Not a long time ago, Hip Hop used to be a taboo in Malawi and it was unacceptable in many households to the point that Malawians once demanded for the removal of Channel O on DStv.
Then, the argument was that Malawi youths were being westernized and this was a threat on culture and lifestyle.
With that mindset, Hip Hop especially from the local scene could barely be heard on radio. MBC Radio 1 and 2 were the only radio stations during this period.
With the coming in of FM 101 Power and Capital Radio, pressure mounted on the two state broadcasters and a room for competition was created.
DJ Dr. Gwynz introduced the first ever Hip Hop radio show on FM 101, “The Hip Hop Drill”.
The show featured underground Hip Hop music from all over the world with a smaller percentage of Malawian Hip Hop, perhaps because there was less material available.
Some of the few rappers that could be heard on Dr. Gwynz’ show were Blantyre based LC Definition, Solo, Comrades, Mo Efx (Barry One, Doxxy and Family) and Tendai (now known as Lomwe), while Lilongwe was being represented by KRT (Dominant One and Family), Cris Mak, X-Calibre, Blind Vision (Jinx and Native K), among others.
During this period, Chatrock was handling almost all the production from the South while Dominant One handled those from the Central.
Although rappers could get airplay, it was still hard to infiltrate the Malawi music industry because the show was coming at night from 22:00hrs to midnight only on Saturdays and the majority of listeners were Hip Hop heads.
MBC Radio 1 and 2 were still reluctant to change; however, Petros Kubwalo managed to introduce a Hip Hop show called “Rap Attack” on Radio 2 FM.
The show had potential but it never had much impact because rappers were never allowed interviews due to the station’s restrictions.
As the saying goes, “when one door closes another one opens”, rappers found solace at Capital FM when Nicole Masauli started hosting “Hip Hop against AIDS”.
The show became popular for its one-on-one interaction, diversity of music and it used to come in the morning around 10:00 am.
The show reached its peak when it hosted a live rap contest at Polytechnic in Blantyre where Prolific emerged victorious. Voice of America (V.O.A) radio presenter Lloyd Murray and Zambian rapper C.R.I.S.I.S were guest judges at this event.
“Hip Hop against AIDS” radio programme gave a break to artists like Chatrock, Nameless, Incyt, Adjust, Gospel and Prolific.
However, the show did not run for long, it was taken off air and Hip Hop fans went back to FM 101’s Hip Hop Drill.
This time around things had changed a bit; Dr. Gwynz was co-hosting The Hip Hop Drill with Kenny Klips and Sprite had also introduced a live radio rap competition on FM 101. After some time, Dr. Gwynz left FM 101 and Kenny Klips took over the show.
Sprite Hip Hop Show was like the foundation and when rappers graduate they would be chilling with the big boys on The Hip Hop Drill. The first Tay Grin song “Break Out” was premiered on this show by DJ Drew. Renegade, Pilgrim and N.I.C also came from this show.
When Klips took over The Drill, he brought a new breed in the name of WUN, Young Kay, Dezert Eagle, Jinx, Devine Sense and Dice.
At this point, MBC was still struggling to have a Hip Hop programme of its own hence it started playing local Hip Hop randomly.
On a positive note, this is when rappers came out with breakthrough songs that changed the game. Real Elements – “These Elements” and “Nyambo”, Basement – “Vimbuza” and “Banyamulenge”, Wisdom Chitedze – “Tipewe”, Physics – “Cholapitsa”, Comrades’ “Africa” and Young Kay – “Anankabango”.
Tay Grin’s “Ndabwela” and “2 by 2”, WUN’s “Mbina” and Kenny Klips’ “Ntofu” also had a huge impact on Malawi music as the biggest local club bangers in the country.
Hip Hop being a competitive genre, beef is never inevitable. Beef may end an artists’ career while others capitalize on it to score points. Lomwe’s “Rumours of War” and “U don’t want it” were instant hits and became beef anthems in Malawi.
Producers Q Malewezi (of Real Elements), Kas Mdoka (of Basement), Tapps, Daredevilz, Dizzo, Sonye and Dominant One came up with mind blowing productions which were creative and distinctive.
Many describe this period as the “Golden Era of Malawian Hip Hop” because radio rap had become interesting and entertaining. This was also the period when Kenny Klips had left FM 101 for Joy Radio and DJ Lomwe had taken over The Hip Hop Drill.
With Kenny Klips and DJ Lomwe secretly at war on who is the best Hip Hop DJ came a diversity of rap music in the country. Both DJs had their own understanding of Hip Hop.
