Hip hop music has been popular among local youth in Rwanda since the early 1980s due to widespread American influence.
Many Rwandan mainstream artists blend rap with ragga, R&B and dance-pop. In fact some artists generally classified as Rwandan Hip hop may not have much to do with hip hop in its strict sense.
Local hip-hop musicians imitated the dressing style of the West. Male artists wear oversized clothes with heavy necklaces hanging along on their necks and huge fingerings. While as their sister vocalists wear extremely tight clothes or go almost half naked, all in the name of fame.
The beginning of hip-hop in Rwanda was so fast," transplanting the original styles from the westernized world to Africa.
Rwandans have thus embraced hip-hop and made it their own. And today, Rwandan hip-hop is spreading like wild fire. Most of the local vocalists bridge the gap between local ((Kinyarwanda) and foreign languages (Swahili, English and in French) to ensure that both audiences are entertained and informed.
The first major hip hop hit came in early 1980s by most prominent figure in the early Rwandan scene, DJ Berry (Nsabimana Abdul Aziz), who was a DJ for Kigali Night and Cosmos and a presenter for Radio Rwanda, in addition to being an early rapper and break-dancer.
However, the ‘then environment’ never allowed the hip hop to blossom, and DJ Berry was forced into exile in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), where he continued performing.
The DJ later moved on to Germany and recorded his single "Hey You", which became a hit on both Rwandan and Ugandan radio stations. After returning to Africa in 1990, Berry continued to promote hip hop in Rwanda until he died of Aids in 1996.
Into the new millennium, many new groups and solo artists have emerged and the music scene diversified. There are plenty of artists who are well known in Rwanda for there styles and methods of hip hop: Rafiki, Dr. Claude, KGB, Miss JoJo, Miss Allay, and the Trinity, among others, and are set to send the local music industry to the international level.
Most artists affiliate themselves with a production house which serves the same function as a record company.
The music industry continues to grow with different production houses developing distinguishing sounds. And the most popular ones in the country include: Narrow Road Production and JP Production and among others.
In this context therefore, production and consumption are closely connected and symbiotic (much more than other mainstream international music) in the sense that producers emphasize the importance of local politics and culture rather than simply striving for profit maximization.
Although, the motive of production seems to highlight local culture and community, Rwandan hip hop generally battles the more individualistic forces of technology.
Technology, more specifically the internet, is a vehicle for growth and enrichment of the principles of hip hop and local indigenous culture and community. Even though the internet clearly advocates for the globalization of hip hop culture, the internet itself can serve as a sort of‘Americanization’.
Keeping this in mind, many local Rwandan artists are essentially forced to jump on the technological bandwagon in order to compete with the world’s most celebrated musicians, the likes of Akon and Chris Brown.
Furthermore, the production of hip hop in Kigali is all about taking the original form of hip hop songs and lyrics and introduces it to a more local version that can relate to the audience. They are actively and tangibly taking commoditized music, putting it on a turntable and reinserting their changes on its form.
Most Rwandans are now convinced that hip hop scene is increasing in the country and that, it is constantly working towards producing Rwandan rap.
Rwandan hip hop is not only produced in the country but it is also produced in other countries like Kenya, Tanzania, and in South Africa.
Some of these musicians have certainly achieved their dreams to perform and rub shoulders with some of the most celebrated musicians in the world.
For example, Rafiki was recently invited to perform in Jamaica, where he obtained himself a chance to meet with the world’s king of hip hop, Shaggy. And also not so long; Rwandans saw Miss JoJo performing on the same stage with the Princess of Africa, Yvonne Chaka Chaka.
Continuing a now common hip hop trend worldwide, is the creation of fashion made for Rwandans who love hip hop fashion designers. The leading brand among our local artists is Miss Allay, who has occasionally identifies herself in Shakira or Beyonce outfit styles.
Other notable Rwandan hip hop fashion brands include DMX, whose T-shirts and necklaces are more of those worn by 50 Cent or Nelly.