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Holding hip-hop court

By | June 12th 2009

By Matilda Nzioki

High energy and tension mixed with excitement are the least of terms that could be used to describe the atmosphere at Club Clique last Saturday night, as freestylists Point Blank and Calligraph lyrically battled. The competition had gone down to the top two during the Channel O Emcee Africa Kenya edition, in the race to winning $10,000 (Sh7.8million) and a chance to collabo with a hip-hop royalty in Africa.

Baggy wear, hood tops, bling bling and a gangsta attitude to boot, were some of the characteristics of majority of the hopeful hip-hop heads who turned up at the auditions earlier in the afternoon. Soon after registration the participants took to stage one by one and demonstrated their lyrical prowess by ‘spitting’ spur-of-the-moment rhymes, either accapella or on beat boxing. Others who believed in their un-cut improvisational skills prompted the judges to give them a topic. Just like in any other auditions they did not get away without a little grilling from celebrity judges Abbas, Nazizi and Mwafrika. "Translate mimi ni kazi in English," Mwafrika told a ‘hopeless’ rapper to say aloud how whack they were. He had proven to be the Simon Cowell and the Ian Mbugua of the judging panel. Undoubtedly, there were several ‘ambitious’ emcees who cracked not only the judges but also the crowd as well as hosts G Money and Channel O’s Lee Kasumba after which they had to scamper and save their faces of the humiliating moment.

Finalists display the phones and merchandise they won. An emcee shows his skill as another one looks on. (PHOTOS: Justo CAsal And Saidi hamisi/standard]

After a long period of laid-back performances, the audience soon sprung up in cheers as lady rapper X-tatic chanted uniquely on stage, given her gender and petit size. "I feel good battling especially the jamaas," she commented, as high expectations of walking away with the coveted price beamed from her eyes. Unfortunately, this was not to be. Her voice gave in at the finals later that evening. "As I climbed up the ladder making through the elimination rounds at the finals, my voice kept going low and low and eventually I started whispering," she sadly noted. The other top ten qualifiers included O Double and Lethal Dynamic. The latter had contested last year but good as he was, he was betrayed by his use of profanities and vulgarities. In fact, majority of them were last year’s top eight, most of who came from Phoenix Recordz.

She left the battle to Calligraph, Point Blank and Kimya, who had contested last year at the first emcee Africa search and failed to qualify. "I made it to top eight last year, and even if I do not win this year I won’t stop here. Freestyle rapping is something that I derive fun from," said Bamboo’s brother of Phoenix Recordz. And win he did not, but he vowed to keep on trying. Lucky for him and the other nine, they did not walk away empty handed, as sponsors Mi Phone awarded each of them cell phones.

After a heated poetic battle of punch lines and non-conceptual rhymes between Point Blank and Calligraph, the former emerged the winner to represent Kenya at the finals in South Africa. early next month. Unlike many winners who usually display extreme joy and disbelief after victory, Point Blank kept his cool. "This does not come as a surprise to me, I participated last year and only came to take what is mine," he said.

Last year’s winner Big Mic was in the house and he warned of the uphill task that lay ahead of the winner. "South Africans and Nigerians are intimidating, but then again in freestyling, if you are comfortable and relaxed you can take on anyone. And it also depends on how good the other contestants from the other countries are," he pointed out.

Point Blank remains confident about bringing home victory. "I will stay focused and prove that I am Africa’s dopest emcee, by picking them out one by one," he concluded.

According to the judges, the winner displayed characteristics of a performer as well as battling skills. Battling has grown to be a prominent part the hip-hop culture. "Many people locally do not understand freestyle rapping and it gets less coverage by the media. We need more of these events and support of this intellectual art," noted Abbas.

Kenya was the last country to audition ahead of the finals, after Ghana, Nigeria, Botswana, and South Africa. "Kenya has a good chance of winning as I see the emcees here are talented," noted Lee Kasumba host of the Emcee Africa show that airs on Channel O on Sundays.

Lee, of Ugandan origin, has been going round the countries as a host during the different auditions. She also noted that the turn up in Kenya was slightly lower than that of last year which was held at the British Council. She urged those who thought they have what it takes to take the initiative. "This is an opportunity to be known continentally, and such should not be left to pass by," she added. Big Mic might not have won last year at the finals, but being labeled the illest emcee in Kenya then, sure did open doors for him. "I have produced tracks for Nigerian hip-hop star Mode 9, who was a judge at the finals in South Africa last year," he stated adding that he is also the producer behind Abbas’ latest track Get Down. "Emcee Africa kicked it off for me as I made good friendships with artistes like Professor Jay, and my album will be out in a few months."

This was the second competition of its kind and its director and creator Jonathan ‘Josh’ Clarke says its aim is to cultivate the freestyling culture of hip-hop. "Musicians like Bamboo, Abbas, Nazizi among others grew up freestyling, but nowadays we have ‘bedroom’ emcees, who practice their rap lyrics, record, then send them to the radio," he noted. He also explained they only wanted Anglophone countries, unlike last year, when inclusion of Angola posed problems in judging.

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