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CELEB BUZZ: My top ten Kenyan rappers of all time



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Picking a favourite rapper is extremely hard, especially if you’re only allowed to only put one name down.

Luckily, Daily Nation has afforded me the freedom to express myself with multiple words so I’ll name ten rappers.

I’ve still ranked them from best to wors…… Hold on! There is no ‘worst’ here. This is a list of the greats. Here we go.

Some staunch rap fans don’t rate him highly because his style was more commercial than conscious.

However, no other Kenyan rapper has ever managed to exert more influence than him. In terms of how iconic he is, E-Sir is like the Kenyan version of Tupac and the Notorious BIG.

Most rappers on this list have great songs but none of them had songs that everyone could sing along to, word for word. It’s sad that he passed away at search an early age.

There are those who argue that he is only considered great because he died.

They say that because he passed away while still young, we only remember the best work from his brief catalogue. Meanwhile, someone like King Kaka gets lambasted and told “you don’t make tracks like “Dodoma” anymore.” It somehow makes sense. If E-Sir would be alive today there is a chance he would have made sup-bar music at some point. It’s impossible to make music for fifteen years and not put out work that is tasteless. But we can’t penalize E-Sir for dying right? He captured the minds and hearts of the masses. Sometimes that’s all that is needed to be the greatest of all time.

He is the complete opposite of E-Sir. He is super-conscious. He holds the honour of having the best verse in the history of Kenyan Hip Hop. Many years ago, Johnny Vigeti together with other Ukoo Flani Mau Mau members teamed up with Ibra Da Hustler to create the iconic track called “Punchlines Kibao.” Perhaps they should have just called it “Punchlines za Vigeti!” In it, Johnny delivered what was the most cracking verse ever. The shrewdness in it was worthy of a standing ovation.

But the verse alone doesn’t make Johnny great. As part of Kalamashaka, he was one of the first mainstream artistes to taste real fame. He also made many kids out there realize they can rap. Before Kalamashaka, no one ever saw considered rapping a viable career in Kenya.

He might have gone MIA lately but the name Abbas aka Jerry Doobiez will never fail to be mentioned when the greats are being talked about. My favorite verse from him was from the song “2050” in which he teamed up with Chiwawa and Malik.  He blessed us with poetic, rewind-worthy bars that have forever refused to vacate my headspace.

There were two phases in his career. First, there was Abass, the K-South member then there was Abass the solo artists. Give me Pre-Abass or Post-Abass, I won’t complain. Both versions of this great lyricist were satisfying.

The O.G can be annoying but if his talent was to be measured in litres it would be more than all the H20 in all the ‘Clean Water’ tankers in Nairobi. He raps as fast as legendary American rapper Twista and he twengs like he grew up in Brooklyn. But he’s just Omollo from Kayole and Bondo.

I first saw him back in 2010. He was performing at Wapi Festival in Ngara. King Kaka was there but he already had a few hit songs like “Mtu Hivi Hivi”. The song Khaligraph performed was called “Tunawapatia Vile Inafaa.”(If I am not wrong) I can never forget it. Everyone cheered him but I had no idea who he was. When I asked a person next to me to fill me in on the identity of the huge guy (yes he was still huge), I was told his name was Khaligraph.

He only became a proper star like two or three years ago and I keep wondering why it took so long for people to appreciate him. But he’s here now and he has made it.

“Saa hii mnafeel aje? Poa tena sana!” Has there ever been a better chorus than that? Chiwawa was ruthless in his prime. He might have named himself after a humble and cute little dog but he was more ferocious than a bulldog. You don’t have to dig deep into his catalogue to find the gems. They are all over the surface.

Bamboo was the true ‘Lord of Showbiz.’ Every weekend, the papers were filled with stories about him. From his relationships with mzungus to his beefs with other artistes, Bamboo always made headlines. Perhaps the most entertaining part of his career was his beef with Prezzo.

His antics aside, Bamboo’s flow was as smooth as a bowling green. Add the powerful one-liners and the impeccable ability to rhyme almost every word and you get a rapper that should have named himself Baobab instead of Bamboo. Why? Simply because baobab is stronger and thicker than bamboo. And that’s what Bamboo’s lyrics have always been – very strong.

RIP to him. Kantai passed away recently but his work lives on. He is the guy that made it cool to rap in English. His lyrics were not extraordinary but he could find concealed pockets in a beat that most rappers couldn’t. Kantai could have had a greater run if his personal demons hadn’t consumed him. Despite his struggles, Hip Hop fans will always have nothing but love for him.

The Kenyan Drake! He can rap and sing better than most people who only do one of those. Nyash also has enough quotable lines to make Martin Luther King jealous. He is an expert in breaking down complex hypotheses into epigrammatic bits of savoury information.

Nyash is mostly respected because of how long he has been in the game. They say his most memorable verse was from the song “Tuendelee.” But he has too many memorable verses. Counting them would take weeks.

I keep wondering why she never became a world-famous rap superstar. She has always had everything it takes from semantics to the ability to diversify her delivery.

She does sound like an American rapper sometimes.

Even The Rock gave her a shoutout last year but she still wasn’t propelled to the next level. Nevertheless, STL’s legendary status in Kenya could never be put to question.

Locally, no other female rapper has managed to challenge her for the throne. So long as Femi One still continues working with people like Kristoff in search of the next “Tippy Toe” and Wangechi takes forever to release a mega-hit, STL will remain the Queen of Rap for a long time to come.

Controversies enjoy trailing him but when he sits down and focuses on creating good music, he usually ends up creating magical music instead.

He not only knows how to rap, he also knows how to wrap his words around the beat properly.

That’s something Juliani has never mastered.

Juliani is usually so eager to get his words out that he ends up ignoring the beat. He goes this way while the beat goes that way. Sorry Juliani. You are top five in my top ten Gospel artistes list though.

That’s a guarantee. Anyway, my two favorite tracks from Octo are “Noma Ni” and “Ivo Ivo”

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