In 2016 more than ever before, Hip Hop has been lauded as the fastest rising genre in Uganda. Clearly, 2016 has been quite an interesting year for Ugandan Hip Hop. So much has happened, just like so much has not. If you are an ardent fan, you probably have religiously watched events unfold or even taken part in some. Being one such fan for well over a decade, I have been watching the game from the sidelines, throwing in an effort here and there where I can. From a fan’s perspective, the following are some of the events that stood out in the game this year – well, those that I could remember off the head.
- That Black Monday Morning
That dark Monday morning in January when Benny Black showed up in our news-feed spitting venom. For the most of us who had missed the SMASH episode on which CODE had apparently said some disrespectful stuff on Ugandan rappers under 25, we didn’t quite put the pieces together as to what had arose the spirit of Benny from his comfortable American dorm room (Benny had taken quite a while off any rap activity to concentrate on his studies abroad, even deactivating most of his social media). It turned out that while being hosted on Urban TV’s Hip Hop show, SMASH, CODE, then a UCU Law finalist, declared himself the best rapper under 25 and even went on to insinuate “all the other young rappers aren’t on his level”. Not surprisingly, Benny put CODE well in his place with a just over two-minute response, “Black Monday” over a Don Cannon beat. He also inspired Tucker HD who followed suit in the next few hours with an even harder “Calm before the Storm” that went on to win “Sweet Sixteen” at the inaugural UG Hip Hop Awards. CODE , of course, went ahead and did his own 3 minute track, “Hands in the Stadium” giving us the most dramatic week in #UGHipHop this year.
- When Keko Gave us Love from Venus
Once upon a night in June 2016, UG Hip-Hop Awards’ Female Rapper of the Year Keko dropped Love from Venus. At a silent disco event and concert at Gatto Matto, graced by UG Hip-Hop royalty and many of her old friends, Keko gave us one of this year’s most uniquely sounding projects. It might not have gotten as much attention and hype like many other projects in the industry received over the course of the year (even though it actually went on to win UG Hip Hop Awards’ Mixtape of the Year), but Love from Venus is a mixtape really well put together. Love from Venus features a more laid back Keko than we have been accustomed to, more calmly but still authoritatively rapping over beats by Aethan, and on some joints, alongside Navio. It gives the impression of a Keko coming of age and calming down, regardless of the fact that she playfully admits she’s crazy on the track with Navio. Love from Venus was rumored to be her last release before she retires and we should pray not.
- Kambajulire & The Young Kings of Dustville
If Ugandan Hip Hop has a super-producer, then it’s good old Baru Beatz. The reserved lanky young man has come of age and yet it seems like only recently since he arrived on the scene, fresh out of the university at Makerere. In the last few years since his arrival, Baru has such credits as almost producing entire albums by industry bigwigs like Ruyonga’s Glory Fire (2015), producing the UG Hip Hop Awards’ Mixtape of the Year nominee, Pryce Teeba’s Kambajulire. Almost as if a sequel to his previous ReDefinitions project, equally memorable this year is Baru’s Young King – a collaborative effort of some of Uganda’s most underrated urban musicians. Young King was graced by Baru’s own original beats, murdered by an array of rappers and singers ranging from Play01, Patrobas, Pryce to R&B queens Ivory Namara and Sitenda. Young King had one of the year’s most attention-grabbing covers – a painting by Kampala painter Kwi Zera of young Baru posing with a seemingly tame lion. Kambajulire, a mixtape Baru produced for a rapper who has had a really good year, Pryce Teeba, was such a big hit it had arguably one of the most lit mixtape release parties in the year and went on to be a radio favorite with tracks like Side Z’eno enjoying endless rotation on many urban radios in Kampala.
- S.T.R.A.P, his Drinks and Conversation
Ugandan rappers have worked very hard this year, probably harder than in any other year before. Deservedly, a lot of these hard working rappers have gotten their efforts noticed. One such rapper is STRAP, he of last year’s widely acclaimed Futuristic Past and other year’s Daily Reflection. This year, the Ugandan Kansas based former Ntinda kid, dropped his third studio album, Drinks and Conversation – a very well put together 15 track project, a story of stories told at your favorite bar with the boys. After dropping this game-changing record, STRAP earned himself shout outs from industry leading online publications HipHopDX.com and DJBooth.net, both praising how unique and boldly artistic this kid from Zion’s style is. Which reminds me, worthy of checking out is his “Kid from Zion” video.
