Philadelphia-born Pelé also goes by “Rap’s Revolutionary”, a nom de guerre he attributes to his grandfather’s revolutionary struggle against South Africa’s former Apartheid regime. His Grandfather, Ambition Muthle, was an anti-Apartheid activist and remained true to the revolutionary cause even during his 15 year incarceration on Robben Island, where he served with the likes of Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu. Pelé’s song “Freedom Fighter” is a tribute to the unsung heroes of the anti-Apartheid movement and to the late Lucky Dube, South Africa’s biggest-selling reggae artist who first came to prominence protesting the institutional racism of apartheid.
Pelé, too, speaks out against injustice wherever he finds it, be it in the halls of government or his own backyard. In 2004, his father Sydney Maree, an Olympic athlete and South African national hero, was wrongly convicted of fraud, the result of a vicious and politically motivated prosecution. This searing experience is captured in the song “No Respect,” from Pelé’s third album, The Verdict.
Featuring Stic.Man of the politically oriented rap duo Dead Prez, “No Respect” finds Pelé illuminating: “My father’s naysayers say he tried to run off with company profits/ Now we facing major losses/ Couldn’t even tell you what four years in court cost us…You know I ain’t a killer/ But Pops needs an acquittal, and my youngest sister’s so little/ Growing up without a father/ I wanna bring her daddy back/ They trying to lock him up – naw, I ain’t having that.”
The Verdict’s first single, “Come With Me,” received widespread popularity on Johannesburg-based YFM 99.2 – South Africa’s most popular youth-culture station. “Come With Me” is also the feature track of Pelé’s music video by the same name. The music video was shot in 2009 in both Johannesburg and Durban, South Africa, a departure from the norm, “Come With Me” showcases the rare and untapped beauty that the South African nightlife and landscape has to offer. Meanwhile, the second single from The Verdict, “Drumma Boy,” further demonstrates Pelé’s range, and jumped to #4 at YFM. “Twinkle” is another of Pelé’s hard-hitting tracks, debuting at #7 on YFM’s hip-hop countdown and moving further down on the charts to number 5.
What 25-year-old Pelé heard on the radio when he was growing up – born in Philadelphia, PA and spending 10 years there before moving to South Africa – was the distinctive tongue-twisting style of East Coast rappers like Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z and Big Pun. But his smooth, sophisticated delivery has been equally influenced by the works of Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross, two favorites of his American mother. Into this mix came his South African father’s idols: Miriam Makeba, Lucky Dube, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Paul Simon.
Pelé gained his first foothold in the marketplace with his debut album, Back to the Roots. Aptly titled, the disc was distributed through an old-school grassroots network that generated brisk street sales in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Miami, and Los Angeles. The disc was warmly received and thus opened the door to 2007’s The Vyndication Vol. 1, also recorded under the banner of Pelé’s production company, Ubuntu Universal. As an independent artist, Pelé was able to further the scope of his music through digital distribution with companies like iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody, and many more.
With The Verdict, he continues to assert his unique position astride two cultures and as such, to embody the 21st-century emergence of hip-hop as a multifaceted global force. At the same time, Pelé’s embrace of hip-hop as an agent of social change places him squarely in the tradition of rap pioneers like Public Enemy and KRS-One. His political insight and the insurgent tone he uses to express it, as much as his natural flow and vivid lyrical imagery, make Pelé an important artist and an MC to watch.
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