They don’t call Philadelphia-born, South African-bred Pelé “Rap’s Revolutionary” for nothing. Pelé’s song “Freedom Fighter” is a tribute to the late Lucky Dube, South Africa’s biggest-selling reggae artist, who first came to prominence protesting the institutional racism of apartheid.
Pelé, too, speaks out against injustice wherever he finds it, be it in the halls of government or his own backyard. In 2004, his father, an Olympic athlete and South African national hero, was wrongly convicted of fraud, the result of a politically motivated prosecution. This searing experience is captured in the song “No Respect,” from Pele’s forthcoming album, The Verdict.
Featuring Stic.man of the politically oriented rap duo Dead Prez, the cut finds Pelé illuminating: “My father’s naysayers say he tried to run off with company profits/ Now we facing major losses/ Couldn’t even tell you what four years of court cost us/ You know I ain’t a killer/ But pops needs an acquittal, and my younger sister so little/ Growing up without a father/ I wanna bring her daddy back/ They trying to lock him up – na, I ain’t having that.”
The Verdict’s “Come With Me,” is produced by frequent Pelé collaborator KJ Conteh (himself a Gambian American), which is the number one hit three weeks in a row on Johannesburg-based YFM 99.2 – South Africa’s most popular youth-culture station – and is blowing up on dance floors around the world. “Come With Me” is also the feature track of Pelé’s new major music video by the same name. The music video was shot in 2009 in both Johannesburg and Durban, South Africa, a departure from the typical monotony of most American rap music videos, “Come With Me” showcases the rare and untapped beauty that the South African nightlife and landscape has to offer the world. Meanwhile, The Verdict single “Drumma Boy,” which further demonstrates Pelé’s range, jumped to #4 at YFM. The cut “Twinkle” has likewise found love there, debuting at #7 on the outlet’s hip-hop countdown and moving further down on the charts to number 5.
What 23-year-old Pelé heard on the radio when he was growing up – born in Philadelphia, PA and spending 10 years there before moving to South Africa – was the distinctive tongue-twisting style of East Coast rappers like Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z and Big Pun. But his smooth, sophisticated delivery has been equally influenced by the work of Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross, two favorites of his mother, who is American. Into this mix came his South African father’s idols: Miriam Makeba, Lucky Dube, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Paul Simon, who established himself as a proponent of African musical forms with the landmark 1986 Grammy Album of the Year Graceland, much of which was recorded in South Africa with South African performers.
Pelé gained his first foothold in the marketplace with his debut album, Back to the Roots. Aptly titled, the disc was distributed through an old-school grassroots network that generated brisk street sales in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Miami and Los Angeles. The disc was warmly received and thus opened the door to 2007’s The Vyndication, also recorded under the banner of Pelé’s production company, Ubuntu Universal/KPEntertainment.
As an independent artist, and managing Ubuntu Universal at the same time, Pelé was able to further the scope of his music through digital distribution with prominent companies like iTunes, Rhapsody, and many more.
With The Verdict, he continues to assert his unique position astride two cultures and as such, to embody the 21st-century emergence of hip-hop as a multifaceted global force. At the same time, Pelé’s embrace of hip-hop as an agent of social change places him squarely in the tradition of rap pioneers like Public Enemy and KRS-One. His political insight and the insurgent tone he uses to express it, as much as his natural flow and vivid lyrical imagery, make Pelé an important artist and an MC to watch.
What are your top three favorite artists right now?
Pele, Pele, Pele
What Artist should be featured on ARC and why?
Pele should be featured on ARC because he's the epitome of rap and lyricism. His lyrical ability is among that Tupac, Big L, and Big Pun. Pele is an unsung underground rapper with a passion for tongue-twisting rhymes and true story telling.