I was born in Nairobi, Kenya, so my first exposure to hip hop was to the Kenyan derivative of American hip hop. This occurred at a fairly young age - around 8 or 9. Given what I perceived to be its primary audience, the "big kids," hip hop - to me - seemed no more than a cool fad. But contrary to my hypothesis - that interest in hip hop was mainly superficial - the big kids seemed to be enjoying the music for more than just the rapid, barely intelligible speaking, and lack of catchy, easy-to-sing-along-to tunes; the fact that I couldn't determine what this mystery quality was made me feel like an outsider.
Looking at my early experiences with hip hop retrospectively, I'm able to draw more accurate conclusions regarding hip hop's appeal, and its audience. The Kenyan political landscape is characterized by deep corruption and the domination of government by an "old boys" network of politicians. This system is sustained by the continuation of a tradition of disadvantaging and disenfranchising youth. Hip hop then serves as a medium of resistance, and a platform on which issues that affect Kenyan youth can be discussed. Some of these issues include unemployment, police brutality, and AIDS. An example of this resistance and discussion can be seen by a juxtaposition of a Kenyan hip hop video and a traditional Kenyan music video; where traditional artists offer an idyllic image of a "quintessential Africa," hip hop artists will often present images depicting acts of violence against a backdrop of one of Kenya's many slums. So the appeal in hip hop to Kenyan youth is that it presents a reality that's not only ignored, but often actively masked.View image