It baffles me sometimes. I never really know why some things work for others but another person uses the same exact formula, the same product with only a few changes and they fail. In this case, I’m only comparing the comeback strategies of 2 amazing artists in the 254, guys who probably inspired most of the young rappers on the charts today; Bamboo and Nyashinski.
So a long time ago, Bamboo was part of a crew called K South (Kariobangi South) with fellow rapper, the fire flame spitter, Jerry Doobiiez AKA Abbass Kubaff. Together, these two rapped about the fun and struggles in the hood and even introduced us to terms like “Nairobery” which is just a term to let you know that in Nairobi, crime is quite high so watch your back cuz you just might lose your stuff if you as much as blink for too long.
Their influence in the Kenyan Hip Hop scene is undeniable… Almost all KE rappers quote Bamboo and/or Abbas as the reason(s) they began rapping. The sleek way they delivered their content through jokes, the way they structured their stories in rhyme and how they told us the harsh truth of what life is really like in the ghetto in Kenya, that’s what we held on to. That was what we knew K South for.
Soon after the release of their album, Bamboo left Kenya for the States. It is known that his parents are missionaries and traveled a lot so he went to be with family. Stayed there for a couple of years, did some music, then came back… the fans were still cool with him. He was still the Bamboo they all knew. After some time back on the motherland, Bamboo went back to the States. This time, for a longer period of time. He met everybody that he needed to meet and if the rumors were true, he almost got signed to T.I’s Grand Hustle. We were happy for him but when he came back, we didn’t embrace him as much. He had a few good records out because Bamboo can rap his a** off but something was just different. We had known Bamboo for using Swahili in his raps a lot but the time he got back he was using English in his music. Probably just to keep that open channel of communication between him and the friends he had made abroad that had acknowledged his talent or maybe it’s because he was also just trying to make sure his music is understood by more people. The fans he had also possibly gained in the diaspora. Boy isn’t the Kenyan crowd a hard one to crack. Introduce them to something new and if they don’t like it, that’s just the end of you. Guys, especially Kenyan consumers, I feel, are scared of change… scared of new concepts. Anything they don’t understand they will trash but I guess, to a certain extent, that’s possibly how people are everywhere, right? It’s almost as if there had been a rift created between him and the fans just because of the language. He was still as skilled and his delivery was on point but he belonged to them now.
Maybe the average Kenyan fan mindset was still set on the “old” Bamboo or the only “real” Hip Hop they knew was where the music was laced with slang references and songs that told the stories about the struggle in the hood not a Kenyan rapper talking about coming from Inglewood in California.
Bamboo’s personal life was also filled with controversy, at the time. From him saying that he had turned over a new leaf and represented Jesus and God alone, him talking about being approached by the Illuminati; lured in by his ex-girlfriend who had tried to make him a part of the secret society, him being spotted at clubs having drinks most staunch Christians would say God does not approve of to him finally backsliding and releasing a couple tracks here and there only to get saved again and then finally getting to the point where, when he was asked if he was saved again he said that he still loves to have a good time. I don’t know what that meant but that’s not really my concern. His relationship with the Lord is his alone and dealing with all the pressure while in the limelight can’t be easy for any human being. So I gave/give him a pass because like I said, Bamboo can rap really well.
Bamboo is, in my book, one of the people who paved way for urban rappers. By urban I mean rappers who probably have an accent and predominantly choose to use English in their music due to one reason or the other. He may not be celebrated for what he has done for the game but being able to influence an entire movement is a tick in my book.
The timing of his comeback with a different style could have been all wrong but if you’re going to bring change you can’t wait for all your chips to align because sadly, you might wait forever.
We haven’t really heard much from the Bamboo music camp and maybe he decided to give that a rest but I don’t think that should erase the stuff he has already done and maybe he should move on to mentoring the rappers coming out… There are so many ways to be in music without necessarily being the person behind the microphone.
Taking a look at Nyashinski…
He was also part of a crew. Who doesn’t remember Kleptomaniax? If nothing else, you remember or know the record “Tuendelee”. It was such a massive hit and always played on Mizizi on KBC (remember that show?). The trio of Collo, Nyashinski and Roba really made waves and inspired a lot of rappers to keep doing their thing and to express themselves the best way they know how.
But at the peak of their careers, Nyashinski left for the US of A. Nobody knew how long he was gonna be there for or if he would ever return to Kenyan soil to make more music. He didn’t completely fall off though. His SoundCloud stayed active with releases from him where he showed why he was still a great rapper. There wasn’t much talk about him in mainstream media up until earlier this year when Nameless released a song titled Letigo featuring the one and only Nyashinski. This track was met with a lot of mixed reactions. Nyashinski had been away for so long and we (those who closely followed his career) all knew him for bars and bars alone. So who was this Nyashinski that sings? I don’t think I’m quite familiar with this “new” Shinski. Nonetheless, it pushed him back into the media’s hungry eyes and blogs all over were buzzing with the news that Nyashinski was back, supported, of course, by radio and TV stations constantly hyping up his return. This one was quickly followed by his solo record, “Now You Know”, a track where he spoke about being away, speaking boldly about Kenyan fans and their lack of respect for the pioneers of Kenyan music but at the same time acknowledging the fans love for him. Many Kenyans embraced this record, fans went even crazier for Nyashinksi and finally they had their guy back. This was followed by a feature on Coke Studio Africa and his latest release, Mungu Pekee. While I have a lot to say about both of these things, I’m gonna stick to the topic and maybe I’ll save all that juice for another story.
As I was having this discussion about Nyashinski’s (successful) return against Bamboo’s, someone told me that the reason he probably was accepted is because he still sounds like one of us but sonically his sound is of international standards. Do you get what I mean? Kenyan fans want to feel like they are part of an artists’ success… Simply put, see how an entire village would be proud of the first person that gets into college in Nairobi from there and even when he goes back home for the holidays you can tell that he has seen a lot more than those who are stuck in the village but he hasn’t really picked up the “Nairobi lifestyle”. That’s the best example to explain this Nyashinski situation.
He also came back at a time where more people are advocating for Kenyan music on the radio. There’s already a bill that says there should be 60% local content on the media and we feel the pressure with the progress that other African countries such as Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and more are making so whoever is ready to stand up for us and represent us on a global scale like that, we’re going to embrace them. Also, guys had really missed him so it was easy to take him back. He’s currently working on his debut solo album so I really cannot wait to hear what other singles he’ll release and what the entire project will sound like.
My question is, had Bamboo made his comeback now, would his be just as successful as Nyashinski’s?