By Jonah Peterson
Edmonton hip-hop artist Ntwali uses the release of his third mixtape Vintage Simba, as his escape from the real world.
Ntwali came to Canada when he was 4 years old and quickly discovered the genre he would one day perform: rap.
Starting with artists like New York’s 50 Cent, to shows on BET like Rap City: Tha Basement, hosted by Big Tigger, hip hop was a huge influence on Ntwali growing up. For him, rapping was not only a hobby, but a way to release stress and tension from his life struggles.
“I was probably like, 5’5” in high school. I wasn’t really good at sports. I didn’t have an outlet to dish out my energy,” said Ntwali.
For many kids growing up, it can seem like the world is against you, and Ntwali has learned that making music was not only an escape, but a way to connect with other people. He remembers what first got him into rapping and freestyling.
“I was at this party one time, and I’ll never forget. One of my friends was like ‘Yo, you’re black. I know you can rap.’ Whatever, I gave it a try, I freestyled, and it was trash, you know? They were laughing at me, but I didn’t view them as coaches or teachers, so I thought ‘man, you guys probably have poor judgment,’ so I kept doing it every day for a year,” said Ntwali.
After a full year of practicing, he noticed that his friends were finally becoming receptive to his music, even encouraging him and reminding him to keep working to get better, so he continued with his passion.
Before he was Ntwali, at 17 years old he started off as Lil Simba, an ode to one of his favorite movies, The Lion King. He made music with his friends with whatever equipment they had available and started releasing it on Sound Cloud.
It wasn’t long before he gained a following. He was able to get his music on streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music. His most recent release, Vintage Simba, is not only a reference to his old rap name but also the old school, vintage vibe that he tries to create.
“I’m not really a big fan of this new age of rap. I’d rather stick to the conscious side of things, cause there’s still a demographic for that. So as long as that’s still there, I feel like I can still make an impact,” said Ntwali.
Ntwali is certainly making an impact, and other acts are starting to take notice. He had the opportunity to open up for a legend in the hip-hop game, Wu-Tang member GZA, in January of this year. He got the news he had been invited to perform the day after his release party for his third mixtape. For Ntwali, everything was coming together at once.
“I was already on cloud nine, and then to get that email the very next morning,” Ntwali said it meant a lot to him.
After such a successful evening the night before, with people buying merchandise and even his parents showing up to see him perform for the first time, it would be easy for all the attention to go to his head. But Ntwali says he stays humble by remembering where he came from and knowing that he still has more to accomplish and more goals to reach. The road to success didn’t come easy and he struggled just like any new artist to get his music out there.
“I heard a lot of no’s. Like, ‘just stick to school. You trying to be a rapper?’ In their defence, I wasn’t really at that level yet, but if that didn’t happen, I don’t think I would have [had] the fuel. I still use [the rejection] as fuel so many years later.”
Ntwali is taking his talents across Canada, starting at the end of February with a show in Toronto.