Family first. A simple philosophy, sure, but one that makes perfects sense if your professional life’s as packed as ProVerb’s, the rapper/’Idols SA’ host and co-producer/TV presenter/voice over artist/radio DJ/master of ceremonies/amateur cap collector.
“I have no problem turning down a job completely because I need to be with my family. I think you have to be able to draw that line – it’s impossible to balance the two equally,” says Ona’s husband and Ditshupo and Kgosietsile’s dad.
“The fact that we spend so much time apart as it is, I need to make the time we are together a lot more valuable, prioritise them a lot more. When I do have time to spare, it’s spent with my family.”
Which is why, having wrapped his Man cover shoot ahead of schedule, he’s now at the airport waiting to catch an earlier flight home.
“My biggest worry is I need to do homework with my daughter when she comes home from school – so much for the street cred of a rapper,” the 32-year-old laughs warmly.
“But spending time with them also works for me: it keeps me grounded, it keeps me out of trouble, and it keeps me working hard. Now that I have a family, failure is not an option. It cannot not work out, I have to make it work out.
“So I have to be vigilant, I have to be disciplined, I have to remain focused on what it is I am doing. It’s no longer about personal glory, it’s no longer about status, it’s no longer about popularity, it’s none of the above,” he continues with the same enthusiasm he radiates from the TV.
“Now the stakes are a lot higher. Now it’s about security for my family, stability for my family, sustaining my family, and it’s just put a lot of things into perspective.”
But things weren’t always so clear. Born Tebogo Thekisho (“Tebogo is who I am, Proverb is what I do”), the future “Professional Verbalist” spent much of his early life trying to be someone else.
“I was a mischievous kid, I was a loud kid, very talkative and noisy, just loud and obnoxious and very opinionated,” he remembers of growing up in Kimberley with his strict school principal grandmother. “In hindsight now I can see what all that led to, but at the time it wasn’t considered creativity.”
A future in showbiz just wasn’t an option for the son of a medical doctor and a professor.
“For a long time I never thought of entertainment as a career – I mean, who does really? For me it was always something I was passionate about, but I always felt like an underachiever because society really has us believing if you’re not a professional, you haven’t really amounted to much.”
So, after Matric, he headed to Johannesburg to study IT. He failed – twice. Hitting the city’s hip-hop scene was so much more appealing than hitting the books and soon he was laying down his rhymes at rap competitions, on radio, and even as a contestant on the SABC1 show ‘Jam Alley’.
“I was excelling in everything other than what I came to Johannesburg to do. There was no stopping it,” he explains. “So I changed my attitude and said: ‘Look, this is my calling, this is what I’m good at, and this is my path in life’.”
Running headlong down that path, a sound engineering diploma in hand, he was soon DJ Fresh’s technical producer at YFM, hosting a Channel O show, and releasing his debut album. Radio presenting followed, as did a third-place finish in ‘Survivor’, MCing the Miss SA pageant, three more albums, joining the on-air talent of ‘All Access’, a flush of SAMA nominations, and the phenomenon that is ‘Idols SA’.
“It wasn’t easy – and it doesn’t necessarily get easier at any point,” he says of his rapid climb, “but I think I was so passionate about what I wanted to do that sometimes I didn’t even recognise obstacles as obstacles and instead saw them as opportunities and challenges.
“But I think I’m a better person for it. I think if it had been too easy, I wouldn’t be as grateful for it, I wouldn’t be as strong and as thick-skinned as I think I’ve become over the years.”
Of course, he couldn’t be happier with how his life has transformed since he stepped off that bus from Kimberley in 1999.
“It would have been a big tragedy if I was this creative mind that was stuck in an office somewhere – it would have been such an injustice to the talents and the gifts I was born with,” says the role model rapper who intentionally keeps his positive, uplifting lyrics as clean as his personal life.
“I want to be able to play my music loud in the car with my kids and not cringe at anything I said, I want to put on the TV and not be nervous about what’s going to appear,” he says of his unblemished image. “I just don’t want to embarrass my mom,” he adds, laughing, “going further down the drain in terms of street cred.”
Not that he needs to worry about street cred – he hosts South Africa’s most popular show.
“It’s the biggest gig of my career,” the natural born performer says of ‘Idols SA’, a job he auditioned for on a whim and still holds after four seasons, two of which as co-producer. “So I’m very grateful for that opportunity and not for one second do I ever take it lightly. I still work on my craft daily. I really try and stay sharp and not take it for granted while I have the gig, and learn all I can.”
His eyes are clearly on his – and his family’s – future.
“The lifespan of an entertainer is very short so you need to maximise while you are where you are and also position yourself so that should the day come when you’re no longer the face, you’re still able to have a career. There’ll always be a younger, better-looking, better-spoken somebody to take your place.
“So, while I’m here, I’m realising that. I’m learning new skills all the time – I’m still a complete novice when it comes to television production for instance – but these are challenges that I’m up for.
“Learning new skills is me investing in my longevity. And I feel you can always learn more. As long as your attitude is right – I’m always willing to listen, to learn, to grow, to ask – nothing is impossible. Right now I’m at a point where I’m not opposed to anything. I’m always open to sit down and at least engage, to explore, and then to see if we can execute.
“So we’ve started to make moves like getting into production, getting behind the scenes, getting into record label management, sniffing around some business opportunities, all these other elements that go beyond just being the guy in front.”
But for now, ProVerb’s happy being that guy.
“If I were to start counting my blessings and everything that I’m grateful for, I’d be talking until next year this time.”
And that’s just not possible – after all, he’s a very busy man with a plane to catch and homework to do.
- This article originally appeared in Man, the men’s lifestyle magazine of the Foschini group. (Image: Morne van Zyl)