Artist Spotlight: The Sonic Evolution Of Boutrouss

Boutross began his professional music career somewhere around  2015 and has gone on to become a household name in Kenyan rap.

His music has evolved over the decade taking on more mainstream sounds, albeit with his sonic identity still stamped on them.

He is the face of Shrap music, co-founding the ADF music label that basically engineered the culture. He is still known as a Shrap artist and for all intents and purposes, he is. However, leaving it at that is unfair and reductive and assumes that he still raps as he did in the 2010s.  As he progressed in his career, Boutross began experimenting by infusing different influences from a variety of sounds. Over the course of his discography, one can tell that production techniques have changed in so many ways. By looking at his albums and naming each or a similar group as eras we can better track the sonic evolution, do let’s get into it, shall we?

Billy Jean

His first project was 2018’s Billy Jean, an EP that can be considered a trap project. In the early stages of his career, he used Atlanta style trap beats inspired by the likes of Future, Young Thug, and Travis Scott. Producers Le Mario, AlcaPaul Music Bank, and Stedo made instrumentals that were keyboard led, with flutes and guitars occasionally added alongside trap 808s. The delivery style used by the rapper sounds quite American. He mostly uses English with heavy African-American slang. Only one song is purely Swahili and the rest have the rare mention of words from the language. 

6ixviewsii18K

Boutrouss’  “6ixviewsii18K,”.-his only full-length project, is a unique album that defies genre classification and is widely considered by critics to be his magnum opus. The project blends African sounds with trap music seamlessly, creating a sound that is entirely new and fresh. This project is the most ideal version of shrap by definition but has other sub-genres, including trap, drill, lo-fi, R&B, and even a bit of rock.

Trap dominates the album, but those instrumentals can be grouped further. The first of such are the pure trap beats, which Boutrouss used early on in his career. Songs like “Coca Na Medica,” “Chase,” and “Bank” featuring TNT and Barak Jacuzzi, respectively, all use hype trap beats. Boutrouss also employs lo-fi beats with trap 808s in some songs, including “Story Ilianza,” “Friend Zone,” and “Safi” featuring Asum Garvey. These songs are some of the most beloved on the album even though lo-fi is an underground sound that hasn’t gained popularity among young Kenyan rap heads. ‘Soul'” featuring Shappaman is also in this category. The album also features trap beats bridged with drill music. The songs “Omoka,” “Yengs,” and “Wasoro ” employ drill 808 patterns with varying levels of subtlety. The drill-infused beats add a unique flavor to the album, creating a sound that is both aggressive and melodic.

African sounds are prominent in the album, with a couple of songs featuring melodies produced by traditional African instruments like lyres, shakers, and hand drums. “Sin Thea” with Nviiri, “Hit That Whoa,” and “Tiga Urimu” are the most obvious examples in this category.

The influence of African music in Boutrouss’ work. “Tiga Urimu” features Kay J Wong, who, together with Boutrouss, sings on a deconstructed Mugithi beat, while trap 808s are added for a modern twist. And talking of twist, the main melody of “Hit That Whoa” borrows from the 1960s Twisty sound popularized by the likes of Daudi Kabaka and Fadhili Williams.

Boutrouss proves his versatility in the album, showcasing his ability to sing smoothly on R&B tracks. “Fall In Love ” and “Friend Zone ” are standout tracks where he sings alone. “Sin Thea,” an African-inspired R&B track, features a guest verse from Nviiri the Storyteller. Boutrouss also collaborates with Xeniah Mannaseh and Zikki for “Pendeka,” a song that blends traditional lyres, shakers, and drums with a soft guitar and reggae patterns.The album sees Boutrouss venture into Gengetone for the first time- a Kenyan sub-genre that is a fusion of genge and dancehall music. “US” features Kristoff, Dope-I-Mean, and Exray from Boondocks Gang, while “BandWagon ” features Kenyan music legend Nameless. “Chorea” is a solo effort that sees Boutrouss display his lyrical prowess on a laidback beat.

The album’s sound is bold and unique, with Boutrouss using unorthodox flows and innovative voice inflections. He establishes himself as a versatile rapper, who can rap on beats that are not necessarily hip-hop. The decision to collaborate with many artists for this project was a stroke of genius as it exposes him to diverse fanbases of different genres. The album has had a significant cultural impact on Kenyan rap, with Boutrouss carving out a unique sound that defies classification. It is a testament to his creativity and musical ingenuity, and it will undoubtedly be remembered as a classic in the Kenyan rap scene.

Kabla Mtindo

Kabla Mtindo, showcases a matured sonic identity and a version of Boutrous that is calm and collected behind the mic. Released in 2022, the EP was designed as a teaser to his second album, Mtindo which is yet to be released.  The EP’s six tracks feature different beats, tempos and melodies, highlighting the shrappers’ versatility. 

Peter Marangi and Move, featuring Tanzanian Chin Bees, are the EP’s high-energy tracks. The trap beats used in these songs create an atmosphere of excitement and urgency that is infectious. Uchi Wale, a collaboration with Barak Jacuzzi, takes back fans to Boutrouss’ early involvement with psychedelic trap. Confuse Me and Mteja are slow-tempoed trap songs, both made using guitars. However, Confuse Me uses patterns from Afrobeats, creating a complex and beautiful beat while Mteja is a lo-fi beat of sorts. Sweety and Mwanangu fuse Taarab, a traditional music genre of the Swahili, with gengetone 808’s. The first song of the project, Natural Feeling, is a straight-up reggae beat with muted trap 808’s.

