The best Kenyan rap of 2021
Throughout a year of hardship, the Kenyan rap scene prevailed, unveiling a fresh selection of talent from shrap and drill, to the old school flavours of boom-bap and gangster rap. Check out our selection of Kenya’s best rap of 2021.
While we have spent 2021 significantly bouncing back from the pandemic and isolation, lyrically and sonically, it has been a banner year. Neither the crippling curfew nor the constricted survival guidelines could hold down the hip-hop scene as more underdogs broke out of their bedroom studios to fan favorites. Veteran rappers like Khaligraph Jones have put out cross-boundary songs with Sarkodie while there are absolute must listens from rising artists such as Kahu$h and Cap. Landmark collaborations between the hip-hop industry and corporations such as betting companies witnessed unprecedented numbers from the likes of Khali Kartel.
The scope varied from braggadocio to ethereal rap as rappers tried to gain their identity, caving from sounding like international hip-hop. The new wave rappers add their touch to the genre sticking to the native language while making unorthodox singles bumping on the Kenyan streets. Shrap has become a religion, gaining national recognition with spearheads such as Boutross, being among the first underground artists to hit 1M views on YouTube. New sounds such as drill have grown to a greater extent, with groups such as G.T.A and Buruklyn Boyz (recognized by GRM Daily) adding a Kenyan twist to the learned genre. Here is a spotlight on some tracks that stand out from the overabundance of releases throughout the year. Get ready to turn up with some installments for your 2021 rap playlist to add value to the music ecosystem.
by Tela Wangeci
“Yea Yea Yea”
Boutross has been on a steady rise in his rap career, and “Yea Yea Yea” demonstrates why he is the shrap god. Produced by Cap, the bouncy single had the whole country immersed in TikTok challenges singing along to “Ati Wanjiru Ako Single, Mi Niko Single Pia“. The call and response structure had the catchy tune imprinted on everyone’s tongue and playlist. He has changed the country’s shrap narrative, building a catalog-driven by versatility, emphasizing variety in his music. A definite feel-good song that you want to turn up and sing along to, whether in a club or working out, Boutross has portrayed growth in his penmanship skill. Set to release his debut album Mtindo in early 2022, his encouragement of upcoming artists to own their sound have seen the solidification of shrap (sheng rap and popular music).
The Swamiii and Kilihippie (feat. Boiblacc)
In the cannon of The Best Rap Songs of 2021, a place of honor is reserved for “Vietcon Taxidemy”. The perfect trio Kilihippie, The Swamiii, and Boiblacc join forces on this ubiquitous smash hit. They are spitting through the swirling textures of Kilihippie’s timeless old-school boom-bap production with a sense of glory and pride. Providing a nostalgic feel without sounding stale, the eminent rappers drop esoteric bars splintering into their upcoming struggle while politely boasting of their exquisite writing skills. Vietcon Taxidermy sounds like a time capsule of glorious old-school hip-hop.
Ouma Wa Mafegi (feat. Korb$ and Kahu$h)
The familial bonds between Ouma Wa Mafegi, Korb$ and Kahu$h produced the most electrifying rap singles in the last quarter of the year. Off his debut EP Kilimani Baby, the tape and the song, in general, capture the life of a trapping Kilimani baby. Capitalizing off the single, the trio ratcheted up the energy and absurdity with every word on “Riverside Walk”. The jarring switch of verses between Ouma, Korb$, and Kahu$h, accompanied with the captivating hook, leaves you muttering “Riverside Walk” while throwing gang signs like a madman.
DEZ takes the approach of a struggling rapper trying to make it out of the industry but remaining hopeful of the outcome. DEZ has proved he can rap his soul out, but his vocal skills have severely been underestimated. His enchanting vocals over the subtle guitar strings that work as a blue background see DEZ lyrically murder the Kxlobo produced track. Touching on fame, love, and drugs over the lush instrumentals “No Love” is a cohesive landscape that soothes your soul. While championing the Alt-Nai sound, DEZ is sure on the slow and steady route to ultimate musical success.
While his music continues to be divisive among Kenyans on Twitter, one thing is obvious; Kahu$h is looking out for us by giving us good music. Arguably one of the most unconventional artists in the country, he has brought out his twist to hip-hop championing authenticity. With his humorous bars “Drip mingi sana, I am a sailor“, this new age rapper has you swaying as you sing along to this number. Kahu$h’s laid back rapping proves he is no longer on his way up to rap’s hierarchy – he is already there.
