I am just from attending a hip hop concert at Sarakasi dome, Nairobi. The whole while I was seated in the crowd watching several performers left me with so many questions pertaining to our beloved genre. Two years ago, I was on this same stage with a colleague, performing a track that was not well received and I believed it was our song that was not good enough. Today however, I don’t know what to make of the whole thing. During the entire set, I was seated next to Arap Kibz, a young promising MC from Nairobi and we exchanged ideas each and every time a new set of performers got on the stage. After the concert, we continued talking and debating what we felt was the best way forward as far as Hip Hop in Kenya (and the entire Africa) is concerned. We did not reach on a singular solution or suggestion but what we all agreed on was the fact that we have a problem to deal with.
From a business strategist point of view, I feel so bad for these young artists knowing what awaits them ahead. But from a Hip Hop enthusiast, I feel so proud seeing the gusto they have and how determined they are to make a living off their music. The truth of the matter is, only 1 out of 100 underground MCs make it to the light of mainstream media through street Hip Hop. Or as Macklemore would put it, ‘Millions want to be rappers. Not many make it on their own terms’. The rest have to be manipulated so as to make a name for themselves. This begs for the question, what must we really do to ensure Hip Hop artists are accorded the same respect and recognition as their counterparts in other genre? On 12th February, I was honored to have a sit down with Phil, one of the great lovers of Hip Hop and a blogger at African hip Hop.com. After what we shared, I came to realize that this is not just a Kenyan problem, but actually the entire continent suffers from it.
Making it in the music industry while doing Hip Hop is one hell of a hustle. As a result, many artists are forced to divert to other commercial genres or do some other kind of music so that they ‘get paid’. Let me start by giving you examples; COOLAGANG was one of the most promising Hip Hop outfits in Africa to emerge from Kenya. Through numerous ciphers, these teens were a nightmare to the scene. They returned that raw gutter vibe that is the core of Hip Hop. As a matter of fact, they introduced the cipher movement in East Africa and it quickly spread, with most of their recorded videos going viral upon being posted online. They grabbed attention and people took notice. Yet several if not all radio stations avoided their music claiming it as ‘not being radio material’. With fame and no income, the kids became frustrated. There is nothing more amazing as being paid to do what you love. On the same note, getting no reward for something you do perfectly well is very demoralizing.
It was only a matter of time before they would bore to pressure. Come 2013, a company somewhere recognized the passion of the group, approached them with a multimillion record deal and the next thing you know, Coola Gang are now doing club music and guess what? They are getting money and living off music. So many people are quick to brand them ‘sell outs’. As for me, I have to look at both sides of the coin, street credentials alone will not, and I repeat, will not pay your bills. The same goes to ZONE FAM, long before Lobola, Propeller, Translate and Contolola became continental hits; the boys had been putting in work and making great Hip Hop music like Shaka Zulu on Em. Yet it is the Afropop dance tune ‘Contolola‘ that finally got them and Zambia, the first ever Channel O award win. This reminds me, the awards too are not helping at all. This however is a global phenomenal considering what we witnessed at the last Grammys. As KRYTIC, one of Zambia’s most prolific MCs rapped about on his record ‘Let Daddy Zemus Down, it is funny seeing the people who walks away with awards. So we get back to the big question, what really can be done to Hip Hop?
I don’t have definite solutions to all these, but I believe if we all come together and put our minds around the table, we can get a solution. I have a few suggestions of how we can go about this. To start with, we need to change the public’s general misconception that Hip Hop music is foreign/western and make them know that this genre originated from Africa, therefore it is 100% ours. Americans (read blacks) just imported our culture and modified it to their desire but the roots of Hip Hop are deeply embedded in Africa, that is why Afrikaan Bambaata had to visit the Zulu to acquaint himself further. When the general public becomes informed, then maybe the majority will start appreciating it, just like they do to other genres like Kuduro, Lingala, Kapuka, Kwaito, Zouk and the rest. The new school Hip Hop ambassadors, the new age rappers too need to make the music respectable by adding value to it. Hip Hop is not just a matter of staggering with a crunk juice in music videos. There is a whole culture behind this genre bruh. Shallow lyricism is majorly to blame for the lack of respect the genre gets from the older members of the society.
Secondly, it is about time that we as Africans looked up to our own African system as the lead example and the way forward. Currently, most African artists (Hip Hop) look to the western world on what the fade is as far as music is concerned. Talk about Southern Rap (popularized by Atlanta rappers), Acid Arap (associated with Chance The Rapper) Rap-sing (what Drake and his lot have commercialized) or Bubblegum (think of Soljahboy Tellem). I believe it is about time that we become trend setters especially on a genre that traces its roots to our beloved motherland. I would love to see a Hip Hop wave that starts from the North of Africa, sweeping all over to the South and spreading to the western world too. If Cabo Snoop was able to make Fat Joe Windeck, then why can’t Kwesta make Joe Cole to do a Boom Shaka Laka. Speaking of Kwesta, we as artists too need to own up and stand for our rights. It is high time that we tackled issues bravely like KWESTA did with 5fm the past few months. Murmuring in silence and doing nothing whereas we feel shortchanged will not help Hip Hop. We need to speak out where necessary, but respectfully.
Lastly, Hip Hop needs to be one united genre. Having many subgenres and factions do not help the situations. As of now, I’m aware Ghana has Hip Life and just last week I came across Hip Co which is apparently popularized by Takun J and his peers in Liberia. Not that the above examples are bad for Hip Hop, but a house that is divided as they say, is easy to bring down. Sooner, everybody will be doing whatever they feel like and claiming it as a branch of Hip Hop. In most cases, it is these factions that actually give the real Hip Hop a bad name and taste. On the same note, the biggest resource we have to propel this genre to the desired heights is Unity. Hip Hop artists from all over Africa need to unite; there is strength in numbers for crying out loud. I want to see Tehn Diamond (Zimbabwe) and Gee (Gabon) on a track. Let us collaborate and unite our people while strengthening our beloved genre in the process. Hip Hop artists are known for their bigger than Jupiter egos, but that will not take us anywhere, approaching a fellow artists and asking for collaboration does not in any way make you less great. Those are my thoughts, I’m a doer not a wisher, I hope everybody wakes up and we start working towards achieving something. We are Africans.
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