Sunday, February 17, 2013

Rabbit: King of Kenyan Hip Hop?

PHOTO | NATION  PHOTO | NATION

By BONIFACE MWALII

Why do you call yourself Rabbit?

When I was a kid I used to rear rabbits in our home in Nairobi’s Maringo estate. My friends in the hood would really make fun of me and I would get so pissed when they called me ‘Sunguch’ (slang for ‘Rabbit) but when I got to high school I decided to own the name to water down the teasing.

How was it like for you growing up?

I was always chasing paper. Still doing; although it’s on another level now. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial zeal. Whether it’s selling second hand clothes from Gikomba or music CDs to matatu operators, I was always trying to get it.

I even had a stint as a weed pusher in high school when I dated a rich girl whose dad was some big shot drug dealer. She didn’t even know what it was he dealt in so when I discovered it was weed, I convinced her to supply me some. She believed it was medicinal.

Her dad was eventually busted on national TV though and that marked the end of my stint in the drug business. Surprisingly though, I’ve never smoked anything in my life. I also do not drink alcohol.

Explain the transition from a ‘farmer’ to an MC.

There was a lot of hip hop going round in our school at Eastleigh Secondary so I would organise rap battles and charge my schoolmates to come watch. I was a prefect so I managed to keep it all undercover. At home, my older brother used to rap and would participate in jam sessions at F2 under the stage name Nutcase in a group called Wicked MCs. It was this combination that lured me into eventually becoming a rapper.

When did you make your first step towards becoming a fulltime artiste?

After watching my bro and his pal’s for a while, I figured I could also try my hand at this so I nicked one of his rhyme books and started jotting down some lines whenever I got the chance. I actually wrote all the songs in my first album in that book. I was very secretive though. No one even knew I was writing songs or even aspiring to be a rapper.

So what brought you ‘out of the closet’ so to speak?

I had promised myself that if I was going to do this, I was going to do it professionally, so all through high school I was trying to find the right group to join or a studio to record but I didn’t have much success.

Eventually I convinced my brother to hook me up with one of the guys in his crew by the name Wonder, who had just set up Duplex studio. That didn’t work out because he kept ducking me so I had to find an alternative. I decided to design T-shirts which I would sell to make money to pay for studio time.

Did you experience any challenges starting out?

Definitely. Money was a challenge of course so I had to do side businesses like graphic design to fund my music ambitions. My family was also not supportive of my music at first because I was considered somewhat smart so my mum had always hoped I would go to the university and get a “real” job. However I managed to turn all this around and use it to my advantage.

How?

Well, to start with it was my design skills which led me to meet with Dj Loop of Sneed Entertainment who introduced me to the likes of Chiwawa and Abbas and eventually jump started my career. I actually worked at Dj Loop’s studio for a year as a designer and no one knew I was a rapper. I would record myself when there was no one at the studio then I presented my fully recorded album to Dj Loop to master. He was naturally shocked but I guess he also took me seriously after that.

It was from those recordings that my first single, ‘Niko kwa Jam Nakam’ resulted. As for school, I was admitted to study some agricultural course in Moi University but I turned it down and convinced my mum to enroll me for an accounting course in a private institution. That was my fall back plan and my mum was okay with it.

You have come a long way from a “hustler” to the polished image you present today, how have things changed for you?

To quote the Bible, when I was a child, I spoke like a child, thought like a child, and reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up my childish ways. I’m still the same me but I have to show some growth and maturity. I dress and act differently depending on who I’m interacting with.

Of course I also make more money nowadays. Before I would accept even Sh10,000 or less for a show but nowadays I don’t take anything less than Sh80,000. It’s about standards.

So does that mean you’re going to start rapping in English one of these days?

No, man. Swahili is my niche. It’s funny though, I used to hate Swahili. In high school I used to excel in all subjects but fail Swahili so badly that my teacher would skip me when the rest of my classmates took turns reading the set books in class. I was even called to the staffroom about it after which I was so embarrassed that I went and read any Swahili book I could lay my hands on even if it wasn’t in our curriculum. I was the top student in Swahili that term. I have never looked back.

There’s a lot more Kenyan hip hop on the mainstream nowadays, what your take on that?

I think it’s great for the industry. When you have someone like me doing poetic hip hop and the likes of Octopizzo and Camp Mulla doing their thing it’s definitely a positive sign. It’s beautiful and it shows that there’s growth and diversity in our industry.

Speaking of which, there have been murmurs that all is not well between you and Octopizzo…

I heard a lot of that last year. People, especially in the media always placed us against one another when in reality we are the best of friends. We share a colourful history from back when we were hustling our CDs in the streets and trying to get our music on radio. We always are there for each other and we have in fact, we’ve done a song together which should be released sometime after the elections.

Who else would you wish to work with in the industry?

Someone once told me that I should not depend on established artistes to grow my name and instead grow on my own. At the time it sounded selfish but over the years I have come to see the truth in this. When you grow on your own, you grow with a loyal fan base that will always believe and support you as opposed to a known act whose fans will probably forget you in a blip.

What do you have cooking for 2013?
I’m about to sign a two and half-year deal with an upcoming management label in Tanzania. It’s pretty sweet. They’re giving me a house in Tanzania and offering me good money. Plus I get to work with a lot of Tanzanian artistes whom I have always admired. Technically, it will make me an international artiste.

But that doesn’t mean I’m quitting on my Kenyan fan base. I’ll be doing shows in Kenya at least twice a month. I also have a tour coming up and a poetry gig dubbed “Tubonge” that I’ll be doing in colleges and universities around the country.

What about in your personal life?
I don’t like airing my linen in public that’s why I never go for events with her. If she insists I bring her photos.