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Kinyatrap: the gritty soundtrack of Kigali’s new rap generation

In Kigali, a new generation of artists are adding Rwandan flair to the African rap & hip-hop scene and they’re calling this innovative genre "Kinyatrap".

Kinyatrap is the quintessential Kigali sound that combines elements of trap, grime, drill, and the occasional Afro-pop rhythm. While mainstream coverage of Rwandan music tends to focus on diasporic acts like Stromae, Lous and the Yakuza, Corneille, and others, kinyatrap harbors homegrown talent that has been brewing for no more than a decade, but whose popularity has skyrocketed due to the demand for a more youth-driven sound. Since this influential genre has roots in the ‘happening’ neighbourhoods of Nyamirembo and Nyarutarama, which is also home to a large Muslim community, the result is a Kigali slang that integrates Swahili pauses, Arabic exclamation points, English apostrophes and French double entendres into an already metaphor-filled Kinyarwanda language. Rumored to be inspired by the Rwandan kwivuga oral storytelling tradition performed at large gatherings, the content of most kinyatrap songs paint a picture of urban trials and tribulations, the drive for success and the importance of collaboration. 

From an outsider’s perspective, these drill anthems may seem like a mashup of boisterous beats and crude commentary, but the musical engineering and storytelling behind each track and accompanying music video points to a larger body of work. Considering recent backlash from authorities who pulled the plug on a Ycee concert in Kigali on March 19th, claiming a violation in noise regulation, despite organizers having the proper clearance to host the event, Rwandan artists are finally speaking out on the struggle to make music in a nation where veritable freedom of expression is often restricted.

Stop burying us alive. It’s not about the refund of our 20 million [rwandan francs] spilled, it’s for the generations to come who will never be motivated by what you do to this music,” says rapper Ish Kevin on an instagram post recounting the incident (he was later reimbursed when the city admitted fault).

In Kigali, collaboration is key. Kinyatrappers, and their contemporary spinoff via Ish Kevin’s Trappish Music/Loudsound Gang, might be well on their way to dominating the contemporary African hip-hop and rap game, but it’s their frequent collaborators behind the decks, in the studio, and on set, that have a hand in helping these musical giants tower over the headline stage. Despite a recent boost in public and private investments into arts and culture-related projects in Rwanda, considering the lack of pre-existing infrastructure to support local artists, these determined and passionate players have sought to create their own arena, inviting fellow collaborators across many fields to join them on this long-term development endeavor. In doing so, recent years have seen young self-made businessmen and businesswomen finally receive recognition they deserve for the gems they’ve helped carve out in Rwanda’s burgeoning music industry. 

As an introduction to kinyatrap, we’ve compiled a list of Rwanda’s top tier kinyatrappers of the moment.

Bushali – Kigali

As one of the founding forces of the genre, Bushali can arguably be described as the ‘King of Kinyatrap’. In fact, he was one of the first artists to introduce kinyatrap to broader audiences when early collaborations with Dr. Nganji’s grassroot label Green Ferry Music resulted in the release of the iconic hit single “Nituebue” back in 2018, followed by “Kinyatrap” in 2019. At the time, Bushali’s attention-grabbing aesthetic and rambunctious rapping style represented a daring shift in an industry just beginning to broadcast high hip-hop BPMs on national airwaves. Five years later, the eccentric performer’s rank remains nearly untouched as he continues to push the boundaries of Kigali’s underground sound. Fittingly, his latest single offers an ode to the city that birthed kinyatrap.

B-Threy – Dududu

The name Bertrand Muheto or B-Threy is worth mentioning in the kinyatrap history books. The kinyatrapper’s unforgettable 2018 feature on “Nituebue”, and his consistent rollout of catchy after-curfew bangers featuring other big names like Dizo Last, Trizzie Ninety-Six and Slum Drip make him a rare musical chameleon in a constantly evolving music scene. His 2022 mixtape Muheto Wa Mbere (‘Muheto the First’) puts his one-of-a-kind rap skills on full display.

Og2tone – Street Melodies

Heavyweights aside, every trap collective needs a little skinny boy swagger. In Kigali, that title belongs to Og2tone, the trap rager and member of Loudsound Gang whose range sees him go from rough-around-the-edge raps to smooth-talking street serenades. Og2tone’s musical style is uninhibited, leaning towards experimental musical engineering while still staying true to the genre’s unpolished urban roots. Check out his latest mixtape UMUNYABIGWI 2 for a taste of Kigali’s “Street Melodies”.

Kenny K-Shot – Intare

Next on our list is lyrical wunderkind Kenny K-Shot. Don’t let his youthful appearance fool you, when it comes to kinyatrap, this seasoned songwriter and business management graduate means all business. Kenny K-Shot’s measured cadence and noteworthy lyrical pattern, swiftly jumping from Kinyarwanda to English, not to mention his progressive selection of producers like Pro Zed and DJ Pyfo on a discography that ranges from roadman raps to Afro-pop musings, enables the kinyatrapper to fly through the charts with ‘fly guy’ confidence and nonchalance. The 02/02/2022 release of his latest mixtape ‘Intare’, which means ‘Lion’ in Kinyarwanda, shows the young Simba ascending to his throne as a kinyatrapper to be reckoned with.

Ish Kevin – Amakosi

Last but certainly not least, a powerhouse figure of the movement, rapper and record-label owner Ish Kevin. After the release of his 2021 smash single Amakosi’, which recently gathered 1 million views on Youtube, the self-proclaimed “game-changer” followed-up his successful streak with hit singles ‘No Cap’ and ‘Babahungu’ (‘Boys’). In fact, Ish Kevin prefers to be referred to as Trappish Music or Loundsound Gang, his own imprint and modern spinoff of kinyatrap that strikes a more lighthearted and hopeful tone. The kinyatrap superstar’s lead on African rap and hip-hop make him the ideal Trappish Music leader, the label he founded which manages other notable names like Bruce the 1st, Ririmba and many more who have helped expand the scope and the portfolio of kinyatrap. His latest album Trappish II, set to be released 02/25/2022, is sure to solidify his street prophet status.