Interview
Kiff No Beat. Photo: Wilfried 'Tony' Sant'Anna

Kiff No Beat, Cote d'Ivoire's Premier Rap Group, On Being the Blueprint For the Youth

Kiff No Beat are riding a wave that shows no signs of slowing down.

I walk into a studio tucked on an unpaved road in Cocody, Abidjan, and I'm greeted by a young beatmaker, Tam Sir, the female duo, Nafasi, and the multi-platinum producer behind a number of Afro-French hits, Christophe Ghenda.

What's blasting from the speakers has me silently bobbing my head. Kiff No Beat members Didi B, Elow'n, El Jay, Black K, and Joochar aren't yet present. The artists I do see are on Africa Mindset, a label headed by Didi B, the leading member of La Kiff. A couple moments pass before Black K walks in and starts listening to another track made by Christophe Ghenda. Not too far from me sits the up and coming Congolese crooner, Cevin, waiting to leave for an interview.

Universal Music Africa has flown in Ghenda to diversify the sort of music their artists are releasing and evidently churn out bangers. It's Didi B's birthday and I am told to expect some delay. A few hours of waiting go by as artists shuffle in and out of the studio and more members of Kiff No Beat trickle in.


The group was founded in 2009 as the merging of two rival hip hop groups, JEKBOYZ and KIFF BLACK won a hip-hop competition titled, FAYA FLOW, and took their wins to producer Shado Chris to create hits for them. He catapulted their careers, and the rest is a history that is still being written.

With the albums Cadeau De Noël (2011) and Pétards D'Ados (2014), and mixtapes Cubisme (2015) and Made in bled (2018), under their belt, Kiff No Beat is slated to release a new record this year. Despite being newly signed to Universal Music Africa, they are seasoned in the game.

With over 10 years behind them, these men are riding a wave that shows no signs of slowing down. Their winning formula is an eclecticism that is a hit with the youth and adults alike—rapping and singing in nouchi (Ivorian slang) over trap and Coupé-Décalé beats. Where Black K, Elow'n, and Didi B are known for their raps, El Jay sings and Joochar sprinkles reggae and dancehall on tracks.

Kiff No Beat - Ce n'est pas bon youtu.be

Kiff No Beat has not only inspired young rappers coming up after them but moved an entire industry towards blending hip-hop and afrobeats together—and they've now got competition from coupé-décalé artists rapping. Rap and coupé-décalé are dead locked in a fight to dominate Ivorian music and spectators are eating it all up.

When all five members have assembled, they posses a chemistry that lights up a room and rare are the moments that aren't filled with laughter. They speak with ease about who they were at the start of their careers, who they now and what it means to be ambassadors of urban culture at home and abroad.

This interview was conducted in French and has been translated and edited for length and clarity.

Okayafrica: Who are your musical influences?

Elow'n: The idea of forming a group this size was brought on by French hip-hop group, Sexion d'Assaut. Seeing them made us realize it's possible. The way in which each member sings or raps depends on their influences. I'm influenced by American rap—T-Pain, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar. They'll tell you theirs.

Didi B: My influences are more so singers and not rappers—Alpha Blondy, Meiway, Michael Jackson—Everyone with a unique presence about themselves. When we started, we did a lot of choreography, as well; we thought of ourselves more so as artists than rappers. We had idols who more so inspired the way we put on concerts or shows. There are a few rappers though, Booba and Lil' Wayne.

El Jay: I listen to singers like Mario and the greats who started R&B.;

Black K: Same as them but we're inspired by everything, namely African music like Lokua Kanza.

Didi B. Photo: Wilfried 'Tony' Sant'Anna

I'm going to ask you all to describe each member of the group. Let's start with El Jay.

Didi B: El Jay is more so the melody, he's the softness of the group, he's also our go-to guy for afrobeats, when we have to depart from rap or trap, we count on him to bring it home. He's also the group's pop star.

Elow'n: He's our lover. He's soft. He's our Chris Brown, our Matt Pokora, our melody. He's also a great dancer.

Up next is Didi B.

El Jay: He's the dark rapper of the group. He's our dark side. He's the group's hardcore rapper.

Elow'n: He's the brains. He typically knows what to do and when. He's our strength. He's our third eye.

Black K: He's our leader. He knows when we should release a track. He's our sorcerer.

Black K's turn.

Elow'n: He's l'homme étrange (the mysterious man). He's black, obscure, dark. He's capable of everything. He can rap, sing and even flow on Ndombolo.

