Best New Music: Blinky Bill mines inspiration from the old on the rap banger, “Boss”
Best New Music: Blinky Bill mines inspiration from the old on the rap banger, “Boss”

Best New Music: Blinky Bill mines inspiration from the old on the rap banger, “Boss”

A standout off his new album, 'We Cut Keys 2'

Blinky Bill is a savant of the avant. Since the late 2000s, the Kenyan artist and producer has gained a rep for being authentic, creating with very little reverence for norms or trends. As a foundational tone-setter for the eventual arrival of Nu Nairobi, a loose community of artists who champion expression that’s alternate to the mainstream, Blinky’s bonafides are sealed, especially buoyed by a formidable solo catalogue since the much beloved, seminal group, Just A Band, dispersed—and reassembled in 2022.

In late January, Blinky Bill released ‘We Cut Keys 2’, his first project release in over five years and the sequel to his debut project, ‘We Cut Keys While You Wait’. The new album is a semi-sprawling 16-song set where Blinky jams in a truckload of viscerally exciting music ideas, roaming across jazzy keys, pounding electronic bass, funky guitar riffs, and traditionally-inspired rhythms. As with all of his albums, there are lyrical moments driven by profundity, fitting for an artist who’s adept at exploring personal concern with an accessible, everyman’s rapper finesse.

At that, what really elevates ‘We Cut Keys 2’ is that it feels like the most fun album Blinky Bill has made till date. As exciting as the genre-blurring swings on his previous two projects were, there’s a lot more assuredness to the music here, even when his inspiration ventures further than anything he’s done before. Lodged in the lower middle part of the album is “Boss,” a rollicking banger that repurposes the rustic groove of traditional Luo music. The result is a swaggering rap banger with a distinctly Kenyan and East African core.

The first thing that meets listeners’ ears on “Boss” are thick low end drums, all pounding bass and no snare, accented by handclaps and what sounds like a glinting triangle sample. It doesn’t take long for the song to get fuller, with the addition of local drums and a central Benga guitar riff. It’s a musical carnival, where the old informs the new, where the urban is rooted in the pure charm of heritage. Even though the ethos is very familiar in current Afropop, it’s nothing like I’ve ever heard, and that will probably be the same for many listeners.


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Blinky Bill doesn’t complicate things with his raps, “Boss” is a celebration of self and declaration of reverence of the culture and music that came before him. “They need to know I’m a champion,” Blinky coolly asserts in a sing-rap cadence, segueing into a hook that repeats the song’s title with an infectious stomp. As for reverence, it’s in the performance as much as it is in the music. Amongst one of the more thoughtful guests, early 2000s Kenyan rap icon Maji Maji, of the seminal duo GidiGidi MajiMaji, delivers an energetic verse, with his grizzled chants floating over a section of the arrangement stripped of the pounding.

Rounding out the song are the yelped adlibs by another Kenyan music legend Melkizedo, making the union of old and new feel even fuller. On an album with over a dozen guests, including American rapper Goldlink and British-Ghanaian artist Fuse ODG, Blinky Bill hits a novel, incredibly rewarding note with “Boss.”