- Kenya's up-and-coming MCs dazzle on this fiery selection of homemade drill, trap and gengetone.
- Starting in Chicago and then blowing up in the UK, drill has moved from underground blogs to mainstream charts on both sides of the Atlantic. It's now one of rap's most popular subgenres, reflected by the meteoric rise of artists like the late Pop Smoke, Ivorian Doll and Headie One. In Kenya, drill looks destined for a similar level of commercial success as more artists embrace its minimalist production and do-it-yourself attitude. DJ Iche, the newest signing to the Kampala-based label Hakuna Kulala, captures this momentum on Nai Yetu Mixtape, a 70-minute mix of scorching drill, trap and dancehall beats.
Taking a page from UK rappers who developed their own take on Chicago drill, Kenyan talents combine the genre's tough mindset with specifically African influences. Switching between English, Swahili and Sheng (a slang dialect that has its own subgenre called shrap), MCs boast, preach and philosophize on life in their neighborhoods across a range of styles. From serious sermons (DA VAJI's "Big Dawgs") to passionate banter (Wakadinali's "Extra Pressure"), the mixtape draws on the rough tone of Chicago drill as well as the UK style of witty punchlines and metaphors. While inspirations from the West are pervasive, this is undeniably Kenyan rap. Take Buruklyn Boyz, whose track "Billie Jean'' cheekily references Michael Jackson with lines like "your girlfriend gave me the fame of MJ," according to a Google translation of the Swahili lyrics. Their group name may reference the New York borough but it's also a play on a creative neighbourhood in Nairobi known as Buruburu.
Women rappers steal the show on Nai Yetu. Jumping from cheeky bravado to deadpan delivery, often in a single track, Dyana Cods, Monski, Nah Eto and Tulia show that this kind of hip-hop is as much a woman's game as anyone else's. Cods, who spits in French on "Ecoute," oozes confidence with lines such as "ecoutez-moi alors" ("listen to me") and "tout dans ma vie être possible" ("everything in my life is possible"). Captivating flow aside, their work is also some of the mixtape's most versatile. Nah Eto teams up with junglist Fracture for dark halftime on "Shada Shada" while "Run It Up" by Monski touches on soulful R&B.
Several artists, including Cods and Tulia, also dabble in Afrobeats and pop-oriented dance music, though DJ Iche chooses their fiercest tracks to fit the mixtape's hard stance. Drill takes the spotlight on Nai Yetu, but trap and gengetone (a style of rap with reggaeton and dancehall from Nairobi) are also well-represented. The conversational flow, repetitive phrases and glistening beats of Monski and Nah Eto speak to trap's minimalism, while the dembow swing and playful percussion of gengetone form the backbone on Mbogi Genje's "Kidungi," SWAT's "Gari Kubwa" and Oksyde's "Nganya," offering more uplifting passages between the snarling drill moments.
Drill isn't popular just in Kenya, but across the entire African continent. In Ghana, where MCs spit in a dialect called Twi as part of a movement known as asakaa, artist Yaw Tog summed up the genre's relevance in an interview with The Guardian last year. "It has our energy, our story," he said. If Nairobi and Accra's respective localised takes on drill reach the upper echelons of streaming charts, this realism and grit could broaden public perceptions of local music while enabling rappers to make a career out of storytelling in their native language. Mixtapes like Nai Yetu paves the way for regional scenes—and creative economies—around the continent to scale new, international heights.
Internal challenges, however, remain an obstacle. In a recent Instagram post, DJ Iche said they've yet to receive profits from sales of the mixtape despite physical copies being sold out. Speaking to Resident Advisor, DJ Iche said Hakuna Kulala has since apologized and is making amends. Establishing standards on fair pay, transparent communication and healthy business practices are issues that creators across the globe struggle with, and they're especially important in emerging scenes like Kenya's. In the meantime, the music speaks for itself.
This review was updated on January 5th at 6:45 PM GMT.
01. NATTY - PEPTANG
02. Tulia - yH!
03. Dyana Cods - ECOUTE
04. Jovie Jovv ft. Baraka - Table Manners
05. Buruklyn Boyz - Billie Jean
06. NATTY - RONG
07. Ajay - Psycho
08. Da Vaji - Big Dawgs
09. Nah Eeto - Shada Shada
10. Monski - Steady Dripping
11. Mbogi Genje - Kidungi
12. Wakadinali ft. Dyana Cods - Morio Anzenza
13. Oksyde ft. Ares66 - BAZUU
01. Mastar VK - Wekesa
02. SWAT - Gari Kubwa
03. Mbogi Genje ft. Seskah & Dullah - Bloody War
04. Hitman Khat x Mastar VK x Scar Mkadinali - Kenya Sihami
05. Wakadinali - Extra Pressure
06. Monski - Run It Up
07. NATTY - RIZLA Freestyle
08. NATTY - TAMED
09. Ajay - Wild
10. Nah Eeto - Hunijui
11. Sewersydaa x Dyana Cods - Riswa
12. Da Vaji x Big Yasa - Ride
13. Oksyde - Nganya