A youngin’ befuddles a gaggle of suits on a scorching afternoon in the heart of Westlands. “This is the way things are going to be in the future.” Drill has nothing on Gengetone. Listen! Pay attention to the flow and the lyrics. Sikiza hio beat, sikiza hio beat, sikiza hio beat, He said, scrolling through films of Kenyan drillers, “Imeweza.” He occasionally circled back to British and American drillers for reference, not forgetting to do a humble brag by playing his new record, which he hoped would become a success someday, to underline his point – that drill was taking over the world. After then, there was a long monologue. As the streets would say, we were being schooled.
One thing was evident as the young guy left the Westlands office for his home in Kayole: he was part of a hungry and tenacious generation willing to risk everything. He, like many of his friends, isn’t hesitant to play with sound, weaving it to express their truth in the best manner they know how, burdened down by unemployment, crime, and corruption.
Another genre has arrived, underlining the notion that, as long as the Kenyan music scene has weathered the test of time, there is still room to improvise and innovate.
Hip hop imitators emerged in the shape of Kapuka in the 1990s, Genge in the 2000s, and somewhere in between, an Apocrypha of sorts to be forgotten as Nigeria’s Afrobeats and Bongo Flavour ruled the dance floors and matatus.
That is, until 2017, when a blossoming genre of boisterous music came to the rescue, reclaiming space in the charts for Kenyan music and quenching the ever-hungry Nairobi party scene. This is how Gengetone got his start, thanks to the #PlayKeMusic craze.
The new sound was a rebirth of sorts, considering its mass popularity, and was defined by an on-your-face ratchetness characterized by vulgar lyrics, bawdy music videos, and unusual beats.
However, it appeared that the creative toy bug had infected numerous groups at the same time.
Another new sound was creeping into the airways as Kenyans wrapped their heads around the frightening tune, Drill. The genre’s practitioners are thought to have resorted to such camouflaging antics in pursuit of anonymity from law enforcement agencies, rival gangs, and disapproving family, as defined by its upbeat and distinctive sense of style featuring masks and balaclavas – and no, this isn’t part of the Covid-19 protocols.
Drill, like Gengetone, is a cauldron of energy and socially conscious lyrics expressed in Sheng, frequently making brazen observations on current events such as politics, sex, and money.
Drill’s exuberant mood is a blend of Trap and Gengetone, and if one doesn’t have a strong ear for music, one is certain to confuse one for the other thanks to the new standard template of plain yet raw videos and nasty lyrics. The distinctions between the two sounds are blurring more and more.
Drill’s gang-culture-inspired content and props can be traced back to Chicago’s crime-ridden South Side in the early 2010s. Drill is a type of hip hop that is defined by dark, dominant beats, violent lyrical material, deadpan delivery, and is frequently associated with gangs. Chicago-born rapper Chief Keef made international headlines in 2012 with the track ‘I Don’t Like.’
Drill, on the other hand, can be traced back to Chicago street rapper Pac Man’s song “It’s a Drill Man.”
PIn the year 2010, Pac Man was killed.
Drill’s global hallmark has become the epitome of the harsh truths of a violent existence in the ghetto, brandishing weapons and knives while overtly engaging in drink and narcotics while making deadly comments and shout-outs to gangs. Drill has a burgeoning following, earning a place in socio-political discussions while some of its high-profile musicians have come under police scrutiny. With its proponents enjoying a palpable camaraderie regardless of where they are in the world – possibly necessitated by their shared struggles – Drill has a burgeoning following, earning a place in socio-political discussions while some of its high-profile musicians have come under police radar.
Drill, whose slang means’shooting’ in hip hop slang, has its roots in Al Capone, the quintessential gangster who led The Outfit, a criminal syndicate that specialized in gambling, prostitution, pornography, money laundering, racketeering, loan sharking, and drug and alcohol distribution in Chicago’s South Side.
Kenyan drillers have historicized the disgusting and horrific violence they continue to experience in their everyday lives, true to the entirety of the culture: the dances, mentality, and language soaked in violence. Take, for example, Wakadinali’s song Nyara Nyara from their album Victims of Madness, which is about violence and police brutality in the hood:
“At the very least, Mr., try jo kubehave staki damu imwagikie my linen t-shirt Naskia mnanitafuta huh, mpaka mnatifuta kwa duka Stepper me hukanyaga kubwa/Ukikuja sana perhaps utakulwa”
It’s no different in Buruklyn Boys’ Nairobi, the self-proclaimed kings of Drill in Kenya, noted for their cocksure cadence combined with the UK’s frenzied sound.
“In case hawa manabling wanadai smoke Nipate Juu ya shash napiga moshi huyu bro akinicross namgeuza fossil, tuko strap na makoro.”
Natty, a member of the G-TA (Githurai Town Anarchy) crew, is also recognized for his dark and biting songs about crime and murder. What the Kenyan Drillers are doing, however, is not unusual.
Hip hop has long been linked with frank truth telling, and Kenyan hip hoppers like Ukoo Flani, the liberationist rappers who came to renown for their fiery opinions on numerous social issues, were no exception. Ukoo Flani became the voice of Dandora in the late 1990s, bringing attention to underprivileged and ignored communities.
And, like Ukoo Flani, today’s Drillers employ Sheng for their poetry.
But there are parallels that go beyond language.
Wakadinali is a politically minded rap group that was created in 2003. Scar, Domani, and SewerSydaa are known for their famous song Kuna Siku Youths Wataungana, which was released in 2020 and calls on the youth to speak up and act against political injustice. The trio, which has dominated the underground hip hop industry for almost a decade, has recently taken a liking to the Drill sound. Wakadinali could not have chosen a better time to be noticed, perhaps as a plan for capturing the present Zeitgeist.
Many people’s first reaction is to call the new music every obscenity in the book. However, because music often replicates society, the new generation rappers serve as a reminder of the problematic world we live in. As a result, the exploitation of women in Gengetone and the violent themes in Drill allude to the current situation of Kenya, where misogyny, drug and alcohol abuse, teen pregnancies, and violence are all too widespread.
While Drill and Gengetone may not be able to solve the problems that plague our times, they will surely go down in history as part of the catalysts for change or creative spokesmen for our period.
These purveyors of a revolution cloaked in lewdness are taking representation into their own hands, armed with phones and internet access. The mash-up of unstaged videos containing everything that’s hip right now and the yearning to be heard has rocketed many to fame, starting viable careers while also spawning an altogether new form of artistic story. Drill, like Gengetone, may or may not find traction in Kenya’s mainstream music. However, there is no disputing that a type of revolt is brewing.