The Little Book of Rhymes

I picture a young rapper standing on the stage, he’s dressed in a white tee shirt and blue jeans and sneakers. His right hand is holding a microphone, his brow is dripping sweat, and his eyes are gazing beyond the crowd before him, gazing at a place only he seems to see. The crowd starts chanting his name, his face lights up, and I imagine the butterflies in his tummy evaporating away as confidence comes in to fill his nervous body.

He raises his mic to his mouth and shouts;

‘Nimeshika mic mkononi, mfukoni nina light,

Then he points the mic’ at the people and they scream;

‘What more do you want, free up your mind’

He waves his hand to the left, then to the right, hyping the people, and they follow his lead, their hands swaying like palm trees in the wind. This is his moment, this is what he lives for, when the DJ plays the beats to his song, and the crowd dances to the tune of his lyrics. I imagine that he is aware that he is a rapper at the height of the career, at the peak of his creativity. When you look around, you’ll see graffiti with his name and face on and in the hottest matatus in the city, and the same matatus play his hits back to back as they speed on our highways. When you sit still, you’ll hear the DJ play his songs at the club on weekends, and you’ll be surprised at how fast the tickets to his gigs get sold out.

I imagine all this hasn’t come easy. If you listen to his lyrics, they tell of a story of the struggles that have shaped his core identity and his sense of self. I picture the place he was born, it’s in the side of town where poverty hangs in the air like a bad smell, lingering in homes and lurking in dimly lit alleys like a mugger, always waiting to take the little that people have and remind them that they are the have-nots, they are not supposed to have.

I imagine that as soon as he developed a sense of awareness, he became conscious of the poverty around him, and the hold it has on the minds of the people, because when the same message is repeated to you over and over again, it forms part of your identity. When you listen to the voice in your head that keeps saying ‘you’re poor and you’ll always be. Just look around you and you’ll see’, you will look around and you will see the presence of poverty, just like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Perhaps you’ll see how your dad comes home drunk every night, and you’ll notice the anger that masks the pain and shame of the disease of alcoholism, which has rendered him incapable of providing for his family like he was told a real man should. You’ll see how he projects those feelings, the pain and the shame, on you. You’ll realize that when he shouts at you, hits you and calls you a waste of space, that is how he really feels about himself. You’ll notice that even your mum, who is a small scale groceries trader, often can’t make ends meet, because the city council askaris who always come to her small shop are always demanding for money, and sometimes it gets so ugly that her wares are thrown out onto the streets. This goes on for a while, then one day you notice that you no longer hear her cry at night like she always does, and the next day, you smell the vodka in her breath and realize she stopped crying because she has found a way to numb the pain.

I imagine that this rapper probably grew up in such circumstances. I picture him struggling to stay in school when all his peers are dropping out, because who can sit in a classroom to learn maths when it doesn’t add up why the landlord would throw their family out of their house, knowing too well that they have nowhere else to go? Who can sit in a classroom to learn about the history of the world, when their own history is marred by constant disruptions, an imminent threat of violence and even death?

I know you’re wondering how he made it against all the odds, how he stopped the vicious cycle of poverty that robs kids of their childhood and strips people of their dignity. Perhaps it is because he realized from a young age that he wanted to be a rapper like his older cousin, so when he felt overwhelmed he escaped this world by visualizing another where he was on a stage, performing before a large crowd, feeling the warmth of the love from his fans, and experiencing the peace and contentment of achieving his dreams.

Maybe when some of his peers, angry at society for the circumstances in their lives, turned their anger inwards to themselves, choosing to drink until they became zombies, he chose to pour his anger on paper, writing rhymes and lyrics in his little book of rhymes, which he always carried in his back pocket. When others, looking for a sense of power in a world that made them feel powerless, turned to crime, he turned to music, deriving power from the depth of his lyrics. Or maybe it was God’s grace that removed all obstacles from his path.

In any case, I picture him drawing inspiration from deep inside him, using his pain as a source of strength when others saw it as a weakness, choosing not to listen to the voice in his head that told him he would never transcend the damaging cycle of poverty. I picture the ambition in his throbbing veins, driving him to attend the open mic events in the city, away from the drama in his neighborhood.

I imagine the dark days, when the voice in his head is loudest, telling him that no one ever made it from his neighborhood with a little book of rhymes in his back pocket, but he choosing patience and persistence nonetheless, because no one travels this journey of life in a straight line; there are ups and downs, moments where you feel like you’re on top of the world, and moments when you feel like you hit rock bottom.

Let’s imagine that one day, at an open mic gig, where he performs one of the classics from his little book of rhymes;

Niliambiwa Kenya hakuna kazi, ati kazi ni kutafuta kazi,

Lakini kwangu kazi, ni kuangusha mistari, 


and after he’s done, someone approaches him and introduces himself as the CEO of a record label, and tells him that he’s been scouting for talent like his. I see his face light up with excitement, and his heart warm up with gratitude for the one-way ticket out of a destiny of crime, violence and addiction.

I see him now on stage, with golden bracelet on his wrists, a light in his eyes, a song in his heart and an eager crowd before him;

‘Kila mtu ana stori, yangu ni ya ajabu

Histori yangu mimi, imejaa tu taabu,

Lakini cheki nimemake it, kweli Mungu ni mkuu’


As the crowd cheers wildly, he pats his back pocket. His little book of rhymes still lies there faithfully, a canvas for more and more rhymes.

Picture Credits:


Power Nap

City in the Sun


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  1. Good read

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