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King Kerby Is Carving His Niche Into Nairobi’s Music Scene

The music space is quite expansive and for some artists, it’s easy to get lost in it. Artists who start out with the dream of being forerunners in creating new sounds succumb to the pressure of attaining temporary commercial success and end up as cogs in the brutal and unforgiving machine that we all know as the music industry. However, very few artists rebel, setting themselves apart from the rest to create new and distinct sounds that capture the hearts of even the conservative listener; sounds that tend to stand the test of time. One such artist is King Kerby, a young musician from Nairobi, carving a niche for himself and seeking out to be the ultimate glitch in the matrix.

Since recording his unofficial single Get On My Level fresh out of High School, King Kerby has felt invincible. The Kenyan artist describes making music as an avenue to let his inner superhero run wild. “What was going through my mind was, I felt like a superhero…” he says in conversation. Although his primary discipline is Rap, he likes to be referred to as a musician. With an ability to sing, create catchy hooks and melodies as well as get heavily involved in the production and engineering of his sound, makes him the literal embodiment of a complete artist. He believes in the art of storytelling and is intentional about his art; perfectly curating his music to align with his journey, from the number of songs he records to the type of artists he collaborates with on a project. He is also an athlete who keeps and incorporates the discipline that he learned as a teenager with the dream of pursuing a career in football into his current career path, music. He’s a fitness fanatic who in an alternate timeline, would have pursued a career in fitness and wellness.

He recently released the Deluxe of his 2023 album, SABA. With fewer features compared to the previously released version, He relates the tape as a Disc B which focuses on himself, his artistry, and the message he wants to relay to his fans. 

For the iMullar, the young Kenyan artist talks about his career, his artistry, the current landscape of the rap game, the Deluxe edition of SABA, and dream collaborators.

A Brief Introduction

I am an artist, through the medium of music, and content creation and also an entrepreneur. I recently released an album called Saba produced in Cape Town and I’m in the process of putting together a rollout for the deluxe for the same album which is set to drop next month. So, you know, it’s a lot of exciting times for me as an artist, as an African artist, as a Kenyan, as an East African to be able to connect and put Kenya on the map through my sound, vision, and mission. 

Outside of music, I’m a young Kenyan who’s really passionate about health, fitness, wellness, and travel. I really love to travel. I love nature. I love the concept of traditional herbal medicine and every day, I love to discover new ways to look after my body and my mind and to share the same tools with other people. I also do a lot of community work.

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What inspired you to be a Musician?

l always loved music and I think growing up, music was one thing that helped to take me out of my surroundings. Sometimes at home, things are not stable and there would be a lot going on but music always brought me back to this world where I could dream and imagine things. I always imagine really great things every time I listen to music. How I started doing music was, in high school, I met a guy who was a musician. He was sick as a writer. I was perplexed to meet someone who was so good at such an early age. He was such a good songwriter. He had so much knowledge and he nudged me to also start writing my own music. So that’s how I started late High School. His name was Barry, and his artist name was Young Rome.

Why did you choose to be a rapper?

Rap has always had the biggest impression on me musically, but I love music in general. I have a very expansive palette. Rap was just what really appealed to me and it’s what I felt I could do with my voice and range as well. I also grew up on rap and rap really changed my life. As a kid seeing all the things that were happening in the world of rap, It was just mind-blowing.

Influences in the rap game: the ones that influenced you and the ones that still are?

I grew up in the neighborhood in Nairobi where the greatest ever rapper in Kenya lived. His name was E-Sir. He was my first influence in point of reference. I loved A Tribe Called Quest, I loved Outkast. I also loved some African rappers in Nigeria like Naeto C, M.I, and rappers in the Ghana movement. I also loved Double HP in South Africa, back when Da Les was still in a group called Jozi. I also had some influences in Kenya because there was a strong hip-hop singing in Kenya. People like Abbas Kubaff, Chihuahua, Bamboo A mix of everything.

