The top 15 African hip-hop tracks

Categories: Lists
Ghana's FOKN Bois

Let's get one thing clear: Africa is a continent made up of 54 sovereign states, more than one billion people, and upwards of 3,000 languages. If we had more room, we'd dedicate a blog to every African country where hip hop plays a role. Here's a condensed introduction to the wide world of African hip hop, spanning from Tanzania in the east, to South Africa, to Senegal in the west.

Hip hop as we know it now spread to the African continent in the early '80s, shortly after American hip hop took shape. Though it's true that many African rappers have been heavily influenced by Western styles, it's important to look at Africa's role in shaping hip hop as a whole. According to an All Africa article from 2007, "Rapping in African music and culture is a tradition that was carried to the new world in the 1400s." In the end, the early African musical traditions borrowed by the New World made their way back to Africa in the form of modern day hip hop and quickly spread amongst African youths.

Today, African hip hop styles range from American-inspired beats and rhymes, to bongo flava and kwaito, to the satirical hip hop of groups like Die Antwoord and FOKN Bois, and to the politically and socially conscious rhymes of Positive Black Soul and Black Noise. For our list, we tried to encompass a wide range of styles from various countries to bring you a small sample of the continent's best hip hop.

15. "Put It Down" by Sasha featuring Dama Do Bling

Yetunde Alaba, otherwise known as Sasha, rose to the top of the Nigerian hip hop scene in 2001, after being chosen as runner up in a talent competition. Apparently, Sasha dubbed herself the "first lady of Nigerian hip hop" and, though we don't feel entitled to authorize her claim, she's certainly a prominent member of the hip hop community, having performed with Boyz II Men, Ja Rule, and Akon, among others. "Put it Down" is an upbeat track sung/rapped in four different languages, featuing Dama Do Bling from Mozambique. The lyrics aren't particularly noteworthy, but the music video certainly is.

14. "Sinzia" by Nameless

Okay, so Nameless might be more pop than hip hop, but this song is so sexy, we couldn't leave it off. How can you beat lyrics like "I wish I could be your saliva" and "If only I could be your body lotion?" This is romance at its finest, people.

Nameless, aka David Mathenge, got his start in 1999 and went on to win Artist of the Year, Best Male, and Listener's Choice at the MTV Africa Music Awards in 2009. He's like the sweeter-sounding Shaggy of the Kenyan R&B world, complete with similar hip hop undertones.

13. "Kaffir" by Arthur Mafokate
South Africa

It's not an African hip hop playlist without kwaito, a South African variant of house music. Kwaito took shape in the 1990s, evolving out of disco, hip hop, R&B, and dance music. "Kaffir" was one of the first and most popular kwaito songs, written by Arthur Mafokate in response to political liberation in South Africa. In it, Mafokate and a female singer repeat "Don't call me a kaffir" over a simple synthesizer riff and drum beat, reminiscent of "What is Love?" by Haddaway. The word "kaffir" was once a neutral term for South African blacks but became a highly offensive slur during Apartheid.

12. "Illuminati" by Sarkodie

Sarkodie is a rapper from Tena, Ghana who won BET's Best International Act in 2012 and is considered a leader of the Ghanian Azonto genre. He's released four albums including this year's Sarcology, on which "Illuminati" can be found. It's hard to go wrong when your music video features a sexy belly dancer, a hawk, a bag of money, diamonds and unidentified white pills. Around the two-minute mark, Sarkodie shows off his speed rapping skills. It's clear that Sarkodie is heavily influenced by Western hip-hop, but he keeps his music grounded in his home country by rapping in Twi, his native language.

11. "Nikusaidiaje" by Professor Jay ft. Ferooz

Professor Jay was a pioneer of Tanzania's Bongo Flava genre, which combines politically and socially conscious lyrics sung in English and Swahili with bouncy, reggae-influenced hip hop beats. Bongo Flava has its roots in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania's capital city, but has become increasingly popular across East Africa.

"Nikusaidiaje" is rapped in Swahili, but the ridiculous flute-driven beat combined with Jay's unfaltering flow keep listeners of all language backgrounds captivated.

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