Anatii is nervous ahead of Friday's release of "Be Careful What You Wish For (BCWYWF)". It's his first collaboration album with AKA, who in turn laughs and asks why. "It's a whole album man!" Anatii exclaims, laughing.
Not that it's the public's opinion that has him nervous. This isn't the first time the two are working together.
Two years ago they released "The Saga", the single that they've now built on to release an album that themes on spirituality and a deeper sense of self.
It's something they now exude. We're at a studio in Benmore, and Anatii looks chilled in track pants and a hoodie, far more casual than I've seen him before. AKA arrives shortly after and apologises, saying he was running late from the gym. I've been asked more times than I can remember what AKA is like in person, and from the three other times I've met him, he's always been polite -- it's no different this time.
"Shortly after we'd squashed our differences, a little while after the 2016 BETs [Black Entertainment Television awards], either I called Anatii or he called me and we ended up in studio and said, 'let's work'. When we got back in, it wasn't 'oh, we should make an album together', it was just 'let's make some music'. One track led to two tracks and two to three and we were like, 'okay, we should make an album'."
"We were still like, maybe not," says Anatii. "Because he didn't want to do it."
Anatii: "You didn't! He was like, aaah relax. You said relax!"
AKA: "So it was your idea?"
Anatii: "I never said it was my idea. Just in the beginning..."
There's clear excitement with the two debating what their favourite tracks are. I sort of want to get it over with so that I can finally hear whether it's going to live up to my and their fans' expectations or not.
We'd been waiting a long time, after all. It was set to be released on July 14, but was pushed back by another two weeks following the distribution agreement between the two and Universal Records. Instead, fans were given a pre-order option, track list and the fourth single, "Holy Mountain".
The saga around 'The Saga'
The famous 2015 song "The Saga", which is the last song on "BCWYWF", solidified Anatii's career, debuting at number one on iTunes. This was also the first time the two had worked together until their "production break", as AKA calls it. With the release of Composure a few months later, one heard a completely different AKA to the more calm and rational 29-year-old I'm interviewing.
The internet was on fire in September that year as everyone spent their time listening to and discussing AKA's diss track. It grabbed everyone's attention. Composure detailed quite a lot about AKA's relationship with rappers Cassper Nyovest and Riky Rick, his personal relationships and the amount Anatii wanted to charge him for the very same beat he used for Composure.
"I'm the reason niggas had 'The Saga' on repeat / Now you wanna charge me eighty thousand for a beat? / Load it up on data file, put it on wax / Streets on smash but your video trash."
Anatii hit back at the song, saying AKA used the beat and opening verse "without knowledge or consent". He then threatened to take legal action against AKA. The two say it took a little time, but they moved on from that moment and are now learning from and teaching each other, with AKA saying he wishes he had had Anatii's calmness far earlier in his career.
I asked AKA why the song was included on this album: "For me, we couldn't leave 'The Saga' out because it's pivotal to the story of "BCWYWF". It tied everything together and it's an amazing record and it just had to be on this album. We must also realise that we can't be so arrogant as to think that everybody has heard everything. This album will be released in the US and other parts of the world via iTunes, so there are people who've never heard it before.
"We don't make music just for South Africa, we make music for the world."
The making of 'BCWYWF'
"The album is called 'Be Careful What You Wish For' because people had been asking us to make music together. You know, on social media they have all these fantasy football-like lineups [of hip-hop collaborations they'd like to see]. So we thought let's call the album 'BCWYWF' because that's what fans had been asking for," explains AKA about the title.
AKA: "I see you were on the plane today jamming it. How's it sounding?"
Anatii: "Dude... 'Angelz'! Oooh!"
AKA: "That joint man... The people I've played that joint for are just like, 'this is a plug, yo'."
Anatii: "But also 'Bryanston Drive'. Today on the plane I was like, wow."
AKA: "Like some days some joints bump harder than others?"
Anatii: "Yeah, because it's like how I feel you know? So today 'Bryanston Drive' and 'Angelz'... Yoh!"
AKA: "Tshiamo [part of AKA's management team] was driving me and my girl [Bonang Matheba] back from the club the other night and we played 'Angelz'. I don't know if it was the drinks, but the song was sounding crazy. It was just BOOMING!"
Anatii: "It's because it's new. Remember we had worked on the other songs for so long."
Anatii and AKA say they've been working on this album for the better part of this year.
"Or do you want to say 'The Saga' came out in 2015 – so maybe this album has actually been worked on for a while," says AKA.
"We started on '10 Fingers' on October 31. Oh sh*t!" says Anatii.
"And here we are," AKA responds softly, sounding rather relieved.
AKA and Anatii took trips to Cape Town to work on the album for a few days. "We stayed in a nice house, with a great view of the sea, just to get away from Joburg, lock ourselves in and we took our people with – Master A Flat [AKA's musical director] and Surprise Simangaliso Ndimande [Anatii's musical director], who are a big part of this album. In Cape Town we were still trying to feel our way around it, wake up in the morning and get into a routine."
AKA says that working on this album changed him.
"I don't eat red meat any more because of spending time with Anatii [he's on a plant-based diet]. So it's had quite a profound effect on me."
He says their second trip to Cape Town was far more intense than the first.
"Sometimes I'd sleep late and find Anatii in the kitchen making beats or I'd be up and he'd come later – the spirit has always been very free. We work differently. There were many times right here in this studio I'd get here finding Anatii working and I'd take over and Anatii would sleep." "Right there," Anatii says pointing to the couch I'm sitting on. "We used to have this saying, 'there ain't no shame...' – that means when I've had enough, it's time to go home."
Anatii talks about the spiritual theme of the album: "I think it just comes naturally, and it's the best way to really give people the word without alienating them. Like, how do you give a baby medicine? You give it to them with some dessert. You sneak it in. My mom used to give me pills and medicine with Yogi Sip – so that's the best way you give people the word."
AKA: "That's a great example."
Anatii: "And then you hit them with the vibes."
AKA: "We never set out to make a heavily spiritual album. I think the way our craft is, is that whatever it is we feel in our heart comes through in our music as a message. It wasn't a conscious decision, but we only started noticing halfway through that we've got all these references and thought maybe this is what God is trying to beam through us.
"I want the fans to take away the story of people who might have differences, but can grow up and do what's best for the music and their craft. Do what's best for energy and spiritually – giving people a feeling of positivity and spirituality and pride in this country and continent – just good vibes," explains AKA.
Anatii says he's still experiencing the album. "Today I was listening to it in its entirety, over and over. Every time it evokes different feelings."
"I'm not listening to it at all – maybe a song here and there – because I also want to experience it as a fan on Friday [July 28, when the album was released]. I'm going to buy it on iTunes and listen to it like a fan. That's also why I did this album with Anatii, because I'm also a fan of his work and as everyone knows I'm my own biggest fan. So I want to enjoy it like they do."
Anatii says one of his strongest memories of working was the "Bryanston Drive" bass line. "We had worked on the bass line for a whole day, an entire day ... yoh! Everyone was looking like this *he clutches his face*. Eventually at around 9pm, somehow we had it."
AKA says he mostly remembers being tired.
"It was taking so long, but right now it's all a blur – I just wanted to get through the project. Not that it was a pain, just that the goals we had set for ourselves were so high. But we really tried to get the best. We went all out."
Do I think it's the best album of the year? Definitely the best I've heard so far.