Dramaboi: A life chronicled in lyricism


The news of the demise of Botswana’s talented rapper Dramaboi, real name Thuto Ricardo Ramaphaleng, has sent shockwaves across the country. Dramaboi Wa Makeishane as he was popularly known as was an artist who chronicled his life in the township and told solemnly deep tales of his dalliances with the streets. “I am gonna die a legend like Bob Marley,” he sang in one of his songs called Bob Marley and indeed he carved a legendary status in the music industry even though he only died at the age of 28.

He left before reaching his full potential. With a rhyme scheme that keeps people on their feet, Dramaboi will always be remembered for his top-notch wordplay wizardry. He was one artist who would ask the DJ to pause instrumentals during a music festival performance so that people could hear that he was a true writer, a wordsmith at heart. Dramaboi was one of the creme de la crème of artists who started music at a young age. Born on March 3, 1993, in Gaborone, Dramaboi moved around a lot during his childhood and found a niche in music as a teenager at Maoka Junior Secondary School. He had in the past cited artists such as US rapper Eminem and SA’s Mo’Molemi as his influence and he never derailed from using Setswana in his lyrics. Listening to other SA-born motswako lyricists such as the late and legendary HHP and rapper-cum-traffic officer Tuks Senganga, motivated Dramaboi to put his lyrics on paper. With a good ear for motswako, an amazing writer was born. As a young rapper, he would engage in battles with other aspiring emcees in Gaborone. He began to participate in competitions hosted by HUB Magazine called the HUB Music Series.

After joining Hub Music Series he scooped the runner up position and won the Sprite Rap Battle competition at just 17. Dramaboi then released his debut album titled Township Music under Heavensent Productions, which had a hit single Godzilla and the township boy finally got his big break in the challenging music industry. Godzilla was a great success so, Dramaboi roped in Zeus, SA’s Notshi and Element for its remix. Dramaboi said at the time that the song was inspired by the hit movie Godzilla. Another notable mention from the album was the song Matlharetlhare. The township lad’s debut album was a certifiable hit followed by deals coming in including an endorsement from Mafia Soul Clothing Company, now Urban Soul.

Dramaboi’s iconic township fashion style of bucket hats and muscle tops disappeared and he started donning oversized REP-GABZ and MADE-IN-BOTS clothing lines. Under Rock The City Music, Dramaboi released his sophomore album titled Wa Makeishane, which included hits like Candy, Utlwa and Roma Nna just to mention but a few. It was this album that Dramaboi started carving his style, which comprised remarkable rhymes and repetition at the end of spitting his lines. He also continued his repeated internal rhymes hitting people with the same sound over and over and there was just some wizardry in his method, especially that the lyrics were mostly dominated by the Setswana language. Still, under Rock The City Music, Dramaboi collaborated with the songbird of Mmasonoko fame Nnunu Ramogotsi on a hit called Areyeng. He also featured in Re Mmogo All Stars’ behavioural change song called Tsaya Tshwetso. Then in 2014 Dramaboi had a huge fallout with Mafia Soul as the two decided to go separate ways. It was then that Dramaboi decided to go back to his old look and push his township music.

It was now time for Dramaboi to release his post-Mafia Soul offering and that he titled as Township Music 2 album in 2016, which too was a success with notable hits like Bosigo Kao Fela, Mosutele and the most recognisable Sala Le Nna, which was a song dedicated to his late grandmother. Sala Le Nna was an instant hit in which Dramaboi introduced his little sister Katleng Ramaphaleng, also known as Black Rose, to the music industry in the track. They both 'killed' the song and often performed the song together at music festivals. In late 2016, Dramaboi successfully hosted his one-man show titled Dramaboi Unplugged to officially launch his Township Music 2 album. After the success of Township Music 2, DramaBoi signed a deal with ETV’s Rhythm City, which saw the TV soapie playing music from Township Music 2 as the background music.

A year later Dramaboi collaborated with MMP Family in a track called Money In The Bank and for the first time in Botswana the music video of the song was launched at New Capitol Cinemas. In 2018, he hoisted Botswana’s flag high when he performed at the Mahika Mahikeng Cultural Festival in front of a packed crowd at Mmabatho Stadium. In 2019, he released a seven-track EP titled Ammaaruri, which included songs like Kemo Tseleng and Ko Lapeng. Between his projects, Dramaboi kept dishing out singles like Bob Marley and Mahala just to name but a few. Last year he also collaborated with SA artist Manqonqo of Eyadini fame on the song Darli Wame, which also features Black Rose. “Ga ke palame stage ka deposit,” Dramaboi was one of the few local artists who didn’t let music promoters manipulate him when it came to performance fees. Speaking of performance fees, Dramaboi at some point revealed that he would start charging P100,000 for each performance.

Although that was not practical in the Botswana music context, Dramaboi wanted to drive home the point that local artists deserve the same treatment as international ones. Surprisingly, he passed on having not won a single award locally despite being nominated several times. Each time he walked home empty-handed and the late rapper even expressed through his lyrics in the song Conversations With Mama that awards don’t matter to him. While posthumous awards might spring out in the future, it shows that not all great talent is recognised. In terms of rivalries and beef in the Hip Hop industry, Dramaboi was known to throw punchlines in his songs but nothing was ever specifically directed towards anyone. Botswana’s controversial rapper Ozi F Teddy often tried to poke at him in a diss track, but Dramaboi was always unmoved.

Instead of responding to pokes from Ozi F Teddy, Dramaboi ignored all that beef. On social media this year he started posting a lot about his late grandmother, particularly on Facebook. Some fans even alluded that his posts were a cry for help and a sign of depression. He even posted confusing messages about death on Facebook. “I am a real person who talks about real problems that affect us as a community and you call me depressed coz you rather have me lie to you and pretend like everybody else (sic),” the Makeishane rapper responded to his critics on social media earlier this year. The COVID-19 pandemic was rough on everyone in the creative industry and Dramaboi was among the hardest hit.

He did not hide it and decided to disclose his struggles on social media. After posting a couple of ‘cry for help’ messages on his Facebook timeline, in May this year before the creative industry opened, Dramaboi caught the attention of the creative industry players and members of the public who helped him to open a car wash business called Ya Makeishane in Mogoditshane. As uncertainty took a heavy toll on various creatives with the overwhelming financial and mental stress of keeping up with a career in an industry that has been shut for more than a year, Dramaboi never gave up on his music and just before his death he was already pushing his latest song featuring MOD of MMP Family called Tsena Manxane. As the country loses yet another talent, Dramaboi’s fans can only seek comfort in the fact that his music will live on.

This was a rapper whose flow was guaranteed, the kind of emcee who would use the same phrase twice with just a little change in definition. Dramaboi made verses that had fans hanging on every word, punchline and story. His songs were packed airtight with multi-syllabic verses and artful rhyme patterns. He has passed on but his lyrics are a catalogue of snaps and connotations that his fans will weave together to remember him.

Editor's Comment
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