When listening to Nairobi-based rapper Fena Gitu’s music, one can immediately sense her powerful command of the mic. In the male dominated sphere of contemporary African hip-hop, Gitu exists alongside a growing number of female artists who are boldly claiming their space as emcees in their own rights. As minorities in their field, women hip-hop artists are often burdened with an expectation that they mimic the paths of their male predecessors in an attempt to assimilate into the existing milieu. Fortunately, Fena Gitu’s work embodies more than an imitation, as she uses her experiences as a woman and a Kenyan to craft verses showcasing her unique perspective.
One particularly strong track is “Doing Her Thing Tho,” which Gitu released in 2017. In the video for the song, Gitu challenges established stereotypes of the genre that see women more often portrayed in hip-hop visuals as objects of male sexual fantasies than as independent agents. She dominates the frame for the entire track as she doles out verses related to self-empowerment and female strength. In one line, Gitu specifically addresses the persistent societal messaging often directed at young girls, as she raps:
“My mama told me
Sit down, be humble,
keep it classy…”
In a culture that often reduces women to their familial roles, Gitu’s boldness is refreshing—the track seems to act as a direct response to these sentiments and the people perpetuating them. As she raps about antiquated gender norms she also flows through a number of wardrobe changes, at times donning classic feminine attire while in other moments subverting expectations by wearing a suit and tie. Her ease is visible as she fluidly traverses gendered barriers to represent herself authentically. Altogether, “Doing Her Thing Tho” positions Gitu as a groundbreaking artist, whose willingness to upset the establishment in order to fully showcase her own complexity, and that of all female artists, is striking and inspiring.