In Uganda's chequered Hip Hop industry, the spotlight has always been unfairly cast on Kampala based artists, their music and trails they blaze.
For a long time, media coverage and public space conversations about talented upcountry Hip Hop artists on missions to expand the genre’s horizons in their indigenous languages have been only occasional and not pronounced enough.
Aside of song collaborations with established Hip Hop artists from Kampala, to occasional song plays on radios such as HOT 100 to Radio City and nominations for Hip Hop industry awards; talented Hip Hop artists from upcountry such as T-bro, Judas Rap Knowledge, Byg Ben Sukuya, Amani Amaniga, Crazie Wispa, and many others, continue to play second fiddle to their colleagues from Kampala.
There are however, upcountry Hip Hop artists who despite not being given a fair shake in terms of respect, promotion and media publicity, are expanding the genre’s horizons to depths their colleagues in Kampala, who have been in the game longer, can only dream of.
“Upcountry Hip Hop artists, especially those from Gulu in the North of Uganda and Kigezi, are far from the blackballed rappers in Kampala, as they have respected followings in their home areas,” Ronald Odongo, a Gulu radio host and blogger, says.
UPCOUNTRY HIP HOP ARTISTS CREATING A BUZZ FOR THE GENRE
Gulu has a gifted and firm Hip Hop flag bearer in Judas Rap Knowledge aka Lapwong or teacher. Knowledge’s strength is his ability to craft rhymes and rap them fluently and commandingly in both English and Acholi.
His "Labong and Gipir” album was pretty much a showcase of his strong emceeing skills as he went back and forth, rhyming adeptly on various issues such as poverty, war, love, partying, among others.
Just like Lumix who was the first genuine Hip Hop star from Gulu, Knowledge has a rising fan base in Gulu and neighboring districts. He also has a sizable social media following.
The 2019-256 Hip Hop awards People’s Champ winner has his rap posse called Soulz of Afrika and his “To the Top” single-off his forthcoming, yet to be titled, studio album-was recently voted the 256 song of August.
He also features on Ugandan rap legend-Lyrical G’s new album-GEEZY.
“If there is one person, Hip Hop can look up to in the North, after the demise of Lumix, it is Knowledge. He gives a good account of himself, lyrically, whether he is rapping in English or Acholi,” Arnold Muduni, a Hip Hop producer at KYA studios in Kirinya, Bweyogerere, says.
In Western Uganda, there is a Hip Hop trailblazer by the names of T-Bro. T-Bro, who is not a newcomer, by any long shot, is associated with Kiga-flow or rap in Rukiga.
He recently won the Western rapper of the year honor at the 2019 MTN Hip Hop awards. Unlike Judas Rap Knowledge, who is a purist with his lyricism, T-Bro tries out other genres such as afro-beat. In many ways, that has helped get him into the good graces of many people in the Kigezi region.
Recently, T-Bro left fans spellbound with his performance at the All-Star tour in Kabale, with songs such as “hustler”, “Kigangstar”, “Hija Ondarire” and “ne must” one of his newest songs. One of his strong musical stocks in trade is his powerful commanding voice and stage presence.
Unlike Judas Rap Knowledge, T-Bro’s Kiga-flow music, some of which features Kampala based artists such as Lady Slyke, GNL, Keko, and the Mith has enjoyed some considerable rotation on Kampala radios such as Hot 100 and Radio City. His songs are also highly popular with the Banakigezi in the diaspora.
T-Bro’s first mixtape was titled "The black man's dream". It spawned hit singles such as "Omukiga and Jazza".
From Eastern Uganda, there is a flame-throwing talent by the name of Byg Ben Sukuya. Sukuya, who has carved out a name for himself in Mbale and Kampala, partly due to his go-getter manager’s fat wallet, raps in English and Lumasaaba.
Sukuya won the 2016 Best Eastern rapper of the year and has since gone on to release fan-favorite songs such as Ndolelele-denoting “look at me”.
