Kenyan hip hop
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|Kenyan hip hop|
|Stylistic origins||Hip hop - Ragga - Contemporary R&B - Dance-pop|
|Typical instruments||Drum machine - Keyboards - Rapping - Vocals - Sampler - Synthesizer|
|Derivative forms||Southern hip hop - West Coast hip hop - East Coast hip hop|
|Genge - Kapuka rap
Development of the style
Early Kenyan hip-hop imitated the styles of the United States, with musicians wearing American clothes and rapping in English. This influence was perpetuated by access to internet and, in particular, YouTube. According to the documentary “Hip-Hop Colony,” the beginnings of Kenyan hip-hop were like a “new breed of colonialism,” transplanting the original styles from the Westernized world to Africa. However, Kenya has not only embraced but appropriated the genre, creating its own distinct version. Since its explosion in the mid-1990s, Kenyan hip-hop is now generally written and performed not only in English but also in Swahili and in Sheng, a slang combination of the two.
In 1990, Ricky Oyaro then a teenage singer/producer made the initial impact on the Kenyan music scene with the Hip-Hop /R&B single “Renaissance” that would literally create a renaissance on the then ailing Kenyan music industry. The song received massive airplay on Radio and the then popular “Music Time” on Kenyan Television. Jimmy Gathu one of the earliest known rappers on the Kenyan scene, would soon follow with his hit song "Look, Think, Stay Alive" released in 1991, a song dealing with road safety. However, the first major commercial hip hop hit came in 1996 with Uhiki by Hardstone (Harrison Ngunjiri) which sampled a Kikuyu folk song and Marvin Gaye's sexual Healing, produced by Tedd Josiah of the then Audio Vault Studios (now, Blue Zebra). Other popular pioneering acts were Kalamashaka with their national hit "Tafsiri Hii", K-South with "Nyabaga Kodo Gakwa," (which was also sampled from a Kikuyu folk song like Uhiki by Hardstone) and also the late Poxi Presha with his break out hit "Dhako Kelo".
Gidi Gidi Maji Maji emerged in 1999 with their hit "Ting Badi Malo" and released the debut album, "Ismarwa" the following year. They went on to released their popular and politically charged hit Unbwogable in 2002. The word took on the meaning of unshakable, unstoppable, or unbeatable and was subsequently used by major politicians and in 2008 in reference to then-candidate Barack Obama.
Into the new millennium, many new groups and solo artists have emerged and the scene musically diversified. Among the most famous artists are Necessary Noize, Redsan, Nameless, Nonini, G.rongi, Wawesh, the late E-Sir, Influx Swagga, Roppizzle, Juliani, Project shairi(Dou from Nakuru) who released one of the few double albums in Kenya titled Stanza Ya Kwanza(2013).
Ogopa Deejays term their style of music as "boomba" or "Kapuka" while Calif Records initiated a new style known as Genge. Coinage gives the music a localized identity which adds a little spice. Because most of these subgenres differ very slightly sonically, Influx Swagga, one of the earliest Genge artistes, proposed a need to merge all these subgenres in Kenya into one brand, Unganika Music, meaning united, just like Bongo Flava in Tanzania, but the idea failed to kick off when Genge and boomba stakeholders failed to agree. Genge, which roughly translates to "large crowd of people", reinforces a foundational ethos of hip hop as a music for and by the people.
Most artists affiliate themselves with a production house which serves the same function as a record company. Popular production houses include Ogopa Deejays and Calif Records. The music industry continues to grow with different production houses developing distinguishing sounds. Production and consumption are closely connected and symbiotic (much more than other mainstream international music) in the sense that producers emphasize the importance of local politics and culture rather than simply striving for profit maximization. Although, the motive of production seems to highlight local culture and community, Kenyan hip hop similarly to hip hop more generally battles the more individualistic forces of technology and musicianship.
Technology, more specifically the internet, is a vehicle for growth and enrichment of the principles of hip hop and local, indigenous culture and community. Even though the internet clearly advocates for the globalization of hip hop culture, the internet itself can serve as a sort of cultural homogenization or Americanization especially within cultures that lack technological advancement. Keeping this in mind, many local Kenyan artists are essentially forced to jump on the technological bandwagon in order to compete and even participate at all. While traditional forms of hip hop culture stem from a resistance to socio-political hegemony and therefore an acculturation of the collective unit (i.e. family, community, society), more recent images of gangster rap and the social realities that follow along with it elucidate a more individualistic, violent form.
Furthermore, the production of hip hop in Nairobi is all about taking the original form of hip hop songs and lyrics and mixing it to a more local version that can relate to the audience. They are actively and tangibly taking commodified music, putting it on a turntable and reinserting their changes on its form. Another article titled hip hop scene argues that Kenyan hip hop scene popularity is increasing and it constantly working towards producing Kenyan rap that draws its inspiration from American and hip hop reggae. Kenyan hip hop is also produced outside of Kenya by members of the diaspora. One example is Social Misfit Entertainment, a management, production and recording label formed in January 1998 in the UK. Social Misfit Entertainment is managed by Patrick Waweru (aka Sir Prestige). Waweru was born in Nakuru and immigrated to London from Nairobi mid-1986.
