Crispy Fresh: The Latest Kenyan Jams

Welcome dear reader to yet another edition of the Crispy Fresh.This is a weekly listicle compiled in partnership with Kapuka Kulture that gives an in depth  analysis of some of the newest Kenyan music. Dive in and enjoy this week’s offerings from Khaligraph Jones,KRG the Don,Xenia and alternative pop artist Ndung’u Mbithi.

Minimal Pressure- Khaligraph Jones

Minimal Pressure” by Khaligraph Jones is a compelling hip-hop track that showcases the rapper’s lyrical prowess while addressing timely socio-political issues. Khaligraph takes listeners on a journey through his life, starting from the streets of Kayole, where he witnessed crime and drug abuse, to his rise to success through his talent. The chorus, referring to his previous hit “Open Doors,” sets the tone for the song’s exploration of Khaligraph’s journey.

The rapper takes us on how he came from the streets of Kayole where he witnessed crime,drug abuse  and other forms of degeneracy but ended up escaping the situation because “talanta ikaleta hela za Ababu Namwamba”,a double entendre statement that  also celebrates the launch of the Talanta Hela Fund by the minister for Sports and Youth earlier this year.Ababu Namwamba is not the only political figure or concept mentioned.The song is full of references to various political developments. Khaligraph criticizes the government’s handling of the cost of living that has sparked a series of protests in the last two months,despite their campaign promises of a bottom up economy. He has no kind words for the new finance bill that increases tax on the earnings of digital creators, rapping , “gava inatufinya makende” before calling out the way the state coopts artistry to appear. He raps ,”Na ukioppose utaitwa Statehouse uawekewa  mikono kama Njugush na Butita, Pia me nangoja invitation coz I’m not fighting for the nation,juu mkiambiwa hamskiangi so holla at your boy let us balance the equation”

The song does not hold back on religion either,with the rapper likening religion to cuffs that have arrested our society.However he employs irony to give a nuanced opinion on the Pr McKenzie cult massacre that has claimed lives in the hundreds.He says that there are government officials whose actions are just as impactful- and therefore his judgment comes with reservations.The Kenyan mainstream media is also called out for its role in stifling Kenyan music,”media pia inatry kuzimanga Genge”.The fault with the music industry is also with the creativity of  some artists according to the rapper,whose, “tumechoka na miondoko” line is a subtle dig at the numerous party anthems in rotation,that he finds shallow and formulaic.The song has a few moments of braggadocio,Khaligraph is after all a big character.Most notably he speaks on his new found talent as an actor,after appearing in the Kenyan  favorite smash hit ,Click Click Bang which won an Africa Magic Viewers Choice Award (AMVCA).He cockily compares himself to Hollywood actor Denzel Washington.

The beat production, skillfully crafted by award-winning producer Vinc on the Beat, perfectly complements Khaligraph’s powerful delivery. Vinc and Khaligraph’s long-term collaboration has resulted in a chemistry that shines through in their work together. The use of a deconstructed dancehall keyboard melody and 808s gives the beat a bouncy quality, blending dancehall influence into the overall cadence. A synthesizer smooths out the harsher pulses of the rhythm, while trap 808s layering adds a dynamic touch to the beat.

Khaligraph Jones’ journey from Kayole to continental success stands as proof of the rewards of hard work and wise decision-making. The song’s exploration of various current socio-political issues showcases Khaligraph’s versatility as an artist, effectively conveying powerful messages through his lyrics. The track also highlights the exploitation of artists by the state, shedding light on the lack of support for the flourishing of art in the country. With its rich lyrical tapestry and high-energy production, “Minimal Pressure” is a must-listen for any hip-hop enthusiast. It fits well into the playlist of a hip-hop head and is equally suitable for daytime radio. The song’s relevance to contemporary issues and its powerful artistic expression make it a standout track in Khaligraph Jones’ discography. By addressing socio-political themes and critiquing the system, Khaligraph demonstrates how music can be a potent medium for social commentary and cultural reflection. Overall, “Minimal Pressure” is an engaging and thought-provoking tune that creatively and culturally holds great significance in the realm of modern Kenyan hip-hop.

Unashida Gani?- KRG the Don featuring Darassa

Ladies and gentlemen, gather around as we delve into the infectious world of Bongo Rap with the electrifying club banger, “Una Shida Gani?” by KRG the Don featuring the Tanzanian hip hop sensation, Darassa.The song exudes the edgy personality of KRG the Don, a Kenyan musician and businessman known for his extravagant lifestyle and unapologetic love for the spotlight. Darassa, on the other hand, gained regional recognition with his hit song ‘Muziki,’ making this collaboration a thrilling meeting of two East African talents.

“Una Shida Gani?” borrows its style from the Tanzanian Sengeli sound, known for its witty lyrics and hilarious punchlines. The choral phrase “una shida gani?” serves as the backbone of the song, with both rappers cleverly injecting it into their verses to create musicality and humor. Darassa addresses various issues, playfully calling out people who don’t return calls or greet others in person and even those who cheer on animosity, rapping, “hata kwenye ugomvi unakuwa shabiki.” On the other hand, KRG takes a dig at laziness, denouncing those who waste their days on idleness and substance abuse, blaming external factors for their problems. In his second verse, KRG dismisses his haters, making it clear that their opinions hold no power over him.

