Kenyans are mad that South African rapper Cassper Nyovest couldn’t name three Kenyan artists but why?
“Name three Kenyan artists off the top of your head,” I asked Cassper Nyovest while conducting a telephonic interview with him last Saturday. “I don’t know who is popping in Kenya right now. I have to really, really look into it,” he answered, “The last time I was really into anyone there was Camp Mulla.”
That statement got Kenyan hip hop fans going wild, many of them wondering just how popular their favorite Kenyan artist is. Someone even commented that we let him off too easy but here’s the thing, why should he know Kenyan artists? Let me explain.
At 26, Cassper is, at least that’s what he said, the highest earning hip hop artist of all time in South Africa. As of 5 months ago, he was worth R15 million which is an equivalent of about 1 million USD. Earlier this year he bought and moved into a house worth R10 million ($712, 251). He’s achieved all this after quitting school at 16 to focus on his career as a hip hop artist. Cassper has broken the mould and has changed the way people view or think of South African hip hop.
In 2015, Cassper made history in South Africa as the first ‘local’ artist to fill the dome with 20,000 people, a fete that had only been achieved by American acts before that. He’s making all these moves as an independent artist, under his label Family Tree. As successful as he seems, Cassper has faced real adversities when it comes to getting his music played on local radio. In fact, on one of his songs he talks about record labels in South Africa getting his music off the radio and blocking his You Tube channel for a while. Mind you all this is happening when South Africa has a law that states it’s compulsory to play 90% local music. In fact, I have compared Cassper Nyovest’s struggles to a Kenyan rapper’s but the difference is, Cassper has figured out how the system works and found a way to beat it.
Now back to the topic, why are we mad that he couldn’t name any 3 random Kenyan artists? In my opinion, being a superstar is more than just making and releasing music. Many artists complain that the “media doesn’t really support” but that’s an argument I have come to realize is very partial. On one hand, the media demands for quality production and insist that they only play what is good and what has been availed to them. On the other hand, artists on the come up insist that they are just as good, if not better, than the overplayed ‘mainstream’ artist. Understand that Cassper was and to a certain extent, still is in the same situation as you who’s complaining about lack of support from the media. He realized his music wasn’t getting played on the radio and they were treated as lesser artists whenever an American was performing in South Africa so he decided to do his own shows to get the music to the people. The only Kenyan artist I know who has brought up a show because of this same problem is Muthoni Drummer Queen. After local radio couldn’t describe what her sound was and they refused to play her music because it wasn’t “Kenyan-like”, she started Blankets and Wine. The business has become so huge that she has now spread into Uganda and Rwanda and more of her music is being heard.
Nigerian music is very popular in Kenya, we know that and so do Nigerian artists. When Yemi Alade released the Johnny video, she embarked on a media tour across radio and TV stations to promote the song which gained her popularity with Kenyans, earning her a repetitive spot on Coke Studio Africa. Vanessa Mdee did the same thing here in 2015 and look at her now. The process of getting some of these Kenyan artists for an interview is so long and strenuous, one wonders who the promo is for. Why the pride?
Vanessa Mdee x Cassper Nyovest
When it comes to hip hop in Africa, South Africa is leading. Personally I haven’t heard of any Kenyan hip hop artist going to Mzanzi for a media tour or even a club show for starters so what are we mad for? Before Nigerian artist Tekno came and performed at Ngong Racecourse this year, he performed at Galileo Lounge last year. He made the first step, tested the waters and then came back for an even bigger show. Regardless of his performance, and I’m not saying don’t bash him if the show was poor, it was still a win on his part. Cassper is gearing up for what could probably be the hugest hip hop concert in the world with 75,000 people in attendance. Even with all his success and him having people to work with and for him, he’s still on the ground personally handing out flyers to the concert to varsities and schools. Think about the most popular Kenyan rapper currently, whoever it is, had they achieved this level of success would they still work as hard/smart? The closest to this was when King Kaka was selling physical copies of his mixtape “It’s The King” in the CBD.
It’s The King cover
Aside from all that, the most important thing, which is the music, is world star level. “From what I’ve observed here in the States, South African artists hold themselves to international standards when it comes to everything; from production to the quality of their videos while maintaining what makes them unique. That’s why AKA or Cassper can come here and be compared to what’s going on here because the quality matches,” explained a Kenyan music critic based in the US.
Making sure your music is heard, played and reaches the channels you want it to is more than just sending an email and expecting miracles to work. We’ve got to stop complaining about our situations and instead be proactive. Sure there’s a lot we’re missing but responding to situations is a far much better approach than complaining about them. Change starts with you; accept the challenge and in the famous words of Kendrick Lamar, “Sit down, be humble.”