Diss tracks are just not what they used to be

Diss tracks are an essential part of the creative process for musicians. They keep them sharp and attune to what’s going on in the streets. But the earliest diss records were not hip hop music although rap seems to wear the badge loud and proud. Some of the first diss tracks ever recorded are soul, reggae and rock and roll music.  According to Roctober, 1962s ‘You Keep Her’ by soul singer Joe Tex was a diss intended for the ‘Godfather of Soul’ James Brown after an incident involving Tex’s wife.

These days in a list of the greatest ever diss tracks songs like ‘No Vaseline’ by Ice Cube, ‘Ether’ by Nas and ‘Hit ‘Em Up’ by Tupac Shakur would probably make the cut but for a long time now rap beefs had flown under the radar. Rap beefs and diss tracks seemed like a dinosaur, a relic form days past as a younger audience seemed to be more attracted to the artistry than a musician’s personal or professional drama. In Kenya, one of the few significant diss tracks that charted and made waves happens to be ‘Tuendelee’ by the Kleptomaniax. A song which is over a decade old. By and large, everyone had forgotten that the things existed, notwithstanding that flare up the debate #WhoisKing of Kenya’s Hip Hop caused last year by Juliani’s track ‘Lord Forgive Me’ that name-dropped Khaligraph, Rabbit and Octopizzo.

Femi One’s ‘Pilau Njeri’, although not her best work artistically speakin–Jah, the song she released immediately after was a smoother offering– might have come at an opportune moment. Rap has been a male dominated arena since the genre’s birth. There might have been a few standout female rappers along the way, in the country, the examples are limited. Nazizi and Rat-a-tat–who has seemingly disappeared from the scene might have represented back then but everyone’s fair game.

Femi One mentions a host of other female emcees, who should allegedly up their game including Njeri, Kush Tracey, Noti Flow and Sosuun. The rapper spoke to SDE a while after the video dropped saying, “It goes without saying that they [female rappers] are in slumber land besides lacking consistency. At a time when I am busy recording at the Coke studio and performing at the much hyped Sportpesa event I guess they are still busy doing small competitions like cyphers.” Fellow rapper Njeri was the first to give a musical reply in ‘Conoka’ which was hilarious but decidedly messy.

With the newest emcee being Noti Flow–known for her bisexuality and the sensory assault that is ‘Birthday Cake’—with the surprisingly savage ‘Forehead’ on the scene one does wonder whether all this is necessary. Well, one thing’s for sure, if you didn’t know Femi One before now you do.

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