Where are Uganda’s rap icons?
Lately, a group of young budding Hip Hop Hip Hop artists like Fefe Bussi, Rachel Rey and Da Agent have enjoyed considerable media attention, thanks to a trending rap battle song called-“Who is who”.
But whilst Bussi and his co get the laurels and shine for supposedly putting the spotlight back on Hip Hop with their “who is who” back and forth songs; hordes of the genre’s fans argue that the current crop of artists are not talented enough to transcend the legacy left by the genre’s forerunners.
“Many new rappers are only riding the wave. Fefe Bussi is talented but conflicted. His new song and video which are a far cry from his older songs, which I must say were genuine hip hop songs; already show the different trajectory he is taking. It is more the reason, these new rappers will not eclipse the legacy of the forerunners,” reckons Arnold Munduni, a graphic designer and audio Hip Hop producer.
But just who are these forerunners? Where have the other contributory creators of the varied genres of Hip Hop in Uganda gone; where have the creators of genres such as Luga-flow, Kiga Flow, Lumaflow, Luo-flow left off and why?.
“WHERE are they now” is an enthralling Nas song off his 2006 “Hip Hop is dead” album- paying homage to early 80’s and 90’s American hip hop stars; who could not keep their buzz going and who consequently faded into oblivion.
Listening to the song had me casting my mind back and thinking nostalgically about some of pioneers of the Ugandan hip hop industry, especially in light of the current trend.
Rappers like Ibraw, Babaluku and Lyrical G, had raw talent; the kind of talent that could have taken them to the next level. And yet, for some reason, their careers did not see much ascendancy, despite a promising start.
Most of these pioneers have gone off the radar and nostalgic fans have been wondering about their whereabouts.
“If only hip hop was generating truckloads of corporate cash then and now, we would probably still have our rap pioneers around. Babaluku and Lyrical G gave Ugandan hip hop an identity but it is sad how they disappeared off the scene,” Ronald Odongo, a seasoned Hip Hop Blogger/radio host, says.
THE GOOD OL’ DAYS
By all accounts, the mid and late 90’s spawned the greatest generation in Uganda’s rap hierarchy.
“Guys like Babaluku, GNL Zamba-who recently released his own version of “who is who” called Vibranium, Lyrical G, Navio and his Klear Kut crew, Sylvester and Abrams, Mon M.C, Da Squad, Supaman, Lumix and the Abenganda Clan, understood what being a credible emcee (rapper) meant. On any given day, they would make this new crop of rappers look ordinary,” Odongo says.
“They knew that being a credible rapper required skill beyond just stringing words together over a beat. They steered clear of gimmicks and wore their hearts on their sleeves whenever they rapped.”
As things stand now however, most of the aforementioned rappers disappeared off the Ugandan music scene. Some left the country to pursue other hustles, whilst others have stayed around and just kept a low profile.
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED?
SILAS BALABYEKKUBO (BABALUKU)
Babaluku is according to the Tribe Ug-[an online marketing company that analyses and delivers Ugandan hip hop music] the most influential of all Luga flow artists in Uganda. Luga flow stands for [Rap in Luganda].
He still maintains a presence here despite his family being in Canada.
Last year, he hosted the 15th annual Hip Hop summit at Red Pocket, just behind Sabrina’s Pub and recently he, Navio, the Mith, Ragga Dee and other old timers met as part of a new Hip Hop platform called MIC Masters.
Reportedly, the Mic Masters is a platform intended to unite hip hop artists. It will run once a month at Big Mikes in Kololo.
“Pursuing rap as a career was never my means to a financial end,” Babaluku reveals.
Ultimately, fans who thought he would water down his lyrical content for commercial radio were in for an anticlimax. Those who knew what he personified however stayed loyal.
Babaluku is known for introspective and message driven Lugaflow songs such as Tukomyeewo, Tuwangudde, the art of war, Revolution, Batuliddewo, Kabera rhyme, etc.
His other claim to fame was the Utake anthem-a song that features A.Y from Tanzania and Jua Kali from Kenya. The song won him the 2007 Pearl of Africa music award for Best Hip Hop single and the Buzz Teen Awards for Best Hip Hop Artist.