The beat production is a masterpiece in itself, blending elements of Bongo rap with African flavor. The rhythm is driven by two keyboard melodies, featuring a prominent organ-like chord loop and a subtler accompaniment. A lively Swahili flute intermittently adds an authentic African touch. Two drumming patterns stand out, with a bouncy African drum or xylophone placed at each cycle’s end, complemented by more traditional hip-hop 808s sequenced in a natural, shadowed manner, resulting in an unmistakably African and genuine instrumental.

What makes “Una Shida Gani?” truly stand out is not just the infectious beat and witty lyrics but also the creative collaboration between KRG the Don and Darassa. KRG has consistently shown his versatility by working with artists from various sounds and genres, making him a prominent name not just in Kenya but across East Africa and even internationally. East Africa’s unity through the Swahili Lingua Franca enables the region to produce rich and vibrant art and culture, and collaborations like this further strengthen the bond between artists from different countries.

In the lively setting of a club, “Una Shida Gani?” comes to life, spreading its infectious energy and witty banter among the crowd. The song’s playful yet thoughtful themes resonate with the audience, and its significance lies in the creative fusion of two talents from different corners of East Africa, showcasing the power of collaboration in the region’s music industry. So, get ready to groove to the beats of “Una Shida Gani?” and witness the magic that happens when artists come together to create music that transcends borders and cultures.

SPANISH PLUGS: Dando – Umoja Sounds & Colossal Music featuring Mbithi,Elisha Elai

In “SPANISH PLUGS: Dando,” Umoja Sounds and Colossal Music bring together the dynamic vocal talents of rappers Mbithi and Elisha Elai. The song is a part of their Afro-hip-hop EP, ‘SPARKS SYNTAX,’ which features artists from across the continent,including  names like Jay Rox and Trina South of Zambia,Landmarquee of South Africa and Fredrick Mulla of Tanzania.

“SPANISH PLUGS: Dando ” is in fact the only song on the project with purely Kenyan talent,that pays homage to the neighborhood of Dandora, famous for birthing some of Kenya’s most renowned hip-hop acts. The contrasting styles of Mbithi and Elisha Elai add depth to the track, with Mbithi’s slow and introspective verses complementing Elai’s rapid-fire delivery about his determination to make it in the rap game.He retells of how he lost friends and become a pariah when he was still engaging in petty crime  due to tough economic conditions.He changed his situation however, saying of the lot that dismissed him,”siku hizi hawaamini nimereform”

He brags of his abilities stating “marapper ni wengi lakini kitu inenitenga na hao ni ligi”,insinuating his music is classier and more refined  than that of the next rapper. Elisha shares a piece of advice from his mother in the line,”my mama told me nijichunge juu pia saa zingine adui ni rafiki”.The long flowing verse is full of  East African pop culture references and celebrities like Willis Rauburu ,Kalekye Mumo,marathoner Eliud Kipchoge and Ugandan president Yoweri Kaguta Museveni.He also mentions legends like King Kaka ,Nazizi and Tanzanian collective Weusi working them into the story on a clever way.

The song’s production showcases the prowess of Ambrose, a member of Umoja Sounds, who skillfully weaves together various melodies, creating a complex and beautiful rhythm. The use of live band instruments like saxophone, electric guitars, and percussions adds a unique touch, blending well with the African shakers that infuse the track with a tribal feel. The incorporation of trap 808s further boosts the beat’s intensity, setting the perfect stage for the confrontational and hyper mood that characterizes the song.

“SPANISH PLUGS: Dando” holds cultural and creative significance. Umoja Sounds and Colossal Music collaborating on a continental rap album is a remarkable achievement. As emerging production houses in the Kenyan scene, they are elevating Nairobi to its former glory as the go-to city for recording acts in East Africa, harking back to the region’s musical heydays in the 1960s and 1970s with genres like Twisty and Benga. Moreover, their decision to focus on pure Afro-hip-hop is refreshing, especially since they are renowned for incorporating East African sounds and live instrumentation into their beats. This not only sets them apart creatively but also encourages rappers to embrace performing live with bands, addressing a reluctance that has persisted in the Kenyan music industry.

Mahaba Yatatuua- Ndung’u Mbithi

Ndung’u Mbithi, an artist from Nairobi has delves into the realm of vulnerability and introspective themes with his alternative pop masterpiece, “Mahaba Yatatuua.” The song is a soul-stirring love ballad that captivates hearts and minds with its poignant Swahili lyrics. Ndung’u exploration of complex emotions and his willingness to step out of his acoustic comfort zone make this tune stand out in the world of indie pop.