Didi B: He possesses a wide breadth of knowledge of afrobeats. When we want to get traditional or incorporate the use of guitar riffs, he's our go-to. It certainly comes from his family, from the music that his sister makes. (Gnahoré Okou Camille or Black K comes from a musical background as his sister, Dobet Gnahoré, is a singer, and his father, Boni Gnahoré, was a percussionist and a singer, as well) He's responsible for songs like "Ils on dit".

El Jay: He's our resident stylist. He's responsible for the styling behind a lot of our music videos. He's an expert when it comes to putting outfits together.

Black K. Photo: Wilfried 'Tony' Sant'Anna

How about Joochar?

El Jay: He's our reggae, dancehall vibe.

Elow'n: He's a hybrid and adaptable.

Dibi B: He's also the person who is the most shy in the group. He's like the rat in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Master Splinter, who never comes out.

And Elow'n?

Johnny (Group Manager): He's a humorist. He's outspoken and charismatic.

Didi B: Elow'n is the only one who doesn't sing. He raps rapidly, it's his gift.

What themes do you cover in your music?

Dibi B: Alcohol, sex, drugs. Life, in all honesty. We aren't conscious rappers. We aren't inclined to give life advice etc. Most conscious rappers do what we do behind closed doors.

Elow'n: This isn't church music! We don't lie in our songs.

Dibi B: We do, however, convey messages. Our latest track "Yaka Dormir" is about working hard for your family.

Kiff No Beat - Yaka dormir youtu.be

You were previously signed to Da Carmen label, what has changed since your move to Universal Music Africa?

Elow'n: Soon after signing, we made a music video with Clarence Peters (Nigerian music video director), we partook in a show at Paris' L'Olympia, attended Cannes Music Festival and did huge features with Kaaris and Tiwa Savage. We've expanded. We couldn't of done any of this as independent artists. We are reaching new heights.

Didi B: Because we made things happen for ourselves at the start of our career, we've had help getting to the next level—the European and anglophone market. Because of them (Universal) we have new videos and a better understanding of where our money is coming from and going… When we started out, we were solely dependent on funds from concerts and shows at baptisms and weddings. We used to just randomly release music and nothing was monetized.

Elow'n: You can hear us in playlists on Air France flights. We have gone to Georgia to shoot a music video. Our songs are being mastered in countries like Pakistan. We can see clearly now. "C'est plus pour la mairie," (an Ivorian expression that means we are no longer out here working for free).

El Jay: There are really artists out here unknowingly making music for free!

El Jay. Photo: Wilfried 'Tony' Sant'Anna

When is the next album coming out?

Elow'n: Soon. A couple weeks. It's already ready. We have a couple finishing touches left. We just have to give a date and it's out. We promise the album before July. We promise the album in 2019.

What is the state of music in Ivory Coast?

Elow'n: Before, there was only coupé-décalé, now rap has come and imposed itself. It hasn't been easy. In 2003 or 2004, all there was was coupé-décalé; luckily, nowadays, everyone is talking about rap. There are now two styles that are definitely here to stay.

Didi B: Music has done well here. There are a variety of festivals and concerts popping up. This wasn't the case before. Before, it was one artist with a concert at Le Palais. Now, there are as many as 5 concerts, during the holidays, and 10 during the year. There are even award shows. Honestly, things are going well. Within our genre, things are going well. After us, there are artists on the come up.

Do you think this is due to you all?

Elow'n: We are definitely responsible for this.

Elow'n. Photo: Wilfried 'Tony' Sant'Anna

What advice would you give to artists coming up under you?

Didi B: My advice is to try to understand your rights. It's also to be perseverant and work hard. I want to reiterate, 'Know your rights,' and be professional. If we signed with Universal, it was because we've always been professional. We paid our friends who made our covers, we did shoots for our covers, which isn't common here. Here, artists drop a track with a cover that's an image of them in a club. Universal saw how serious we were about our craft and it motivated them to work with us.

Elow'n: There is money to be made in this industry. It is important to know what steps to take. An industry where everyone wants to be Kiff No Beat is no good; you have to have your own identity, an identity that no one else has. That's what we did, we came on the scene as something new and refreshing. To be someone who inspires someone tomorrow, you have to be different from everyone else at your start. Be your own person. Don't sell gumbo in a market where everyone else is selling gumbo.

Joochar. Photo: Wilfried 'Tony' Sant'Anna

Do you see yourselves as ambassadors for your country?

Elow'n: We are conscious of the fact that there are a lot of youth who watch us and are inspired by us.

Didi B: There's a generation of people who are coming up like us. We are rappers but Tony, for example, is a photographer. Drogba once said, "On a ça aussi chez nous," (We have that where I'm from) We see ourselves as the representatives of urban culture, of rap, of beautiful music videos.

