[Interview] BURUKLYN BOYZ on putting Kenyan drill on the map

HYPE catches up with Kenyan drill pioneers BURUKLYN BOYZ about their debut album EAST MPAKA LONDON, the Kenyan drill scene and putting Kenya on the map.

BURUKLYN BOYZ are pioneers of Kenya’s buzzing drill scene. The duo, which consists of childhood friends, rappers Mr. Right and Ajay, released their debut album EAST MPAKA LONDON in May. The streams reportedly shot up to approximately half a million on the day of release.

EAST MPAKA LONDON follows a string of hits by BURUKLYN BOYZ that started with 2020’s ‘NAIROBI’, and includes songs such as ‘LOCATION 58’ and ‘DREAM YA KUTOKA KWA BLOCK’ among others.

On EAST MPAKA LONDON, their laidback flows and beats act as a vehicle for storytelling, which, coupled with their use of Sheng and ability to craft catchy hooks, makes for an album that has a tendency of stating on high rotation for a while.

In May, Spotify named the duo among Nigeria’s Ayra Starr, Black Sherif (Ghana), BNXN (Nigeria), DBN GOGO (South Africa), and Victony (Nigeria), as part of Spotify’s RADAR, the music streaming giant’s programme dedicated to the spotlight and discovery of emerging artists across the world.

It’s one small step in right direction; their album title means “from East Africa to London”, which is cleverly depicted in the album cover which shows their hood Buruburu embellished with Big Ben and the red telephone box that’s synonymous to London; a parallel world of sorts.

At the time of the Spotify announcement, BURUKLYN BOYZ had 45,000 monthly listeners on the platform. Today, they are sitting on over 70,000.

The two childhood friends grew up in Buruburu, a neighbourhood on the eastside of Nairobi. They have been artists since around 2015 and decided to join forces in 2019. They met producer Coban Dencho in high school and still work closely with him.

We caught up with the duo and asked them about their rise, the album, independence and more.

 

How did you then discover drill and started getting into it?

We used to listen to a lot of UK music, and we loved drill so much. And, after seeing other countries doing drill, other different countries doing their own numbers, we decided to do Kenyan drill.

‘Nairobi’ was your breakout single. How did that song come about?

‘Nairobi’ was supposed to be our freestyle and we were supposed to give it out through our music channel, our music vlog channel, we were supposed to give it to them. The channel it is called Nairobi Report, so we recorded Nairobi it was a freestyle just about Nairobi. But yeah, so the guys recorded the song, so as we went on and shoot the video and then released it. And, just after we uploaded it, it just went crazy the first week.

Can you break down the meaning of the album title, East Mpaka London?

East Mpaka London, it means “from East Africa to London”. And, it’s about drill. We’ve always wanted to reach London and collaborate with artists from London, that’s why we named the album East Mpaka London.

In terms of production on this album, was it just Coban Dencho or did you have other producers?

We worked with other producers. We still record with Dencho, Dencho knows our sound best. But he did not contribute because he was still caught up with school and he did not have time. We tried to get him on, but he was unavailable.

You were a part of the Spotify Radar programme. What did it to get picked for that?

It really felt good because we are putting the drill sound and Kenya on the map.

How would you describe Kenyan drill? What sets it apart?

It’s just the use of Sheng. Obviously, Sheng is a mixture of English and KiSwahili, and it’s only spoken in Kenya, it’s not spoken anywhere. So, you just know it’s Kenyan. We are using Sheng; we are pushing the Sheng language.

We come from the eastern part of Nairobi, that’s the eastlands, that’s where most of the middle-class people and people from the ghetto are mixed up. So, obviously they speak this language and it’s normal, it’s everyday language.

In South Africa, I’d say trap is still more popular than drill. How is it in Kenya? It seems drill is taking over.

Right now, it’s drill. But we have trap in Kenya, it’s called shrap, and it’s doing good. But drill is the main thing right now.

How has it been operating independently?

We are doing everything ourselves. It’s hard, but we just want to see where we reach without the help of any record label. We’ve seen even our own artists in Kenya who have been fucked up with the labels. That’s why we don’t want anything to do with the labels, we’d rather make our own label.

In the Kenyan drill scene, where would say most of your revenue comes from?

Mostly it’s shows, the streams, too but mostly shows.

The album is out now, what are your plans from here?

We are planning to drop more videos for our album and release the next album in November.

Cop BURUKLYN BOYZ merch here.

This interview appears in issue 22 of the monthly HYPE ezine available for purchase here.

 

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