I Am HIP HOP

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First thing first, shout-out to the pioneers
Without their work, we’d have no careers
Quit my job, became my own marketeer
Started from a blog, one-man team, now we fuckin here
Before I brag about my deeds, respect to the engineers
The designers, the architects- Nyirarumaga, Biggie and Pac
And every storyteller laying their soul on every track
You all put art in my heart, I put poetry in rap
From my early start, I just wanna give back
Design thinking till life imitates art
This is only a spark of a young star
It’s going dark when I go all lights
My bars are lit, put some welding glasses on or go blind
I’m a rare phenomenon like the eclipse, watch how you view me
Don’t mistake my silence for an ellipse when you review me
I aim at everything you say I am, if you thought you knew me
By the time you’re done defining me, it’s already a new me
I invite you to judge me, maybe you’ll see your own insecurity
Wish I could be your mirror but I bet you’d choose the selfie
Self worth is self-given or else it’s worthless, I pick what’s healthy
My spirit is so wealthy, all the Rothschild money cannot buy me
I’m priceless with a bank account constantly empty
I quit writing commercials to write my destiny
I gave up my Swatch, Irony, I gained in time
Now the world’s on my watch like a sentinel full-time
Look in the sky, I’m a hawk holding the message tight in my claws
I ain’t got no time for tiny beefs, I don’t fight small wars
Only Rwanyonga’s curving arrows would make me fall
Before you know I metamorphose, I’m a fly on your wall
Feasting on every shit that’s dope, I’m anti-AI, pro recycle
My recitals revive memories of lost souls
Call me a psycho but we all talk to dead people
You say “Rest in peace” I say “Rest in power or return for yours”
My poetry is traditional medicine for those looking for hope
It’s bitter just like the life of survivors trying to cope
With the hole in our souls that cannot be filled with alcohol
Cold hearts know no sunny holidays in these area codes
If your back’s against the rope, catapult and soar
It’s fucked up at the bottom when you got no condom
And this sick crazy bitch called life trynna fuck you live
Sometimes I wonder how many times one has to survive
To make it in this life before crossing to the other side
Millennials waiting for a white savior then I realized
Just like the devil, Jesus is a lie
At least the devil is in the detail
Well Jesus in the Bible retail
You know what those entail- Fantasy for sale
I’m breaking bad like Mr. White, about to go Heisenberg
This is just the intro like the tip of my pen is the tip of the iceberg
My vision is so clear it feels like a premonition
I got no reason to fear my final destination
I’m the architect of my dreams, this is my inception
They raise buildings, I build minds – perception
I talk fusion, they hear collision at the intersection
Confusion, not just my words, my actions are lost in translation
You can’t see through the crack yet, wait till I blow the wall
I’m coming out with a black belt, the system is about to crumble
Africa, rise, planet of the apes, I’m proud to be a Cesar
If time is a female, I’m about to seize her
I speak truth to power, I’m not a pleaser
What did you think this shit was? H.I.P H.O.P
H for His story, Her story, they’ll be told, by any means necessary
I for I coz nobody can fight for my mine like I
P for Power, knowledge or money, whatever it takes to get respect
H for Honor, for we’re kings and queens; not slaves or objects
O is for the oath that goes beyond the physical dimension
P for Progress even when it seems slow, it’s better than no motion
#1key

The Expericment Film 

About a year ago, a young Rwandan with an unusual English accent walked to me and told me, “I really like what you do and I would like to document your journey through film.” I looked at him and without the shadow of a doubt I said, “Sure!” From that day, Isumbabyose has been part of my life in a creepy kind of way filming me in awkward situations and sometimes positions. Every time he used my phone, he would remind me “Don’t delete that!” I don’t know if it’s written on my face that I do delete stuff a lot because he was right. I do. 

When the time came to start the #Expericment series, we sat and discussed what he needed in terms of equipment and logistics. I watched this young man spend his last coins and many hours of his youth shooting, directing and editing my life. I am going to miss our 4am arguments over the tone of color, the sound level, the right transition and passing out on those comfy couches at Another Cat studios. Isumbabyose’s work ethic and discipline throughout the entire documentation made me question my rants about why music is not valued in Rwanda? Because I haven’t invested 10% of what he has. Yet he is the most composed friend I have.

