I have not ventured far into the history of hip-hop in African countries; but I am disappointed in myself for not understanding the dichotomy that existed between Bongo flava and Tanzanian hip-hop. Contrary to previous beliefs, hip-hop in Tanzania is very particular about distinguishing their art from the pop-infused bongo flava. Several MCs delve between both realms but the “OGs” do not stray away from the religious nature of hip-hop they believe in (rhythmic beats, word count and Swahili lyrics). Today, I will be highlighting one of my favorite “OG” Tanzanian MCs- Professor Jay.
Born “Joseph Haule”, the forty-three year old Tanzanian hip-hop artist has always been relevant in the hip-hop scene from his days in the group Hard Blasters. They were known for their hit song “Chemsha Bongo” and he used to be known as Nigga J around that time. They successfully won the title for best hip-hop group in Tanzania, circa 1995. He was very influential in the group’s success on their first album, “Funga Kazi”. He launched his solo career in 2001 and has since then remained a prominent voice in the hip-hop community in Tanzania.
One of the most interesting things about Professor Jay is his use of hip hop to address political issues in the East African nation. He did this exquisitely in one of his songs- Ndio Mzee. In this song, he addressed the false promises that politicians make to the masses and his ability to do this effectively shows how profound he is in commanding meaning behind his lyrics. This gained so much ground that the President of Tanzania borrowed Professor Jay’s lyrics in one of his speeches, granting a serious acknowledgement to the Tanzanian hip-hop scene. In 2015, Professor Jay, himself, successfully participated in Tanzanian politics as he won the Mikumi constituency parliamentary seat.
His control of Swahili in his rap songs and consistency in delivering his flows is characteristic of the hip-hop style Tanzanian rappers started with in the 90’s. Although he still supports the bongo flava artists, when on collabs he sticks to his caricature style regardless of the beat or artist. This is evident on songs like Nikusaidiaje(featuring Ferooz), Kipi sijasikia (ft. Diamond Platnumz), Woman (ft. Victoria Kimani), and Yatapita (ft. Harmonize) just to mention a few.
Professor Jay is a very strong voice in the Tanzanian hip hop community and his career has been filled with so many awards and honors. His second album “Mapindusi halinsi” won the best hip-hop album in Tanzania, his song “Nikusaidiaje” also won numerous awards, and he was nominated for best hip hop at the 2008 MTV Africa Music Awards. I cannot imagine beginning to sit down to write lyrics addressing issues in my hometown when just being exposed to a genre of music not familiar to my community.
I took Swahili in the Fall semester of my Senior year in college and I can say that it must take a great deal to compose meaningful and impactful songs for several young artists in our generation. This does not necessarily apply to just Tanzania, it is evident in other African communities. This is why it is important to always celebrate the pioneers of hip-hop in Africa and cite their works as examples to follow in our continuous journey to tell our own stories and fix our own problems. I hail Professor Jay for the effort he has played and continues to play. I appreciate his artistry and his constant representation; I have one question though- Excuse me Prof, je, unaweza kunifundisha jinsi ya kurap kwa Kiswahili?