By Kevin Oguko and Sheila Kimani
|Nokia Don’t break the beat Champion, Xcalibur [Photo: Standard]|
With the national anthem bumping through the enormous speakers on the podium, Nokia’s Angela Githuthu tightly embraced XCalibur Shahidi shortly after handing him a dummy cheque of Sh250,000.
The mammoth crowd of hip-hop lovers at the Ichonic Club on Ngong Racecourse went into deafening screams and applause.
Decked out in a white T-shirt bearing an artwork of his image in front, the 23-year-old was all smiles as he was crowned the Nokia Don’t Break the Beat winner — after a two-month long battle behind the microphone.
And for the first time, he was lost for words. Meanwhile the first runner-up, Njama from Tanzania, and second runner-up, Kevin Ojiji from Kenya, put on brave smiles while holding their Sh75,000 and Sh25,000 dummy cheques, respectively — a fair consolation, if ever there was one for losing a rap battle.
The crowning of the best freestyler in the first ever East Africa rap battle saw Pulsers treated to creative rhymes, rib cracking narrative and killer punch lines while hip-hop tracks from the golden era of rap kept flowing from the decks courtesy of DJ Joe and Crème — in between the battles.
For any hip-hop head out there, this was nirvana; the contrast between Uganda’s contestants’ witty English bars, Tanzania’s fluent Swahili and XCalibur holding it down for Kenya, whose punch lines landed the knockout.
Tanzania’s Best Friends street dancers had ushered in the night, perhaps emphasising the relationship between dance battles and rap battles. But the night belonged to those with the mic and Octopizzo, with Point Blank as the hype man, took the house down.
“My English might be broken but my pocket is not.” This phrase from Octopizzo was followed by similarly not so creative bars of an English song. Luckily Point Blank was there to save the day rhyming on the Niggas in Paris beat by Jay Z and Kanye West.
On the contrary, Keko thrilled the crowd with her fast English rap style while STL’s performance remained above par. The night came down with STL getting a birthday cake.
Back to the present: who would take the cake for Kenya’s hip-hop freshmen?
The genre has experienced tremendous change both locally and abroad, disseminating from its roots in the South Bronx streets of New York to virtually every corner of the world.
Whereas local rappers now seem to realise they are a brand, not just artistes — after all hip-hop is a culture, not just music — which is something Run DMC learnt more than two decades ago when they were decked by the global apparel, Adidas.
Notably the content of rap music has shifted from the conscious ghetto life story of Kalamashaka’s Tafsiri Hii to a flashy new showbiz lifestyle. Though competitive, with battles being its very lifeline and beef its mainstay, hip-hop long moved from the mean streets to corporate offices, minting several dollar-multimillionaires on the backs of its tracks.
In this mix of remaining loyal to the past while staying true to the present, Pulse looks at Kenya’s hip-hop freshmen.