East African Rap Scene; Highlighting King Kerby

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Kenyan-helmed polymath King Kerby is innovating the rap scene in East Africa and beyond with his wellness-hinged rhymes. Fresh off his third solo studio LP dubbed ‘Saba’, Kerby is launching his sounds with fervor and venom as he braces to push East African sounds to the world.

Having had an illustrious journey in the music industry with marquee studio efforts such as 2016’s Metro Empathy and 2018’s Mapenzi Sio Dini, King Kerby’s December-dropped concise but punchy opus ‘Saba’ is his rebirth. 

Featuring trap-laden effort “Out The Way” assisted by now-Johannesburg based trendsetter Ta’Eish, to more saccharine efforts such as “Summertime”, to a reggae-influenced cut, “Furnace” with singer and collaborator, O’Hara - King Kerby’s versatile sound is a snapshot of a Nairobi-based rapper that packs edge and expansiveness. 

Kerby hails from a middle-class neighborhood in the industrious Nairobi city, the capital city of Kenya known for its multicultural spirit, inclusiveness, and fast-rising development. 

Nairobi is indeed the capital of the entire East African region owed to its vastness, and adaptability. South C is a small neighborhood within Nairobi that claims King Kerby, but is also home to slain rapper and arguably Nairobi’s greatest ever urban legend, E-Sir.

“Hailing from south C, a place I’d like to call the cradle of Kenya’s new era of rap, waves music and slick artists like E-sir, K-rupt and more, this gave me a sense of swag, potent song writing and an effortless swagger” Kerby opens up to Deeds. “This era changed the game for Kenya in a time where the scene was dominated by Ukoo Flani Mau Mau and other Eastlands based rappers who were more hardcore and ‘tough’, we brought charm and swagger to the scene and I grew up watching these guys so it’s an honor” he continues. 

E-Sir who had his career cut short in 2003 after a fateful road accident is remembered for his witty songwriting, hedonistic and introspective music entirely, and a prolific bravado that has inspired generations. His only album was ‘Nimefika’ distributed by then-bombing music imprint Ogopa Deejays. 

Kerby is the neo-face of Kenyan rap with his candor and pizzazz that has enthused the music fray in Nairobi indelibly. Last year, he spurt out 12 music videos in a consistent and rampant vain, reinvigorating a music industry that  was largely dependent on Amapiano, Afrobeats, a burgeoning local genre, Arbantone, and underground Alternative sounds and the more sideward Afro House - a proposition that etched out Kenya’s largest export song to date “Mwaki” by ZERB and Sofiya Nzau. However, Hip Hop as it is fashioned, was more dormant and sizeably reticent until King Kerby shook up the industry with a slew of releases. 

“Hip Hop today is the leading timeless genre that is evolving within a time where other genres have emerged such as Afro pop, Afro beats and SA house music. Hip Hop is the storytelling genre that still represents what’s happening in people’s day to day lives outside club culture and the nightlife. Hip hop is the glue between cultures and genres and I sense a rebirth in the movement” Kerby ruminates of Hip Hop before mentioning his wide spectrum of rappers that act as a muse for his sound contemporarily.

“Nasty C, Maglera Doe Boy, Knucks, Larry June, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Little Simz, Enny, Smino, Mick Jenkins, Wordz, Skepta, Amine and Freddie Gibbs. I’m rocking with these lot heavy because they have such a fresh style, timeless sounds, melodic elements, unmatched production/beat selection, effortless storytelling and artistic visuals or branding in general” he unpacks. 

This bevy of stars and trailblazers are an eclectic consortium of emcees that are easily leaders of their community. Interestingly enough, upon examining King Kerby’s album, ‘Saba’, a stark feature and element of notoriety is the spaciness and ala mode of the avant garde of the production. From the bounciness of the drums, the ruminant lyricism, and outstandingly, the sumptuousness of the keys on cuts such as “Out The Way”, Kerby is relentless. The mixing and mastering is also superlative, and the music resonates a cognizance of Kerby being aware of what the East African rap industry needed to bounce back from the zaniness of Amapiano and Afrobeats alike. 

“SABA is my baby. It’s one of the freshest hip hop albums out of Africa last year and for the last decade. It’s a big vibe through and through, from the beats to the lyrics to the visuals, it has this warmth and panache. It’s uplifting, fun, catchy and timeless” Kerby affirms.

Visually Kerby is the couture of East Africa. In a region that prides itself on circular fashion, Kerby is championing high quality and a women-empowered brand called JIPE Apparel. This again reflects, standing out is the name of the game. 

“Fashion and grooming for me are at the heart of branding, self care and social responsibility in a way. Partnering with a brand like Jipe is in line with my ethos about self love and giving ourselves the love we would like to receive from the world. The feminine touch is something I champion as it comes with finesse, cleanliness, organization and supreme nurturing” King disseminates. 

And if you think Kerby is perpetuating common and trendy Hip Hop themes such as clubbing, vanity, materialism, and basic rags to riches, think again. At the forefront of his rancor is wellness, uplifting, and self-empowerment. He can wade into subject matter about meditation, clairvoyance, and conflate into how Jaba(a local beverage) , alkaline, and non-alcoholism is the most hip and biggest flex about his lifestyle, and still make it tasteful, permeable and stylish.This in turn has boosted wellness, and reduced alcoholism in Nairobi - a party-forward city known for its bombastic nightlife and club culture.

“I pride myself as the pioneer of Jaba Juice in Africa and the orchestral chord progression for wellness in a time where the generation is faced with so much self harm, degenerate lifestyles and lack of a voice for hope and wellbeing. Showing the world that we can have fun, turn up whole being healthy, mentally and emotionally intelligent plus spiritually in tune. I’ve created a company and tangible products to help people visualize this practically. We have made wellness sexy and others can now copy because we have done it”  Kerby mentions in closing. If you are not yet hip to Nairobi and East African urban culture, this is your sign to expeditiously play King Kerby and familiarize yourself with the wave.