From Arua in West Nile; there is the Lugbara flow-flag bearer-Milton Maopini, also known as Gbaraspoken. Gbaraspoken is not only a rapper however, but he is also a community social worker and spoken word poet.
“With his vibe and charisma, Gbaraspoken, who is the reigning West Nile Hip Hop artist of the year, may just be the second-best thing that ever happened to the West Nile region, since Onduparaka F.C. [Pun intended],” Odongo says.
Gbaraspoken has a huge social media following and usually packs venues to the rafters when he has performances in West Nile.
His songs like “Ma Osura”, “Aparaka Yo”, Orataa, Ketura, camasi ‘bo, Testify, Bile Seza, Ewule Ewule enjoy regular rotation on F.M radios in the West Nile region.
He also has a huge following among West Nilers in the diaspora.
As a means of engaging the youth of West Nile in meaningful livelihoods, Gbaraspoken founded the community-based Hip Hop organisation Platform 503, in 2015.
He released his first Hip Hop album-entitled- Aparaka Yo, that very year. The eleven-track album turned out to be the first Hip Hop album to be launched in West Nile.
From the Bunyoro sub-region, there is the Runyo-flow trailblazer, going by the stage name of Crazie Wispa. His real moniker, however, is Benard Ayesiga and he hails from Masindi.
Wispa's song-“Bunyoro Hatuli” is, by all accounts, an anthem of sorts in the Bunyoro sub-region. He also enjoys a big social media following and is currently under the Hip Hop movement known as the Abarusuura foundation, which advocates for the Hip Hop revolution in the Bunyoro region.
From a Ugandan perspective, Hip Hop music continues to be wrongly typecast as party-oriented music, with little to no substance, yet as a genre; Hip Hop has put out many mould-breaking songs that speak, for instance, to its protracted fight against HIV and AIDS.
What is unfortunate; however is that the audios and videos of some of those conscious Hip Hop songs like New Hope Squad’s-“It’s never too late”, SP Omugujule’s-“Lwavawa” and GNL’s “Story Ya Lukka” never got any significant traction in the media.
"Story La Lukka" may, however, be an exception, here as it was warmly received.
“Blame that on the cold shoulder treatment, Ugandan Hip Hop music has always gotten. If skeptics care to listen, however to any of the above songs; which all essentially raise awareness on HIV/AIDS, they will realize conscious Hip Hop promotes values to its listeners,” Nelson Dramuke, a filmmaker and creative visual director, says.
“There is a philosophical side to Hip Hop which speaks to serious issues like HIV and in line with this year’s World Aids day theme-which is Communities making a difference, it would be good to shine light on some of the Hip Hop community’s musical contributions to the fight against HIV/AIDS in Uganda,” Silas Balabyekkubo, also known as Babaluku, a Ugandan Hip Hop icon, says.
The lyrics to “It’s never too late”, “Story Ya Luka” and Lwavawa among other songs, paint grim pictures about the consequences of irresponsible behaviour. The songs also encourage the youth to embrace safe sex practices.
From the years of old, conscious Lugaflow artists such as Babaluku, GNL, the late Mulekwa, B.B Muwanvu Muwanvu, Cosine and upcountry conscious Hip Hop artists such as Lumix, Jungle, Supaman, endeavoured to have wide representations of HIV/AIDS in their song lyrics.
The 2010 poignant song “Story Ya Luka” by Ugandan Hip Hop legend-GNL Zamba was a powerful gem in that regard.
The song, which showcased GNL’s unrivaled storytelling skill-set is a call to action for all Ugandans to fight HIV, to avoid stigma and to treat people living with HIV-humanely.
Essentially, the song tells the story of Luka-a young high roller/ bar hopper, who in his moments of indiscretion contracts HIV.
The song was later selected by Uganda’s Health Ministry to headline a 2010 AIDS youth education campaign in which GNL himself played a leading role.
“In those campaigns, we spread messages about the need for Ugandan youth to practice safe sex and to fight the widespread stigma which existed then against people living with HIV. Some of them had gotten the disease, through unfortunate circumstances,” Zamba says.