As a rapper, what’s your style and approach to making music?

Our approach is very organic. We actually love to make music. That’s why I say, as much as I rap, I am a musician.  I’m heavily involved in production; stuff has to sound really good, you know. I also grew up really geeking out on not just rappers but producers and I remember back in the day, knowing who produced the song was such a big deal. Back in the day, Lil Wayne and Jay Z would work with certain people and even the new generation of artists like Travis Scott would work with certain producers as well. Learning not only about rappers but producers as well has always been as important to me and my journey. I would say I was heavily influenced by producers. So my process is now founded on that, where it’s always exciting to identify a really good producer and be like “Man, this person would really capture my sound and take it to the next level”. So it’s identifying production and then also, just capturing my current mood so as much as I rap, my music is not just hip hop. There’s a very huge variety of sounds in my catalog. It’s HipHop in different translations. I also DJ, so I go through different palettes and then I’ll come up with a mood. We sit down and start working on a track from scratch. I also write while we’re making a track. That’s pretty much the process. I recently worked with producers abroad and we have a lot of calls back and forth. We exchange plays a lot and then we start writing. They send stems, we work on them here in Nairobi and then we send them back and then they add things there.

What personal experience caused you to get yourself heavily involved in the production of music?

I think also I grew up in a neighborhood where I had friends who were also nerds in terms of music and we would always geek out on production and visuals. Every video will blow my mind from the coloring to the shooting to the scripting, and to the way the visuals would match their songs. I grew up as a kid who was always interested in full-on branding and not just once an aspect of it. I think I’m heavily influenced by all the guys I listen to because the production was always going so crazy. Like when I listen to Kendrick, I want to know who the engineer is, because his vocals are recorded and mixed in a certain way and it’s always consistent. So for me as an artist, I love those details because I get to apply them in what I do because I want to be up there with the best of the best as well.

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Taking the leap of faith and recording his first song

I told you I met this guy in high school and then he was rapping already and he was so good. He was at such a high level. He was so fluent and well-articulated he could rap in Swahili and in English really well. He could sing and had melody as well. He had the whole package at such an early age. When we left school, he took me to a studio, and then I recorded a song called “Get on my level”. What was going through my mind was that I felt like a superhero, despite everything that I had been through, all my challenges in high school because I had so much pressure in high school and things were not so easy at home. So going through High School came with a lot of anxiety and things I didn’t understand about myself. I didn’t have the emotional intelligence to understand them but music guided me through like just like a vehicle or like an angel. When I was going to record that, I just felt Invincible. I felt like Neo in The Matrix.

What inspired the decision to release your debut album in 2018?

I really consumed a lot of music and this was the era in which people were dropping bodies of work like mixtapes, EPS, and albums. This was the time when I was witnessing people doing madness. So I wanted to do a body of work. I wanted to try different sounds and show people that I have different sides to me. I linked up with producers who enabled me to express that and the settings were just right. It was also the time when the new sound of Nairobi was being born, which was called the new Nairobi. That was the name of the era. It was a special era to be part of.

The reception of the debut album, Did it propel you or make you reconsider working on your sound?

The reception was amazing. It was mind-blowing. Because of this project, I got to perform at Blankets and Wine, which is the biggest Festival in Kenya and the person I was performing on that day was NECA and AKA. I got the festival off of that album. That’s a project that made me feel okay, maybe I can do this music thing. But after that, and after one or two more projects, I definitely had moments where I took a step back to consider my sound into what it is now.

My sound has evolved. It’s just building up on the same rudiments that I loved, but now I’ve really finessed the process from conception of ideas, to execution to communication with a team, to teamwork to expanding my vision about rollout, distribution, and back end. Being able to create from the heart but still be able to appeal to whatever the market is looking into or consuming.

The number of songs you put on your projects. Is it to showcase versatility, and storytelling? Or something entirely different?

