Twenty Questions with Zambia's Obstreperous MC, Holstar
|H.O.L.S.T.A.R., Heavy Obstreperous Lyricist
Style Tremendous and Amazing Rhymes
Group: Zone Fam
Birthplace: Lusaka, Zambia, Africa
Languages Spoken: Nyanja, Bemba, Tonga, English
First Song Release: "Versatile" (2005)
Global African Music Award - Best Group
Channel O Award - Best Group
Zambian Music Award - Best Collaboration
1. Holstar, thank you for joining me for this Praverb.net Q&A. It means a lot that, despite the gap between us geographically, we can connect with such ease for a good purpose. I feel an artist's name says a lot about that person. What is the meaning behind your name and how did you come upon it?
Holstar: Heavy Obstreperous Lyricist Style Tremendous and Amazing Rhymes! Before I was recording full time I was The Host, making amateur recordings and practicing impromptu rhyme sessions at home. Along the way it evolved into The Holstar and now just Holstar. The meanings are limitless.2. Where was/is home? And how old were you, doing those home sessions? Did you have support from your family?
Home is in Lusaka, Zambia, born and raised! My first true encounter with Hip Hop was at 11 years old with the Doggystyle album. Home sessions would be later on in my teens; my family just thought it was a phase but all these years later it stuck.3. That's dope. So this is 1993. What are most people listening to in Zambia right now? Does Zambian Hip Hop exist? Are US artists coming to Zambia? How do get your hands on Doggystyle, and what are your first thoughts about Snoop and rap?
1993 it was!
Right now most people are listening to a lot of Afro Pop music, African Hip Hop and Pop music from the West -- mostly whatever is on digital satellite television. We have had a few US artists come to Zambia, but mostly those in the Gospel genre, like Lecrae, Andy Mineo, etc.
Doggystyle was entirely my older brother's doing. He was a big Hip Hop fan and was at school overseas at the time. My first thoughts about Snoop was he made Rap seem so easy. Rap in general I felt was a beautiful form of expression. Memorizing lyrics and repeating them felt so good!4. And what were most people listening to in 1993?... Would you say Snoop influenced you? What about other artists, Zambian, American or otherwise?
Back in '93 it was a lot of Hip Hop, R&B, Country, and more. We had programs like The Beam, Yo MTV Raps and Rap City on National TV and recorded VHS tapes. Also, Zambians in particular have had a never-ending love story with Congolese Rumba music. Snoop definitely influenced me earlier on, as did Funkdoobiest -- I was a big West Coast fan. From the East Coast, Nas, Wu Tang, Tupac and Biggie were also huge influences.
In Africa, Reggie Rockstone from Ghana was very inspiring. Later on the list grew bigger with names like Zubz, Tumi and Proverb from South Africa and, locally, Daddy Zemus (RIP), Paul Ngozi, PK Chishala (RIP), and others.5. OK, so what were the Zambian and larger African Hip Hop scenes like then?
Back then I would say the "Hip Hop" scene in Zambia and the rest of Africa was in its infancy. Zambia in particular had a good number of underground artists -- dancers and the like -- trying to define their sounds and find a footing, so to speak. Other countries had a few established artists.6. So when did things really pop off, and what role did you play? From your bio it seems you were there from either the start or the one who took it to the next level in your country. And from "Fly Away," the fourth and final track on your 2014 EP Family.Love.Country.Passion, it seems like 2007-2010 were the pivotal years. Tell me more. And what is your relationship to Teck-Zilla, who you shout out in the song?
I started my recording career in 2004, officially. I released an EP around the same time -- me and a friend called Kati. We opened our own little studio in 2006. In the same year I released my first album, The Intellectual Property, non commercially. We already had a few emcees, such as Crisis and Nemo, who released albums and had commercial success. I added on to the movement and Hip Hop slowly started gaining traction to what is the biggest genre in Zambia today. I founded Zone Fam with Kati and Al Kani.
A few years later, I met my man Teck-Zilla on myspace and we dropped our first mixtape The Full Script. At this point we had people from other countries taking notice. Teck-Zilla and I went on to work on The Extraordinaires and have had a great working relationship over the years. To me, Teck-Zilla is one of the best producers to ever bless the boards.7. Yeah, Teck's music is fire. So, where is Zambian Hip Hop now? And where is African Hip Hop in the grand scheme of things? What are you doing to build the scene locally? And what has the feedback been from overseas?
Zambian Hip Hop is in its prime right now -- it's the biggest and most viable genre in the Country. It is impacting a lot of youth in the country and slowly going international. The group I founded and now manage, Zone Fam has won a couple of international awards, including a Global African Award and a Channel O Award for Best group. The Hip Hop scenes in countries such as South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria are also thriving, with a lot of young people making a living and a big difference in society. We have had organizations in the past, such as the Hip Hop Foundation here in Zambia, which have been platforms to help promote the culture and help build upcoming careers.
More recently, there is the Street Culture movement that includes other forms of expression, including Skateboarding, Dancing and Art. This has had a massive response.
The response from overseas has been good, with platforms such as Planet Earth Planet Rap taking notice of the music. CNN did a piece on our Skateboarding scene. And the impact that radio itself has had on our youth has simply been amazing.8. I love it. And I love what PEPR and OkayAfrica are doing for you guys. That's how I first took notice of you. What does it mean to you, as a Zambian man, for artists from Africa and the African diaspora to be getting recognition from the US, still the biggest place to make a name for yourself, but also the place/people responsible for slavery and imperialism?