Black K: There's swag here in Africa.

Elow'n: C'est la nouvelle Afrique. (It's a new Africa)

El Jay: There's a new generation whose entrepreneurial and is attempting to work hard and develop its businesses.

Audrey Lang is a writer and merchandiser based out of Boston. All photos by Wilfried 'Tony' Sant'Anna.

Sports
Photo by Ned Dishman, courtesy of Pops Bonsu.

In Conversation: Meet Pops Mensah-Bonsu—the Ghanaian Former Pro Player Trailblazing the Front Desk of the NBA

We speak to the general manager of the Capital City Go-Go about his journey to professional basketball stardom, his hopes for the Basketball Africa League and more.

Nana Pops Mensah-Bonsu didn't take basketball seriously at first. For the now General Manager of the Capital City Go-Go and a former player in the NBA and European leagues, the game wasn't as exciting as other sports. "For me, I was impressionable," he says, "I was young; all my friends played soccer and ran track. That's what I really wanted to do."

Born and raised in London, England, the former pro with Ghanaian roots (whose name stems from his middle name, Papa—the equivalent to 'junior') grew up playing soccer and running track. His older brother started playing basketball, a relatively invisible sport compared to soccer, when he was about 16 in the early 90s and eventually moved to the U.S. on a scholarship. Mensah-Bonsu says that when parents witnessed his brother's experience, they took it as an opportunity for the rest of their children to do the same—allowing them to have a better opportunity to succeed.

Mensah-Bonsu's dad introduced him to basketball and took him to the other side of London where he started developing his skills. After juggling the three sports with basketball on the back burner, Mensah-Bonsu eventually realized his potential once he made the move stateside himself as a teen. Making a name for himself as a student-athlete at George Washington University, his work ethic led him to a professional career in both the NBA, playing for the likes of the Dallas Mavericks, Minnesota Timberwolves and Toronto Raptors as well as internationally—playing for clubs in Spain, France, Turkey, Russia and Italy, to name a few.

Retiring in his early 30s, Mensah-Bonsu is still a part of the game—but on the decision-making side. Currently serving as the Capital City Go-Go's general manager of the G League (the official minor league of the NBA) in Washington, D.C., he's trying to blaze a trail for more diversity and inclusion in the NBA front office. "I really want to do my best and succeed at this next level because I know how profound and impactful it can be if it's done well," he says. "I put pressure on myself to work extra hard to make sure I can get to this position where I can have that impact on these guys and show them a mirror image of themselves and show them how possible it is."

We caught up with Pops Mensah-Bonsu to learn more about his journey navigating basketball stardom to calling the shots behind the scenes, his hopes for the newly established Basketball Africa League and more in the interview below.

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Music
25K. Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

How a 3-Year-Old Song Earned SA Artist 25K a Deal with Universal & a Co-Sign From AKA

We interview 25K, the South African rapper poised to be the country's next star.

AKA was so moved by up-and-coming Pretoria rapper and producer 25K's single "Culture Vulture," he gave him a slot on his monumental Orchestra on the Square concert in March.

"The whole process when Kiernan (AKA's real name) reached out," recalls 25K, who will later admit AKA is one of his favorite artists, "that was like a dream come true for me. We were doing a gig, when I got home, I got a text, and it said, 'Yo, this is Kiernan, hit me back.' So, I saved the number, I was like, 'Yo,' then he FaceTimed me. He was like, '25K, I just had to reach you, dawg. Your song is great,' So, I was out of words. Just listening to him talk to me. He was like, 'Bro, we need to cook up something.' But eventually, time will tell. So the people will get to hear."

Thabiso Khathi, the respected hip-hop head & record label executive popularly known as Hip-Hop Scholar, as well as the newly appointed Head of Urban at Universal Music Group South Africa, lets the cat out of the bag. "I don't know if the world knows that AKA officially jumped on the remix for 'Culture Vulture,' which we will be bringing out in the next few weeks," says Scholar. Today, him and the label have gathered journalists at the Universal Music Group headquarters in Rosebank to witness the young artist's signing.

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News Brief
Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

Nigerian-British Actor Susan Wokoma's First Rom-Com Feature Film Is In the Works

She's set to write and star in BBC Films-backed 'Three Weeks'—a rom-com drama about abortion.

Just two months ago, we got wind of Susan Wokoma landing a series regular role in CBS' new comedy pilot, Super Simple Love Story.

The Nigerian-British actor and 2017 BAFTA Breakthrough Brit honoree continues to make power moves in entertainment, as it was recently announced that she's in the process of writing her feature debut, Three Weeks, Variety reports.

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