But, they had one thing in common. They were both doing Hip Hop and Breakfast Shows so they would focus on raw/underground Hip Hop on Hip Hop shows while pushing commercial rap on prime time radio.
Hence acts like Basement, Real Elements, Tay Grin, Wisdom Chitedze, Black Squad Affiliates, Third Eye, Genii Blakk, Jolly Bro, Maximum Sentence, Daredevilz, Phyzix, Young Kay and many others could have radio buzz at the same time.
The Hip Hop industry had everybody covered from rappers, producers, DJs, dancers to journalists like Clifton Kawanga, Gregory Gondwe, Kimpho Loka and Sam Banda Jnr.
Both English rappers like Gospel, Incyt, Third Eye and NIC could get airplay and coverage similar to their vernacular counterparts. This also applied to those that do “pure” Hip Hop like L-Planet, Doxxy and Black Mind and those that blend Hip Hop and local elements like Lawi.
The influx of radio stations and rappers becoming DJs also saw the expansion of Hip Hop base. Hip Hop could now be on radio rotation on almost all the radio stations.
The late DJ A.I and rapper/DJ Rina also played a big role in promoting local Hip Hop on Capital FM. Being rappers themselves, they could squeeze in an interview or a profile on a local rapper when they had a chance.
On the other hand, Vida “Lil Vee” Germano had also introduced “Hip Hop for HIV” on FM 101 Power whereas David “Deep Poet” Kapezi and James Gumbwa were co-hosting “Born n Bred” on Radio 2 FM. Both shows made a name for themselves for being active on social media which is now the biggest and fastest media in this generation.
Rapper-cum-journalist, K-Bonnie joined Star Radio and co-hosted “Youth Connection.com” with Yamikani Maganga. The radio station had a good signal reception in the north and this forced Mzuzu-based rappers to follow the local Hip Hop scene.
Consequently, Star Radio received tonnes of music from Mzuzu some of which were from Revolver, Slessor and Gud Fly.
With K-Bonnie’s Lilongwe background, he had easy access to Lilongwe music and little by little rappers like Kwame and Pittie Boys made their way on Blantyre-based radio stations.
This was the genesis of the new era, the Gwamba phenomenon.
When Pittie Boys’ music invaded Blantyre colleges and neighbourhoods, Gwamba decided to pursue a solo career. He started coming to Blantyre to do collaborations with Hypa, Young Kay and Blakjak to familiarise himself with the Blantyre environment.
Soon as he established himself as a full time rapper, he got signed to Mike Chilewe Jnr.’s now defunct Transformers Music, then to Edward Kankhomba’s Prime Time Media before he partnered with Third Eye to form Soul Rebel Entertainment (SRE) which he has just left.
He now has Krazie G and Marste under his wings. The latter has one the biggest songs in the country, “Mwano”, which won the Song of the Year accolade at the UMP Awards 2015 in November.
Currently, Classick of Home Grown African, Mwanache, Sagonjah, Sage Poet, Kananji, E-word, Cash, Trix and producer Rebel Musiq seem to be the breed of Malawi Hip Hop waiting to take over.
Despite not being Hip Hop DJs, Spyda da Ryda, DJ Joy, James Gumbwa, Diktator, DJ Scarpper, DJ Maya, Grevaxio Mota, Anne Kadam’manja, Francis Dule, DJ Crystal and Mike C are doing a good job when it comes to playing local Hip Hop on radio whereby introducing local artists to a wider audience.
Back then, Rap was child’s play but now rappers are getting paid. The corporate world is now open for endorsements, sponsorship, bookings and management companies signing rappers for commercial purposes.
Local Hip Hop producer Gemini Major just got signed to Cassper Nyovest’s Family Tree label in South Africa, which is a sign that Malawi has potential to make it big everywhere.
Nonetheless, when it’s all said and done, having shows like DJ Milatino and Black Mind’s Matindi FM Hip Hop show struggling to make it, the question remains what’s the future of Malawi Hip Hop? How is the new generation going to be groomed when all the relevant Hip Hop radio shows seem to be dying?
Remember, everywhere in the world where Hip Hop is big, every big rapper comes from Hip Hop shows before they make it in mainstream media. It’s only in rare cases where rappers simply breakthrough, most of them who do are habitually wack, Soulja Boy and Iggy Azalea for example.
As many may be aware, Soulja Boy blew up from social media, MySpace, while Iggy Azalea blew up because of corporate imaging.