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He was born on 24 April Soweto Township of Johannesburg, South Africa, where Dlamini spent his formative years in Zola, sub-township in Soweto notoriously known for its high crime rate, from which he adopted his name. Unemployment, alcoholism, and single parent families are the norm in Zola. Dlamini's father abandoned the family, leaving his mother to care for him and his older brother and sister when they were young. Zola himself served time in prison as a juvenile for car theft.
Zola become well known for his role as the notorious gangster Papa Action in Yizo Yizo 2. The character was already popular in Yizo Yizo and had been portrayed by another actor. Zola resembled the previous performer, and his performance only increased the popularity of the role. He also performed the score and played a role in the Academy Award-winning film, Tsotsi and the movie Drum. Zola also has a prominent role in the documentary SHARP! SHARP!- the kwaito story (2003) directed by Aryan Kaganof.
Zola has enjoyed success as a Kwaito superstar, and is probably the most popular Kwaito artist in the country; Lance Stehr of Ghetto Ruff records has referred to Zola as "the second biggest brand in the country next to Nelson Mandela." Zola not only performs but also writes and produces some of his own music, signing to the independent label Ghetto Ruff records. Zola will be recording a posthumous collaboration with hip-hop legend Tupac Shakur. The track will be recorded in South Africa but feature on a CD to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Shakur's death on 13 September 1996. Zola is also the owner of the music company Guluva Entertainment.
Originally, Zola was not a fan of Kwaito music, because it "had no message." He has taken upon himself to change this, viewing himself as a role model. "I want to inspire a guy from the ghetto so he can stop hanging around in the corner begging and try to get some life." In the song "Mdlwembe", which literally means problem child, he expresses his feelings about the neighborhood he grew up in. He talks about the horrible quality of life of the township, particularly the extreme level crime and violence. "Beware of the Zola boys, We do crime for money" demonstrates Zola's past and also the perpetual anguish of life in a ghetto. Today, Zola works on behalf of younger performers, helping them to be integrated into the music industry. He is a pioneer in social action and benefit projects in South Africa.
Kwaito is branded as apolitical; often associated with the advancement of personal wealth, Glamorized gangster lifestyle, and frivolous consumption themes found in much of Jamaican Dancehall and Rap. The Genre is associated with a new political freedom gain since the end of Apartheid in South Africa and less political strife. The form of the Kwaito produced by Zola is in that case an anomaly in that it is very much politically charged and contains a social message.
Zola raps in isiZulu with high usage of tsotsi. Tsotsitaal is the vernacular slang in South Africa. This infusion of colloquial dialect with a national language allows for better interaction between the artists and the community South Africans in lower socio-economic classes who live in the townships and speak tsotsi can relate to Kwaito music differently than to Cape Town hip hop or US hip hop because of the lyrics. Additionally many of his songs describe situations of life in the townships more specifically in Soweto
He has received four South African Music Awards:
- Artist of the Year - 2002
- Best Soundtrack - Yizo Yizo
- Best Music Video - "Ghetto Scandalous"
- Best Kwaito Album - Umdlwembe
At the Metro FM Awards 2001, Zola won on public vote:
- Song of the Year - "Ghetto Scandalous"
- Best Album of the Year - Umdlwembe
- Best Kwaito Album - Umdlwembe
- Umdlwembe (2000)
- Khokhovula (2002)
- Bhambatha (2004)
- Ibutho (2005)
- Tsotsi (2005 Motion Picture)
- Impepho (2009)
- Unyezi (2011)
-  The Kwaito Generation
- Shota,Babalwa (2004)'Dare to Dream.' "Sunday Times Magazine", 9, 10-12 May.
- The Kwaito Generation : Inside Out :: A production of 90.9 WBUR Boston, MA
- BBC World Service | Rhythms of the Continent
- Mhlambi, Thokozani. "'Kwaitofabulous': The study of a South African urban genre." Journal of the Musical Arts in Africa, vol 1 (2004): 116-27.
- Zola: Rising music icon of our time
- Stanley-Niaah, Sonjah. "Mapping of Black Atlantic Performance Geographies: From Slave Ship to Ghetto." In Black Geographies and the Politics of Place, ed. by Katherine McKittrick and Clyde Woods, 193-217. Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2007
- 'I saw blood on the street' | Features | guardian.co.uk Film
- nhlanhla sibongile mafu, Johannesburg, 2002 "hybridization and slang in south african poetry" Kagablog 12 December 2007