Dear Ugandan Hip-Hop Purists.

By Byaruhanga Felix (@TheNinjaFelix)

Last week Navio released Embukuuli and it got mixed reviews from the fans. The hip-hop heads were disappointed, even one of the Rap TV shows regarded to it as a “discouragement”. Personally I don’t share the same views; I actually tell people we should embrace such a track. The problem with us hip-hop heads, we’re so caught up in what’s hip-hop and what’s not you may think we’re in the Bronx where it all started. We forget we stay in Uganda. What does this mean for us? This means we need to add elements to UG hip-hop that a person from Owino will understand connect with and eventually become a dedicated fan of the genre. Some of Navio’s tracks that clearly show this. This will mean we’ve to celebrate tracks like Njogereza, Nawuliranga where he samples Frida Sonko, Kigozi (Iko Hivi) where he samples Fred Kigozi and his latest Embukuuli which is on a dancehall beat of which the genre happens to be one of the biggest in Uganda. Proof to that is Ziza Bafana’s recent concert or look at most of the artists flown into the country, most of them are dancehall artists. In brief he fuses two genres on tracks like Embukuuli.

Rappers like Sylvester & Abramz, Klear Kut, GNL, Babaluku have created an ecosystem that has enabled the hip-hop genre to thrive and proof to this are the diverse hip-hop acts we have accompanied with hip-hop platforms like The Tribe UG and others. So this means the objectives/goals as to why they are rapping differ. In the process of continuing to pursue their rap careers, hip-hop has broken down barriers, raised the bar of the entertainment industry in certain cases. A rapper like Navio has shown us it’s possible to rap your way to the corporate’s boardroom get an endorsement and the next day you’re at a refugee camp supporting people. So when he drops a track like “One & Only” let’s celebrate its achievements like being playlisted on BBC’s 1Xtra instead of complaining that it’s so commercial. One thing I always say is that people who complain time and again that Navio is so commercial are the people who don’t buy/listen to his albums. These are people who wait for promotional singles that are released online or tracks that are being played on TV then pass judgment on what’s hip-hop and what’s not.

One thing that we Africans especially Ugandans love is to party & dance. No one is going to dance to your 16 talking about how we are suffering in Africa; no girl is going to “twerk” on your bars on a hip-hop beat where you’re rapping your ass off. But they’re going to upload videos where they’re dancing to Njogereza, a track where Navio drops two or four bars. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for conscious hip-hop or music in general that carries a message, but let’s not box in our artist and limit their creativity. This translates to performances too. You’ll see Navio being announced on the line-up of performers at “embuutu ye mbutikizi” and at the most raw hip-hop show or battle. This simply means that he knows how to cater for his fans and the Ugandan music market at large. A clear example of this is early this year when they released the official first Klear Kut single “let it rain” on a Saturday and later the following Monday Njogereza was out. These were tracks that had Navio on but catering for different listeners and markets so there’s nothing like there are too many Navio verses out. Let’s stretch it a bit and take it to the continental level. We’ve seen AKA release two albums and on the second one he realized he needs to connect more with the South Africans thus sampling tracks from Brenda Fassie which led to your favorite 2015 African hit “All Eyes on Me”. He keeps doing this on most of his successful singles but then turn around drop a single like “Dreamwork” for his hardcore hip-hop head fans. But you don’t see them refer to one of his tracks as a “discouragement” when he sings on a track with Diamond Platinumz. Look at Caracara that you enjoy by K.O which has elements of Kwaito (the South African version of Kidandali). They continue to find ways of adding their elements to South African rap and it works for them cause right now hip-hop is one of the most popular genres in S.A which wasn’t ten years ago and continues to dominate continental airwaves. But when one of our own does it, no he’s not hip-hop instead of celebrating it being the number one East African song on a purely West African TV station.

Hip-Hop is a foreign genre that we need to keep explaining to our people from time to time so that they can connect with it, in the process we get new fans thus the genre growing and become a genre that corporates can finance. Through this we can have more hip-hop artists grace concerts. So when Navio does Embukuuli instead of referring to it as a dancehall song let’s forward it to people who enjoy Ugandan dancehall so that they can run with it and in the process become new fans who in return will enjoy Enygma’s punchlines or Pryce Teeba’s side Zeno. Let’s figure out how to push rap to the masses instead of pretending to be New Yorkers in the ‘80s wearing oversized jeans, tees, timberlands standing on a corner of our social media streets discussing what’s hip-hop and what’s not. With that said download Embukuuli here.

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