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Lil Maina Is the Kenyan Rap Sensation Breaking All the Rules

In 2021, when then-17-year-old Jeremy Maina began to release music seriously, he was already a recognisable content creator with a fanbase in his native Kenya. Despite his early social media success – or perhaps because of it – his transition into the rapper and singer Lil Maina was a leap of faith. The cuts hit a nerve however, tracks like “Kishash” and “Cocoa Butter” combined a variety of lyrical switches and musical styles ranging from Gengetone to dancehall. Lil Maina, Kenya’s unexpected music star, had arrived and was carving out a unique space for himself in the East African music landscape. 

It did not take long for Lil Maina to hit commercial success. He struck gold with his third official single, 2021’s “Kishash,” a song which racked in over 2 million hits on YouTube in only a matter of weeks. The path from making viral skits to juggling sudden music stardom and overwhelming fame had sudddenly opened up. Still, Maina dealt with his fair share of underminement. In 2023, he released his debut album Maisha Ya Stunna “to be a foundation of people taking me seriously as an artist,” he explains. “I’d get comments from people comparing me to content creators and other comments telling me to stick to comedy, so I’m trying to prove a point.”

It’s this passion and competitive spirit that always triumphs against pushback and criticisms. And with even more genre-defiant music on the way, Lil Maina is on the cusp of achieveing everything he dreamed of.

This interview has been slightly edited for length and clarity.

Give us a brief introduction…

Lil Maina is an artist. I started making music in 2015, but I took it seriously in 2021. I am also a content creator, I vlog and shoot content on YouTube. I’m an entertainer. I am young, vibrant and very shy.

What inspired the move from full-time content creation to music?

Growing up, I loved music, [but] I didn’t know I had the capability to make it big in my country. People said I couldn’t be a content creator and a musical artist at the same time, so I decided to prove them wrong.

What are the main influences on your sound?

Definitely the Kenyan sound that was there [back in the day]. I used to do trap music, but then I felt it didn’t resonate with the Kenyan audience. Growing up I used to listen to Genge (Gengetone), which is a genre in Kenya. I can say that’s mainly the influence. There are Afrobeats influences in my debut album and Kenyan Hip-hop as well, which will be seen more in upcoming projects.

What made you decide to take music seriously in 2021?

I had gotten the proper foundation of a fanbase and people that supported me. I took the opportunity and decided to do something musically. I didn’t want it to be a hassle for me where I’m dropping music and having little to no people listening to it. I can say my fanbase made me take it to the next level.

You had a smash hit with “Kishash” in your debut year as a recording artist. What was that like?

It was crazy. I was on top of the world but I was overwhelmed as well. Artists were reaching out to do songs with me, but I wasn’t ready then for features or anything. I usually know I have a hit song when I give my friends a chance to listen to the song before I release it. They let me know whether it’s good or not. I also preview snippets on my Instagram live. Per the reactions from other people, I know the song will be a hit.

What inspired you to finally release a body of work, Maisha Ya Stunna, in 2023?

I like competition. It’s what drives me. My friends BURUKLYN BOYZ dropped their debut album on my birthday. For me it felt like a challenge so I wanted to drop an album or a project. I started slowly working on the album. I remember making the first song off the album after my birthday, after they dropped the album. I can say BURUKLYN BOYZ made me want to drop an album.

Maisha means “life,” so Maisha Ya Stunna means “Life of a Stunna.” I was inspired by a lot of Crank music back in the day – Lil Wayne, Birdman, etc. –  and the posh lifestyle. 

What does this album mean to you?

The album, first of all, is supposed to be a foundation of people taking me seriously as an artist. I’d get comments from people comparing me to content creators and other comments telling me to stick to comedy, so I’m trying to prove a point. The songs off the album are pure vibes and I also showed I could be romantic as well. I’m basically just flexing on the album, letting people know I am a Stunna […] One of the hard moments was losing my grandfather in the process of making the album. So, there were delays because the album was supposed to drop in December 2022. We had to go back to the drawing board, get a new team and everything. There were tough, tough moments for me.

How has the reception been so far?

The reception has been quite nice. I’m number two on the album charts in Kenya. There’s a new audience and people have started taking me seriously as an artist. It’s something that I can put out and I’m proud of it. It’s also one that I can boast of when I present my catalog to someone.

What was it like making a love song, “Company,” with Njeri?

I’m never afraid of trying new things. But whenever I went to the studio with my friends, trying to make music about love, they would laugh at me. That’s how we normally joke with each other. When I’m alone, I can be vulnerable and the creative process of writing love songs is unlocked. With Njeri, when I got the beat it clicked immediately, I knew instantly that that was the one. 

What do you want your contribution to be  to the resurgence of African music on the global stage?

I feel like I can contribute by taking my music and sound to the next level. I’m never too sure with myself and I have people to remind me of my potential whenever I start to doubt myself. With the team that I have, the people I surround myself with and how I’m constantly learning every aspect of the game, I believe that I can contribute my part in taking African music to the next level. All I need is time.

How have you evolved as an artist?

When I started music, I used to do parodies and comical music. I even deleted my old music because looking back, I seemed unserious. Now, I’ve really evolved and I’m appreciating how the music industry works. It’s not about dropping music randomly but going through the proper process and evolving in terms of my lyrics as well. I can tell that I’ve evolved with my flows, rhyming with syllables, metaphors and more. I get to write music about how I feel. Nowadays, I don’t even lie anymore. Before, I would lie and say something funny and entertaining, but now the songs are about how I feel.

What legacy do you plan on leaving behind?

I want to inspire the youth, [show them that] if you really want something, you can actually get it – I am the living proof of that. I started off as a comedian content creator, then I decided to pursue music, and here I am now with more to come. I want them to remember me as someone who never gave up, never thought of quitting. I never listened to what people had to say and just did my thing because now I have a fanbase and people who support me. In the end, it worked out for me.

Are you trying to create your own sound?

For sure. That’s what l’m trying to work on. I’m working on this new sound and I want to see how far I can go with it. Time will tell.

Dream collaborations?

I would really love to work with Rema, Diamond Platnumz, Asake and Focalistic. 

Tell us about your plans for 2024.

There are new projects dropping. I started a collective called what to talk rofi. We’re working on new music, a mixtape. It’s like the A$AP Mob and G-Unit. I will also be releasing an EP later this year.

Based on your recent releases, is it safe to expect more dancehall from you?

Dancehall for sure. There’ll be more dancehall than rap. Kenyans love clubbing and that’s where my audience is. Rapping is just to prove a point to everyone. I rap to perfect my skills as well.

Anything you want to share with your fans?

Shout out to them! I love them! They should stay posted for new things. Whatever they are aiming for, they should never give up on it. They should take boredom with a lot of seriousness and make something out of it like I did. They should pray each and every time and be close to God. They should never care about what other people have to say about them. Always stay dangerous.

Stream Maisha Ya Stunna HERE.

Written by Frederick Adjavon.

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The iMullar is the voice of emerging African music and the lifestyle that surrounds it, showcasing exceptional talent from all around the globe focused on promoting the most distinctive new artists and original sounds, we are the authority on who is next.