‘We’ve never tried to be kings. We’re peasants, man’
Reflections on the monumental late emcee ProKid
Linda Mkhize has transitioned. The monumental emcee, known to legions of admiring South Africans as ProKid and later Pro, died on August 9 from complications due to bleeding in his digestive system.
The last time we spoke was less than two months ago, in the week leading up to his 37th birthday. It was a regular Monday afternoon in Mzansi and the stately figure sat across from me at Starbucks.
We discussed his impact on people’s lives: Kwesta, Red Button, Gigi Lamayne, Sjava, Zakwe, and others who owe their careers, wholly or in part, to the lanes opened by Pro’s mainstream acceptance at the height of his rap pilgrimage.We spoke about how some elders in the hip hop industry claim not to care about “legends”. Pro – who had navigated fame from the heady days of street ciphers and rap battles to platinum albums produced by luminaries such as Dome, Omen and IV League, to endorsement deals and his own clothing label – was philosophical about this.
“It’s always the case,” he said. “We emerge from the distance; we’ve never tried to be kings. We’re peasants, man. All a king does is wake up, announce to the village and indulge. A peasant sits there by the gate. They can tell when trouble is coming and they’re the ones who make the king important.”As news of his passing spread, music industry peers and South African hip hoppers shared personal anecdotes of their encounters with the artist who became a king but retained the humility of a peasant.
“What hurts about ProKid passing isn’t about his bars or how dope he was as an emcee ... he was so about people,” Leslie “Lee” Kasumba tweeted after hearing the news. As a broadcaster on regional radio station YFM and later editor of Y magazine, she was instrumental in the developmental phase of Pro’s career.“Pro was celebrated. We all knew he was a living legend and the number one Soweto boy,” wrote Ms. Nthabi, whose own rapping profile was on the rise when Pro’s debut album Heads & Tales hit the shelves and flooded the streets. “What sucks is that we didn’t celebrate him as much for everything he did for hip hop once he wasn’t as active in the industry. We keep failing our artists in that regard.”“Dark day – lost a brother, a friend and a kindred spirit today, brutally heartbreaking,” wrote Pro’s regular collaborator, live performance sidekick and rap iconoclast Maggz.
Vocalist and songwriter Nothende, an early collaborator, wrote: “One moment I'm celebrating his greatness. The next I’m crying my heart out in disbelief, remembering all the moments shared. Back and forth between those emotions. All day. Eish.”A memorial service was held for Pro at the venue formerly known as Bassline in the Newtown Precinct last Thursday. Another event had taken place during the weekend at the Slaghuis park jam in Soweto. This was one of Pro’s many homes. Here he sharpened his lyrical sword and opened doors for future acts.
The turnout at both events and the outpouring of messages under the #RIPProKid, #DankieSan and #TheProIKnow hashtags, showed that the five albums released in his lifetime had further reach than he might have realised.
Pro was offered his first record deal after music industry impresario Dr Sipho Sithole heard him freestyling on the radio during a spontaneous visit to broadcaster and businessman T-Bo Touch’s legendary Rhyme and Reason show on Metro FM.His debut album and its follow-up were released under the Gallo record label. The next two came to life after Pro moved to the indie label TS Records. His fifth album was for CCP Records in 2012.
More recently he featured on former Teargas member Ma-E’s Township Counsellor album and on the remix of Sebenteen by rapper Zakwe.Hardcore rhymespitter Gigi Lamayne’s recollection of the many times Pro fought for her right to exist drained every tear duct in the Newtown room. She came undone and scrambled for words; she poured out her love and oozed gratitude as she narrated how once, during an out-of-town show, Pro guilt-tripped the booing audience into giving her a chance on the mic.
“I thought ukuthi I was rapping my lungs out. And he stopped the music and told them: ‘Yazini, if you don’t listen to this little girl, I’m not performing. Because her voice is equally as important as mine’.”Linda “Pro” Mkhize was born on June 25 1981 in Soweto. He will be remembered as the unfuckablewith emcee whose passion for the craft and love for people he infused into everything he put his heart and mind to. He leaves behind his wife Ayanda, daughter Nonkanyezi – whom he described as “my North Star” in a song –mother Fikile, father Zwelakhe Kheswa and DJ brother Citi Lyts.
Dankie maqhuzu, dankie san!