Before the premiere on the 3rd of February (venue to be disclosed), I would like to invite film critics for a screening this Friday and hear from them. So if you are one living in Rwanda, please email your best review at ericonekey@gmail.com and I will get back to you with details related to the screening before the official premiere. Speaking of which, the entrance fee will be whatever amount you decide to pay via my Mobile Money (0788353630 Ngangare Eric), cash at the door, bank transfers if you insist, any way you wish to support with your money is welcome. Here’s a snippet of the film. It’s not enough to give you an idea about what to expect, I will upload a couple more as we wait for the premiere. Enjoy! 

Untitled 

My history has no face
Its voice emits on strange waves
An intricate message
Written in a coded language

The enigma machine is idle
Broken or tempered with by rivals?
Silenced? Scaring idols?
What’s a man afraid of idylls?

Take me to a club where Rujindiri creates samples for beats by Dre
Take me to a church where Kagame is the padre
Take me to a mosque where Anta Diop is sheikh
Take me to a time before Misri kings “became” greek

[…to be continued]

#1key

Entre 2 Album Review: Apprenti_Sage

Track 1: Apprenti_Sage (“Wise Apprentice/Learning”)

Apprenti_Sage is the album’s opening track. Drawing on the Rwandan tradition of Kwivuga, which literally means bragging, 1key introduces and asserts himself as a poet and as an artist, who terrorizes his enemies! Within the tradition of Rwandan praise poetry there are numerous specialist sub-genres, including the poetry of dynasty, the poetry of farmers, and amahamba (“the praising of cows”). According to 1key: “Kwivuga was everybody’s poetry”. Created and performed by men and boys, kwivuga is about lineage and ego: “it’s about knowing who you are and ensuring that others know too” (1Key). In this case, 1Key identifies himself as the son of his personal hero, his late Grandfather Ngangare Rugambwa.

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Kigali, Rwanda. 2016. 1Key performing Apprenti_Sage on the #Expericment. [Courtesy of Innovation Village]
Historically, males would learn kwivuga at initiation camps called Itorero, a Kinyarwanda word meaning “the place where you select”. At Itorero, pubescent boys were taught how to protect their country, to shoot arrows, to perform kwivuga, and traditional dancing. After initiation, boys would return home transformed, “as men with responsibilities” (1Key) also referred to as Intore (the chosen ones). In the Icyivugo performance, the performer may drop down to one knee, or throw his stick to the floor (as if to “drop the mic”), while boasting to the crowd about who he is and what he has achieved. Indeed, Icyivugo literally means “a self-introductory poem.” 1key’s Icyivugo, the final section of Apprenti_Sage, concludes with confidence. The wordsmith cements his artistic identity with his final Kinyarwanda line, which he delivers with impressive speed, and which translates as:

“I am the only key that opens the doors of mystery so that the deserving ones can enter my world.” 

Introducing 1Key, the wise apprentice!

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Musanze, Rwanda. 2015. Intore dancers performing at Kwita Izina (Rwanda’s annual gorilla naming ceremony). [Courtesy of the author]
In Apprenti_Sage, we are transported into the world of traditional Rwandese melodies. The introduction is dedicated to the bare boned and unproduced sound of the Inanga, the Rwandese instrument of storytelling. After 20 seconds, 1Key penetrates the piece with his carefully constructed poetry, while the beautifully springy sound of the Inanga persists until the end. The delicate pulse of 1key’s French lyrics are spoken with rhythm and purpose, before transforming boldly into Kinyarwanda for his compelling Icyivugo: “Yeeeee…!” (Final section)

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Nyundo Art and Music School, Rwanda, 2015. Inanga. [Courtesy of the author]
Throughout his experimental and playful album, 1key creatively explores his most important, ever-present theme: Entre Deux, or “Between Two”, which his album is named after. In Apprenti_Sage, 1Key expresses tensions between two languages: Kinyarwanda, the native language of almost all Rwandans and the carrier of Rwandan identity and culture, and French, the language “brought [to Rwanda] on boats” and enforced on the population by Belgian colonisers. Is it possible to perform Rwandan culture and identity in French? In the third stanza, 1Key apologises to his ancestors for delivering his words in French. He expresses his regret and disgust at being imprisoned within an unequal system of globalisation, where the mastering of European languages is required to earn a living, and where “Rwandan culture” is treated as subordinate.

