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Meet the Mastermind Behind the Song of This Summer ‘MNIKE’: DJ and Producer Tyler ICU

Amapiano on the Rise

Coming out of the most intriguing region of South Africa, Amapiano has become a force to reckon with. Up until recent years, the Southern sound was relatively unknown to the average listener; however, due to its inevitable party anthems such as ‘Tanzania’ by Uncle Waffles, ‘Abo Mvelo’ by Daliwingo or ‘Pele Pele’, Amapiano has touched new grounds and grown into the hearts of music lovers eager to learn trendy dance moves to some noticeable drum patterns.

As the Amapiano sound is growing day by day, there is a new shared light towards its members actively pushing the culture to the rest of the world. One of its main game players is none other than Austin Baloyi, also known under the stage name of Tyler ICU. Growing up in Johannesburg, it was as though Austin was always destined for greatness. After listening to the likes of Dr. Dre for most of his childhood, the young talent decided to embark himself into music in 2008. When one of his unreleased projects caught the attention of pioneer DJ Maphorisa, Austin had no choice but to join his team and become a fellow Amapiano student. Under Maphorisa’s wings, this is when Austin’s career truly started to flourish and soon enough, everyone in the Amapiano community would have heard about Tyler ICU.

In 2021, Tyler ICU alongside his long-time mentor Dj Maphorisa worked on a series together titled ‘Banyana’ with smashing hits ‘Banyana’ and ‘Izolo’. Each of them displayed a range of producing techniques. This established their reign even further, a smart move that would speak to a larger group of music listeners, eventually landing their Amapiano culture outside of the African continent. It was not until their recent drop ‘MNIKE’ that they truly took over the world, this time around, with Tyler ICU leading the front. Although his latest featured release ‘SUKA’ made just as much noise, it was ‘MNIKE’ that spoke to the people and wherever you looked at this summer, it was impossible to avoid the heat and energy that came with this song.

For the first time in history, outside of the South African landscape, Tyler ICU joined us per Zoom call to talk through his musical journey thus far, the Amapiano movement spreading into new avenues and the world collaborations he wishes to manifest.

How are you in this fine morning?

Hi, I’m good and yourself?

I’m fine, thank you for asking. Where are you at the moment?

I’m in South Africa.

Would you like to introduce yourself to our audience?

My name is Austin Baloyi, formerly known as Tyler ICU.

And where in South Africa are you based?

I’m based in Kempton Park, Johannesburg.

Let’s dive right into it; you had a smashing hit this summer called ‘MNIKE’. At some point, you could not avoid this song at parties, events and even festivals. How did it all come together?

When we did the song, it was never something we thought too hard about, you know. It was just me and the two other guys. Nandipha808 and Ceeka RSA started the song and then right after, we called Tumelo to record the vocals. We just knew then and there, this would be a hit song. And so, we send it to Tyron to do the final arrangements of the song. That’s how ‘MNIKE’ came together.

So from what I’m hearing, there was no previous plot around this, it was really just something that came organically at a normal studio session with your peers.

Yes, it was a normal day at the studio. It was not something we had planned.

That’s quite astonishing. I want to ask you about the lyrics because this is something the internet has been debating on and trying to figure out what the right wordings are. We’re not going to go through the entire song but, assuming these are correct; what does Ziwe keh and Haike mean?

You mean Aziwe? [laugh] Aziwe keh means let’s go party, let’s go down! It’s a brief thing in South Africa where we say; “it’s going down!”. Whereas the second word, Haike just simply means no. In this song, we’re particularly repeating no, no, no… [laugh].

Thank you for clarifying these two words, I think a lot of foreign listeners will have a field day with this new information. One of the things that is very particular about Amapiano music is that its members always encourage collaborations. Sometimes, there will be up to 5 different minds working on one project. At times, the producer might even take the forefront whereas the vocalist almost plays the role of a producer in this context. Looking at your music catalogue, a name that always comes out is Maphorisa. What is your relationship with DJ Maphorisa and how has he impacted your journey?

My relationship to Maphorisa is that he’s more like a brother to me, you know. He teaches me a lot of things in terms of the industry because he has been at it before I ever had my foot in this. He plays a big role in my life and also, he’s my boss. I’m signed under his label New Money Gang Records.

Let’s talk about Amapiano for a minute; nobody has witnessed the international shift as closely as their own members and therefore, in your own words; now that you have the world’s attention, where do you see this movement going? What are the next steps to be taken?

At this rate, I think what Amapiano people should try to do is make it more commercial. I would say in the direction of pop anthems. We Amapiano people are very stylish and our clothes always stand out. We’re on the right track when it comes to that aspect but, I feel like what we need to do more is introduce the culture in the same manner whenever someone is DJing here in South Africa. How Amapiano Djs are, for example, because we always play exclusive music. I think that is something we need to introduce because some of the music is not easy to find on the internet. The culture is vast and there is tons of exclusive music that still needs to reach the people.

With this shift, it also comes with inspiration and new ideas shared across the continent. I’m sure you’re aware of Nigerian artist Asake making songs on Amapiano inspired instrumentals and a bunch of others who are slowly implementing this sound. What do you make of all of this?

I think it is a good thing because it gives the Amapiano community a step ahead. It shows our growth and our influence is spreading all over the world. I’m happy about it.

I don’t know if you followed this Tik Tok from a DJ overseas claiming organised Amapiano events over there, they aren’t authentic enough because they usually play alongside other genres and there is a need for genuine Amapiano get-togethers with its own members. What is your opinion on this?

It is kind of true and untrue. In my opinion, as I went all around the world and also, Europe. I played the same way I would have played here in South Africa. It goes both ways; there are DJs that are killing the authenticity because they’re just there to play for the hype so that they can trend on Tik Tok. However, there are Djs who respect the craft, they play very beautiful sets and the way it would have been played in South Africa. I feel like she was just looking at it from one perspective. She never looked at the full scope, especially from the lens of South African DJs.

That’s a fair point. Tyler, you’ve probably worked with everyone in South Africa and so, I’m very curious to know; if you could work with anyone in the entire world, who would it be and why?

There’s a lot of people I would really love to work with. There’s The Weeknd, Rema, Central Cee, I mean, I would really love to collaborate with a lot of artists. The reason why I would choose to work with them is the fact that I know they have room for versatility and I feel like if they were to try Amapiano, it would really sound great.

We can both agree that if there’s one aspect about Amapiano that we haven’t seen is how the sound would translate with artists outside of the Amapiano circle.

That is something I feel like needs to be done. It will be a great move forward for the culture.

As a final question; is there any message you would like to share with your supporters?

Yes, my final message is no matter how down you may feel, the reason things are going bad is because you’re through a cocoon about to hash into your newer self and you must be ready to accept the success that comes with it.