“Our campaign was a double-edged sword in the sense that we used music and word of mouth campaigns. At that time, Hip Hop spoke and it showed its strength in the way it impacted the youth.”
Dramuke says “Story Ya Luka” resonated with him on account of its fascinating storytelling narrative.
“Not many Lugaflow artists were dab hands at telling stories like GNL at that time. The first time I heard that song, the message just stuck.”
In subsequent years, GNL recorded more potent songs that speak to Hip Hop’s role in the fight against HIV like the 2014 thought-provoking song-“We Cry”. The song features GNL’s wife-Miriam Tamar.
In the song’s first verse, GNL tells a sad chronicle about a young vulnerable girl who is trapped in a guest house with a man who has been her benefactor for years. The man, who is HIV positive, later compels her into unprotected sex. After a few years, she passes on, much to the chagrin of her parents.
In the same year, the Twaweza Initiative awarded GNL for the song’s strong positive impact.
“Given that adolescent and young adults account for the majority of undiagnosed HIV positive cases; it is important to use a culturally relevant method to halt the spread of the HIV pandemic and Hip Hop fits that bill-because it appeals to many young people in Uganda,” Arnold Muduni, a Hip Hop producer at KYA studios in Kirinya, Bweyogerere, says.
“First, however the negative typecasts about hip hop have to be shed. Bubble gum and potboiler songs pushed by the likes of Fik Fameica, Mun G, Recho Ray and others will have to be put on the back burner because they give wrong impressions of the genre. ”
In the classic Lugaflow song-“It’s never too late” Mon M.C of the New Hope Squad-waxes poetic- rhyming about how HIV has taken the lives of venerable Ugandans like Philly Lutaaya and how it continues to shatter the dreams of many Ugandan families.
“That song, with its beautifully sung chorus-was way ahead of its time. Mon M.C was talking about things that are still happening today-youth recklessness and vulnerability.
He caps it all off with a reminder to the youth to stay safe through the usage of condoms and most importantly to stick to one partner,” Lady Slyke, a rapper and songwriter, says.
“Ugandan Hip Hop has several positive songs that have the educational values needed to stem and reduce the high prevalence of HIV. It should be credited for helping to reduce the prevalence of HIV among young people in the early and mid-2000s in the country,” Saint Ambrose, an I.T professional, and Hip Hop fan says.
In the song, Lwavawa-Lugaflow artist-SP Omugujule and Qreas from Western Uganda trade verses with each emphatically questioning through rhymes where the HIV monster wiping out families in Africa had emanated from.
In his first verse-SP Omugujule narrates how his brother by the names of Peter, died of HIV as a result of copulating with an infected girl after a night of fun.
Both Omugujule and Qreas cap up their last verses with calls to action for more young people to get tested, to get sensitized and to steer clear of reckless behavior.
The song “True manhood” by GNL, the late Lumix, T-Bro and singer Aziz Azion prevails upon the youth to always use protection.
As a testament to the song’s subsequent impact, it won the People's Choice Digital Media Award at the 2011 International Entertainment Education Conference.
Another Hip Hop song which highlights Hip Hop contribution to the fight against HIV/AIDS is the BB Muwavu Wavu and Hope Beni’s- “Wegendereze”
Muwavu Wavu raps in Luganda, while Beni raps in Acholi.
“Muwavu Wavu tells the story of orphaned children living in destitution and with no hope for the future because their parents died of HIV, while Beni laments the devastation, HIV has caused on the long-suffering communities in Northern Uganda,” Muduni says.
The song-“So far away” by Jungle, Supaman and Cosine, also paints through engaging rhymes, grim pictures of HIV’s devastating aftermath in the Busoga, Buganda, and Bugisu sub-regions.
In Uganda, as many as 575 adolescents and young women between the ages of 15 and 24 get infected with HIV every week, according to recent reports from the country's Health Ministry.
In this podcast, below, I make a case for Kadongo Kamu music as Uganda's best music genre ever, given its pedigree of delivering message-driven and proverb-filled-educative music.