1Key bridges the gap between today and yesterday; between himself as a modern day resident of Kigali and his ancestors as he imagines them. As a multi-lingual poet and recording artist, 1key interweaves Rwandese oral traditions with modern digital technologies, creating a unique contemporary sound which is rooted in tradition. Inspired by the echo of his ancestors’ voices, 1Key aspires to write his life, to describe his view, and to fearlessly leave a message. He tells us: Je suis le message (“I am the message”). We are captivated, intrigued and excited to hear more…

Entre 2 is available on Soundcloud – Entre2 and for sale on digital stores iTunesSpotify, and Amazon. Eric 1key is very active on social media where you can find him discussing and debating all kinds of things. For updates and live info, follow Eric1key on Twitter: @eric1key, Facebook: Facebook/eric1key, Soundcloud: soundcloud.com/eric1key or email for bookings at ericonekey@gmail.com.

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Song lyrics and translations

Apprenti_Sage (“Wise Apprentice/Learning” [Track 1 on  Entre 2 album])  

Prod. Barick (Kigali). Vocals: Yego Studio (Kampala); French, Kinyarwanda.

[Verse 1] [Verse 1]
Les pouces sur mon phone comme sur une manette I’ve got thumbs on my phone as a controller  
Je joue avec des lettres, je griffonne des textes Playing with letters, I’m scribbling lyrics
En fait, depuis que je les pose sur des pages net In fact, ever since I put them on Internet pages
Et que j’expose mon âme entre les lignes de mes rimes And exposed my soul between the lines of my rhymes
On m’appelle poète; mais est-ce que je mérite ce titre? They call me a poet; but do I deserve this title?
Pour être honnête, je préfère quand on m’appelle artiste To be honest, I prefer to call myself an artist
Au fond je ne suis qu’un esprit qui cherche sa forme I am just a spirit seeking its form
Je suis brut, sans filtre, mes pensées résonnent I’m raw, unfiltered, my thoughts resonate
Dans mes écrits, comme sur du papier carbone In my writings, like carbon paper
Avant la plume, je les calquais à la mine de graphite Before the pen, I used to express my thoughts with a pencil
Qui aurait predit qu’un jour mes ébauches auraient un bon accueil au public? Who knew that one day my drafts would be well received by the public?
C’est incroyable mais il y a deux décennies It’s unbelievable that two decades ago,
On aurait juré que j’étais dyslexique à force de juger mon lexique sur base des dicos amenés en bateaux One could have sworn that I was dyslexic, judging by my lexicon based on dictionaries brought on boats
L’apprentissage n’a pas été du gateau Learning was not a piece of cake
Apprenti-sage je suis devenu pour éviter les coups de batons Wise apprentice I had to become to avoid the blow of the cane
Que mes aïeux m’excusent pour ma forme sur ce fond May my ancestors forgive my voice over this background music
Si je m’exprime mieux dans la langue du colon If I express myself better in the colonisers’ language
C’est parce que c’est devenu une culture de survie It is because it has become a way of survival
Elle évolue au dépens de la nôtre et on suit, asservis It evolves at the expense of ours and we follow, enslaved
Aujourd’hui on se moque des nôtres Today we make fun of our people
Quand ils commettent des fautes dans ces langues étrangères when we make mistakes in these foreign languages
Et ça me révolte! And that disgusts me!
Laissez-moi être mélancolique sur ce sample de cithare Let me be sad on this sample of cithare
Laissez-moi me noyer dans ce pot de slam,  Let me drown in this pot of slam poetry
Cet art oratoire de mes ancêtres, c’est tout ce qui me reste This oral art of my ancestors, that’s all I have left
