For a long time as far as we can trace our earliest memories of music, we have been accustomed to celebrating recording and performing acts calling the shots and receiving the credit for work. However, the game is changing, the pendulum has already swung and new names, and trends are emerging.
From Kagwe Mungai who matured Sauti Sol’s sound, Blinky Bill, who pioneered alternative sounds locally to legends such as Eric Musyoka, Clemmo, Madtraxx, Cedo and Motif, who escalated a humble Khaligraph Jones — we highlight Kenyan producers that will be in the limelight when the fat lady sings.
“People forget producers drive the music. Back in the 2000s, there were many great artistes, but behind them were great producers and the artistes allowed them to lead. Ogopa was driven by Lucas, Calif by Clemo and Homeboyz by Musyoka. If you dig deeper in history, you’ll see behind every great musician, or music era, was a great producer. Michael Jackson was driven by Quincy Jones. In hip-hop, Deathrow or Aftermath driven by Dr Dre and Bad Boy by Diddy. Even in Afrobeat, Mavins by Don Jazzy, OBO (Davido) by Shizzi, Starboy (Wizkid) by Sarz and Legendury Beatz. Even artistes skyrocketing at the moment; Nyashinski by Cedo. You can’t fight the formula. Until artistes learn that, nothing will change,” shares US-based Kenyan mix master DJ Fully Focus.
Cue Ukweli, one-fifth of 254’s most hip musical collective, EA Wave, at 22, he has already worked with American singer Willow Smith, performed at mega festivals such as Nyege Nyege in Jinja, Uganda, Thrift Social, and Blankets & Wine. Known for his soothing piano chords, he controls tracks melodies in a unique fashion. In 2016, he produced a project for Kenyan singer Karun dubbed Indigo and by 2018, he was representing 254 on international platforms such as Boiler Room (global online music broadcasting platform) as a DJ displaying his versatility approach. He is the truth, and is notoriously known for setting his bar so high leading to works worth shock value.
“This is the era of the producer. Audiences are starting to pay more attention to beats than lyrics and that suits creatives such as Ukweli. He’s a genius at expressing himself through music,’’ says Hiribae Wanyoike, EA Wave DJ/producer.
Enter Lu or Mister Lu, an alternative producer — his trademark 808 beats are setting the bar for producers worldwide to emulate. (808s are a type of bass drumbeat). Lu forms one-fifth of a Nairobi producer collective called XPRSO. He doubles up as a DJ, hence his eclectic style of production from urban electronic sounds to more tribal and native Kenyan genres such as Kapuka as implemented in his instrumental for Taio Tripper’s song 254Low Bounce available on SoundCloud. Lu loves to experiment and finding interesting blends. He comes from the age of World Music 2.0. The term was coined by world renowned US-based mix master, DJ Rupture. It refers to music created in all corners of the globe with inexpensive laptops and free music production software.
There is no question Lu has used ingenuity to mould his identity. With placements on artistes’ albums such as Kerby and Kizazi, affiliations with Muthoni Drummer Queen (MDQ), and contributions with various artistes such as Sony music and Pine Records signees, Mankind, he is growing to be one of the biggest influencers in 254.
“Kenya wins again when we produce artistes such as Mr Lu. I was genuinely moved the first time I heard his music,’’ shared MDQ.
CRAFTING BIGGER HITS
Since beginning production of Fruity Loops (FL), a music producing software in 2011, there has hardly been a producer as industrious as Fvzzkill. He has his roots in Nairobi, but alternates between 254 and the US. Despite his enigma, he remains active in releasing music on his SoundCloud account. Janice Iche, Alfa Mars and Taio Tripper, are but some of the names he has managed to collaborate with locally. He creates timeless music by combining elements of electronic music, jazz, and hip-hop.
“He is undisputedly the most talented act in Kenya that’s not being utilised. His sound is international and that’s necessary if we are to penetrate the market,’’ shares DJ Kace.
THE HIP SCENE
Hip-hoppers are not left behind either, with Ceezy leading the pack. Whether it’s the club bangers he produces for Barak Jacuzzi or TNT, Ceezy has a niche sound. He began producing music after finishing high school at Hillcrest School with producers such as Kcous of Camp Mulla. Thereafter, he was a part of the Beatbox group that produced hits for a young Camp Mulla, before branching out to start rapping both individually and with his crew members (Black and Coolibop). With a track record of working with 254’s greats such as Steph Kapela, Gemini Mae, Jovie Jovv and Shappaman, he has single handedly been in charge of the new school urban Kenyan hip-hop scene sound that is currently prospering on the mainstream.
“With Ceezy, the guy has enough chart-topping tracks. He is unpredictable and in fact, we have more surprises on the way,’’ Musau Mumo, ADF founder and president intimates. ADF is a contemporary urban Shrap (urban hip-hop sub-genre) group based in Nairobi under Octopizzo’s Tergat Gang label.
Then there’s the lord of the lofi sound raving 254, Zira Umaka. He represents part of the Kenya Beats Mafia group, an aegis of Sanaa Mwafrika Entertainment. Shrap is among contemporary urban sub-genres that have developed as a result of culture expansion through the digital age. Umaka has one project under his belt dubbed Train to Tao, but it’s his excellence in producing artistes such as Jovie, K-Izreal, Bombae and a vast selection of Nairobi’s future stars such as Tokyo Sauce and Alexandar that got him on our radar. Through his sound, one can be able to notice the mellow choice of melodies in chords and vocals, suddenly backed with a flow of grungy hi-hats and 808’s, and poetic lyricism. His authenticity sells him over everything.
“Zira is a unique act. His sound is new and outlandish. I can’t wait to see where he takes the industry since I’ve seen him come up,’’ intimated Musau said of Umaka.
Honorary mentions go to Addi Beats, K-Mush, Le Mário, Kev Beatz, Kili-hippie, Marcus Garvey, Kaheal Beats.