Babaluku is now more focused on pushing trail blazing youth empowerment initiatives under the auspices of his Bavubuka foundation.
IBRAHIM LWANGA AKA IBRAW/DELUXE DILINGER
Ibraw is another Ugandan hip hop artist from the years of old with a tenured place in the Ugandan rap hall of fame. Ibraw, who now lives in Sweden, was the front man of the early 90’s Ugandan rap posse-The Young Vibes. The Young Vibes crew had a group of other rappers such as Kwesto and Napp black. They recorded the first authentic Luganda rap songs.
In their prime, they put out a hodgepodge of thought provoking, head nodding and gritty hits such “Wampologoma, So stress”, Dembe Lyo, Twajja, Napp black, Dem Nuh Like Me. Ibraw’s commanding and brusque voice always stood out in the songs.
“He was an emcee (rapper) that made you grate your ears,” says Ronald Kityo, a hip hop audio and video producer.
Ibraw has been in the news recently for controversially declaring that he and not Babaluku started the Luga flow genre.
JEFF KINTU LYRICAL G
Lyrical G started rapping with the Bataka squad (Babaluku’s squad) in the mid 90’s and has 4 PAM awards to his name and 8 albums under his belt.
Lyrical G stood out with his brass rhymes and braggadocio in songs such as East African Party, Art of war feat Babaluku, Nothing like Hip Hop, How we get down, among others.
“Lyrical G showed and proved how one could carve out a niche even if they rapped well in English. He recently returned home from the United Arab Emirates,” Odongo says.
ALEX KIRYA (AKA SABA SABA)
Saba Saba, who is a brother to Maurice Kirya currently, lives in the United States.
In the early 90’s, he was part of the pioneering Lugaflow outfit-the Bataka Squad.
He rapped on one of the first Lugaflow classic records-Atooba around 1994.
In 1998 he won the Mr. Club Silk rap contest. He went on to release his debut album entitled Tujjababya in 2005, just after forming the Ugandan Hip Hop foundation with the late Paul Mwandha and Xenson. In 2005, Saba Saba represented Uganda at the U.N Global Hip Hop meet in South Africa.
LUMIX DA DON (PATRICK LUMUMBA)
The fountainhead of Acholi hip hop sadly passed on in 2015. Lumix was a fierce battle rapper at the threshold of his career around the late 90’s and at the height of it, he had built a huge fan base, principally in Gulu with his Acholi and English rhymes.
In 2005, Lumix put out his 14 track album-Inpe Ngeyo-denoting you don’t know me.
“Lumix had a massive following in the North with songs such as Aamalo (Stand up) and Camo Kwoo. “Listening to him, you could hear the passion he had when he put his rhymes on a beat,” Odongo says.
SUPAMAN K.J- (WETAYA MAYATSA)
He pioneered Lumasaba hip hop in the early 2000’s and is currently a radio host in Mbale.
From 2003-2007, Supaman won several poetry and freestyle battles at Mbale’s Sports Club and at Club Oasis-now called El-Tanja.
In the early 2000’s Supaman garnered a huge following in Bugisu, principally after the release of his reality laced Lumaflow song-Bayaya, off his debut album-Abaana be’Mbale. In the Bayaya song, he rhymed about the ills plaguing Bugisu society. The song endeared him to many.
WHY ARTISTS FADE OUT
By Joseph Batte
In the world of pop music, it’s hard enough to make it to the top. But it’s even harder to stay there! That explains why we have seen many creative artists sprout up, bloom and wilt away like flowers. Below are some of the reason why.
Can’t handle the Pressure
With musical success come many things: fame, pressure, money (and a lifestyle that allows access to all manner of chemical substances). The fact is some artists simply can’t handle the pressure. They give up and slowly slide into oblivion, never to be heard of again.
Creative juices drying out
That is when the hits stop coming. Many of our local musicians are a victim of that. That is why it’s not advisable to release one song after another. It’s advisable to take a breather to rekindle the creative juices.
When music changes and you fail to change with it
One of the biggest mistakes that perhaps Lyrical G and Co did was to restrict themselves to one musical genre and a certain style. They failed to reinvent themselves. Hip hop is not dead. What we have witnessed on the local scene is that it has been remodeled into something else—accessible, easily consumable pop music. A good example is Mun G and Gravity Omutujju.