- Vuqa Cypher by the Masters of Music
What do you get when you stack 6 of the hottest MCs and rappers, a legendary dance-hall act and new school dance-hall cat in one cypher? The Vuqa Cypher! Highly marketed (deservedly) and just what we needed around that time of the year. Made by the folks at Vuqa TV & Master’s Music, one of the higher end production houses in Kampala, Vuqa Cypher cast Ruyonga, CODE, The Mith, St. Nelly-Sade, Big Tril, Keko, Peter Miles and one of the hottest dance-hall artistes this year, Nutty Neithan. Online debates have raged on and on about why the urgency to have Peter Miles on this one, and on and on about who had the best rap verse on the cypher – with most critics considering Ruyonga’s Vuqa Cypher verse the hardest on any rap collaboration this year. Again, in IMHO the gesture of such joint efforts is what the game needs even more. Even more exciting, the Vuqa Cypher cast has since been on tour in Entebbe and Kampala.
- When Simon Elly and friends Made Something from Nothing
Simon Elly, he of The Ghetto Film Project and he of the popular Facebook clique ‘Meme Squad’ is one of those mysterious beat makers in Uganda – he lays low, shows up from nowhere and drops a fire EP. Blessed with hands that flawlessly chop classic jazz stuff into soulful rap beats, Elly provides the beat fodder that Mal-X and Suspekt feed on all through “Something from Nothing”, a 10 track EP released in November, 2016. On this one, Simon Elly employs the rapping talent of Mal-X and Suspekt92. Mal-X has morphed right in front of our eyes – from the enthusiastic wide-eyed high school kid dropping tracks online over J Cole beats, through dropping his own mixtape, “Finding Myself” to the super – talented film maker and narrator he has become. It’s not surprising to hear him drop some of the most intricate and mature rap lines you’ll hear from a Ugandan rapper. Suspekt, himself a rap veteran, delivers all through with a confidence and presence that the likes of Ruyonga boast of, providing a big brother feel to Mal-X through the EP. “Simon Elly” was Christmas coming early for many fans. My personal favorite off the project is “On the Wings of Angels” featuring Agee.
- MTN & The UG Hip-Hop Awards present the #MTNCypher
The Tribe UG and MTN, a sponsor of the inaugural UG Hip Hop Awards presented unsigned rappers with a chance to win one million shillings alongside a recording contract. The rules were simple – upload a one minute video of yourself rapping over this beat. The most liked video wins …And then dudes went in. This was particularly an interesting week in UG Hip-Hop because it shed light on how big the Ugandan rap dream is – seeing both fans and rappers alike go in on the challenge, participating, giving props, heads up, throwing in an opinion here and there – some even trolling! From kids mumbling inaudible stuff in front of webcams to those with really impressive and witty bars, hundreds or so #MTNCypher videos were littered across Facebook. Eventually, Xage Mode won the challenge along with one million shillings and the recording deal.
- The Inaugural UG Hip-Hop Awards
It actually happened! Uganda held East African region’s first all Hip Hop awards! Earlier, this year the folks at The Tribe UG set out to make history by recognizing the effort that goes into the fastest rising genre on the local music scene. A feat that seemed herculean at first was pulled off on 15th December at the Golf Hotel. Oh the glory! Seeing all these different camps come together and the best men and women win. The weeks leading to the awards night saw some of the most rigorous marketing the game has seen in almost ever. Rappers and fans got to interact on social media and in person, rappers became more visible online and fans actively rooted for their favorite acts, sharing, retweeting and sending in those numerous voting SMSs. Even though sections of the fan base have since come out to voice opinions over the voting process, claiming some fans weren’t well informed about the rappers, their music and the culture and instead advocating for a kind of industry guild to preside over the winners’ selection, the gesture that the organizers showed in organizing the awards is just what the game needed at this stage.