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The British arrived off the coast of East Africa in the late 1800s, and by 1895 established a British protectorate in East Africa. The British government immediately began to build a railroad that extended from the coastal city of Mombasa in Kenya to Uganda. The East African railway was completed in 1906. The British Government mainly used Kenya to generate capital through plantations of tea, coffee and tobacco. Kenya also played a key role for the British during World War II. During the 1940s, many of Great Britain's colonies began motivating for Independence, with India and Nigeria leading the group.

During the 1950s Kenya began their struggle for independence with the Mau Mau rebellion. British settlers and locals from the Kikuyu ethnic group clashed because they shared the same space. The Mau Mau rebels' land was severely infringed upon by the British, therefore, the rebellion targeted settlers' plantations. In their insurgency, countless British people were murdered, causing the British government to bring in back-up troops. Although the British quelled the rebellion, they were not able to quell the stirrings of independence, nor regain their financial losses from the rebellion. In 1960 they granted "one person-one vote" to Kenyans, which would remove white settlers from the government completely. By 1963, Kenya had an African majority government, which declared independence December 12th 1963, led by Jomo Kenyatta.

Although Kenya today is it's own nation, the trances of colonialism inevitably linger on. This can be seen very clearly in language. The history of language is Kenya is very varied. Kenya has a multitude of ethnic groups with their own languages, over 70. The five largest groups are the Kikuyu, Luo, Luhya, Kamba and Calenjin, each have their own language. The country has a large Arab population as well who mostly speak Kiswahili. Swahili is the predominant language of the nation. After the British colonized the country, all citizens were required to learn English. Currently the national languages are English and Swahili.

The linguistic history of Kenya is very important when speaking about Hip Hop in the country. Because Kenya is a post-colonial nation, language is very important for shaping an independent identity. Currently, in the nation's capital Nairobi, the two national languages have been merging and changing through youth slang, into something called Sheng. Sheng is a highly localized language that differs based on neighborhoods and generations. It is mostly a mixture of Kiswahili and English, however, other pidgeonization takes effect. Hip Hop in Kenya heavily utilizes Sheng, following the hip hop tradition of creating a transcript only accessible to those in the "circle," who live in the areas that create the sounds.

Kenyans have inserted their own cultural sounds into hip hop beyond language choice. One of the first Hip Hop singles, by Hardstone, sampled a popular Kikuyu folksong. A song released by K-South also sampled a Kikuyu song. Because there are so many different ethnic groups in Kenya, and ethnic identity has historically played such an important role in identity, inevitably, ethnic affiliation enters into modern artists' music. Jua Cali makes it very clear that he is Kikuyu, although he does not rap solely in Kikuyu. Therefore, there are remnants of tribal music in current songs. However, hip hop has such a strong presence in Kenya because it has been able to incorporate individual ethnic identities but also to create a larger Kenyan community, through the use of Sheng as a universal language. With current politics being very tense in terms of ethnic relations, hip hop remains a neutral and empowering space to express and unite among various ethnicities.

The Hip Hop movement in Kenya does not have one said origin. Three groups emerged at the so-called beginning. Kalamashaka, Mau Mau Camp and Ukoo Flani were said to have kick-started the hip hop revolution in Kenya. These three groups were all from the estate called East Lands in Nairobi, specifically a large slum built over a land-fill, called Dandora. The three groups emerged on the scene in 1995, putting out music recorded in both English and Kiswahili. A very important factor of hip hop that makes it uniquely Kenyan is the use of Sheng rapping. Rapping in Swahili, but a very localized Swahili transformed hip hop in Kenya into something very local and empowering. Artists chose to assert their identities as Kenyans through their linguistic choice, and their fans could recognize and feel represented by their artists because they had access to this hidden transcript created through language. Therefore the product created in Kenya has heavy American influences but it is also highly localized. The Kenyan people have ownership to their hip hop through language choice. This unique brand of hip hop even has a name, created in Nairobi from the Sheng word for "Gang", Genge. Genge is a combination of hip hop, reggae and dancehall. Some current artists include Nonini, Bamboo, Wyre, Redsan, P-Unit, Madtraxx, Kleptomaniax, Juacali, Nazizi, etc. Currently, hip hop still turns to American influences, with a popularization of the "flossin'" wealth lifestyle. However, groups and individuals like Mau Mau and Nazizi remain in the "underground" of Kenyan hip hop, which focuses on conscious lyrics that strive to expose the corruption of the government, the hard conditions of the majority of the people and living in the city of Nairobi.

With the increase of hip hop artists from Kenya came an increase in the industry as well. Currently there are a lot of major recording labels, including Mau Mau Camp, Blu Zebra, Ogopa DeeJays, Calif Records etc. the industry has become a large income-producing unit in Kenya, and has expanded development since the first couple of hip hop singles started emerging in the mid-1990s.

