East African hip hop is finally coming into its own after years of being overshadowed by the West and South (South Africa.). Leading the new wave of raw, independent artists driving the resurgence is Kenyan rapper Steph. The multifaceted newcomer, who has been bubbling under for a cool minute officially announced her arrival with the release of her debut EP titled Change. Featuring contributions from Topher, Uzrr, Wa$hira, BV Accurate, Touri$t, Maingi Muzik and Skartel, the 7-track effort offered an introductory insight to Steph’s artistic growth and influences.
“I’ve been going through so many changes – I think the whole world is actually,” Steph tells Creative-HipHop. “We’re all in a transitory period of some sort. So it was important to portray that in the EP.”
Despite possessing a style that mirrors some of her earliest influences including, Craig David, Vybz Kartel and Beenie Man, Steph’s greatest asset still remains her ability to interpolate different sounds into her music. Her vigorous style-often led by her cultural influences has managed to encapsulate audiences from Kenya and beyond. “I’m a blend of so many cultures, I fit into a number of spaces – so always expect that fusion.”
“My sound is so diverse just solely based on my cultural influences. I am as much of a drill artist as I am an afroswing one. That being said, it’s better for everyone to not try figuring out my style – you never will.”
We caught up with Steph to speak about her debut EP, Kenyan hip hop and how she fits into the new scene.
Our full interview lightly edited for content and clarity can be read below:
CREATIVE: Congratulations on your debut EP.
Step: Thanks, it’s been a long time coming so i’m just glad it’s finally here.
The EP is doing so well which is honestly more than I expected. A lot of new listeners, media houses and promoters are tuning in to my stuff so that’s always appreciated. I think the best bit has to be the Kenyan artists who are reaching out for features and whatnot. I’m really eager to connect with creatives in the country so if this EP continues to provide a platform to do so, I’ll deem it successful.
Why did you choose to name it Change?
This debut project has been in the works for a few years now. During this time, my style, story, artistic influences and context have completely changed. I’ve been going through so many changes – I think the whole world is actually, we’re all in a transitory period of some sort. So it was important to portray that in the EP. From the onset, the genres, vibes, themes – it’s all just one giant mix. All this to say that the only thing you can expect consistently from my music is change – nothing will stay the same and I think it’s exciting to think about because it implies that the artistic possibilities are endless where Steph is concerned.
When did you start working on Change?
3 years ago. I wrote the Nairobi intro around my sophomore year of varsity.
Change is really diverse but which song on the EP would you say best describes your style?
I’d say all of them. My sound is so diverse just solely based on my cultural influences. I am as much of a drill artist as I am an afroswing one. That being said, it’s better for everyone to not try figuring out my style – you never will… I won’t either. Let’s just all enjoy the good music.
What sort of impact does the UK have on your music?
I love black British culture and I grew up consuming an enormous amount of it – but I don’t live in the UK, never have but hopefully will if the time is right. The UK, however, does have a huge impact on my music. I’d argue that it’s had just as much impact on me as Caribbean culture, and that’s because it’s a matter of nurture. My dad and sisters have contributed to 80% of my music taste. I grew up listening to Craig David, Blue, Wiley, Vybz Kartel, Alaine, Beenie Man… so that’s what I know and it shows. I’ve also lived out on an island for a couple of years and completely immersed myself in the art scene there, so there’s an island feel to my tracks as well. I don’t want to give away too much but you can expect French and Dutch rap from my catalogue in the near future too. I’m a blend of so many cultures, I fit into a number of spaces – so always expect that fusion.
Photo credit: Steph
How have you seen the Kenyan rap scene evolve?
I can’t honestly say I have because I wasn’t paying attention. I don’t know too much about music here but I can say I appreciate this recent gengetone wave and feel inspired inspired by the era of Kapuka too. I can speak a little to the underground scene where apparently I fall. That scene is growing stronger by the day. My favorite artists from the pack include $ambo, Malkizy, Kahu$h, E$N, Nah Eeto… there’s so many of us coming up as one solid group of incredibly talented artists and no one’s ready for what we’re bringing to the table. Absolute madness – in a good way.
Where do you see yourself fitting into the new scene?
I see myself connecting the UK and Kenya… I think the blend will be so great. NSG, JHus and Kojo Funds have done it for West Africa, I want to do the same for the East. You can also expect hard hitting bars consistently, which is a breath of fresh air for the mainstream scene here. From what I know, many of the popular tracks are binary – it’s either dope bars or good beats, you don’t get both. There’s a lack of solid lyrical content and the same can be said for the videos put out as well. I want to achieve that holy trinity – wavey tracks, insanely artistic videos to match and clever lyrics as well.
‘Marathon’ is the most talked about track on the EP. Why did you feel this song was necessary?
I am really impacted by the legacy of Nipsey Hussle and this track was a very personal release… a chance for me to say goodbye and show gratitude for what he’s taught so many of us.
With the internet, has breaking out become democratized?
Yes and no. For sure, it’s much easier now to get streams and amass a huge following but it’s not as though this only works for great artists. A lot of shitty, pop culture trend type stuff gets amplified as well, which distracts from all the genuinely great content that’s out there to explore. That’s why people get really upset like ‘Why haven’t you blown yet?’ – that online formula doesn’t work for all great artists. For some, it’s really just going to take old school methods like singing on the subway or a bunch of grimey pubs to get there.
Do you think it’s easier to break through and harder to stay on, or the inverse?
The former. It’ll always be harder to consistently top the charts given rapidly changing times and trends. For the artists that stay relevant throughout, that’s something special. I respect it – because nowadays, niggas attention spans be so messed up, they don’t love you for too long.
African music is growing immensely with the West and South (Africa) ripping the biggest rewards. Why do you think East African artists are not as big or prominent as their Western and southern counterparts?
That question can be answered in so many different ways because it’s a nuanced problem. We don’t have the same amount of resources backing artists, good record labels growing musicians, we also have crippling laws that stifle artists success (censorship, paying to film in the CBD, etc), local support is not consistent as well. There’s just a lot honestly. But we’re coming up regardless so everything at its time. I’m not too worried about comparing ourselves to West or South Africa – all I can do is be happy for them because they’re representing us so well. We’ll keep doing our best over here too and hope it pays off.
Do you think EA blogs are doing enough to promote EA artists?
I don’t really know if I can answer that. I don’t know too many blogs here that solely focus on the art – most of the ones I know downgrade and become gossip sites and we relegate them to gutter press immediately this happens. So big up Tangaza, Mookh, Vibeyetu – those guys are about the art and the art only. Hopefully they keep it that way. I would like to see more visually appealing spreads from EA like the Fader.
Photo credit: Steph
I feel like Change was your little way of introducing us to your space and letting listeners know what you’re capable of.
It is a teaser at best. I threw a bunch of random tracks at you and watched your reaction. Now i’m ready to articulate everything much better and really grow my craft. If you liked this EP, I promise you’ll love the next project. It’s all growth 24/7 round these ends.
Your debut EP is out now, It’s amazing, I love it. What’s next for Steph?
Bless, I appreciate it. More music on the way – got a whole bunch of features in the works. A lot of shows as well that i’m excited for, and of course music videos!