Beef season: Who’s King of Kenyan rap?

By: JOSEPHINE MOSONGO

The only one with more bars than the three is me!” It was this brazen display of bravado posted on veteran rapper Juliani’s Twitter timeline last week that sparked off what has spiralled into a war of words between him and the curiously christened “Hip Hop Boyz” on the social network. The targets of his jab, Octopizzo, Khaligraph and Rabbit respectively went ahead to dismiss his remarks, prompting hip hop fans to weigh in on the now steaming debate as to #WhoIsKing in the Kenyan rap scene.

What followed was a flurry of tweets as each of the heavyweights staked claim to the lyrical throne.

Over the days that followed, the rappers and their online fans have engaged in a seemingly endless back and forth that has become a near permanent trending topic on the Twitter streets with the characteristic name calling, mudslinging and braggadocio that is typical of hip hop beefs the world over. Only in this case, it was all played out online.

“This is not like in the 90’s when rappers would go at each other physically in the name of beefing,” explains Khaligraph. “But rap is territorial, and while I’m certain none of these guys can try pull anything on me knowing where I come from, I still have to defend my space. It’s not personal, it’s business.”

LYRICAL JIBES

Indeed, rap feuds have evolved dramatically from the 2Pac and Biggie days when picking a fight with another rapper meant placing one’s life on the line. Today, even the biggest beefs in the game are almost entirely confined to the virtual ring going by the Drake Vs Meek Mill and Casper Nyovest Vs AKA examples where the participants traded jibes on Twitter and Instagram with minimal confrontation.

“Beef is actually healthy for hip hop,” says Kenyan hip hop guru Buddha Blaze. “It’s about showmanship and claiming respect without necessarily being violent. Personally, I expect to hear some good music come from this particular situation.”

Admittedly, some of the industry’s greatest pieces of lyricism have resulted from similar scenarios. A case in point is Kleptomaniac’s “Tuendelee”, which remains one of the greatest gems produced by the Kenyan hip hop fraternity.

“As far as I’m concerned, I’m just playing my part to help change and grow the industry,” argues Juliani. “No one out there is doing anything exciting right now so all I’m saying to these kids is ‘step up your game’. They don’t have what it takes to get to the top individually so maybe if they team up and try take me on it might actually help their careers.”

But besides all the chest thumping and self-aggrandising retweets, there’s little else to justify the beef outside of that increasingly annoying hashtag. For all their want of the “crown”, the MCs have done a less than convincing job at proving to their fans and critics why they deserve it.

Take Juliani for example. Judging by the comments expressed on the #WhoIsKing thread, his foray into the perceivably uncouth world of secular hip hop has left a bad taste among his legion of religious fans who consider his actions insincere to his professed Christian faith.

“I am a hip hop artiste even before being a Gospel musician and for that reason I too have to sharpen my skills from time to time in the way that hip hop demands,” he argues in his defense. “Those reading anything of the contrary in this situation must really not understand what I am about.”

Rabbit seems to have assumed an “I’m Bigger Than This” stance throughout the entire incident as he invited the squabbling artistes to square out their issues on a live stage performance.

He tweeted: “Badala ya Twitter mingi, just choose a date Tukutane kiwanja mafans waamue. Nikama mko na bundles mingi na mistari chache.’ (Instead of tweeting all the time, why not pick a date so we can let the fans decide this in the arena, you seem to have an excess of internet bundles and a shortage of rhymes)”.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Perhaps to counter Rabbit’s assertion, Khaligraph opted to hit the recording booth emerging with “King Khali”, the first unofficial diss-track of this unfolding beef. The result is a two minute track filled with provocative shots clearly aimed at his competitors. Juliani followed with Lord forgive me and Rabbit released Kionjo.

“I’m not even trying to play it safe,” Khaligraph charges. “I can understand that Juliani is feeling the pressure because we’re obviously coming up in the scene and he’s feeling challenged. But what I need them all to realise is that I’ve only been doing this for two years and I’m already at their level when they’re all past their peaks. I’m not trying to make friends with anyone here.”

Octopizzo has termed the shenanigans as “irrelevant” choosing instead to focus on promoting his latest release; “I’m A Doer” as he tries to get over the embarrassing August Alsina debacle that left him with egg smeared all over his face.

One thing is for sure, every fight must have a victor and loser(s). Whether it be through a show of social media might, prowess on tape or demonstrated brand and monetary value, eventually, someone will need to step out of this cesspool with some form of triumph if only to spare us the monotonous rants on our timelines. Because in the words of former Kleptomaniacs affiliate Collo, “everyone cannot be the King of Rap at the same time.”

SOURCE: DAILY NATION