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The Continuing Rise and Influence of East African Drill Music and Culture

The Continuing Rise and Influence of East African Drill Music and Culture

Drill - East Africa - Music and Culture - Afrocritik

In East Africa, Drill Rap has established itself as a dominant strain of the region’s Hip Hop, with rappers in the different East African countries adopting this trap-inflected type of street music.

By Frank Njugi 

Drill Rap, a genre of music characterised by gritty and uncompromising descriptions of violence in urban street life, has grown phenomenally in popularity in the past decade, influencing the music sounds of major cities around the world. Originating in the South side of Chicago, US in the early 2010s — and conceptualised as a genre to voice out the daily ordeals of life in vicious and crime-ridden inner cities — the drill sound has spread to become a staple in the popular mainstream music of other cities such as New York, London, UK, Sydney, Australia and also Kumasi.  But beyond these mainstream cities, other city dwellers are also embracing the Drill sound and the culture that surrounds it — as the genre acts reveal their not-so-ideal realities in a gut-wrenching yet true-to-life way.

In East Africa, Drill Rap has established itself as a dominant strain of the region’s Hip Hop, with rappers in different East African countries adopting this trap-inflected type of street music. The East African Drill rappers have become known for singing about the realities of growing up in tough and constraining environments — especially in and around Nairobi and Mombasa in Kenya, Kigali in Rwanda, Dar es Salaam in Tanzania,  Bujumbura in Burundi, and also within the South Sudanese diaspora communities.

KENYA

In 2023, Kenyan Sheng Drill Rap became the most successful of Kenyan music genres. According to streaming and media service providers  — such as Boomplay, Spotify, Apple Music and Youtube — the most streamed Kenyan artistes were Sheng Drill Rap and Hip Hop group Wakadinali. The trio comprises Scar Mkadinali, Domani Munga and SewerSydaa, and are credited for popularising the Kenyan iteration of Drill Music with the release of their 2019 single “Morio Anzenza”. Alongside them, the duo of fellow Eastlands, Nairobi-based rappers, Mr Right and Ajay, popularly known as Buruklyn Boyz, are credited for further bringing into vogue Kenyan Drill music with their 2019 debut single, “Durag na Slice”, and their first commercial successful track, 2020’s “Nairobi”.

The two groups introduced the normative Kenyan Drill music, characterised by rappers flowing in Sheng, with beats inclined to off-kilter 808s to deliver uniquely Kenyan Drill songs. Through their music, the Kenyan Drill sound can be distinguished by its fast beats, the emphasis on catchy melodies, and a monotonous lyrical delivery similar to the  UK Drill sound. Wakadinali and Buruklyn Boyz have subsequently influenced other Nairobi-based rappers such as Kibera’s Big Yasa and Wakuu Music, Natty from the GTA crew, and Davaji, to take up the genre.

Beyond Nairobi, in Kenya’s other major city, Mombasa, the Drill sound has found its footing through the Majengo-based Double Trouble, a duo comprising of brothers Beneh and Trouble Too Real. Their iteration of Drill music — Mombasa Drill — borrows heavily from Bongo Rap in terms of using local melodies and Swahili lyricism. It varies from the Nairobi sound due to the knack for drum machine beats. Some of their hit songs so far include “Richy”, “Ngwata”, “Smoke”, “Hainaga Error” and “Bad Boyz Club” which features Buruklyn Boyz and Big Yasa.

TANZANIA

Tanzanian Drill music or Bongo Drill is in its infancy. Recently, inspired by their Kenyan counterparts in the North, Tanzanian rappers have started embracing the Drill sound. On August 2023, Mbeya artiste, Msamiati, who is mostly known for his Electronic music, alongside well-known rappers Conboi Cannabino and Joh Makini, released the single, “Tumeondoka”, a song that became the blueprint for Bongo Drill, with its belligerent delivery of Swahili lyrics over beats with ripping Hi-Hats.

Two months earlier, in June 2023, Kinondoni, Dar es Salaam-based record label, Kiri Records,  released a Drill Rap song called “Level Up” featuring some of its signed artistes. The song made waves in the region and subsequently signified the rise of Tanzania’s iteration of the Drill sound. Other Tanzanian rappers who have in recent months become ambassadors of the new Bongo Drill sound include Sanja Kong, Farao Poppy, and Slim Dgaf.