Lyrics are delivered effortlessly, using a mix of Sheng and other languages. His smooth flow and natural star quality make him appealing to fans. This project cements his reputation as a rapper who is flexible on a variety of beats, even those that are not necessarily hip hop. While Boutrouss is known for his unorthodox intonations, they are greatly reduced on this project. Boutrouss’ Kabla Mtindo project has had a significant cultural impact on Kenyan rap. By fusing different genres with gengetone, he has expanded the boundaries of what is considered rap music in Kenya.

MAWINGU

Boutrouss’ latest project, MAWINGU, is a blend of sub-genres namely Shrap, Dancehall, and Gengetone, all made distinct by the choice of beat-making instruments and production techniques. One of the standout tracks is “Ithaa,” produced by up-and-coming beatmaker Neevo, which features a recurring high-pitched sound arranged with complex 808 to form cycles. Another notable track, “Fahak It,” incorporates lo-fi beats with psychedelic and cyber-punk elements, resulting in an unconventional and unique sound.Its producer Carrpenter is known for favoring such influences in his work.

Boutrouss also features popular Gengetone stars Trio Mio and Maandy in the songs “Demand” and “Rich Rich Man,” respectively. These tracks feature deconstructed versions of Gengetone beats overlaid with trap 808s and other influences, making them stand out from the mainstream Gengetone sound. The original version of the hit song “Angela,” which is included in the EP, is a fusion of Dancehall and Afropop, with a distinctive beat that includes shakers and bold dancehall 808s. The song has opened doors for Boutrouss, earning him a remix verse from Jamaican superstar Konshens. The last two tracks, “Can’t Wait” and “Dapa Dapa,” are also Dancehall-Afropop fusions, utilizing soft keyboard-led melodies and 808s.

Boutrouss’ delivery on the 2022 EP is consistent with his previous work, featuring a blend of English and Sheng lyrics. However, the EP’s critics have noted that the tracks do not necessarily elicit a related set of moods, which gives the project an inconsistent feel. Despite this, Boutrouss has solidified his status as a certified Gengetone hitmaker. Boutrouss is now considered a leader within Gengetone. He has successfully expanded the scope of Gengetone music, bringing in new listeners and paving the way for other artists to experiment with different sounds. This project serves as an excellent example of how artists can push boundaries and create fresh, innovative sounds.

Collaborations, Cultural Impact & Conclusion.

Boutrouss has made a name for himself in the music industry by strategically collaborating with other artists. Starting from the early days of his career, Boutrouss gave collaborations to fellow ADF stablemates and close friends like Asum Garvey and Groovy Jo. He consistently performed at ‘Shrap Nites’, which not only helped him build a fan base but also allowed him to meet other rappers and DJs. One of his strategies was to release collaborations with heavyweight rappers as stand-alone singles before revealing they were part of a project. He did this with the biggest hip-hop features in the 6ixviewsii18K album, generating hype even before the album was announced.

Working with many artists from different sounds for his 2019 album spread his name and music further. These included new-school creators like Nviiri the Storyteller, Exray, and the trio Wakadinali, legends of the game like Nameless and Kristoff, as well as underground acts like Virusi Mbaya, Javan, Juicee Mann, CKO, and many others. The Juice Man remix, not to be confused with the artist Juicee Mann mentioned before, put the continental spotlight on Boutrouss and his fellow shrappers. The remix to the song was able to happen because South African femcee Sho Madjozi was wowed by its performance on a Nyege Nyege festival stage.

Boutrouss’s guest verses have helped him gain recognition. He has been featured on several hits, including but not limited to Octopizzo’s “Tergat Gang” alongside Barak Jacuzzi and Jovie Jovv, Wakadinali’s “Avoid Those People,” and Breeder LW’s “Kitu Ni Nono” remix. These features laid the groundwork for his current popularity, planting for him a seed that would grow it beyond his core fan base. When he dropped “Yea Yea Yea” in March of 2021 without a feature, he racked up a million YouTube views in less than three months. He was also part of the ensemble featured by Khaligraph Jones on “LUKU.”

His music has brought Kenyans together on different occasions. For instance, “NDOVU NI KUU,” a record-breaking Gengetone hit that Boutrouss was part of, became an anthem that transcended social boundaries and brought people together in a shared love for music. Additionally, Angela’s original version, on which he was featured, became a TikTok anthem for the ladies, trending with a complete dance style even before an official video was released. Boutrouss’s collaboration with Konshens on the remix of Angela’s song shows that he is expanding his influence beyond Kenya to the international scene.

Boutrouss’s collaborations have had a significant cultural impact, he was able to work with innovators like Nviiri the Storyteller, Exray, and the trio Wakadinali, who have all grown bigger as artists in their own rights. The term “Omoka” was popularized by Boutross’ song with Wakadinali and Mastar VK. The slang term means to get rich. Lastly, Shrap culture has its own distinct fashion, and Boutrouss has been instrumental in promoting it through his music videos. He is fond of the clothing line Renot Apparel, owned by DJ Mawinch.