Is Kenyan Hip Hop Industry Back On Track? My Personal Story

Recently after watching Khaligraph Jones and Dj Creme introduce their new track “I am King”, I got nostalgic and happy at the same time on how hip hop in Kenya has grown compared to 15 years ago,allow me to share my personal story.

When I was growing up I developed a keen interest in hip hop at an early age, I remember in 1996 I used to follow the feuds between East Coast and West Coast and even took sides, at that time I was a West Coast supporter, Kenyan hiphop by then was still at it’s infancy stage, only Hardstone had created a buzz with his Uhiki single, later Kalamashaka and K-south hit the scene with Mangilima album produced by P-Funk Majani and Tedd Josiah in 1999 and Nairoberry produced by Samawati owned by Susan Kibukosya produced in 2000 were my favourite albums.

Between 2000 to 2002 various hip hop artists emerged K-swiss (Kitu Sewer), Brayo famed for “Mpaka saa ngapi”single, Die Hard, Nanoma and other underground artists, during those days hip hop was real and underground, around 2001 Genge and Kapuka emerged and Kenyan hip hop was under threat, Genge was represented by Lady S, Nonini and Juakali, Kapuka was represented by Ogola dj stars like K-rupt,E-sir,Mr Lenny, Nameless and others.

At that time I developed an interest in rapping, I used to lock myself in my room to write rhymes, I had a large collection of radio cassettes of mostly foreign artists to meditate from Bone Thugs n Harmony, Guru, Dj Premier, Mobbed Deep, Ice T,Ice Cube, and others, I recorded my first Demo on a tape at home and it was so low quality with noise disturbances, I was determined to find a producer,a family friend of mine introduced me to an upcoming artist who was doing hiphop, his name was DNA(Yes, the one of fimbo chapa fame), DNA told me he knows a studio in Yaya Centre and they were charging ksh 12,000 per single, by then I was in Form 3 and of course I could not afford, I felt disappointed but I did not lose hope I tried to get a chance to free style at the Fanta Bambucha Insyder bashes but at that time they were interested with young Kapuka artists like Kleptomaniac who were big with their Haree song,Czars and of the Amka Ukatike fame(was he ever found?). I stopped writing music and started reading how mainstream rappers made it in USA,every month I used to borrow my friends Nimoh Futuristic and Claris Giathi double XXL and Source magazines and I could occasionally visit them in the afternoons to discuss hip hop and watch movies like BEEF.

In 2002 someone told me to try to performing during Florida 2000 jam sessions show time,it used to be competitive so you had to be disciplined and arrive early like 2pm for your name to be put on the list of performers,I remember meeting Bobby Mapesa, Juliani, the late Frakaz and Dry Gin also hustling for spaces to perform, you had to impress DJ Babu and the unforgiving fans who were surrounding the dancefloor during show time.Every Sunday I could perform fans could cheer you and that was all, I was desperate need a to record even one song,there were many studios in Nairobi town but most of them had amateur producers who could not properly master songs so the tracks could not be played in radio coz of quality issues. My stage name was J.O.B, some friends still refer to me upto now by my stage name.

In 2004 the hip hop game in Kenya grew big with the emergence of Ukooflani Maumau and the return of K-south, Ukooflani initially was a coastal outfit consisting of Nguchi P, Chizzen Brain,Solo thank,Fujo Makele, Shoaling,Sharama, Labala and others they teamed up with artists from Dandora and it’s environs like Zaka, Kah,Agano, Mashamba, Kalamashaka and others forming the group Ukooflani Maumau , Kilio cha Haki their first album sponsored by some sponsors from Netherlands was a game changer.”All over the world ” became a hit worldwide

I met Chris Kantai during that period he had just come from the USA and we were living in the same hostel in Westlands, we formed an outfit with Pavelee and named our group HDZ(Hostel Dwellers) Family, we approached Tedd Josiah of Blue Zebra to record our song but he asked us for Ksh 15,000 upfront, at that time he was producing for big artists like Necessary Noise who were big by then. Eventually we found a pocket friendly studio in Kilileshwa called K-fam Records that’s where I did my first single called Hip Hop mentality,the producer made like 5 copies for me to distribute to radio stations, that’s when I realised being an artist is not an easy thing, I used to walk from KBC studios to Capital FM I & M building to Y-FM studios at Chaka Road to distribute the CDs , I could go home wait for my song to be played, once in a while Metro FM could play my song and it was exciting.Special thanks to Mwafreeka and Dee and Kay for playing my songs and inviting me for interviews, you made me famous in a small way

At that time some DJs started playing hip hop despite the heavy influence of Kapuka in our radio stations big up to Dj Zaq Y-FM, Dj Adrian Capital FM,and Dj Kaydee HomeBoyz,I participated in the famous Capital fm Hip Hop Freestyle Thursdays under Eve de Souza and Adrian, I floored heavy weights like Third Eye and Kimya, Buddha Blaze started a monthly event called Benson and Hedges rap battle which saw the birth and rise of Mwafreeka the artist, at one point I reached the finals losing to Kantai,missing on the 10k prize,

Then beef tracks became the in thing in 2004,wodhes, chiwawa mwafreeka, and bamboo kept us entertained with the Diss tracks, at some point it turned violent after members of Kongizi brothers (KGB) physically attacked Bamboo outside I & M building.

British Council also started a monthly event for hip hop performing artists and graffiti, this is the event that made Octopizzo and Mistari famous, in 2005 Kantai was a house hold name after his song Kantai hajali G became famous, being in the same group with him I had the privilege of performing with him in various towns in Kenya from Kisii,Kisumu, Nakuru, Meru and various beauty peagants in Nairobi universities CUEA,JKUAT,KCA, UON amongst others.

I introduced Kantai to an upcoming producer who had opened a studio in Vet -Ngong, the producer was none other than Stevo of Jomino Records,we recorded the song Welcome Home which was a massive hit after Dj Kaydee introduced it in his mixtapes.STL also did a song With Kantai called Happy which was a hit internationally.

During that time there was an artist who was behind the scenes only heard in DJ mixes freestyling over various beats,he was called Khaligraph, no one knew how he looked like but he had a distinct voice.

Kenyan hip hop started nose diving, corporates were engaging mostly mainstream Kapuka artists, most underground artists started engaging in hard drugs and alcohol,they were no longer being invited in big shows to perform and their songs were rarely played in radio. Chizzen Brain tried to revive hip hop in 2006 with the album Dandora Burning produced by Andaki Studios, Duplex Studios in Nairobi West also did some hit tracks for Abbas like Most Fire but the Kenyan music industry was taking a different shape, you either changed your style to suit your sponsors or perish in poverty. I stopped writing and performing coz I was also in school pursuing a demanding course.

Recently when Vigeti resurrected with his album Mama,and Khaligraph Jones released the Ojuelegbla Re-fix and I am King ♔ I think hip hop is back on track and very soon it will reclaim it’s rightful place.

Big upLethal KaydeeeMwafreeka MwaffKhaligraph Jonezz


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