Prince Kaybee injects meaning into house

The house producer and deejay attributes his success to making more than just beats, basing his hits on lyrics that empower to create songs with meaning.

Prince Kaybee is one of most notable South African house producers and deejays. He has never looked back since winning the SABC 1 competition 1s and 2s in 2015. Born Kabelo Motsamai, the 30-year-old grew up in a small town called Senekal in the Free State. For the past four years, Prince Kaybee has been churning out hits that have been staples on many dancefloors. 

“I like to call myself a house pop artist,” Prince Kaybee told an intimate audience at the iStore in Sandton, Johannesburg, in September, during his talk titled Inspire Talk: The journey to crown! 

“I’ll tell you why,” he said. “Because I like being on radio. I like making music for a majority of people. I don’t like this whole underground thing, that’s not me. I like making music for the masses.

“In pop, the lyrics dominate the music. When you remember a song, you must be able to say the song says this and that. And people want to sing along to songs and not just listen to the beat.

“So I base my songs on lyrics. Completely,” said Prince Kaybee. 

Dance floor dynamics

Lyricism is secondary in house music. As long as the hook is catchy and easy to remember, a house artist can easily score themselves a hit. Of course, the genre has plenty of songs that excel in lyricism, but who’s checking for penmanship when they are sweating it out on the dance floor?

There are a number of house musicians who offer simply a catchy hook and a banging beat. It’s left to the listener to choose if they just want to dance or if they want to pay attention to the ideas being expressed in the lyrics. 

Prince Kaybee and singer-songwriter Msaki gifted the country with the hit Fetch Your Life. It’s a song that urges listeners to take agency in creating the life of their dreams. Msaki sings: “Fetch your life, go on, be alive. Ain’t nobody living out here. Be someone who’s living out here.”

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The song is not just an empty motivation. It acknowledges that by not “fetching” their lives, people can blame their difficulties on circumstances. Msaki’s lyrics continue: “We pray away, pray away, pray away. The pain of not being in alignment with our dreams.”

The video follows the song’s story arc. Five women – a hockey player, a chef, a business student, a model and a woman working out in the gym – all reach a point in their respective fields where they feel like throwing in the towel, but decide to “fetch their lives” instead. 

“All my songs have got meaning. Even the videos that we shoot, there’s a narrative behind them. You won’t see any use of alcohol or drugs or half-naked women,” says Prince Kaybee.

Beautiful Gugulethu

He speaks of the rigorous craftsmanship that goes into his music’s lyrics. In his recent hit, Gugulethu, made with Afro Brothers, Supta and singer-songwriter Indlovukazi, he says “we could have sung about Soweto. We could have sung, ‘Soweto, Soweto’. But that’s …” he chuckles. “That doesn’t sound good. We could have said, ‘Alexandra’. That doesn’t sound [great] either, you know. So, we had to come up with something that sounds [great], according to the music.”

Prince Kaybee says that being a producer rather than a beatmaker sets him apart. “This is a conversation that I think should be had in the house music community.

“So there’s a difference between beat-making and music production,” he says. “When you’re cooking, you set up the [ingredients], then someone comes and cooks the meal. Someone else comes and serves the meal. You have people that can do all that, and then you have people that can only do some of that.”

He says that his production skills, more than his beat-making skills, are why Gugulethu works. “It’s a three-year-old song. It was released in Mpumalanga,” he says. “I heard it and thought, ‘Let me do something there.’ I didn’t even do much. I changed chord progressions and added keys.”

The art of producing

He describes working with Indlovukazi on beats as a production exercise. “There are a lot of great beatmakers who are really amazing,” he says. “But when it comes to arranging the song, mastering the song, putting the vocals where they are supposed to be… that’s where production comes in.

“So, what does a producer do? Directing the vocalist, [deciding] how high the vocals must go, the keys, changing the pitch … Indlovukazi has a very aggressive voice.” Prince Kaybee says it took his ear as a producer to decide on the right method of mixing for the singer’s unorthodox voice.

Gugulethu celebrates township life. Indlovukazi sings that life is simpler and more fun in the ’hood compared with the upmarket area of the city. Prince Kaybee and Indlovukazi filmed in Gugulethu township for the video in which dancers strut their stuff on the streets.

Banomoya was a smash hit in 2018. It follows the same formula as many of his songs and features lyrics by singer-songwriter and poet Busiswa, which are its focal point. Busiswa sings about women who have their own money and don’t depend on men to buy them drinks when they go out partying. In the video, Busiswa and her friends give Prince Kaybee the cold shoulder when he prowls around them.

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In the recently released EP, Crossover Music, Prince Kaybee’s second project this year, he uses the same formula. The lyrics are at the forefront and if the songs aren’t about love, they are empowering. The project’s opening song, Imbokodo, may be a recycled version of clichés and one that perpetuates the dangerous notion that women are strong warriors, but it has its sights on issues relevant to society today. 

A far cry from the materialistic and hedonistic hits of the popular house subgenres of amapiano and gqom, Prince Kaybee says Crossover Music is something for his fans to hold on to while he spends some time figuring out the international market; he says it is time for a new phase in his blossoming career.

“My brand means nothing overseas at the moment. It took Black Coffee a good 10 to 12 years just for him to play overseas. That market is very difficult. I know people say you must be original, you must get there and be original. Eish, I don’t know about the dance floors that I’m trying to penetrate, if being original works. I’m still trying to figure that out.”

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