Presented by Sprite and FADER, Obey You Collective: South Africa is a series devoted to showcasing artists, trail-blazers, and bright young talents from South Africa. For this installment, we spoke with Tony Dangler, an ascending 25-year-old rapper from Johannesburg.
Tony Dangler is a bit of an enigma. The lanky, baby-faced emcee is whip-smart and ambitious, but he's also a total chiller. The 25-year-old has a degree in philosophy and is "constantly hustling," but he's also happy to zone out, play video games, and mess around with his crew. Maybe it has something to do with his spliced upbringing in Pietermaritzburg, where he bounced back and forth between his mom's place in town and his father's spot in a slightly more dodgy township. There's a duality to the music he makes, too, both as a solo artist and with his Jo' burg-based Revivolution Clique. He audibly respects classic, lyrical hip-hop —which he calls 'true school"— but he's also got a sharp ear for jumpy party-rap and futuristic production. When we spoke recently over Skype, Tony Dangler opened up about sneaking out for rap shows as a kid, Fight Night Round 2, and the formula for the perfect beat.
Where are you right now? I’m currently in downtown Jo’burg, my friend is setting up for a video they want to shoot in an underground parking garage. It’s close to Maboneng. It’s a pretty cool spot.
You wrote an original song for Obey You Collective: South Africa. What’s it about? In a nutshell, it’s what I go through in a day in my life. It kind of relays a story about me — this guy with a kind of poorer background [who] is now living in Johannesburg. I tried to touch on my financial situation and how I’d like to improve on that. I talk about how maybe I have been slept-on and it’s time you give me a chance and let me come up like other kids. I talk about world issues, I talk about political issues that affect our country, and I talk a bit about how dope I am.
Can you tell me about where you grew up? I grew up in the biggest township in Pietermaritzburg. I spent my tender years living with my dad in that township. Later on in primary school, I stayed with my Mom, who fortunately lived on the better side of town. In the beginning of my high school career, I moved back into the hood, and that’s when I actually got into rapping. I listened to hip-hop the whole time, but only then did I say, “Okay, I’m taking this by the horns.” After high school my mom shipped me off to Johannesburg because I guess I was getting a little out of hand. I came here to study geography at the University of Johannesburg, and that didn’t work out. Then I started doing philosophy, which I completed last year. Now I’m taking a year off to just do this rap thing.
In what way were you “out of hand?” I think as a black kid growing up in a conservative family, I wasn’t afforded many opportunities, like going to shows. So I had to do it underhand just so I could get to hip-hop events at night. It really didn’t sit well with my parents, especially my mom; she was very vocal about it. Because I was doing things underhand, to [her] it seemed like I was doing something that wasn’t legal. She thought that the best thing would be to take me out of town. They had a specific plan to straighten me out – it didn’t work. It’s been a difficult process convincing them I need to do this. But now my mom supports me 100% and it’s such a great feeling. I'm in a happy place.
What’s your average day like? I’m kind of unemployed at the moment. I’m constantly hustling. I get up in the morning, shower, and then spend an hour or two writing stuff down, even if it’s just ideas. I play some games; I’m a heavy gamer. After that, I go to my friend’s bedroom studio and we try to figure out how to conquer the world.
What’s your favorite video game right now? I’m currently playing Diablo III, which I finished two times, but now I’m trying to go through the hardest level in the game. I’m not that great at it. When it comes to Tekken 6, I’m a beast. Also I’ve been playing Fight Night 2, but I’m not doing very well. I created a Curtis Jackson character. I thought I would just beast with this guy — a gangster rapper-slash-boxer —how can you lose? But it’s not working out.
Other than 50 Cent, who are some of your favorite rappers? Curren$y. I’m also feeling a lot of the guys that Alchemist is working with. Even Prodigy came back nice with the Albert Einstein. Action Bronson is mad nice. I can honestly say that even though I’m trying to make bumpy stuff, I’m still listening to that grungy-ass true school music. I love rappers that can still rap.
What do you look for in a beat? If I want to make a track that’s bangin', I will look for something that makes me say, “Woah.” Like, if I was a dog, my ears would be poked up in the air. People aren’t doing samples right, so I’m keen on synths and all that. If you can, get me [a beat with] banger kicks, banger 808s, and synthesizers. Otherwise, just get me a nice trap beat. Trap beats are getting closer and closer to the drum & bass sound. That’s the type of stuff I like — that makes me want to rap forever. I also enjoy South African sounds in a beat. I feel like that whole Kwaito movement is being regenerated. Guys like Okmalumkoolkat are doing it fresh. That shit is bangin’. I can’t hate on that at all.
Where do you see yourself in five years? I don’t know if I’ll be this famous rapper that everyone aspires to be, but I see myself as an entertainer. I hope the rapping thing works out and I at least have enough to pay for basic things. I do want to be rich — but I don’t expect that. I see myself on TV, I hear myself on radio, I see myself performing on way bigger stages. I want to one day say, “I used to be there and now I’m here.”