Wangechi on the risk and reward of changeReading Time: 3 minutes
Six years after Wangechi first appeared on the music scene, she has morphed in and out of various spaces. With collaborations ranging from Rabbit, Karun to Blinky Bill, she has left behind not only a sparkle of a clean delivery but indelible marks too. A watertight conviction that no space is too small or too big for her to fit into. “My [music is] a translation of my chill vibes and need to always stand out from the crowd by exploring alternative rap in an industry that already has a defined Kenyan sound,” Wangechi says.
My music repres ents the different genres that are now available in the developing Nairobi underground scene.
Wangechi’s music takes up its own space. Her ability to go where she needs to, taking advantage of every opportunity is a testament to this. With elements of Hip-hop, Soul, Kapuka and more, her music sits comfortably and undisturbed in the spaces it borrows from. “My music repres ents the different genres that are now available in the developing Nairobi underground scene.”
This suitably places her in a position where she can suture segments of the past and future sounds of Nairobi. She is shaping the Hip-Hop culture in Kenya. Wangechi’s Collab with Scar, Sana Sana debuted at number 5 on The Jump Off Top Five charts on the second week of January. It shot to number 1 when the visuals were released on February staying on top for 7 straight weeks. It has maintained in the top 5 charts until the fourth week of May 2019.
Rebirth and reinvention
But being this dynamic requires one to keep changing too. Wangechi details the process of her rebirths on episode 12 of Adelle Onyango’s podcast, Legally Clueless. From a little-known rapper to something as validating as working with Ne-Yo on Coke Studio, life has been a thrill. However, it hasn’t always been easy or lucky. Wangechi says that her journey so far “has been one of great ups and necessary downs. Bad moments have also been there in plenty.”
She is involved in each step of the process with the right amount of inherent headstrong quality and an almost urgent approach to each activity.
Listening to the podcast, we see how the oft-devastating details of Wangechi’s musical career were circumnavigated with bravery that almost seems naïve, especially where millions were at stake. Nonetheless, without the great storms her wins would be a lot less so. Take for example having to leave her label in 2017 after a series of mishaps.
Here, there is a common motif to Wangechi’s activity: risk. She appears to thrive in taking risks: with little regard for safety nets by plunging in headfirst. This is seemingly contradictory to the painstaking detailing and planning that is evident in her work.
Ranging from the artwork and projects to the calculations for well-timed release dates, everything is in perfect balance. She is involved in each step of the process with the right amount of inherent headstrong quality and an almost urgent approach to each activity. Seeing projects through must be a reward in and of itself when it pays off. When asked about a most rewarding moment as a musician, Wangechi says: “The most rewarding thing musically is when a fan approaches me and tells me how my music has affected their lives and how it makes them feel. Fan feedback is always a good vibe.”
Remember why you are doing this
There is certain selflessness to it all. Of her hopes, Wangechi says that she’d like to “see more female rappers coming up from Nairobi and Africa as a whole: getting the same audience reception as they do in other parts of the world such as the US & UK.” She also wishes to “inspire a future generation of female rappers to create more and create what they feel defines them the best.”
Documentation of her growth in the intervening period is exhibited clearly. So far it is clear that there’s a bigger picture to all of this. The continuity between her first mixtape, Chakula ya Soul, and Don’t Consume if Seal is Broken is not random. “I fear to lose my motivation to create alternative rap music and falling into a more accepted sound.” It is this ability to constantly keep being reborn that resides at the core of Wangechi’s tenacity.
So, how does Wangechi maintain her presence with all the arduous changes that have become part of the process?
“I have to remind myself why I’m doing this,” Wangechi says, “and what I want to get out of it.”
This piece was written by our first Guest writer, Michelle K. Angwenyi. She is a writer from Nairobi, Kenya. Her writing has appeared in Popula, Jalada, SSDA’s ID anthology, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter @mkangwenyi