Who was AKA, the ‘legend in South African hip-hop’ killed in Durban?

Police are investigating the killing of Kiernan Jarryd Forbes

(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 04, 2016 South African rap sensation Kiernan Forbes, popularly known as AKA,performs at the 22nd annual South African Music Awards (SAMAS) at the Durban International Convention Centre in Durban on June 4, 2016.  - South African rap sensation Kiernan Forbes, popularly known as AKA, has been shot dead outside a restaurant on a popular nightlife street in the southeastern Durban city, his family said on February 11, 2023.  He was aged 35.  
He was gunned down in the night of February 10, 2023 alongside another man while they were walking towards their car from a restaurant.  (Photo by RAJESH JANTILAL  /  AFP)
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A leading light of South Africa's hip-hop scene was killed in Durban on Friday.

AKA, real name Kiernan Jarryd Forbes, was one of two men shot outside a restaurant, hours before a scheduled nightclub performance.

Durban police are investigating, with arrests yet to be made.

The news was announced on AKA's social media channels by his parents Tony and Lynn Forbes.

"It is with extreme sadness that we acknowledge the passing of our beloved son," they said.

"Our son was loved, and he gave love in return."

Hip-hop stars at home and abroad paid tribute to an artist who was nominated for Artist of the Decade at the South African hip-hop awards in 2021.

"This is so surreal," posted South African rapper and television personality Boity. "For all the monumental moves you have made for our industry, we thank you.

"Your gift, raw talent and impact inspired and transformed many lives across borders for the better."

US rapper Talib Kweli also took to social media to describe AKA as a "legend in South African hip-hop”.

"He was always so gracious with me. I just performed with him at the Back To The City Festival in Johannesburg, his energy was amazing. South Africa has a special place in my heart.

“It saddens me to see our young kings losing their lives this way,” he said.

Who was AKA?

Born and raised in Durban, AKA got his start in the music industry by forming the hip-hop group Entity, alongside rappers Vice Versa and Greyhound.

While the group made waves locally and landed a Kora Award nomination for the Best African Hip-Hop category, Entity disbanded with AKA going on to study sound production.

AKA began his solo career in 2009 with a flurry of singles, including In My Walk and Mistakes, before finding success with his 2011 debut album Altar Ego.

Lead single and hit Victory Lap introduced a new star to the game, with AKA's smooth and infectious flow and some penetrating personal lyricism.

Altar Ego begins with an introductory track featuring an interview with AKA.

He explains the album's message as "what would happen to a normal dude who has extraordinary talent?".

It's a question that underpins AKA's impactful career.

The 2012 album Levels was a mixture of old school aesthetic, with its frequent use of sampling in the production, and raw talent.

The track All Eyes on Me even featured a silky verse from up-and-coming Nigerian artist Burna Boy.

By the time 2018 album Touch My Blood arrived, AKA was arguably South Africa's biggest hip-hop star.

Giant billboards were placed around the capital Johannesburg in the lead-up to the release and the album spawned seven singles, including Fela In Versace, which was added to Spotify's influential Top 50 Global playlist.

AKA recorded his final album Mass Country prior to his death and it is scheduled to be released on February 27. The lead single Prada came out last month.

A clip of a recent interview on South African radio has been widely shared since news of his death.

"I am definitely a pioneer of South African hip-hop in the contemporary, modern sense," he said.

"But it’s a group effort, it's a community and I am ready to take a leadership position in that community, not only through the music but the sonics and identity of that sound."

While his reign has been tragically cut short, AKA’s contribution to South African hip-hop will reverberate for some time to come.

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Updated: February 12, 2023, 9:46 AM