All those are things that we look for with the team like when I am working on projects. For SABA, it really did matter the number of songs in significance to the storytelling. In Mapenzi Sio Dini, the number mattered, but mostly the texture we were going for. It was a very analog project so you would see that the songs would change midway. The songs were longer than in SABA. For instance, It was almost like going for an experimental Childish Gambino sound. On Kazi Kwa Vijana, the songs were short, two-minute songs and we were jumping through different sounds. This was a big project where we had the biggest number of songs because of the unique style of production that MR. LU* has. He’s a very unique producer; very techy, very quirky, and advanced. So the arrangement of the songs and the songwriting enabled us to do 17 songs that feel like an easy 10 to 12-track listening experience.

Are collaborators pivotal to your storytelling? 

They are and that’s a very good observation on your end. For me, especially on a project, if I meet you and it works, why go look for something else, you know what I mean? I also like the album to have coherence throughout, to be like a story, so working with the same people makes it almost like a skit. The album becomes like a band. Each time I’ve done an album, I’ve worked with a different band or created a band.

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What should we expect from the Deluxe of SABA?

SABA has seven tracks and an interlude so now you’re gonna get seven more to complete it. It’s going to be like a CD B. The first version we released was a Disc A so now you’re getting a Side B and you’re going to see different sides of me. Not too many collabs on the other side so now people can get to connect with me. The first side of the project is also like we’re going on a high and then on this side, it’s like the sunset of it.

Do you have a go-to beat for all your songs?

I can’t say I have a go-to beat, but I have a go-to sound. So when you listen to my music, there’s a feeling you get. It’s very eclectic and very warm. I think that for my audience, it is a special experience because you get to touch different new parts of people’s brains and stimulate new parts of their brains by going to different places but maintaining the same essence. So rather than like a beat that I’m comfortable with, I have things that I’m comfortable with in the way. You’ll notice I always like to do the hook even if I have a feature or a vocalist. I like to guide the hook because I want to guide the direction of melodies. I also layer my vocals a lot. I would think that I have things that are signature in my sound, even the style of writing. Those are my go-to things. So it might be on a different beat but I’ll do those things, one way or another.

And it’s also like creating a balanced meal for someone. A wholesome experience when they go through your art, taking them to different moods, and showing them that different sides of them are also seen and are valid.

The Message in Leeches; What was it from personal experience or is it general storytelling?

Definitely from personal experiences, but it is also a very common theme in our generation. I guess because of social media we compare our lives a lot and we are under a lot of pressure. Everyone wants to feel like they also deserve to be able to experience certain things or to actualize their dreams of going for what they want. I’m glad that we released this song. It’s one of those songs that’s not easy to write because it’s definitely from personal experiences but a lot of people can relate to this, and it’s something that we need to talk about in our generation. I feel like everyone can benefit from hearing that and challenge their mindset going from a place of maybe not being a victim or just waiting or depending on other people but becoming someone who also provides.

So what’s life like as a Performing Artist?

It’s a daily Discovery and as I said I have a team now. I am discovering that the best thing about having a team is that I am surrounded by people who are better than me. They’re all better than me and so they all like to push me. We all learn from each other through the process of making this music. It’s not just this music, we’re making each other’s dreams come true and we are getting to build ourselves simultaneously. It’s such a powerful experience.

We’re shaping a sound and a story. We are also shaping our own direction of live performance. It’s exciting. Practicing with the band and with the team. Everyone is a creative director in their own way. We are also preparing for digital shows. We want to be intentional about the kind of spaces that we’re invited to. Shows that cater to live music in the way we want to perform it because we’re live performers. I pride myself in being a live performer not just a songwriter or a studio performer. We’re carving out our lane, asserting our own creative direction and improving or envisioning production. We’ve gone from just writing songs in the studio to looking at the future. The future of shows and how they’ll be produced and all the facets that have to do with shows, from vendors to food to experiences to toilets to access, to seeking spaces and stuff like that.