Clan elders painstakingly examined the entrails of a slaughtered chicken for fortitude clues as the early morning rays of sunlight penetrated through the trees at Mutoto, Mbale, Eastern Uganda on 2th August.
It is the tag end of Friday and a crowd of gaily men have gathered around a big round pot at Gregory’s lounge in Namatala, Mbale.
As the men converse, a young man comes with a garland of dry banana leaves and two big stones and places them at the rare end of the pot.
The stones are ostensibly to keep the pot standing firm.
There are no prizes for guessing that the men are bidding time to partake on Malwa-a fermented bubbling brownish local beverage, which is in high favour with many urban and rank and file Ugandans.
By Richard Wetaya
Rap music gets real exciting to listen to when diss songs between rival rappers are thrown back and forth.
Some of the best rap songs in Uganda have been diss songs; to wit-Atlas the African’s-Jealous Bi*tches and Babaluku’s-“Straight spit”.
Rappers are wordsmiths so needless to say, a real serious rap beef will escalate into a war of words.
Diss songs in rap are songs that deride the authenticity, flamboyance, charisma and lyrical ability of a rival rapper.
In the world of hip hop, originality is treasured and any forms of mediocrity in one’s word play or lyricism are frowned upon.
In the years of old, principally around the mid 80’s and mid 90’s, rap fans across the globe waited for rap beef songs, like 2pac’s “Hit em Up”, Ice Cube’s “No Vaseline” and Nas “Ether” with an almost hysterical sense of eagerness, akin to the Stella Nyanzi fans penchant for her insolent posts in the aftermath of her suspension from Makerere.
To boot; most of olden days rap beef songs were replete with petulant and sometimes humorous punch lines, poetics, threats and diatribes, just like Nyanzi’s posts.
Infamous as some of the diss songs were, they had great massive appeal and pushed sales units for 2pac, Ice Cube and Nas; just like Nyanzi’s posts gained her likes and followers.
The songs drew forth interest in hip hop and that was at a time when the fundamentals of the genre were starting to be compromised.
Increasingly the lyrical template for rappers at the time had become money, cars, women, clothes; subject matter that ran counter to original template for rappers, which was addressing society’s ills and speaking out against oppression and discrimination against African Americans.
The only anticlimax after the release of 2pac’s “Hit em up” record in particular was that 2pac and Biggie Smalls whom most people knew as Notorious B.I.G and whom 2pac was attacking in the Hit em up song, lost their lives.
2pac had accused Biggie and his posse of trying to kill him in a robbery in New York’s Quad studios.
2pac released hit me up in the aftermath of the robbery, in which he was shot 5 times.
Despite that dark chapter in rap history, rap beefs continued but mostly for the entertainment value. Threats were thrown back and forth but nothing out of the ordinary happened. The beefs stayed on wax (on the records).
In Uganda, most rappers with bones of contention have chosen the subliminal way (indirect) when they make diss records, aimed at perceived rivals.
In a subliminal diss song, a rapper hardly name drops his rivals but when you listen close to the rhymes, there are broad hints of who is in his cross hairs.
Classic example has been Atlas the African with his numerous diss records aimed at Navio and his posse of the Mith and J.B.
The reasons that beef sparked off are still unclear but word from the grapevine was that Atlas felt he was not being given enough props (read Hip Hop for respect).
“Atlas was by then still relatively unknown in Uganda’s rap industry. He had created a buzz for himself with songs like “My Swag” and “Wait and See” but at length, he felt he had a bone to pick with the Navio camp and that is when he started releasing songs like illuminated,” Gideon Kibuka, a Hip Hop producer, explains.
In “illuminated” Atlas goes at Navio with ferocity; amongst other things, intimating that Navio is a comic who should be rapping at the comedy nights that used to be held at Effendy’s.
He also called out Navio for agreeing to appear on a child Molester’s song.
The child Molester being R.Kelly and the song referenced was-“Hands across the world”.
Needless to say, R.Kelly has been accused of being a sexual predator.
The word play that Atlas displayed in “illuminated was replay worthy and exciting.
