AKA, a popular South African rapper who helped create a brand of hip-hop that melds local sounds with Western influences, was fatally shot on Friday night outside a restaurant in the coastal city of Durban.
The police said that AKA, 35, had been walking to his car on a popular nightlife strip shortly after 10 p.m. when two armed people approached from across the street and fired several shots at close range before running away.
AKA, whose legal name was Kiernan Forbes, and another man died at the scene, the police said. Although the police did not name the second victim, South African news reports identified him as AKA’s close friend Tebello Motsoane, a 34-year-old chef and music entrepreneur known as Tibz.
The police said on Saturday that they were still searching for the suspects.
The killing drew an outpouring of grief from around the country, with fans, artists, major political parties and the government sending out messages of condolence. On Saturday, fans gathered outside the restaurant where he was killed, Wish on Florida, to pay their respects, with some blasting his music from their cars.
“AKA was counted amongst the best rappers on the continent,” South Africa’s Department of Sport, Arts and Culture said in a statement. “AKA was one of the most patriotic artists who literally flew the South African flag high everywhere he went around the globe.”
Born in Cape Town, AKA moved to Johannesburg as a child. He attended an elite private school, the sort of setting where hip-hop first became popularized in South Africa and elsewhere on the continent because affluent students had access to rap from its birthplace, the United States. In a 2014 article in the South African publication The Sunday Times, AKA described his parents as being “scared but excited” when he told them that he wanted to pursue a music career.
He produced for several artists before his own big breakout in 2011 with his hit single “Victory Lap” on his debut album, “Altar Ego.”
He went on to become known as one of the most formidable songwriters in South African hip-hop, noted Cedric Dladla, a music and culture journalist based in the country. AKA would take beats and samples from popular South African genres like amapiano and kwaito and incorporate them into his music, Mr. Dladla said. That helped influence a new generation of rappers, some of whom became rivals of AKA.
“AKA was a person who was an advocate for the South African identity of music,” Mr. Dladla said. “That’s what made him stand out, no matter where he went.”
Some of his songs were laden with references that only people in South Africa would understand, like his single “Lemons (Lemonade),” which made reference to a derogatory term used for foreigners and the practice of police officers asking for a “cold drink” when they want a bribe. But AKA also gained acclaim across Africa, collaborating with popular artists like Burna Boy, the Nigerian Afrobeats star.
What also set AKA apart, Mr. Dladla said, was his performance style — an energetic and captivating aura, often with the backing of a band. He once performed with an orchestra.
“That’s when the evolution from him being a rapper to him being a well-rounded musician started,” Mr. Dladla said.
Whatever international acclaim he received, AKA seemed to embrace being a star who catered to Africa rather than the United States.
“Why not be big in Africa?” he told The Sunday Times. “The States know what they want and consume it. There are lots of dollars on the continent.”
AKA encountered tragedy, and controversy, two years ago when his fiancée, Anele Tembe, fell to her death from the 10th floor of a hotel in Cape Town. The two had a rocky relationship, according to news reports, including an altercation about a month before Ms. Tembe’s death when AKA was accused of breaking down a door at the couple’s Johannesburg apartment after Ms. Tembe locked herself inside a room. A friend of Ms. Tembe’s told News24, a South African online publication, that AKA had slammed his fiancée’s head against a wall, but AKA denied ever abusing her.
AKA had been scheduled to perform at a nightclub on Friday night in Durban as part of an extended celebration of his birthday, which was late last month. Earlier in the day, he had posted videos on Instagram of himself dancing in a gym, getting his hair cut and eating a plate of seafood at the restaurant he visited before his death. He had also plugged his upcoming album, “Mass Country,” which is due to be released in about two weeks.
“Our son was loved and he gave love in return,” his parents, Tony and Lynn Forbes, posted in a statement on his social media accounts.
AKA is also survived by a young daughter he had with D.J. Zinhle, a popular South African D.J. In an Instagram post on his birthday last month, AKA had posted a picture of his daughter and a cake.
“Thank God for another year on this earth,” he wrote. “Looking forward to seeing what he has in store for me in 2023.”