East Africa's hip-hop/rap scene is poppin' and has been for a while now. There are several extremely talented lyricists, storytellers and beat-makers repping Africa's eastern region both from the continent and the diaspora.
Here are just six East African rappers I've had on rotation lately.
Must Listen: Mats za Ronga AND Harambee
Twenty-three year old rapper Tunji is taking Kenya’s Hip-hop scene by storm with his high energy bars and meticulous flow. His 2017 hit ‘Mats za Ronga’ blew up, becoming Nairobi’s biggest trap song, and caught the attention of veteran top Kenyan rapper, Khaligraph Jones who hopped on the tracks remix. Though drawing closely from American trap, Tunji manages to remain authentic. Alternating between English, Swahili and Sheng [urban Nairobi slang], Tunji’s lyrics paint pictures of Nairobi’s urban, youth culture.
Name: Stella Mwangi
Must listen: rEADY TO pop, WORK, Big Girl + LOOKIE lOOKIE AND Biashara (oldieS but goodieS)
Stella Mwangi, aka STL, is one of Kenya's most outstanding musical exports. At the age of five, she moved to Norway and this is where her music career developed and burgeoned. She's been in the game for a decade and has consistently put out hit after hit allowing her to see major success both in Africa and Europe. The femcee's signature high energy songs and distinct flow set her apart; and through alternating between Swahili and English, she continues to create a diverse sound while remaining true to her Kenyan roots.
After a brief hiatus, she bounced back with the release of her self-titled EP 'Stella Mwangi'. This project, which is a fusion of hip-hop and electronic dance music, was created in conjunction with Norwegian producers, Big City.
With international synch deals for various tv shows, commercials, and films, as well as a distribution deal with major music conglomerate, Warner Music Group (WMG) for her single "Work", Stella is steadily building her status as an international star.
Name: Khaligraph Jones
Must listen: Riders, OPEN DOORS (OJUELEGBA REFIX) and Wanjiru & Akinyi
One of Kenya's most popular and versatile rappers, Khaligraph Jones began his rap career at the age of 14. The rapper is known for his larger-than-life persona both on and off stage, distinct rhymes, and punchlines. At 19, he won the Kenyan edition of Channel O's [South African music channel] Emcee Africa competition officially introducing him to Kenya's entertainment scene. Some of Khaligraph's top hits include: "Omollo", "Toa Tint",
Must listen: Jewels, Guillotines AND Brutalism
Rising Camden-based, Eritrean MC Awate is using his prolific storytelling skills to detail his experiences as a young, black man in London. Through his unapologetically frank, razor sharp lyrics laid on smooth, Ethio-jazz inspired beats, he comments on the racial injustice present in the UK and criticises the powers that be. This can be heard in songs like "Uncontrollable Dopeness", which draws parallels between the murder of Tamir Rice and personal experiences with London police. Awate is no stranger to political struggle. He arrived in the UK as an Eritrean refugee via Saudi Arabia and his father was an Eritrean freedom fighter.
Awate’s debut, must-listen-to LP Happiness was released on February 22nd.
Name: Muthoni The Drummer Queen
Must listen: Suzie Noma
Since 2012, Muthoni Ndonga, aka Muthoni the Drummer Queen , has been pushing the boundaries for Kenyan artists seeking to make ‘alternative’ music. Her eccentric sound and persona, meticulously-crafted lyrics, and high energy performances have made MDQ one of Kenya’s top femcees. Alongside her musical career, Muthoni is an entrepreneur having founded the ‘Blankets and Wine’ festival series that takes place in Nairobi, KE, Kampala, UG, and Kigali, RW.
Her latest release, "She", is a concept album that fiercely celebrates various aspects of womanhood whilst frankly relaying the experience of being a modern woman in Kenya.
Name: Ras Nebyu
Must listen: Shikorina, God Bless AND Don’t Forget
Ethiopian-American rapper Ras Nebyu, has been creating a steady buzz in Washington, D.C’s rap scene. He is the leader of the Washington Slizzards movement, an underground art and music collective born out of DC. Drawing from his Ethiopian and Rastafarian roots for inspiration whilst incorporating mainstream trap beats, Ras’s music is a diverse blend consisting of songs that range from mellow and bass heavy e.g. "Don’t Forget", to feel-good and vibey like "Shikorina", an Ethiopian-influenced cover of Drake’s "Controlla", to more conscientious songs like "God Bless".