The Proverb Crossover: A Lesson In Brand Reinvention For ZA Culture


“I have a dream that real emcees will win awards/Cats who’ve been ignored by the industry before The underdogs that are giving more and their living for /The bigger cause that our hip hop will hit abroad

In terms of level of sales and rate at which it’s bought/I have a dream of seeing an SA emcee in the Source/A double H P poster in the centerfold/I have a dream of platinum sales minimum gold/A tour bus with all of us touring across African borders/While television Networks record us/I have a dream of being on stage when I perform this/Seeing the crowd respond to metaphors not just the chorus/I have a dream of writing articles in magazines/That’ll explain hip-hop is more than just a baggy jeans/In fact it seems the whole culture is misunderstood/They say we portray the bad listen while I spit some good/It’s not all about me Verb I want all emcees to be heard/And get the respect that they deserve/I have a dream that I’ll spit real until I die or get killed/Like Jerusalem this Is-real”

The above verse is from Proverb’s ‘I have a dream’ song taken from ‘The book of Proverb”. I chose to use this because there is no better way to intro this story. There is no better way to recite the lyrics of a pioneer who had a vision for our culture. And boy is that vision shining brighter than ever before. All the highlighted words above are crazy if you think about it because everything he called out is happening. Our rappers are getting international recognition, they are selling platinum records, television networks are able to air shows like FillUpTheDome, websites like SlikourOnLife are making a change in the game in regards to content. Rappers are killing Cotton x tucking in their shirts. And above all else our culture is being respected in boardrooms.

But let’s talk about Proverb for a second. Let’s talk about how he has managed to reinvent his brand in the game. How he has managed to crossover and do things that hip hop was never intended to do.

A crossover is a basketball move that is meant to deceive your opponent as one player makes his way to the basket to either shoot, dunk or pass. Let me break it down for you. The greatest crossover in the history of the NBA was done by Allen Iverson as he squared up to face the great Michael Jordan. Here is what went down. AI dribbled the ball. He shook mike to his left. He shook him to the right. Mike reached and then AI punished him as he rose above the great MJ and sinked a well executed twenty footer. It’s a thing of beauty really considering the fact that AI was a rookie when this happened. Okay back to Proverb and why he crossed over.

Proverb is a smart, talented and very humble guy. I don’t know him personally but there is one memory I have with the Tebogo. I remember we were at a show in Durban with Cofee and we were sitting behind the verb as he performed his set. Proverb stopped the music and turned towards us and said “Why don’t you cats come to the front and join us because the game is full of backstabbers and we don’t want that happening“. When he said this Coffee and I lost our minds. We decided to loosen up abit and had the time of our lives. I don’t remember anything after that. So where am I going with this? Proverb has been a part of SA Hip Hop culture when the culture was all about baggy jeans, heavy punchlines and clever lyrics. He was the guy who lead the way for hip hop presenters on TV, he had channel O on the palm of his finger tips. But just like any brand this was not enough for Proverb and he wanted more, he wanted to inspire the culture to do and be more.

So we have spoken about his vision, what a crossover stands for, why Proverb is smart. So lets break down some of his moves that lead to his brand reinvention. You may know these because you watch TV but there are moves that he has made which at first were weird but now make him the greatest crossover rapper in the culture.

A brand is defined as a promise kept or delivered in every single touchpoint. This is the laziest definition I have been taught in brand strategy but it makes sense. Kinda. So when did Proverb start standing for something ? In my humble Skinny opinion Proverb had outstayed his pioneering in hip hop. He had accomplished everything in the game. He did everything a rapper could have done at the time. So when he became an Idols judge we were all amazed. We were like. Did he sell out? Nah fam the guy was now hitting the mainstream scene and using the essence of his hip hop DNA to host IDOLS.  FUCK THAT’S SMART. Think about it for a second. Proverb is still hip hop even though he wears a suit and is speaking to people who don’t really mess with hip hop. But when we thought he had crossed over with IDOLS he also became a host for Miss SA. Once again our jaws dropped as we started asking if he is really leaving the rap game. He did not leave it. He just made the culture cleaner and exposed us to crowds we never thought we would reach. You see this thing of ours is not all about verses and beefs. It’s about the image we are portraying to the world and MR Verb is killing it and will continue to kill it. Another jaw dropping moment happened when he clinched his Volvo deal.Volvo was very smart. They wanted to find the best person that represented their brand values which are safety and reliability. And yes Proverb ticked those boxes and he was the first rapper to get a  major endorsement deal.

The above moves are just the tip of the iceberg. But the biggest lesson I want to leave you with is how do you want to evolve. How do you want to keep the essence of who you are and introduce it to people who are unaware of the culture. Proverb did that. His crossover should be an inspiration to all of us. That you can embrace change but you can’t lose your urban culture DNA. When is your crossover happening ?




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