Lack of guidance and management
Music goes deeper than just making music. Managers are an important part of the business. Musicians need mentors to guide them through their careers. Unfortunately for our local performing artists, what they call managers are in most cases just errand boys or administrative assistants.
WHAT IS HIP HOP MUSIC
Hip Hop at present is the most influential youth culture in the world. It is according to Nielson Soundscan [an information tracking system that amongst other things tracks the sales of music] the most popular music genre in the United States and in the World.
Everybody is into hip hop culture- check the designer sneakers, the sagging jeans, the prance in step walking, the fancy haircuts, the baseball caps, the accents and snapbacks, etc.
Hip Hop is important now because in its purest musical form, it is thought provoking- message driven music, akin to most of Paul Kafeero’s music. Though it has been desecrated and watered down into simplistic music by artists like Mun G and to a debatable degree, Gravity, the real hip hop which addresses and condemns social ills, calls for social and political justice and promotes social enterprenuerships is still alive. Listen to the likes of Mulekwa, Babaluku and GNL.
ELEMENTS OF HIP HOP
Hip Hop consists of two main components: rapping (MCing) and DJing (audio mixing and scratching). Along with hip hop dance (notably break dancing) and urban inspired art, or notably graffiti, these compose the four elements of hip hop, a cultural movement that was initiated by inner-city youth, mostly African Americans in New York City, in the early 1970s.
The origins of Hip Hop in Uganda remain sketchy. Some have traced the initial attempts at the genre to the late Philly Bongoley Lutaya rap verse in his 1989 song-“Nakazaana”. In the song, Lutaya was essentially paying homage to women.
The mid 90’s and early 2000’s saw the emergence of numerous rappers and rap groups, such as Prim and Propa,( made up of Lilian Butere and Brenda Zzobo), D&D Slam, M.C Afrik, Survivor, Yalla and Milka, Viboyo,etc.
WHAT OTHERS SAY
Gilbert Bwete-Hip Hop archivist/Photographer
From back in the days, pioneers like Babaluku went out of their way to raise the profile of Hip Hop. He plus others created various platforms such as the Spoken truth night, Bon Fire, Poetry in Session, Hip Hop Lounge and the Hip Hop Summit. These were all created to give a platform to young talent.
Babaluku is still in harness running the indigenous Hip Hop retreat, that he calls- Back to the Source. This retreat brings together 50 young Hip Hop leaders every year to discuss indigenous Hip Hop advancements.
There is alot that needs to be done now especially in challenging the new artists to create musical content that is message driven and that stays true and within a purely hip hop context.
Timothy Muhumuza aka Code-Hip Hop artist
We can not blame the pioneers of UG Hip Hop for not elevating it. They laid the foundation for what we have today. It is like blaming a builder for making a small house. We need to appreciate that there was no house to begin with and without their input, there wouldn’t be a respected genre like Hip Hop in Uganda. The Genre is growing and that is something I am proud of. It gives hope to every new artist who wants to jump in. That alone is a blessing in its own way.
Bossa Sulfuric-Hip Hop artist/ business man
The pioneers have be applauded for pushing a genre that was almost nonexistent. Moreover, none of them was getting two thirds of a queen Sheeba or David Lutalo cheque. Then or now. They were just doing it for the love. Many if not most of the older rappers I have indulged are still under this narrative that the kidandali, a.k.a "Gravity sound" is what Ugandans have settled for. Which in actuality is not true. "Who is who" is a Nas beat that was released almost 20 years ago for those that are not in the know. Even with that urban boom bap sound Ugandans appreciated and enjoyed all versions that dropped. So there goes that excuse.
What is important to me, now is that there is growth and Ugandan hip hop is now more relevant than ever.
Godwin Uringi-Hip Hop artist/ Copy writer
The pioneers were great. Making do with the few tools they had then. The authenticity of the art form was really visible. I do not blame them for Hip Hop’s retardation, they were the architects. They made the blue print. It is the ones who come after them to now build the house.
The pioneer’s legacy is strong.
Fefe Bussi and his contemporaries still have work to put in.
And at the rate, at which they are going, it should not take long.