Kenyan Hip Hop artist and poet Trabolee’s name may not scream headlines and hyped mentions, but the kind of race and shine of this unique artist, layered by clever and witty lyricism is stuff of fables, making him some kind of a figure that bends indoctrinated flows with a purpose that speaks of a hungry and ambitious artist with a gift of gab and cunning agility. Afroway sought an interview with the young artist about his life in music, inspirations, personal take on the country’s music industry and what’s up in store for our years.
1. First things first, who is Trabolee and where you from? Trabolee is a 23 year old artist of poetry and predominantly rap and hip hop whose name is actually an acronym that means Truth Reigns Above but Only Love Exists Eternally. One that I developed in the latent stages of my career after getting a whiff of the self-proclaimed Hip Hop teacher KRS-One. I was born in Nairobi, but we moved a lot as a family, so it’s in Nakuru where most of my teenage years were spent and my love for hip hop was sparked and took root.
2. You go by Trabolee, Mutinda Muliro tell us about these and any other personalities Mutinda Muliro is the name my parents gave me but I only embraced it after an impressionable interaction with one foreign artist who fostered in me the notion that it was paramount to own and be proud of your heritage, especially in a world where most people go through their whole lives without a sense of identity. In a kind of celebration to that new found outlook I released a ‘freestyle’ track titled Mutinda Muliro inspired by Kendrick Lamar’s Black Friday freestyle too. It’s also worth noting that the name Mutinda means ‘late arrival’ and Muliro means ‘fire’ which I feel has manifested itself as a sort of archetype through my musical journey. The name Trabolee just came to me in a way that I can’t put my finger on it, like an epiphany that hits you like a rain drop on a clear day, but when it did it felt right. At first when I was in a duo called Blaq R.O.Z.E (Redemption of Zealous Entities) back in 2010 just right after high school, I went by Muzeek Trabolee da Warlord which was just my silly attempt at trying to be as grimy and layered as members of the Wu Tang Clan.
3. What spurred you to tell the stories that you tell in your music? I started out as a poet, before encountering the genre of hip hop music. I used to write poetry as a way of passing time and sort of self-therapy that allowed me to vent honestly and then later it also became a side-hustle as I would pen romantic pieces for my fellow classmates who wanted to woo girls through letters (ha!) but I think the moment I started studying the art form and identifying the greats like Pharoahe Monch, Lupe Fiasco, Masta Ace, the old Kanye West etc. It compelled me to reflect more on what I wanted to do, and also gave me a set of fresh eyes that various aspects of life from, the profound to the profane could all be sources of inspiration.
4. Ever seen a reflection of you in an actor, any movie? Which one? This might be the best and the hardest question I’ve ever been asked. First of all I’m a literal movie head but I go through phases where I may identify myself with a character but then the moment will dissolve in time. I’ve identified with Neo from the Matrix at a point where I had to abandon the familiar and dive into the rabbit hole, that I feel always loops and all that ever expands is ones awareness to it. As an introvert I’ve also seen myself in Amelie, a female character in the French movie Amelie but my close friends also see me in other characters like ‘Malcolm’ from the movie Dope or Jason Sigel’s character in the indie movie ‘Jeff Who Lives At Home.’
5. Tra is Art, un-dig this for us This happened during those magical studio moments while recording the track THC off my first mixtape THC at first it was just a playful play of words that sounded nice on the song, but with time I have come to embody the mantra through the projects that I put out (from presentation to content) and even the little performances I’ve done and I feel that’s what I would like to represent and be, a conduit and a vessel of that aspect of the human condition.
6. What else do you do aside from music? I’m a coordinator for ‘Producers on The Road’ company which is currently in recession but will be up and running soon. I also study Philosophy and amateur Photography.
7. Let’s be corny for a bit here…which artists influenced you to do what you do? Not corny at all. If I was to be a hundred percent truthful, it was discovering my mother’s poetry pieces which she wrote when she was young that set the trajectory for who I am right now. Also the members of the 1183 crew were really influential on my impressionable mind as a young teenager, the passion and the rigorousness that I strive for was sparked by the constant interactions we had, be it through conversations and the sharing of works that really gave me a proper foundation as an artist. That’s my soul family regardless of where this path leads us.
