His team is reticent to discuss this clear gaffe by the country’s most famous teenager. The impact of the pandemic however, is not lost on him. “Pop culture has shifted so much post-Covid,” he says. “We can’t go to the street anymore,” he’d said, ironically a few days before the bash that truly cemented his superstar status as throngs of fans flooded the streets to see him.
The eldest of three kids, Uncle Vinny was born and bred in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, although his parents hail from Kwa-Zulu Natal’s south coast. “Growing up in Hillbrow was nice, but obviously when you are growing up as a kid you can’t see what’s happening in the hood,” he says. “You think everything is peaceful, but as you grow up you realise: ‘This is not the life for me.’”
It was this realisation that inspired his hustle. A precocious kid, the teenager quickly learned how to be street smart while keeping himself out of trouble. Raised in a tough environment with rampant drug abuse, Uncle Vinny says growing up in Hillbrow taught him many lessons.
“You have to focus to make your life better and remove your parents from that cycle of poverty. If you don’t work hard, there is nothing that is going to come to you. There is no life for you without hard work,” he says.
“You have to always be on your feet, making sure you are busy. I’ve seen a lot of my peers falling into the trap of crime.”
He credits community theatre for keeping him out of trouble, having participated in it from grade 4 until grade 7. His mother was against the idea, but his father encouraged it as it meant keeping Vinny off the streets.
“I knew there is no life for me on the street. I knew early on that the circle of life is all about money, [without which] I couldn’t access certain places,” he says.
“I realised the theatre was harmless, there were no drugs involved. I could just be myself in a safe space.”
After primary school, the Hillbrow Theatre helped him enrol at the National School of the Arts (NSA) and paid for his fees. He matriculated just last year. Uncle Vinny admits that doing matric, while working on side hustles, during the Covid-19 pandemic was no child’s play.
“It was the worst. I lost concentration, mainly because I wasn’t getting money from all my hustles. My parents are not wealthy, so I’m left to support my lifestyle,” Uncle Vinny says. “I felt useless… but that forced me to go to the drawing board and relaunch,” he says.