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 a South African freedom fighter and anti-Apartheid activist who was incarcerated on Robben Island for 15 years 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 legendary 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 and is currently serving a 5 year sentence. This searing experience is captured in the song “No Respect,” from Pelé’s third album, The Verdict. A documentary about Sydney Maree is also being made by Pelé’s brother and documentarian, Daniel Maree.
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. The music video was shot in both Johannesburg and Durban, South Africa, a departure from the norm, “Come With Me” showcases the rare and untapped beauty that South Africa's nightlife and landscape have to offer. 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 up on the charts to number 5.
Pelé was born in Philadelphia, PA and spent nearly 10 years there before his family moved to South Africa. His musical influences growing up were the distinctive tongue-twisting styles 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 Bobby Womack, 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 industry with his debut project, Back to the Roots. The mixtape 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.
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.