Hip Hop does not only remain in the music of Kenya. The culture that is associated with hip hop has seeped through the city of Nairobi in dialogue, clothing and other venues. Most interestingly is the popularization of hip hop through the Nairobi transport system of public buses. Matatus, as they are called, are small van-buses run privately, but licensed through the city that fill the crowded streets of Nairobi. These matatus are frequently spray-painted with images of American hip hop artists, currently, Lil Wayne, T.I. and more. Inside, many have full systems with sub-woofers and sometimes television and lights, that constantly play American hip hop, and reggae. This transformation of hip hop to something that is so uniquely Kenyan is a prime example of Kenya's ownership of this music and culture.

15th century- Arab and Portuguese invaders set up base on the Kenyan Coast, specifically in the city of Mombasa, developing the Kiswahili language spoken by the racially integrated (African and Arab) Swahili people.

1593- Portuguese gain power of Mombasa and build Fort Jesus

1888- British begin to venture into East Africa, establishing the British East African trade company.

1895- British Protectorate officially formed and named British East Africa

1898- Begginings of the construction of the Ugandan railway from Mombasa to Uganda

1901- Mombasa to Kisumu railway line complete, and British government relocates from Mombasa to Nairobi. By this time Kenyan coffee is providing Great Britain with a steady income.

1921- Kenya becomes a British Crown Colony

1944- Kenyan Africa Union, a Kenyan led independence group, is formed.

1952- Mau Mau Rebellion

Mid 1950s- Kenyan singer Fadhili William records hit song Malaika (in Kiswahili) that becomes on of Kenya's most famous songs, currently still.
December 12th 1963- Kenya becomes an Independent Nation with Jomo Kenyatta as the first president and Odinga Odinga as vice president. The political ethnic clashes begin with the inception of the country.

1974- Parliament elects Swahili as the official and national language with English.

1978 Moi become second president of Kenya and remains in office until 2002, suffocating any and all opposition to him.

1990s- American Hip Hop gets a large market in Kenya, with artists like Nas, Snoop Dogg, Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac.

1995- K-South (Hip Hop Production Company) founded by artists Bamboo, KC and Doobeez.

1995- Kalamashaka forms. A trio of rappers from Nairobi, Kalamashaka (K-Shaka) are famous for only rapping in Swahili and Sheng.

1995- Poxi Presha releases a Kenyan Hip Hop song that has first real success on the charts

1996- Hardstone releases first hip hop hit, Uhiki, produced by Tedd Josiah of Blu Zebra. This song samples a Kikuyu folksong and Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing.

April 1996- Metro FM (a Nairobi radio station) sets up the first international hip hop radio station in the country .

1996 - Kalamashaka releases their hit single "Tafsiri Hii" (Interpret This) that is distinct for using Swahili, more importantly Sheng throughout the song.

1996- Ukoo Flani, a conscious hip hop group, is founded in Mombasa. This group raps solely in Kiswahili (Coastal Kiswahili which is markedly more grammatical than Sheng from Nairobi). They are also known for being extremely conscious of educating their listeners in the tradition and history of their country.

1998- Dancehall Artist Red San wins a local competition in Nairobi, which allowed him to perform with other international artists representing Kenya.

1999- Kalamashaka host a live-air radio show The Wakilisha Show on Nation FM. This show was the first Kenyan hip hop radio show.
1999- Ogopa DeeJays is founded, and is still currently successful in signing may of Kenya's hip hop artists including Hardstone and Homeboyz. Ogopa calls there sound "Kapuka" as Calif coined theirs Genge.

2000- Kikuyu artist Jua Cali and Clemo form recording label Calif Records, named after the estate in East Lands Nairobi called California. This label currently hosts some of Nairobi's most successful recording artists and is famous for coining the term "Genge" for Kenyan hip hop.

Jua Cali is a Kikuyu rapper whose name carries two means. Jua Kali (meaning Hot Sun) is the name given to labor workers usually in the lower classes. Rapper Paul Nunda took this name and converted it to represent the working classes of Kenya, but changed it to Jua Cali, to also represent his own neighborhood.

2002- Tedd Josiah sets up a premier recording studio and production company in Nairobi named Blu Zebra. Artists on this label include Necessary Noize and Gidi Gidi Maji Maji.

2002 Kibaki elected as the third president with Riala Odinga as vice president. This leads to serious post-election violence, especially in the slums of Nairobi (Kibera), as Odinga was thought to have won the election. Both are from different ethnic groups, and parties (KANU and ODM).

2005- Nonini (signed to Calif Records) releases his debut album Hanyaring Game (Sheng for Courting Game). Nonini is said to have started the "Genge Movement" in Kenya, creating music "for the masses" as Genge (gang) implies. Nonini is also from the California estate of Eastlands, and has won many East African music awards for his solo career and also for his group "P-Unit."

2008- MTV creates the MAMA awards, MTV African Music Awards. This pan-African award show made permanent the emergence and settlement of Hip Hop in Africa. In 2009 Nairobi Kenya will be hosting the awards.


Back To Africa

Video Clips

Bamboo - "Curious"

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Nonini (ft. Sylvia) - "Manzi wa Nairobi"

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Gidi Gidi Maji Maji - "Many Faces"

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Wyre - "Uprising!"

Nonini - "We Kamu"

Nameless - "Salari"

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