. Now I’m able to crossover to different genres very easily. If I ended up being a very hardcore ‘hip hop head’, I wouldn’t have been able
to collaborate as well as I have with artists such as J Something, Chad Saaiman, Jimmy Nevis and Kyle Deutsch.”

The Mixtape Marathon

YoungstaCPT at Rocking The Daisies 2019. Photography by Tyrone Bradley/Red Bull Content Pool.

Before dropping his first official album in 2019, Youngsta released 24 mixtapes in 24 months and then six more, bringing the total to 30. His secret to continuously delivering all year round has been consistency and patience. He’s always sharpening his lyrical blade to prepare himself for any project, feature and especially for his live freestyles.

“I make songs every day. Some of them will never come out. Some of them will come out next year and people will think it’s new. Even on 3T… Pallet Gun, Powerful and a couple of other songs were made in 2016, but were only released in 2019,” he says. “People also ask me to freestyle all the time. I don’t like to do it that much anymore – but if someone asks me to, I’m not gonna suck at it. It’s going to sound like I wrote it. Not because I’m the best rapper or anything, but because I’ve been practising and freestyling at all my shows.”

Along with freestyling and performing his biggest hits in front of massive crowds, a big factor in Youngsta’s live shows is the hype that he brings on stage. He jumped and ran all over the stage at Rocking the Daisies last year – and the festival-goers fed off that energy. What makes this even more impressive is that he can do it in a Y?GEN bulletproof vest, a headband and high-top sneakers. Surely, there’s some fitness routine that he’s hiding from us, right?

“I’ve been running – both on and off stage,” he explains. “I also make sure I drink a lot of water and have lots of fruit. I know that if I want my career to last long, I have to be healthy and up for the challenge. Your body is a temple, as they say. What you put in, you get out.”

Finding His Voice

Older YoungstaCPT fans will remember a time when the 2018 SAHHA Lyricist Of The Year didn’t sound like he does today. Like other aspiring bar-spitters, he would rap in an American accent because of the influence that the US has on hip hop as a genre. But he soon realised that to be a global success, he had to start a little closer to home. So he dropped the American act and embraced his native coloured accent while incorporating Capetonian slang. He now rapped the way that he spoke – which would, in turn, make it more lekker to be local.

“It’s kind of a cheat card – using the slang,” he jokes. “I always knew I had it at my disposal but I never used it because I was a bit self- conscious [about how it would be received]. I think slang became more acceptable after my generation – 90s & 2000s kids – started using it as colloquialisms. And it became something that’s local. Something that’s ours. So after learning most of the American hip hop terms by listening to so many rappers, I thought: ‘why not teach them something?’

“Now, even though I’m still influenced by international rap and western music, I’m putting it into a local context that we, as residents [of this country], can understand and relate to. You [as a local artist] should take certain things from those global examples that make sense to you and then mix it in a pot of your own experiences, then serve it to the mense.”

Things Take Time

That’s exactly what he did when he released the much anticipated 3T album. You’ll need about two hours to listen to the full project, which may seem long to some but to Youngsta fans, this is what they’ve been waiting for. The album cover features Youngsta’s grandfather, whose spoken interludes act as narration that seamlessly joins each of the 22 tracks. Youngsta knew that this was the final piece of the puzzle.

“My grandfather is the ‘X’ factor of this whole album, that’s why I put him on the cover also. It’s my first album and I’m not on the cover, which is rare in hip hop. I recorded all of his audio back in 2015,” he says.

“I think it’s best that I waited so long because it gave me time to decide whether this is what I wanna say and whether these are the best songs for it. And because it was created over a long period of time, listeners get different versions of me as an artist throughout the album.”

Now, after bagging awards for not only the album, but for one of the project’s music videos as well, the rapper who turned his personal hobby into a nationwide sensation looks to continue the momentum, but also lend a
hand to up-and-coming artists. His advice to them: “If you want to compete in this industry, you’re going to have to get out of your comfort zone, and take the criticism head on. You’re gonna have to exert yourself and make yourself tired – almost daily. Invest more into who you want to be. Don’t be lazy and don’t sleep on yourself… because things take time.”

For more YoungstaCPT, follow him on social media @youngstacpt and stream his new album on Spotify, Apple Music and Google Play Music.

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