When it comes to Kenyan Hip Hop, Jua Cali will always remain relevant. Forget Khaligraph and his accented flow; do away with Octopizzo and his flossing vybe. Jua Cali mastered all the aspects of the game. Well, at least the ones that mattered.
While Kalamashaka are credited as the founders of hip hop in Kenya, and rightly so I should add, Jua Cali played the largest part in its popularity. K Shaka and the likes of Ukoo Flani, though more skilled in rap the art were conscious rappers and for all their political rhymes, never quite broke out into the mainstream.
The advent of Genge, a collaborative effort of Clemo and Jua Cali, was the stimulus package that Kenyan hip hop needed. Genge came up the same way G-Funk did – a gamble that paid off. Buoyed by hits like ‘Ruka’ and ‘Nipe Asali, Genge ruled the airwaves. Calif signed more artistes and Nonini’s ‘Manzi Wa Nairobi’ propelled him to the pedestal of hip hop godfather. Herbo went on to release mega hits like ‘Weh Kamu’ and ‘Keroro’ and for a time, it seemed Genge was unstoppable…. remember Death Row?
Nonini signed to Homeboyz Production and consequently fell out of favour with the ‘doctor’ of Genge, producer, Clemo.
Jua Cali kept at it, and you’ll remember the 2000’s when his face was plastered across all matatus bearing mantras like ‘Bidii Yangu’ and the like. He kept the crowds mesmerized with hit after hit. Whether it was a solo or a collaborative effort, Jua Cali was sure to deliver. Case in point; ‘Nyundo’ with Flexx, ‘Kamata Dem’ with PiliPili and the massive hit ‘Kwaheri’ with Sanaipei. Later tracks like ‘Kiasi’, ‘Bidii Yangu’ and ‘Ngeli Ya Genge’ also received major airplay, though by then Genge was slowly losing its flavour.
Jua Cali has been named in the lineup of Coke Studio season 8 and I cannot wait to see what he will bring to the table.
While he has branched off to a more upbeat tune with his new producer Keggah, he has still held on to his earlier flow which endeared him to his many fans. Jua Cali gave Kenyan hip hop an identity. Genge was our own. Nobody could take that from us. The new kids on the block are just poor shadows of American hip hop. Originality is moot.
That is why I think Coke Studio played their cards right by picking Jua Cali. He is the most fitting ambassador for hip hop in Kenya.
That said, I do wish he would unleash new stuff, don’t you?