Leurs doigts grattent des cordes, les miens gravent des textes Their fingers strum the strings, mine type lyrics
Dans leurs notes et les miennes, tu peux lire l’envie de transmettre In their notes and mine, you can read the urge to pass on
C’est l’écho de leurs voix que j’entend quand les vallées respirent It is the echo of their voices that I hear when valleys breathe
Et peut-être pourquoi j’adore écrire le soir, leur mélodie m’inspire And perhaps why I love writing at night, their melody inspires me
A écrire ma vie, à décrire ma vue, à conter mon parcours sans peur to write my life, describe my view, and tell story fearlessly
Je sais qu’on ne vit pas pour toujours et tout comme eux I know we do not live forever and just like them
Je veux laisser un message… I want to leave a message…
Je suis le message I am the message
Qui vivra, entendra cette voix venue de nulle part Whoever lives will hear this voice coming out of nowhere
Portée par le vent d’un écho ancestral Carried by an ancestral echo
[Icyivugo] [Icyivugo]
Yeeeeee ndi ingangare ku rugamba Yes! Here I am, I am the strongest in battle
Mwene Rugambwa simpangarwa ndahangara Son of Rugambwa, none can challenge me, I challenge them first
Dore nje mu rukerera nk’igiteroshuma I attack at dawn as if it’s an ambush
Sinikanga, sinikinga I am not intimidated, I do not hide
Ikaramu narazwe na data ni yo ngabo y’amahina amakuza atagwabizwa The pen I inherited from my father is my unbreakable shield, my spear
Iyo mfoye simpusha ababisha bashahurwa n’ubwoba ntaranabegera I’m a sharp shooter, I don’t miss. My enemies tremble with fear before I even get to them
Abaswa banyumva nk’amahamba The small-minded don’t understand the intricacies of my poetry
Ndasiga nkisiga bagasigara basiganuza When I write I paint stories and leave them speculating about
Uko mbambura imizingo imirongo igahinduka amashusho How I can write this much and this good, how my lines become vivid pictures
Umushyitsi ukabataha mu nda bagahitamo kunyita umunyabufindo Afraid of my powers, they choose to call me a “magician”
Ndi urufunguzo rumwe rukumbi rurangaza amarembo y’amayobera maze agatahurwa n’inyamibwa mu ndatwa.  I am the only key that opens the doors of mystery so that the deserving ones can enter my world.

Catch 22 Questions

1. Where were “we” “you” “they” before this land bore the name that makes our pride?
2. Which ancestors did the first Rwandese family evoke before sleep at night?

3. How old are the words Tutsi, Hutu & Twa in the universe?
4. Who can point the first time the poet mentioned them in a verse?

5. At what point in time being called any of these names was a praise or an aversion?
6. Is there an absolute truth about our History or do we choose a comforting version?

7. When yesterday’s heroes become today’s villains, who will the future believe?
8. Whose ink to trust when the pen holder’s master own the narrative?

9. What happened to the man who, passionately, butchered his wife?
10. And the woman who poisoned her own kids during one of the 100 nights?

11. Animosity, you’d say but what animal species ever did the unthinkable?
12. Fight to call it genocide but is that even close to define the indescribable?

13. Is there a gene in us for extreme wickedness just as there could be one for kindness?
14. Is there really such a thing as remorse or forgiveness?

15. What’s in the eyes of survivors when they meet the reason they lost everything?
16. Would the person behind their scars genuinely apologize if no one was watching?

17. [Insert country], what’s justice without reparations?
18. What’s restitution when it doesn’t bring about resurrection?

19. If we’re independent, why do our colonizers’ flags wave high all across our continent?
20. If we’re a dignified people, why is the West in charge of the education of our children?

