As mentioned before, at greater length, the biggest names in Tanzanian rap tend to belong to the old guard. Professor Jay, Mr. Blue, Fid Q, AY, Mwana FA and others were all well established by the 2000s. They and other early starters, rappers like Juma Nature, who have since become obscure, formed the bedrock of the industry as it is today. Collectively, the confidence and talent of these artists drove a kind of cultural self-belief and pride in a homegrown culture that has seen East African pop music soar. The status of these musicians is secure, legendary, but judging by songs such as the latest collaboration between three of names on that list this is both a good and a bad thing.
The legendary status of artists such as Fid Q, Mwana FA and AY means that they largely get to define their own musical paths. But far from inspiring subversion or reinvention, such a broad licence can at times lead to a touchy defensiveness. It came as no surprise that Professor Jay was quick to get on the anti-pop Singeli bandwagon. The shadow of Tanzania Pop looms large over Hip Hop and rather than confront, subvert, reinvent or otherwise rise to the challenge there is often a temptation to pretend that the genre doesn’t exist or that its rules don’t matter.
The new song, Upo Hapo, by AY, Fid Q and Mwana FA is a case in point. There have been strides made in melding hip-hop culture and modern pop as Darassa has shown with Muziki, and Joh Makini with songs such as Perfect Combo. There is also a place for conscious, hard aged rap like that of Stamina and Roma. But Upo apo is neither. It takes no formula, or premise, pays no heed to the industry at all and as a result, the song feels outdated and somewhat conceited. A track built upon cues that have long since faded.
The catchy, flute-driven bass-line is only impressive in its resemblance to older hip hop songs from abroad. Something from mid-2000s 50 cent that even comes complete with gunshots. The song is aggressively classic but mostly because the artists have a secure enough legacy to indulge some retro musical role play. The video involves some gangland diamond heist whose chronology is confusing and purpose confounding. While the verses, apart Mwana FAs opening, seem to lurch rather flow and ultimately go nowhere–with both AY and FID Q adopting undertone deliveries partway through their rhymes that feel unnecessary and distracting.
As whole, Upo Apo feels like a waste. AY, FA and Fid Q are the biggest names in East African Hip Hop and have proved with Zigo, Mfalme and Bongo Hip Hop that they are capable of thriving on the modern scene. For the sake of music fans, and lovers of Kiswahili Hip Hop, a collaboration between them should really aspire to more than mere nostalgia, gunplay and whimsy. The good news is these artists are still making music and have money to waste on gangland fantasy. The bad is that those expecting the song to spark an overdue revival of Tanzanian rap are likely going to be waiting a long time.