Will.I.Am messed with the wrong one.
If it wasn’t immediately clear just hours after the release of Megan Ryte’s 2020 single, Culture, it would soon become evident why Will.I.Am, who produced the American DJ’s single, had made a grave error of judgement.
The beat for Culture sounded suspiscioulsly familiar. That’s because it had sampled (*cough* plagiarised) the beat from DJ Lag’s 2017 smash hit, Ice Drop and the moment that the Durban-Born musician found out he flagged it. Millions of South Africans immediately put pressure on Megan Ryte and Will.I.Am to come clean and after insurmountable pressure, the Black Eyed Peas frontman did just that with an apology and later, a settlement.
Little did they know at the time that they had not just lifted material from any artist, but a literal pioneer of a culture. DJ Lag, who is hailed in South Africa as the King of Gqom, who Beyonce Knowles herself handpicked to produce the track My Power, is no small fish (not that stealing from small artists is right!). Our king was never going to take this lying down.
If there’s anything Will.I.Am did get right, it’s the prediction he made as part of his apology. Will said, “I apologise to DJ Lag. You are an awesome producer, you have an amazing future ahead of you”
One year on from the incident, and DJ Lag’s stock is higher than ever as he prepares to release his hotly anticipated debut album, Meeting With The King following years of dominating the national Gqom circuit.
In our first ever interview with the prodigious DJ from Clermont, we speak to DJ Lag about the craftsmanship that has gone into his new record, his role on the rise of Gqom and of course how he feels about the attempted song-theft, one year later.
The King Has Arrived
DJ Lag, welcome to Moziak Magazine, how are you feeling today?
I’m grand, I’m just trying to recover. We worked really hard this weekend! I had 6 shows, some here in Durban, some in Jozi, it’s a lot but we’re good!
They call you the King of Gqom! How does it feel the crown of an entire culture?
Mfethu, when this movement started I knew I had a responsibility to play my part. I could see what it was doing here in Durban and I knew I had the calling to do my part to take it further. Ever since I started with the originators of Gqom, the likes of DJ Sbucardo and Target noNdile, I was travelling with them, working with them, watching them. All of this had a huge influence on me and I look up to them so much. So that influenced me and my sound, and I just did what I was called on to do and I am proud that the people feel I am worthy of the crown.
We don’t hear enough about the early creators of Gqom. How would you say the movement started?
The producers who are on right now, we all started together to be honest, we’ve been on the journey together. In the beginning we were dancing, we were part of different dance crews which is massive in Durban. At that time most people were dancing to tribal house, there wasn’t quite the gqom sound we know now at the time. But at one particular dance competition, this one DJ came with a song that was just incredibly unique in its beat and we all started dancing to it. Then before long someone else began to produce a song that sounded like it. Then we started making more of this particular sound, but without calling it a particular name. It just sounded like house with the spirit of Kwaito.
But at some stage someone coined the term “gqom” because of the way the drums just banged, and from there we all adopted that name and ran with it.
And how does it feel to see the genre go global now?
I think the first time I realised this was in 2015 and that’s where I saw how much potential this genre had. Then 2016 everything blew up even more and suddenly it was viral everywhere. Suddenly it was a worldwide demand for this genre and from there people expressed their interest in working with us, working with Destruction Boyz, Babes, Mampintsha, and many other gqom acts. Now we were beyond just Durban you know? Now I was touring Portugal, London, music festivals here and there, African countries, South African cities the works.
Now I’m working with Black Major, they take really good care of their artists – just look how each of us are doing? This whole experience showed me that we do best as Africans when we stick to our authentic sounds and that’s something I’m proud of all of us gqom musicians for what we are doing.
And now all of this has brought us to this point as you are on the cusp of releasing your debut studio album – Meeting with the King. We’ve already heard the first single and a new single is out today.
Yes that’s right, we’ve just dropped the latest single from the album which is titled Raptor and features Canadian DJ Sinjin Hawke. He is a really interesting person to work with and this song is just a taste of what’s coming on Meeting with the King.
We’re eagerly anticipating it – how are you feeling about the record?
I feel like I have been waiting my whole life for this moment. I have been saying for the longest time that “I’m ready to drop my album, I’m so ready to release it” but management has had a plan and a vision for me which I was patient enough to commit to. I trust them with every step of my career and they advise me to make sure everything we do is in my best interests.
BUt I won’t lie I’ve been excited for this album and now I’m glad that it’s finally here. I’ve released EPs, I’ve dropped singles, I’ve toured, I’ve done the most and now it’s the right time to drop the full length album.
The time definitely seems perfect! I mean if international artists are biting your sound then clearly you’ve created some demand…
I have to ask about the Will.I.Am incident. Did he ever hit you up after the whole saga last year?
To be honest all he said was the video he released during that time. He didn’t really hit me up or try to get in touch or anything. This thing became really serious hey, they (WIll.I.AM and Megan Ryte) didn’t even end up releasing that song (Culture) because of the backlash we call created.
There’s no way the track could have stayed up though, look how much pressure your fans put on them!
You know what? I knew I had fans but I didn’t realise I had that kind of support to put pressure on globally renowned artists who then ended up changing their minds about the whole thing. That’s where I realised that, wow, a LOT of people really, really support me and are willing to put their voice behind me to help me get justice. I was so humbled by the reaction on social media.
We read that Will.I.Am eventually compensated you though?
Yes he did at the beginning of the year. But it was done through the team, and we sorted it like professionals. I don’t have any real bad blood, I just want us to appreciate and respect each other’s sound. There’s no way an artist from here would get away with stealing Will.I.Am’s music and so we should also be afforded the same respect.