8. From your songs one can say you are on a mission, what are you focusing on, in reference to your past and present stuff I’m learning to focus on the now, if there’s a mission it’s an ever evolving one , just as it is embedded in the acronym of my name, and the growth is evident for me and those who have paid attention since day one.
9. Tell us a little bit about your new music In the past year I’ve been releasing material that borders on the absurdism of life because I personally feel that’s the current spirit of the times, if you take a look on what’s happening on the world stage but they are also just precursors of an album that is in the kitchen, which hopefully will be my magnum opus and the final puzzle.
10. What amount of funk do you appreciate in your music? It depends with what I’m aiming to create, I have to catch a vibe first if you follow my drift. I’m still learning how to be more deliberate and intentional but in most cases, the more the merrier.
11. How has your approach to music changed since inception? If so how? It has become more freeing and playful but I still want the listener to get glimpses of truth and insight from what I’m making and that also allows me to be more deliberate. I also feel with time I have embraced the chaos within and from that I’m able to understand the importance of spaces and letting the music breathe it’s like that Killah Priest line ‘Too much knowledge might break-up the rhyme’
12. Tell us something about collaborators on your projects It’s all done on purpose, either to create contrast or even accentuate a feeling that I want to be projected in the track. I may overlook a rapper’s lyrical ability and instead focus on their cadences or even sound of their voice. It’s no longer trying to prove a point but making art.
13. Which other genres of music do you allow in your system? Not to sound like a pretentious alternative artist but with time it’s becoming less and less hip hop and a lot of daring and experimental music especially those that push the limits of structure and sonics. I would suggest one example as Anohni’s ‘Drone Bomb Me’. I feel for Hip-Hop everything that has to be said has already been said and now all there is to do is to keep re-inventing the wheel.
14. As an artists which do you prefer, torrents of singles and album releases or one-time thing? All formats are important for they both serve a certain purpose. Having torrents of singles and album releases will keep your name in the ethos especially in these times of dwindling attention spans and instant gratification mentality but as an artist and a student of the game I always want to have a body of work that shows growth and where the mind of the artist is at which eventually leads to that magnum opus that will even change the world to allow itself to exist and that can only be done if one steps back and crafts a one-time thing.
15. What kind of impact do you want your music to have on Africa? To create resonance and remind minds that even though through history they’ve tried to demonize us and bury our magic that they are still seeds inside us that have the potential to blossom.
16. Very few African countries can boast of having an actual music industry, would you say your country has one or not? It exists in cliques and there’s a rift because no proper policies and structures have been put in place to ensure that at least one can thrive if given a common proven formula, maybe what it needs is fresh blood from outsiders whose visions have not been clouded to create a paradigm shift.
17. There’s a lot of debate on trap music and mumble rap, what’s your take on this?
I feel Hip Hop as a culture and living thing is in its adolescence years and as an adolescent you always have to rebel against the rules before your wholeness can be finally achieved. Trap music and mumble rap are just a branch of the same tree regardless of how far from the roots they may be, just at like some point we had reggaetone and crunk music or MC Hammer but they all faded as soon as the wave was over. As a listener though you can always choose where your attention goes, coz apart from mumble rap there’s a lot of unique experimentations of hip hop happening concurrently in the same arena. If it’s not on your level just let it be.
18. Tell us a bit of your perspective when it comes to sampling and an African music legend you would sample from? Sampling is an amazing tool if done correctly and many producers have tapped into that to create some of the most unique instrumentals in their genre. I already sampled legendary artist Remmy Ongala for a song we did called ‘Kidogo Kidogo’ you can check it out on YouTube. If the future allows I would love to sample William Onyeabor who I just discovered recently.
19. With Hip Hop comes entrepreneurship, as an artist what are you interested in? True, with the ‘Producers on The Road’ the concept is to create an audio clinic that would make it easier for artists in rural areas to be able to access quality studio time at manageable fees and that’s something still in the works and we already worked with a couple of budding artists. Other than that I have interests in poultry farming and in time may also get into the visual aspects of music which is something I’ve been dabbling in already.
20. Where do you sell your music, merchandise and such? Currently it’s via e-mail and direct contact on social media where it can be delivered if we are around the same region, but for the upcoming project a website will be available for everyone to access.
Trabolee Projects include: All Roads Lead Home, THC, Occult Lore, SKULLVILLAINS