The song created quite a buzz for Atlas among some Ugandan rap fans especially the ones that always felt that Navio was over rated.
To the consternation of Navio fans, he did not release a rejoinder diss song.
A Navio response at that time would have fanned the flame that Atlas had sparked and would have given him chance to showcase his rap battling skills; which skills, Navio himself has said won him laurels in one of South Africa’s toughest rap battle events.
He lost that opportunity and needless to say, his detractors swung into action, saying he is not as lyrical as he thinks he is.
Atlas did not rest on his laurels after the “illuminated” record.
After a fight, reportedly at one of Kampala’s bubbling night spots, with J.B of Klear Kut, he went to the booth and released more verbal venom in a song, he called-J.B or “Jealous Bi*tch”.
Notice how he disparagingly played pan with the J.B initials.
“Fans who thought the J.B song was only aimed at J.B were mistaken as Atlas, as well threw verbal jabs at the Mith and Navio in the second and third verse. For a rap fiend like myself, that song manifested one thing, which was that Atlas is no joke lyrically,” Gladys Kituyi, an entertainment blogger, says.
Atlas went on and released other subliminal diss songs that did not get responses like “You got nothing on me,” and the more recent in “they still hating”
In “they still hating” Atlas again goes hard at Navio.
“If Navio or his crew had responded, it would have created a major buzz for Ugandan Hip Hop but they took a back seat; though some inside scoop had it that Navio had actually recorded rebuttal songs, but rap fans have never heard them,” Kibuka opines.
The Luga flow world has also seen its fair share of beefs.
Beefs that have brought out some phenomenal lyrical poetics and word play from the genre’s best.
Some that stand out include Babaluku’s “Straight Spit” where he lyrically annihilates the Lugaflow duo-Sylvester and Abrams.
In the song, Babaluku attacked Sylvester and Abrams as being run of the mill and calls them out for trying to trash his legacy as the pioneer of Lugaflow.
At the time, Babaluku was on a roll and “Straight Spit” cemented his place as one of the best, if not the best Lugaflow lyricist in Kampala.
As vicious and disparagingly as the song was, it did not get a rejoinder.
“It might have played into the hands of Sylvester and Abrams had they responded but it would have been a tough call for them to pit their wits against a talented rapper of Babaluku’s caliber. The subsequent subliminal diss song-“Twakugudemu” by Abrams, only released about a year ago was not strong enough lyrically and interms of delivery as well,” Ronald Odongo, a seasoned Blogger says.
Babaluku has not only been enmeshed in rap beef with Sylvester and Abrams. It is common knowledge that there is no love lost between him and Navio and his crew.
The most recent subliminal diss record from Babaluku was “Batulidewo” where he and Saba Saba-his cohort from the Bataka Squad fire off lyrical shots at any naysayers.
The other prominent Lugaflow beef has pitted new comer-St Nellysade against an old timer and veteran wordsmith in Mulekwa.
Rumours of beef between the two started doing the rounds after Mulekwa released “Abanno Bano” a diss track aimed at Nellysade.
In the song, he accuses Nellysade of jacking his style-literally meaning he stole his rap style. Nellysade, as you can reckon, has not responded.
GNL, for his part, has also thrown off several subliminals at his competition but the braggadocio and hyperbole embedded in his verses at times makes it hard to make out who he is dissing.
Fans however easily discerned who his intended target was in the captivating songs-“Ceasar” and “Tebangatika”.
Gravity was in his cross hairs. No response has been heard from Gravity, thus far.
Other prominent Ug M.C’s that have been embroiled in beefs include Foeva emcee and Baboon Forest’s Tommy Race.
Code and Tucker H.D.
A BRIEF ON RAP BEEFS
Rap song beefs are as old as the Hip Hop genre itself.
(Hip Hop was started in the early 70’s in New York).
The first prominent rap beef saw rap legends Krs One and Mc Shan squaring off.
The two protagonists dueled over whose neighborhood was the best and who was the best lyrically. In the end, Krs One from the Bronx-New York came out on top. Shan was from the Queensbridge area of New York.