As speculation swirls around the cause of much-loved rapper Pro’s death this week, music industry insiders and neighbours claim that he spent his final days as a “troubled man” who used drugs to drown his frustrations.
But the family and friends of the 37-year-old rapper, whose real name was Linda Mkhize, have strongly denied that he used drugs at all.
‘A WALKING JUNKIE’
However, one industry insider who knew him well said: “He was a walking junkie. I couldn’t recognise him [towards the end]. It is sad that no one cared for Pro … No one.”
Another said: “He took his frustrations out on drugs. When he was going through tough times, he used them to medicate himself. Some people go to the doctor, but he used drugs.”
A neighbour who lived in his block of flats in Johannesburg’s inner city, where Pro died, watched in horror as he was rushed to the ambulance on Wednesday night.
“Pro used to stay here on the 13th floor. I’ve seen him many times in this same building, but I couldn’t recognise him.
“We all don’t know what was eating Pro; he had lost a lot of weight and wasn’t looking good. It’s just sad that we’ve lost such a great kasi storyteller,” the neighbour said.
Mpho “Bentey” Motsoaledi, who had been working as a manager and deejay with Mkhize for eight years, told City Press this week that the police and paramedics didn’t suspect any foul play in Mkhize’s death.
Motsoaledi confirmed earlier police statements that Mkhize had died of a seizure while visiting friends in the inner city.
“People will always have something to say when someone has died. But let’s not forget to mention the huge impact he made in our lives,” Motsoaledi said.
“Pro touched broken hearts through his music. His music gave hope to the hopeless, especially those people who grew up to the township.”
Mkhize, he added, genuinely loved his fans.
‘HE WAS PLANNING TO MAKE A COMEBACK’
But others say in his final months, Mkhize did his best to put on a brave face while planning a comeback that was never to be.
Another well-placed insider said the music industry failed Mkhize who was not receiving as many bookings as he used to.
“Things were not looking good for him, but no matter his circumstances he was a strong man who loved his music. He was planning to make a comeback and share his pain through music,” he said.
Many of those close to him who spoke to City Press this week described him as a man who kept his problems to himself even though he was going through tough times.
This year, Motsoaledi added, Mkhize was working on new material and had amassed a collection of about 200 songs.
The last time Motsoaledi spoke to Mkhize was a few hours before he died.
“I had called to book him a gig and he was excited to hear from me and he said I should contact him later. But when I called later his phone was off,” said an emotional Motsoaledi.
He described Mkhize as a humble man and a perfectionist who loved lyrics more than his beats.
Sabelo Mzizi, who worked with Mkhize as a producer, said the rap community had lost a pioneer. Mzizi worked with Pro, who began his career using the name ProKid, on his first album, Heads and Tales.
“Pro was very secretive and he kept things to himself. Even though he was going through dark days it was hard to pick it up [even to] his friends because as much as he was strong, he’d portray as if everything was fine,” he said.
“I was taken aback when I heard he suffered from epilepsy; it was new to me.
“Now we are asking ourselves maybe he died of stress and maybe if he was open to us as friends we would have reached out and helped.”
Pumza Nohashe, a close friend of Mkhize, said she met him in 2005 and since then he was her “little brother”.
“The last time I spoke to him was last week. He was jovial on the phone; he was looking forward to the next phase of his career and his collaboration with rapper Zakwe excited him. He had also reached out to collaborate with Sjava,” Nohashe said.
Nohashe, who used to give publicity advice to Mkhize, recalls how positive he was on the phone and said he told her that he wanted to give himself time and not rush the release of any new album.
Asked if the industry had indeed failed Mkhize as many have alleged, she said more could have been done to help him.
“But you must remember his breakthrough in the music industry happened when he was very young and now he was very selective of the gigs he was taking for the past two and a half years,” she said