Most of the radio stations hardly play hip hop, except on specific times and shows.The first ever hip hop radio show was Wakilisha show hosted by Kalamashaka and DJ Mosse the Darkchild who is currently doing business in Tanzania. The Wakilisha Show was aired every Friday on Nation FM. The other show was called "The Joint" hosted by a rapper by the name of "mwafrika" on the station, Y fm, now Hot96. His show gunnered a huge following in a few months but it was taken off air. Mwafrika is back on air though, with a new station, Ghetto Radio, Nairobi. In addition to what has been mentioned above, the show by Mwafrika was stopped for several reasons. His show was strictly targeting consumers/fans who were really interested in what one would call ‘underground hiphop’, specifically one that is hardcore. Despite the fact that his music/show was not associated with women, alcohol and all the bragging that is inevitable by most, especially male, rappers, he did not quite satisfy the taste of the average Kenyan hip hop consumer. Thus did not get enough support for his show not to mention, no one really understood his motives. According to some sources like the one below, it should however still be noted that despite Mwafrika’s Da Joint being stopped, he is still viewed as a huge icon/crucial ingredient to history of Kenyan Hip hop. The radio played an important role in promoting Mwafrika’s mission as it still does with other rappers in today’s Kenya. According to Rebensdorf Alicia, in her article under the section pertaining to Hip hop, the internet and the capital Nairobi she justifies the view that the radio has and still is a huge catalyst to the growth of Hip hop in Kenya today.
Many artists are well known in Kenya for their style and methods of hip hop. Bamboo, born in Kenya as Simon Kimani, grew up in Inglewood, California before moving back to Kenya, where he continued with hip hop music and used the music to react to the angst and insecurity that many Kenyan youths were going through.
Camp Mulla were nominated for Best International Act (Africa) at the 2012 BET Awards. Rapper Mwafrika, who now tours worldwide, partnered with K'naan on the song "The African Way" on K'naan's The Dusty Foot Philosopher album.
Swahili hip hop artist Monaja is currently making waves courtesy of his tour into parts of Kenya previously not accessed by previous artists. Titled 'Temaimba', it kicks off on the at the end of August 2016 in Eldama Ravine, running till December where it will end in Voi. Striking for its themes on social justice and the struggles artists go through on their path, Monaja's raw, high energy sound has brought him much acclaim.
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Continuing a now common hip hop trend worldwide is the creation of fashion made for Kenyans who love hip hop by Kenyan hip hop fashion designers, the leading brands being Clad Nine and Nairobi Wear based in the USA, both brands were established by two childhood friends who grew up in Nairobi. Another one is Jamhuri wear which is now based in New York City and worn by the likes of Jay-Z, and was founded by a Kenyan born and raised designer. Another is MAU MAU University Clothing Co. founded by hip hop entrepreneur Kevin Ombija. His T-shirts have developed a cult following in Kenya and with Kenyans abroad. Set to be developed as a fully fledged clothing brand from 2007. Other notable Kenyan hip hop fashion brands include Teferah's Negus URBAN KINGS brand "Negus" Made famous by Kendrik Lamar means King or Emperor and its a great fit for most East African Artists. Fundi Frank, Stitch Styles and Ruff Wear. Another notable style that youth, especially those who are influenced by hip-hop, is the wearing of brand name clothing or clothing with brands labeled on them. One example would be Lacoste, which is now a world-wide status symbol. Another is Tusker, an east African liquor that has its brand now pasted on many shirts, making this style a Kenyan original.
Achievement and contribution to hip hop in Kenya is recognized through the Kisima Music Awards, Groove Awards and the Chaguo La Teeniez Awards (CHAT Awards). The awards are for songs in the gospel category.
Marketing and piracy
Due to the high rates of piracy in Kenya, poor music distribution mechanism, ineffective music copyright policies, and poor marketing, few hip hop artists have been able to make a living from their music. Many artists depend on doing performances to make a living due to the poor music sales, in the case of those who can afford to make a cd. Other artists who do not have the capital to record whole cds make music on a single by single basis. The primary market for Kenyan Hip Hop is composed of relatively privileged youth. This is due to the availability of internet access amongst more privileged youth.
Jeff Chang, in an essay about global hip-hop for Foreign Policy magazine, discusses the conflict between marketing of local artists and global (mainly American) ones. Local, socially conscious music is supported by communities themselves, by organizations such as Words and Pictures, which attempts to build connections between hip-hop artists, and by media such as MTV Base Africa, which endeavors to have half of its programming be African. On the other hand, local and foreign-owned radio stations tend to play and market American rap, like 50 Cent, a fact that many Kenyans resent. One such station, British Capital FM, features Kenyan media on its site, but lists many American artists, such as Lil Wayne, on its top ten list.
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- "Emerge Media Films presents HIP-HOP COLONY: The African Hip-hop Explosion - A film by Michael Wanguhu". Hiphopcolony.com. Retrieved 2014-02-25.
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- The Standard, June 9, 2007: Stars of our time
- "Unbwogable". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-02-25.
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- Rebensdorf, Alicia. “‘Representing the Real’: Exploring Appropriations of Hip-hop Culture in the Internet and Nairobi.” Senior Thesis, Lewis & Clark. (BROWSE)
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- Bubna, Mayank S. (2007-07-19). "Hip-Hop Refugees Tackle Taboos". TIME. Retrieved 2014-02-25.
- Chang, Jeff. “It’s a Hip-hop World.” Foreign Policy 163, Nov/Dec 2007, 58-65.
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