Baraka (feat. Supersun and Kiwango)
Baraka, Supersun and Joseph Kiwango (and Ekumbo) have undeniable chemistry – apart from being my favorite rappers. The four rap as if they are out at a family gathering catching vibes and having fun while portraying sadness in the most pre-possessing picture. “Picture Perfect” is melancholily packed in a trap beat, and the camaraderie between the three artists has you gushing over the verses and hooks. The sexually explicit lyrics hit different as they hit the right tones sounding like sweet nothings. Balancing between the lover boy energy and trap boy energy, we have Supersun going hard “She ask what’s my sign; I say $ signs” while Joseph Kiwango is on some big sexual energy “throw that lil booty for me I am gonna catch it”.
Wakadnali X Sir Bwoy
Gangsta rap is a vital rap scene even with the metamorphosis of rap over the years. After their breakout single, “Morio Anzenza”, Wakadinali (Scar Mkadinali, Munga Mkadinali, and Sewer Sydda Mkadinali) have been a force to reckon with. Producing substantial numbers like “Avoid Those People” and “Umoroto”, 2021 has been a massive year for the group. Employing their fellow label mate Sir Bwoy, they put their Midas touch on “Geri Inengi”. The ominous piano keys kick off the song as Sir Bwoy jumps on the hook, immediately talking of social injustice with unflinching humor. While many might not comprehend Munga Mkadinali’s verse, he touches on gang life and struggling in the streets. Scar and Sewer Sydda touch on everyday social issues affecting the community. Wakadinali has shown upcoming rappers it is okay if you come from the hood; you can still rap and own the streets. Their massive dedicated fan base is proof of this.
“Dream Ya Kutoka Kwa Block”
Simply translating to “Dreams of leaving the hood”, this song is hopeful over the dark drill beats taking over the Kenyan streets. If you are not already familiar with Buruklyn Boyz, it’s a duo taking the world by storm. Recently gaining recognition from GRM Daily, this hip-hop duo is ripe with absurd bars and energy that its fans worship. If you aren’t chanting “Kwani ni Kesho”, you are busy finishing the following line to Dream Ya Kutoka Kwa Block… “yaani kuget rich kuomoka in short”. In less than a year, these young Kenyan boys from Nairobi have shown what consistency, dedication, and a vision can bring to the table. Planning to take over the world while standing firm in the drill genre, this unbeatable duo has a road map guiding them to only one destination, top dog in the industry.
Asum Garvey (feat. Thayu Mwas)
“Poa” is a single that gets better every time it is played. The upbeat loopy Luigi produced instrumental coaxes with a spirit of “enjoyment” from Thayu Mwas and Asum Garvey. The crescendo throughout the song with Asum’s complex punch delivery leaves you in shock as the pieces get you stuck in a loop wanting more.
Silverstone Barz (feat. Boutross)
“If It’s On”
Silverstone can be described as a ball full of bad bitch energy. Drawing inspiration from Nicki Minaj for Silverstone Barz, rapping is too easy as she takes an aggressive approach as she maneuvers across the sonic 808s, finding pockets with ease pushing her voice to the boundaries of the rhyme patterns. The entire country has its eyes on Silverstone Barz and Boutross, as this collaboration is a refreshing banger.
Cap (feat. Jovie Jovv, Mi$tak)
Each Cap song is a gift that keeps on giving, sounding more like a luxurious tailor than a producer. With each listen, his music expands and contracts, sharing textures, lyrics, and notes unheard on the first play. Back in his bag, he employs an unlikely collaboration between Jovie Jovv and Mi$tak. “Habituous” is another excellent addition to his canon, containing heady bars layered between clever references all over a wonderfully calibrated beat from Cap. Jovie’s raunchy lyrics and Mi$tak’s prolific flow provide a perfect foil to Cap’s percussive backdrop. This track makes me want to roll up in a club and shake my ass while splurging cash.
This Nairobi-born rapper kicked off 2021 with one of the most cohesive projects in Kenya. The Groovy Way being her first project, the mixtape houses “Naibop,” a funky guideline to Nairobi dating and entertainment scene. With her kinetic flow and well-placed rhymes on the heavy 808s, Groovy Jo is one of the most exciting Mcess at the moment. “Naibop” is a quintessential party anthem for 2021. It has bouncy, danceable production, reflective one-liners that double as Instagram captions. Groovy Jo’s husky voice makes the record more fun and addicting.