Last night’s 64th Grammy Awards in Las Vegas featured some predictable nods: Olivia Rodrigo took home three awards (Best New Artist, Best Pop Vocal Album and Best Pop Vocal Performance), and jazz crooner Tony Bennett won a jaw-dropping 20th award. Grammys. But it’s talents like John Batiste, who swept five of the night’s categories, and DJ Nkosinathi Innocent Maphumulo, better known as Black coffee—whose Best Dance/Electronic Album wins points the first nomination for a South African in this category in The history of the Grammys, which turned out to be particularly remarkable. Black Coffee, accepted the award in a cream crystal-embellished AMIRI suit which, as he told the designer Mike Amiri, was a tribute to his old friend and collaborator Virgil Abloh. Below, the DJ and the Amiri discuss the importance of an African artist transcending the “World Music” category, being recognized by your industry peers, and the process of translating a song into suit..
MIKE AMIRI: Nathi, let’s talk about how we first met.
BLACK COFFEE: We first met on social media. Then one day, by chance, I visited the Chrome Hearts store on my way to the Miami airport. I see a guy standing by the door on his phone, then he walks up to me and says “Hi, what’s going on?” I figured maybe he was following what I do, or had been on my show. We had a short chat and both left. A few minutes later, I realized it was you! I immediately DMed you like “Yo man, didn’t realize it was you!” We laughed about it.
AMIRI: Why did you decide to work with me to design your Grammy costume?
BLACK COFFEE: I’ve been a big fan of AMIRI since before I met you, then I became a fan of you as a human being too. I love what you are doing and the direction you are taking in the apparel industry. I love how free and unorthodox you are. What was your initial vision for this costume?
AMIRI: I wanted to create something clean, comfortable and contemporary, yet sophisticated enough for the Grammys red carpet. It’s cut in a signature AMIRI shape, and I’ve added a delicate crystal trim to enhance this neutral single-tone palette. Your music is so moving and expansive, I saw the costume as representing that through the design. We had worked together in the past when you created the soundtrack for my track, so we really aligned creatively. It was an excellent follow-up.
BLACK COFFEE: How did you approach this design process?
AMIRI: A personalized outfit must correspond to the sensitivity of the artist: he must feel comfortable and autonomous when he wears it. So I listened to your music and tried to tune that into my own vision. This look is meant to sound like a visual song – the color is instrumental, and the silhouette and embellishments are the grooves and hooks. If you could describe the final outfit in one sentence, what would it be?
BLACK CAFE: It would be “AMIRI ft. Virgil Abloh”. I also saw it as a bridge. I could say to you, “Mike, I’m going to the Grammys, I want to wear custom AMIRIs and I want to make sure it’s a tribute to Virgil, inspired by what he did. I had known Virgil for so many years and admired what he was doing in the industry, and how he was also that guy you could pick up and call. For example, I called him once and asked if we could do a special Off-White capsule collection for South Africa, and we did. It’s very rare to be able to call a great designer and make them believe in your vision. That’s what you’re doing now. This costume was inspired by the look he wore at the Met Gala. Obviously, we talked a lot about Virgil when designing this costume – how do you think his influence comes across in the final design?
AMIRI: Virgil was an incredible person and friend. You and I shared a few conversations about our relationship with him, and I knew you wanted your look to be a nod to his spirit. One of her signatures was a beautifully tailored angel costume with a modern twist. Who is your fashion icon?
BLACK COFFEE: I don’t think I have just one, I’m inspired by different people. I love Pharrell’s taste for jewelry and his watches. I love Virgil for embracing all the brands that he thought were doing something special.
AMIRI: How did this Grammy nomination go?
BLACK COFFEE: The nomination was so important to me – it’s definitely a highlight of my career, because I intended to reach this level. This kind of recognition, on a global scale, is so rare for an artist where I come from. We are usually in the African/World music category, where we compete against each other. In making this album, I knew who I wanted to work with and the kind of sound I was looking for: to create something inspiring for Africans, so they know they can go this far. I get a nod at the Grammys – they say “we see you”, and that means a lot to me.
AMIRI: If you win, how will you celebrate?
BLACK CAFÉ: Oh my God, if I win… I didn’t think about it. Every time my brain goes there, I have a mild heart attack. I’m afraid to think about winning or losing because music isn’t made for that. I think in addition to winning or losing, there’s also a level of recognition that you want from your peers or the industry. You want them to know you’re here and can contribute on a larger scale. This is victory for me. But when I think about getting the prize, I panic. It’s a scary thought for me, so I don’t know how I would react if it were to happen.
AMIRI: Well, we’ll see!