We are happy to be getting noticed, let alone getting any recognition. We want the music to be heard globally and we are making strides to get in such a position. We want everyone to see Africa in a positive light through our music and also realize that we can stand with the best. I actually see a lot of artists from the US coming to Africa because this is where it's at. With advancements in communication and infrastructure, I see more and more people coming to Africa -- and the global village becoming a smaller place.9. What an inspiring response. So, do you see our forthcoming global collab as a part of that movement? In your words, how did you meet AWKWORD? And what do you expect to see from the record.
The global collab you are working on is definitely part of the movement!
AWKWORD and I had a mutual friend in the late, great Praverb, who was Hip Hop personified and was all about collaborating as well as making life easier for upcoming artists by equipping them with all the tools.
In our collab, I expect to hear diversity and rawness: Rap in its undiluted form. I am a very observant person, so once I saw you working on some stuff, I hit you up and asked to be a part of whatever was going on. I'm all for the love of it!10. Would you spit a few bars from your verse for us?
"An '80s baby when Hip Hop was in its infancy, like let there be light with open eyes they said this infant sees / An African drum beat, bare feet, the ground cracks open, my ancestors can't let this vocal cords from me"11. I can't wait to hear it. So tell me about your other work. I listened to your 2014 EP Family.Love.Country.Passion, and I loved the beats and the vibe. Great writing and great choice of background for your words. How did this album come together and how did you decide what beats to use, which songs to keep, and which topics to tackle? Is there any theme or point you definitely want fans to take away from it?
Family.Love.Country.Passion was inspired by another EP I released earlier on in 2014 called God.Life.City.Time. I wanted to share intimate stories and talk about people and moments in time that will always be a part of me. At the time I was working with Shinko Beats and Shom-C. They gave me all these beats but those first three really spoke to me. Roc Beats, who produced the last track, "Fly Away," sent me the beat a while back and, while I was in the process of making the EP, the concept I wanted to go with meshed well with the beat.
I want people to see a different side to me: a man passionate about many issues, who goes through the same things in life as everyone else.12. So is that how you differentiate yourself from other artists? And what do you think of mainstream, commercial or major label rap today? Any artists you particularly like or dislike?
I feel like, if one can pour his/her heart into the music, whatever it is, then the artist will leave something that people can relate to years later. With Rap, everyone has an audience -- and Underground Hip Hop is important for the mainstream to exist, and vice versa. The larger audiences are younger and they will understand music differently from even just 10 years ago!
As much as I feel like Rap has digressed and the message is more materialistic and misogynistic, it is an opportunity for more conscious artists to find better ways to get their messages across and grab the younger audience. The beauty is that major labels are becoming less controlling, and one can be his/her own label and just shop for distribution.
I admire Tech N9ne's grind, it's amazing... and, yeah, every time I hear or see Young Thug, it's like I'm dreaming. But that's music!
Back here at home, Dominant1 from Malawi inspires me a lot. His creativity is genius.13. Yeah, Tech N9ne and Dominant1 inspire me as well. What three things would you tell an upcoming artist are most important to never forget when navigating this deadly music industry?
1. Be original. Don't be afraid to be yourself and don't follow trends.
2. Be independent, never chase a record deal, brand yourself, and you will get all sorts of offers.
3. Leave a lasting legacy. You can do all sorts of things to sustain yourself but the end result must be something that people will remember in the next millennium.
14. What are the three biggest socio-political issues facing us today? In Zambia? In the US? In the world?
The biggest socio-political issue in Zambia is Education, and access to information. I believe if more people had access to quality Education and information via the Internet and other media, we would be able to make better-informed decisions. The Constitution is a big issue here.
In the US, I would say, the racial divide is an issue. In an advanced democracy with all the infrastructure and freedom of expression, why is race still such an issue?
In the world, is it the gap between the rich and poor that is widening every second. It's a ticking time bomb.15. Couldn't have said it better myself. What if that bomb went off? Could that be a good thing? Be Nostradamus and predict what would happen for us.
I don't even want to imagine it! But chaos, lawlessness, apocalypse? Not good at all... Still, I believe the world can be a better place; and music can be the healer, nothing else.16. But wouldn't that be justice?
We need Justice. We don't live in a perfect world but at least we can put a smile on someone's face or give them hope.17. Got it. So who are your three biggest influences, politically or philosophically, and why?
To be totally honest, I am not big on politics and I follow my own philosophy. I am inspired by everyday life and everyday people. I try and take what is negative and make it positive. I surround myself with people that want to see the best from me and also keep it real with me. But I will say, as of late, I have been really inspired by Akon's story and his work in Africa. He is a true African son who wants to see Africa prosper.18. What are your three most important possessions, and why?
My HTC HD7 Mobile Phone, my Toyota Run-X car, and my mind. My phone keeps me connected -- I wouldn't have been able to do this interview without it, and it takes a beating! My car gets me from point A to point B, and it saves me a lot of time and hustle with public transport and high fees that cab drivers charge. But most importantly, my mind is my number-one possession. It gets me into trouble but most of the time it gets me out of it. I have a wild imagination that has given me some of the best ideas that I use on a daily basis.19. What's more important, money, power or respect, and why?
Respect is the most important because you can lose and gain money or power at any time. Respect is hard to gain and, once you have it, you have a lot of possibilities.20. What is the one thing you want the world to remember about you when you go?
I would like to be remembered for creating opportunities for others and for being an exceptional Wordsmith, which is a work in progress.