At its core, “Mahaba Yatatuua” is an emotional odyssey, narrated by a persona caught in the maelstrom of conflicting emotions. The lyrics offer glimpses into the struggle for autonomy and the intoxicating allure of surrendering oneself to love. The persona finds themselves torn between the desire to protect their heart and the irresistible pull of affection. This internal conflict is epitomized by the lines: “Nilikazana na mawazo ya kutengana, umenifanya nihisi tena”.Throughout the song, the persona grapples with the fear of vulnerability, attempting to shield themselves from the potential pain of love’s demise. The repeated plea, “usipokua, karibu, siezi pumua”, underscores the profound impact of love’s absence, leading the persona to contemplate the ultimate sacrifice: “naaga, nafariki, oh nakufa, nalia”

Yet, amidst the tumultuous emotional landscape, a glimmer of hope emerges. The persona acknowledges their inability to deny their love, confessing, “Siwezi penda, lakini bana nakupenda”.This admission signifies a breakthrough in their internal struggle, where authenticity prevails over pretense. As the song progresses, the persona seeks reassurance and an affirmation of commitment from their beloved. They express their anguish with the compelling words, “Na ukisema hautaenda na mwingine, nitakupenda hadi mahaba itumalize” This plea exemplifies the persona’s longing for certainty, their vulnerability laid bare before their partner.The resolution of the conflict in “Mahaba Yatatuua” remains open-ended, leaving listeners to ponder the destiny of this intricate love story. Does the persona find solace in their beloved’s words? Can love triumph over the tumultuous nature of emotions? The song leaves us lingering in suspense, our hearts yearning for a conclusive resolution.

The production, helmed by Jack Mboya Jr, who goes by the name violetcrimes, creates a dystopian sonic universe. The main rhythm is achieved from a keyboard melody that is extended by a synthesizer,in an arrangement that evokes a dystopian sonic universe.There are several drumming patterns that are layered in a way that adds to the sense of discomfort,yet paradoxically giving the rhythm a certain energy and musicality.The singer’s unorthodox cadence,is autotuned a technique that also serves to emphasize emotive darkness underlying at the heart of the song.

Jack Mboya Jr’s production techniques bring out the song’s distinctive features, creating a space where Ndung’u emotive vocals shine amidst the dystopian backdrop. This song’s significance goes beyond its musical brilliance; it serves as a source of solace and inspiration for young adults, reminding them that their struggles in love are not unique to them alone. As they dance to the rhythm of “Mahaba Yatatuua,” they find comfort in the knowledge that vulnerability and self-discovery are universal experiences. As Ndung’u embraces vulnerability and explores a groovier sound, he opens up new avenues for artistic expression and connects with his audience on a profound level. This Swahili masterpiece will undoubtedly stand the test of time, leaving an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of those who listen.

Anticipate- Xenia Mannaseh & Karun

“Anticipate” by Xenia Mannaseh and Karun is an enchanting R&B ballad that weaves a captivating narrative of love, its loss, and vulnerability. The song’s production is a testament to the artists’ skill in blending various musical elements, resulting in a distinctive sound that is both modern and soulful. The melody shifts seamlessly throughout the track, with tempo changes that add depth and intrigue to the composition.

Xenia Mannaseh, drawing inspiration from iconic artists like Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, and India Arie, brings her unique fusion of modern R&B and soul to the forefront. Her journey from Atlanta to Nairobi has seen her rise to prominence rapidly, with successful EPs, collaborations with renowned musicians, and appearances on prestigious stages. Karun, an alternative R&B artist with Afro-pop influences, complements Xenia’s sound, confirming  why they are considered the leading names in Nairobi’s budding R&B scene.

The themes in “Anticipate” delve into the emotional complexities of a past romance. The lyrics evoke a sense of nostalgia, as the persona yearns to return to the time when love was pure and unrestricted. This desire is succinctly captured in the choral line,”back to when our love was free.”

Vulnerability takes center stage as Xenia bares her soul, questioning her partner’s intentions and expressing her fears and regrets. The hauntingly beautiful melody, combined with Karun’s smooth harmonies, intensifies the emotional impact, creating a euphoric ballad with dark undertones.

Karun takes a lead in the second verse performing with the same smooth silkiness as her fellow.She describes the previous state of free love with words such as butterflies and ecstasy,comparing the feelings derived from such a romance as a beautiful and intoxicating experience. The song’s perspective of a worried lover resonates with the audience, making them reflect on their own experiences of love and loss.

The production of “Anticipate” is a masterclass in musical craftsmanship. The use of multiple melodies and varying tempos creates an otherworldly experience for the listener. Starting with a keyboard melody blended with an ominous organ chord, the song sets the stage for the verse section, dominated by R&B 808s. As the tune progresses, the introduction of light rapid trap 808s and electric guitars transports the audience to an alternative realm, perfectly complementing the theme of lost love and introspection. The autotuned background vocals add a psychedelic touch, a signature element in Xenia’s music.

“Anticipate” stands out creatively and culturally due to its seamless blending of genres and its heartfelt storytelling. The song’s appeal lies in its ability to evoke strong emotions, making it an anthem for R&B enthusiasts. The euphoric and psychedelic production creates a personalized listening experience, perfect for solo sessions or moments of introspection. Moreover, the track’s powerful emotional impact makes it suitable for movie scores or other creative projects seeking to evoke deep feelings in their audiences.