Trabolee is arguably the best lyricist you have heard in a while. With his piercing lyrics and mind boggling flows, there’s few people on his level of artistry. We got a chance to talk to him about one of his recent songs, “Feedback” and get more insights into the multi-layered piece of art.
Please introduce yourself. Who are you as an artist and what do you represent? Who are you as a human and what do you believe in? Who are you as a rapper?
I’m Trabolee. The name stands for Truth Reigns Above But Only Love Exists Eternally. However as my career took its course ,Tra is what most people refer to me as. Tra is Art as a rapper. That’s a mantra that mirrors my innermost reflections when I’m creating. I’ve always been amazed at how the mundane nothingness of life can be transformed into a canvas,especially if one is in-tune enough to see the patterns and connections that are always presenting themselves in the now.
As a human I’m a boy, a dreamer, a brother, a son, a friend, a wounded healer. I don’t like to believe as much I prefer knowing and not knowing, especially not knowing that I don’t know.
Your song “Feedback” is easily one of the best written songs of the past year. What message are you trying to convey?
I appreciate that.
My original intent was to create a very confrontational piece of art but what floated to the surface ended up being layered in many ways. Mainly because I allowed my imagination to meander into those uncharted territories of my mind. Thus there’s a contradictory element that cuts across the whole song, from the hook and the verses, a paradox if you may. One example is the paradox between upholding the intellect as a tool for social change but at the same time the second verse explores and acknowledges the vanity of knowledge together with the angst and pain that arises from that. I believe being “woke” and conscious is cool but self-awareness is key. Especially in an age where things like spirituality are trendy and adopted without being rooted in true humanness you’ll find an imbalance and numbness befalls us because in our attempts to create meaning we tend to fall for one crutch after another and never becoming wholesome individuals. Life at its core though is always reflecting back to us our genuine input and that’s the best feedback you could ever ask for.
The hook itself is indicative of a struggle we all go through in pursuit of our desires in life. It goes:
I’m fed up sihitaji feedback/
Baby Keep Your Head Up Coz You Need To Feed That/
What situation led you to proclaiming you do not require Feedback?
Initially, Feedback was to be part of a project titled “Preaching 2 Da Converted” but the project evolved and morphed into something else which is on its way.
With that being said, there’s a Buddhist saying that goes “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him”
What “messiahs” do is leave the world in a mess. I’d rather my music guide someone to the threshold of their own self-discovery rather than a slight stroke of my ego (which is contradictory I know). In that same vein, I believe I’m just a vessel sometimes, and most artists are too, depending on what signals we are emitting. If I put my lower self out of the equation then I allow the art to speak for itself.
Still on the hook, you say you’re fed up, but still offer a word of encouragement in the end “Baby keep your head up, coz you need to feed that” This to me speaks to the resilience that’s needed in pursuing certain passions e.g. rap What did you have in mind when penning this line, especially the second part?
For one, there’s 2Pac’s song called “Keep Ya Head Up” (Highly recommend) that urges men to recognize the importance and relevance of the feminine in our lives but also I’m urging the listener that the truest transformation or change that we seek will only arise from a conscious input of what we feed our beings. The food here refers to where we direct our attentions to in terms of the books we read, the things we watch, the conversations we have… etc they all eventually determine our point-of-yous and what we tend to value.
Moving into the verse “Hata uliza Intelligence Central watakuambia the mind ndo utensil
Lakini most zishaoshwa wakiwater down everything” What are some of these truths that you feel have been watered down?
It’s not necessarily truths alone that have been watered down but cultures too, and cultures are the tools in which we tell our stories. You can choose to look at it this way: The universe is not made of atoms it’s made of stories and verses and in an era where anti-intellectualism is promoted in the veil of inclusivity, that eventually sips into everything we do. Nuances and unique stances fade away and group-think is favoured.
“Lakini sita-act righteous na kila night nastare at the tube/
Eyes kwa bare boobs surprise sita-spare lube/
In the process napoteza the golden love yenye ni God given/
Ntapataje the chosen one nikitreat objects ka women/”
This is a very revealing part of the song and it struck me just from the honesty and rawness it holds. Objectification of women has been a hot topic this past year especially in Kenya. What is your view on the status of feminism and the #metoo campaign
Regardless of any ism, all oppression is connected. If any individual is marginalized based on aspects that they did not choose themselves (race, gender,tribe etc) and thus not able to thrive fully on the planet then it’s a reflection of the collective sickness of the human race .However, I believe as haltingly and slowly as it may seem , humanity is moving in the right direction. We are making the unconscious, conscious and no longer calling it fate. When injustices and atrocities are brought to the surface then a dialogue ensues and from there solutions can be created.
Another mind altering lyric on the song: “I KNOW I AIN’T FREE I JUST SWITCHED CAGES” Talk to me about the meaning behind this bar.
For the longest time for me, I thought freedom was the highest ideal one could aim for but I came to realize things like commitment, clarity, being wholesome and resourceful maybe much more worthy to strive for. The bar is a cautionary tale of sorts that you may identify with one thing – be it an ideology or a person – in search of salvation but end up not confronting and meeting who you really are.
During the creation process, one is usually flooded with doubts. You talk about the inner critic on this bar: “Silencer aimed at the inner critic” How do you personally get past these doubts and what advice would you give someone who may be going through a similar phase?
I’d tell them if they are doubtful chances are they are true creators. The counterfeit innovators are wildly self-confident but the real ones are scared to death. It’s part of it all, that’s why in the international scene you’ll hear of album release dates being postponed time and time again. It’s human to doubt and not to know, that opens you to a limitless possibility of how you could mould your creations.
If one is really pushing the envelope in any field, doubt can be a useful tool only if it doesn’t cripple creativity because you’ll always stay on your toes and make sure you hit the nail right on the head.
As we finish off, how important do you think rap music, specifically lyrical hip-hop, is in our current situation in Kenya? Do you see its relevance?
I think it’s important to a degree. Fela said music is the weapon of the future, but at the same time the importance is misconstrued. Some mistake defeatist lyrics as the epitome of conscious rap, some deem regurgitating the news of the world and putting it into lyrics as conscious music, some prefer preaching certain ideologies but I don’t know if we have enough rappers who absorb what’s going on, process it and give their own unique stand point. The emotive element is always missing sometimes. Maybe if singing is the language of the soul and speaking is the language of the mind, then rap is both of them combined?
Lastly, what is your favourite Kenyan song at the moment?
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