Based on what is going on in the Rap game right now, what does “Rap” mean to you?

Rap means youth. It means endless youth. It just has this feeling of forever youth. Endless Innovation, endless imagination. endless dedication, endless challenges here. Rap is alchemy to me. You can transform one reality to another through rap and it has done it globally for generations. It’s media. It’s also a source of news, getting to know where people’s minds are at, through rap. It updates me on the real news on the ground. Not like what we see on TV.

Do you think people are leaning more towards hit-making and losing the essence of Rap, which is storytelling?

I think it’s evolving. I think if you’re good at it when it, drops people will always listen. I think storytelling will never run out of style but then we’re just also in an era where everything has to be challenged. It’s just like football. I’m a fan of football and right now football has evolved so much from the days of Thierry Henry, Ronaldinho, and the others. There are different tactics and different ways of training. The game has become more intricate, technical, and tactical, and so the margins are finer. I feel the same thing is in music. It’s just evolved and the margins are finer so now the young kids want to hear melodies, different cadences, flows, fusions, and see visuals that provoke them to be like ‘D*mn that was crazy”. Even for me and my music right now, I am in a fun place where I’m really expanding my melodies, flows, and ability to translate what’s happening in the world and the balance between storytelling and making hits. Just finding that sweet spot. Rap is like theater to me. It’s like classical music to me. It’s the same fine print of art. It’s the same palette of art. It’s tasteful.

Do you think rap is becoming a lost art? Do you think people are not actively consuming it as much as before, as seen on charts in recent years?

Charts are temporary. Charts are like Champions League trophies where once in a while, a motivated Inter Milan or FC Porto wins it or Leicester City wins the Premier League again. A billionaire will come and drop money, transform a club which in turn transforms the shape of the game. It’s like the Olympics and the World Cup, it’ll always be fiercely contested so it’s not a lost art form. Every generation will produce exceptional artists through rap who’ll move people no matter what genre is there. Shoutout to rap, it is very Eternal. Look at people like Baby Keem. When we thought Kendrick was the tip of the iceberg, someone like Baby Keem comes in with a whole different style, which is still as intelligent and technical but different. Even in sports, there will always be new ballers who have a different style and are young but are changing the game and making it still watchable. There’ll always be artists who will make Rap listenable and watchable.

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How do visuals play into your music?

Seeing is believing and for us, we believe that our story is beautiful beyond just music and catchy lines or melodies. We believe that our real life and the community we have is beautiful. So it’s important for us to continue showing that in the visuals and accompanying the music with that so that people see that we are beautiful humans beyond just the art. Interestingly for me, because our music is already different. We know that reception is not usually our yardstick because we know all our music is kind of out of pocket. It’s usually the songs we love the most that we want to invest visuals in them. We decide as a team. We go with the songs that we feel strongest about, not necessarily about how people will receive them.

Shout out to Elsie. Yeah, she was the co-producer of SABA and those visuals and Out the Way and the team that we worked with, those ladies actually did Nasty C’s visuals for Endless and the new releases in Cape Town. So it’s also an honor to have worked with those guys.

So talk to me about possible future collaborators. Who would you like to collaborate with in the future?

I’d love to collaborate with Skepta, Knucks, Kwesi Arthur, and also a lot of Alte artists that I have my eye on. There’s always a very interesting talent somewhere that is not restricted or not like your typical sound. I want to work with a lot of vocalists, not just rappers because I am not just trying to make rap. There are a lot of vocalists in Ghana and Nigeria. I would love to work with producers. I actually did an EP called Accra Nights just before SABA so you can check that out. I worked with a producer called Ketel B James. We come to Accra a lot so I’m tapped into the culture there. I’d love to work with some Caribbean artists like Tessellated. I’d love to work with Rags Originale and Kaytranada.

Plans for the rest of the year

I have an upcoming project after SABA that I’m really excited to share with the world. The music doesn’t stop.

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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.