I am excited to launch my project, rapKenya, which can be viewed at rapkenya.matrix.msu.edu . rapKenya is intended to be a one-stop online resource for people interested in accessing and learning more about Kenyan hip-hop culture, particularly rap music.There are two components of this project: 1) digitization and annotation of Kenyan hip-hop lyrics and, 2) building of an online Sheng dictionary. Both components work towards the goal of giving people access to Kenyan hip-hop lyrics and help them discover the meaning of the lyrics. So far, I have completed what I would call the phase one of this project. I have built a website where this project will live using Foundation5 html framework.
I have also begun digitizing the hip-hop lyrics. I launch this project with the work of three artists: Jua Cali, Nazizi and Abbas.The digitization of lyrics in the site so far has been made possible through Ghafla!,a site that digitizes lyrics in all genres by artists from East Africa. All the lyrics so far uploaded in the rapKenya site are from Ghafla! I will continue to digitize lyrics for all Kenyan hip-hop artists with the help of the hip-hop artists themselves, fans, practitioners and scholars. I see these groups as collaborators who should participate in this collective knowledge creation and community building process. As we continue working on the project, we will include metadata like title of the songs, name of the artists, collaborators, record label, title of the album, producers, and year of release/production for each lyric.
The digitization and annotation of lyrics is an idea that was inspired by rapgenius. rapKenya invites people to see and appreciate rap lyrics as poetry as they engage in critique and annotation of the lyrics. Audiences outside Kenya will find the annotations particular very helpful since Kenyan hip-hop lyrics are written in multiple languages or in the Kenyan-urban youth code—Sheng. While Sheng is a discourse that continues to perplex many scholars in diverse fields, a common understanding of Sheng is that, it is a strategy of switching and mixing of languages, but also a linguistic code for Kenyan urban youth. Scholars interested in global hip-hop and/or who want to explore what Samy Alim calls “global Ill-literacies” that is, the “the hybrid, transcultural linguistic and literacy practices of Hip Hop youth in local and global contexts,” will find rapKenya a great resource.
And since Sheng is the language that gives Kenyan hip-hop its unique identity, and being the dominant code of composing, I felt the need to create a Sheng dictionary to allow users of this site to learn the meaning of Sheng words and phrases as used in the lyrics.One feature that attracts me to Sheng is its linguistic inventiveness. Kenyan hip-hop artists create words everyday that become part of Sheng lexicon. One component of rapKenya is an online Sheng dictionary. While there are so many Sheng dictionaries on the web, and in book form, my focus will be on Sheng lexicon and phrases as used in Kenyan hip-hop culture, hence the title hip-hop LX. Right now, I have only provided basic definitions/translations of the words in both Swahili and English. As I continue developing the site, I will provide example sentences in both Sheng and Swahili. I will also try to trace and include the origin of the Sheng words or demonstrate the process (es) of creating them. Building the dictionary is a collaborative process. As the project continues to evolve, hip-hop artists, fans, practitioners and scholars will be encouraged to submit more lexicon with translations in both Swahili and English. I believe an online dictionary is the ideal genre for Sheng because it is a fluid language that keeps on growing every day. As new words come up, they will be added to the dictionary. Or, as words develop new meanings, this will be added to the dictionary to reflect the change.
Annotation to begin later this Summer
This summer I will be working on building the annotation functionality to the rapKenya website using annotatorjs. Therefore, I anticipate the annotation process to begin later in the summer of 2014. Writing of the annotations will be a collaborative activity where anyone interested in doing the annotations will just need to visit the site, create an account and begin annotating. Stay tuned.