Fame first came to Steven Otieno, alias Stevo Simple Boy in form of a meme. Someone took his mugshot, inserted a cheeky message and shared it on Facebook, teasing him for his looks.
The year was 2016. Within a short time, there were variations of the meme, but the theme remained the same: they thought his face was interesting. The comments on his photo bordered on cyber bullying, but Otieno says he stood unnerved despite the many times people said he resembles a baboon.
“It was not the first time I was being called names for how I looked. It was worse when I was growing up. Children would make up songs about how ugly I was. They would block my path and call me a squirrel. I am used to my face getting all the attention,” he says.
He has been called many things on social media and off the net. There are people who face him and tell him he is ugly and scary. On social media, the abuses he gets cannot be put in print.
His experience is perhaps what led him to release the song: Inauma Lakini Itabidi Uzoee, that was released last month. He sings about how life situations can be unfair, and that what cannot be changed must be endured.
On whether he is dating, Otieno says he is yet to meet a woman who meets his standards. He is looking for a submissive woman, born again and not afraid of being with a man who is in public space.
“For now, I am not thinking so much about women. When the right one comes, I will get into a relationship, he says.
He says his face, as unattractive as people have often pointed out, is his selling point.
The more people call him ugly and follow his social media platforms to mock him, the more famous he gets.
“God created me like this. What do people expect me to do?” he asks during an interview at the Made in Kibera production centre in Kibera, where he produces his music.
It is a temporary structure made of iron sheets, but he says it is where his dreams took off.
When he released the song: Vijana tuwache mihadarati in 2017 to warn youth about the effects of drug abuse, he never imagined it would fling him into the world of social media fame reserved for socialites and celebrities.
He is currently at more than 700,000 views on YouTube with his mihadarati song. His latest release is edging towards 500,000 views, a feat even established musicians who have been in the industry longer, are struggling to achieve. Many believe the fascination with his music is not so much on the lyrics, but on the face behind the music.
“You look at his face and how he talks and you just want to watch what he is doing. I have watched his videos many times,” says Saumu Ahmad on her Twitter account.
His producer Geoffery Ochieng says Otieno has been getting invites to perform in shows and the reception is unexpectedly good.
“If he is making some money from his art, it does not matter if people are calling him ugly,” says Mr Ochieng.
At 29, Otieno says he has never allowed the negative energy thrown at him slow him down.
He is aware of the burden of having many followers and the scrutiny it brings.
He remembers an incident when he wore a robe in a photo and he got a lot of flak, with people questioning if he is on the drugs he cautioned his fans from using in his mihadarati hit.
“I sometimes look at the comment and I have to remind myself that people will say whatever they want about you. You cannot control that,” he says.
The young artist is changing a few things about himself, not for the vanity of looks but because he believes a man should be allowed to do things that bring him pleasure.
“People have been asking about my new hairstyle. It is called buruwein,” he says with a chuckle.
He also got braces to align his teeth and improve his pronunciation. He also changed his wardrobe, and has added more jeans and casual wear to the mix.
Progressing in life
“You can see how he is progressing in his personal life and as an artist,” says his social media manager Erick Matunga.
Mr Matunga admits that being his manager, he has had to shield Otieno from the extremely hateful comments that he gets, especially on his Instagram page.
“There are people who are just mean. Fortunately, he also has a lot of supporters and they are the ones who fight the online bullies,” says Matunga.
Otieno started his music career in 2008 when he was working as a watchman in Kibera. Anytime he had a break, he would call children around him and sing for them. They provided a good audience – they were non-judgemental and they would dance to my songs without talking about his looks.
His break came almost a decade later when Ochieng, a producer from the Made in Kibera initiative discovered him singing at a bridge they were constructing.
“I was amazed at how music seemed to be flowing from him without much effort. I told him to come and we recorded him without pay,” says Ochieng.
Otieno has plans for the future, and he is thinking of doing big collaborations with musicians he admires. His numbers keep growing and he has been getting followers from all over the world.
In a few years, he believes he will be a force who competes with top musicians and artists.
Until then, he continues to focus on inspirational music and block out voices that tell him he is a one time wonder - including the ones who whisper that he is mentally ill.