RWANDA 

Across the border from Tanzania, in Rwanda, Drill music exists in the form of KinyaTrap — a genre of Rwandan Hip-Hop that popped up during the same period as Kenyan Drill. KinyaTrap combines elements of Chicago Trap, UK’s Grime Rap and Brooklyn Drill, with Afro-Pop rhythms. The delivery of the lyrics in KinyaTrap songs is usually multilingual as the artistes use  Kinyarwanda, Swahili, French and English in intervals.  

The most famous of KinyaTrap artistes so far is Ish Kevin, whose two songs “No Cap” and “Amakosi”, both released in 2021, have been considered among the best Drill songs to come from the East African region. Other KinyaTrap artistes who have gained massive popularity in the past four years include Bushali — who is considered the founder of the genre – B-Threy, Kenny K-Shot, and others.

BURUNDI

Similar to Bongo Drill, Burundi Drill music is in its infancy as well. On March 2023, Bujumbura producer, KdaGr8test, birthed the Burundi Drill sound by bringing together the trio of young rappers, Rack, TreyZo, and RappyBoy, to create an original Burundian Drill track called “Isosi”.  The song exhibited a synth brass and thudding snare drum patterns which were combined with the use of sounds from traditional Burundian instruments such as the Umuduri. 

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A month later, in April 2023, a group of young Burundian rappers — taking cues from the success of Drill music collectives from other countries such as UK’s Harlem Spartans, Australia’s Onefour and Kenya’s Wakadinali — came together and released a Burundian Drill song called “Isinamu Gang” under the banner of Isinamu Gang Entertainment, a song that led to Hip Hop aficionados in the region taking notice of the new unique sound in Burundian Hip-Hop. 

SOUTH SUDAN 

The foremost purveyors of the South Sudanese Drill sound are first-generation South Sudanese immigrant rappers based outside of the country. In Australia, for example, the Brisbane-based rapper, Nookii, is most famous for his 2020 song “SBG freestyle” which went viral for its hook, “She asked me if I’m gansta, or just another Sudanese”, and its beats which mirrored Brooklyn Drill’s 808 percussions over slightly manipulated vocals.

In Kenya, Nairobi-based South Sudanese Dark Trap artiste, Iduzeer  — who is probably the most famous of all South Sudanese Hop Hop artistes currently — is at the forefront of spotlighting the South Sudanese Drill sound. In recent times, he has collaborated with Kenyan Drill and Hip-Hop acts such as Wakadinali, Buruklyn Boyz and Khaligraph Jones, releasing hit songs such as “Mahorns”, “Kimo” and “Terror” respectively.

While writing for Vulture, Journalist Cammile Squires writes of how there is an unflinching sense of desperation reflected in Drill music and culture. How like all of Hip-Hop, it is a culture born of suffering and a desire to alchemise the pain. From Kigali to Nairobi, Mombasa, Dar es Salaam, Bujumbura and other East African cities, there seems to exist this need for ‘alchemisation’, and rappers in these cities are using this hyper-violent variant of Hip-Hop,  even in Mogadishu, where Somali Stars Worldwide released the song “Beenta Iyo buuqa- First Drill Rap In Somali” in 2021.

In Nairobi, playing Wakadinali tracks has become a staple. In Kigali, Ish Kevin’s music is a mainstay in radio and television playlists, similar to Iduzeer’s songs in Juba, South Sudan. East African Drill Rap now exists to soundtrack the experiences of youths in East African urban areas.

Frank Njugi is a Kenyan Writer, Culture journalist and Critic who has written on the Kenyan and East African culture scene for platforms such as Debunk Media, Sinema Focus, Wakilisha Africa, The Moveee, Africa in Dialogue, Afrocritik and many others. He tweets as @franknjugi.

Artistes on Cover Photo: Top left to Bottom right – conboi cannabino, Iduzeer, Wakadinali, Double Trouble, Ish Kelvin, Burukyln Boyz, Davaji.

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