21. Why are some of the answers to my “primitive” questions locked inside museums in Europe?

22. Why would any of these questions make you uncomfortable?

#1key

The Lost African

I’m black and I’m proud
I’m black and I’m proud
I’m black and I’m proud
I’m black and I’m proud
I’m black and I’m proud

But repeating the same line five times
Sounds like I’m trying to convince my mind
About my blackness as if off it, I would be mindless
Just the same way people who repeat themselves
Offer a little insight and waste a lot of time

So tell me, am I as black as “black” is defined?

“The absence or complete absorption of light”
“The total opposite of white”
Does my skin have the same color as the lines
That the ink of my pen bleeds on these sites?
Am I color-blind or am I blinded by own sight?
Coz if I’m black then I naturally have a black eye
Black is evil, God is light and his son is white
And I’m supposed to be proud of that? Yeah right!
Can’t believe these definitions got me to question my own complexion
So today I looked in the mirror with all my attention
And I realized I was brown, just like honey, at least my reflexion
So every now and then I find myself lost in outro-spection
With lots of speculations in the middle of the confusion
I begin to wonder “Should I see a dermatologist or an optician?”
Coz it’s either my iris or my skin that got a problem with pigmentation
Or both. Anyways, color-blind or just blind, I remain African

So I’ll say it loud

I’m African and I’m proud
I’m African and I’m proud
I’m African and I’m proud
I’m African and I’m proud
I’m African and I’m proud

But repeating the same line five times
Sounds like I’m trying to convince my mind
About my Africanness as if off it, I would be mindless

Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t even know what “Africa” means

Do I need books or the Internet to know who I am, really?
I didn’t know it was Latin before I browsed search engines
I felt so ashamed to know the etymology of my origins

But why should I trust the ink of the man who stole my history
To sell it back to me at an expensive cost in an education package,
Confusing my mind with lots of civilization stories I don’t need
So I won’t ask questions such as why was my kind held in cages?
Today they throw cool iPhone cases at me so I get my eyes off the Ota Benga case:
A pygmy held in a New York zoo among apes to satisfy their Darwinism
I am outraged not just by the degree of this ignorance exhibitionism
But by my own African kings who gave away their own people as bonus
In exchange for mirrors, salt, guns and everything else bogus

Now tell me why should I be proud of being African?
Because I got rhythm in my genes? What about South Americans?
Maybe I should be proud coz the first human was found on my continent.
It was woman, right? And her name was Lucy HA-HA! And she had no man
I guess that’s why they say Africa is still a virgin but we call it Mama land?
You’re a part of me so I can only be proud of you beautiful green land

Mama Africa, I’m proud of you
Mama Africa, I’m proud of you
Mama Africa, I’m proud of you
Mama Africa, I’m proud of you
Mama Africa, I’m proud of you

But repeating the same line five times
Sounds like I’m trying to convince my mind
About my roots as if off them I wouldn’t be alive

I don’t half a clue about half of them but I’ve survived

Mama, no disrespect but this is not a life
Your wells are running low, times are dry
You’re lucky you’re still breathing but you’re in denial
You can’t win this fight no matter how many times
You convince yourself of the same lie
You’re not even standing on own your feet
Those are smart prosthetics, say “hello technology”
They got you, you can’t flee, you can’t be free

Sorry mama, I’m not insensitive but I’ve become immune
I respect you for your natural instinct of motherhood
For the fresh food, the fruits and care, I’ll say thank you
But don’t expect anything else from me coz I got nothing
Not even nothing to lose so I’ll lose myself an odd journey
Towards a jungle that is made of concrete
And where the paper made from your trees is the new green
See my brothers got greedy, chopped our family tree
Sold the pieces overseas so I sold my soul to the American dream
Coz I’m tired of having nightmares with my eyes open wide everyday
I can’t stay, my dreams are to get away, far away from your face
No no no mama, don’t get the wrong idea, I don’t hate you
I just hate to stand by and watch your sons rape you
Sorry I don’t have the power to save you
I won’t stick around and watch you die coz if you do, I’ll die too
So instead of dying together, maybe one of us should live to tell the story
Fuck their colors, names, definitions and racist theories
I just wanna disappear but before I get lost, mama, teach me
Teach me how to love so I can teach tomorrow a better way to live

#1key