Kenyan hip hop

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Kenyan hip hop is a genre of music, and a culture that covers various forms and sub genres of hip-hop and rap originating from Kenya. It is commonly a combination of Swahili and English (Kenya's official languages) as well as Sheng and a variety of tribal languages.

Development of the style[edit]

In the late 80s and Early 90s ,as Hip Hop was getting recognition in the global music scene , it gained a lot of airplay on Kenyan media and on seeing that majority of the rappers had features of African Origin, Kenyan youths were intrigued , they felt represented and felt the need to represent too, starting to dress and act like these rappers on television ,wearing African American urban fashion, exchanging albums, mix tapes, hip hop magazines like word up and the source, reciting song lyrics and rapping in English,[1],spreading more when Matatus painted in graffiti started playing rap music and some Kenyan artists started releasing rap influenced songs.

According to the documentary “Hip-Hop Colony,” the beginnings of Kenyan hip-hop was like a “new breed of colonialism,” transplanting the original styles from the Westernized world to Africa.[2]

Jimmy Gathu one of the earliest known rappers on the Kenyan scene, would soon follow with his hit song "Look, Think, Stay Alive"[3] released in 1991, a song dealing with road safety. soon after there were more and more Kenyan youths on tv rapping , a show called mizizi that aired on the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation gave them a platform to express themselves in this new art form and Kenyan Hip-hop was born, 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,[4] 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",[4] 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".[4]

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.[5][6]


According to Rebensdorf Alicia, in her article[7] under the section pertaining to Hip hop, the internet and the capital Nairobi[1] she justifies the view that the radio has and still is a huge catalyst to the growth of Hip hop in Kenya today.

Notable artists[edit]

Among the most famous artists are Boondocks Gang, Sailors Gang, Khaligraph Jones, Zzero Sufuri, Ethic Entertainment, Ochungulo Family, Delo, Vuva, Rix Roro, Octopizzo, Chris Kaiga, Necessary Noize, Hardstone, Gidi Gidi Maji Maji, Bamboo, Nameless, Jua Cali, Nonini, King Kaka, Wawesh, the late E-Sir, Camp Mulla who were nominated for Best International Act (Africa) at the 2012 BET Awards[8], Abbas Kubaff, STL, Nafsi huru and Wangechi.[9]

Marketing and piracy[edit]

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,Unkut Africa, Hip-Hop and the Hood, which attempt to build connections between hip-hop artists and the general public, also by media such as MTV Base Africa, which endeavor 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.[10] One such station, Capital FM, features Kenyan media on its site, but lists many American artists, such as Lil Wayne, on its top ten list.[11] There is improvement though; new online magazine Aipate, for example, has been keeping an annual top 10 list since 2015, with Khaligraph Jones[12] topping the blog's 2018 list.

See also[edit]

  • Genge, a form of Kenyan hip-hop
  • Boomba, a form of Kenyan hip-hop


  1. ^ a b [1] Archived November 9, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ "Emerge Media Films presents HIP-HOP COLONY: The African Hip-hop Explosion - A film by Michael Wanguhu". Retrieved 2014-02-25.
  3. ^ "Matatu Safety Pop Video". YouTube. 2007-11-18. Retrieved 2014-02-25.
  4. ^ a b c The Standard, June 9, 2007: Stars of our time
  5. ^ "Unbwogable". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-02-25.
  6. ^ "unbwogable". 2005-02-04. Retrieved 2014-02-25.
  7. ^ Representing the Real’: Exploring Appropriations of Hip-hop Culture in the Internet and Nairobi
  8. ^ [2] Archived May 25, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ "Biographies - Juliani's Biography". 2009-11-02. Archived from the original on 2014-03-04. Retrieved 2014-02-25.
  10. ^ Chang, Jeff. “It’s a Hip-hop World.” Foreign Policy 163, Nov/Dec 2007, 58-65.
  11. ^ [3] Archived April 22, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ "Aipate's 2018 Top 10 Hip Hop Musician's list". Aipate Music Blog.