Best Kenyan albums of 2023

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Some of the best albums of 2023.

Kenyan musicians have outdone themselves this year by releasing some of the best music albums.

Below we look at some of them and the work that was put in to deliver the final masterpiece.

Sabi Wu - Freedom 

If consistency was a person, Sabi Wu would personify the role. Playing Kenya music’s perpetual villain, Sabi Wu has a reputation for speaking hard-to-swallow truths and sometimes, graphic quotes.

On his fifth studio album as a solo indie artiste, Sabi Wu goes for a more cultured and historical edge.

With hints of his Kikuyu background and track titles that pay homage to his ethnic belonging such as Mungki Freestyle, the record producer and artiste proves he is not afraid to explore and broaden his scope.

Blending Afropop and the bouncy Afro-Swing elements that popularised him with his early single Fanya Like This, the sound palette remains prevalent on records like Freedom, with rising R&B heartthrob Njeri, and others.

Sabi Wu is growing fast; his latest major outing being at Tusker Oktoberfest.

Sabi Wu's Freedom 

Bien - Alusa Why Are You Topless?

On his debut studio album, the Mbwe Mbwe hit-maker proves leads with his UK charting anthem My Baby alongside Nigerian Grammy-nominated superstar Ayra Starr.

In the album, Bien goes all in. And the Warner Music signee now has access to the best in world music in regards to infrastructure, collaborations, and exposure.

The Inauma singer-songwriter leans more into Afrobeats, recruits UK’s spellbinding rapper Ms Banks and maintains his Upperhill ties with Scar Mkadinali on Lifestyle.

The album speaks to how he sees love as an adult.

With the spotlight on him and his public marriage with dancer wife Chiki Kuruka, he explores the journey of matrimony on the album.

Bensoul - Lion of Suddah

Bensoul, like his Sauti Sol mentors, is known for sharing weighty love-heavy songs. From bedroom sizzlers such as Thick Thighs, his formulaic approach to penning songs for the ladies continues with his star-studded album.

Cuts like Row, Chizi, and the elevating stand-out Napepea further cement his effortless songwriting, relatability, catchiness and song-making prowess.

On his last album under the Sol Generation imprint, the Favorite Song singer opens up with songs on his love life, infidelity and stardom. He does it in a way that we almost don’t feel the heaviness of certain topics.

“From the quality of mic I used, to recording myself, this is my best body of work. Having my equipment helped me open up on the vulnerable songs because there are some songs you can’t even record in the presence of people,” he said.

Nviiri - Inside Out

In a record that feels hedonistic, Bwana Sherehe, Nviiri describes his mood on the album as “the self-realisation is stronger now.”

Nviiri’s music is adored because he makes feel-good music, but he is also self-aware and can make music that strikes a chord sentimentally. He shows gratitude for the lofty life he lives on Blessings, he is also able to self-reflect on the title track Inside Out.

His acoustic exploits are not left behind as he also shares a sweet moment on Mama, with tear-jerking vocals.

It doesn’t take long before he wades into club-centred music with an airport lobby-esque style on Leta Pombe, Badilika and Pombe Isiwe Tamu.

Fitting for a night out, there are a lot of party hits on the album. 

Kagwe - Rada

Perhaps Kagwe has forged this glaring persona for making music for light-skinned men, as X comedians would suggest, but his dexterity in producing music is unquestionable.

On his second record, Rada, a nod to Kenyan 2000s classics - Kagwe modernises and personalises nostalgic Kenyan records such as E-Sir’s Mos Mos and Nameless’ Holiday.

He shows why he is one of Kenya’s pop sensations. Fan favourites such as Ghostika also get to make it in.

Fena - Love, Art, Lust

“Coming out of Covid, I had to look within and this record was made during that period.  It took a lot of spiritual and emotional work to deliver through the years,” says Fena Gitu.

Her third studio album, this layered and masterfully crafted work by Fena is a musical expedition and diary on how to show up when the time comes.

Self-reflective, growth-brooding, immersive, and intricate, Fena says, “This album was expensive to make”.

On the cover, Fena paints a motif of herself symbolising the inner work we must internalise through listening and self-healing therapy. This was a glistening project of dealing with hard truths about ourselves.

Kahu$h - Uptown Chokoraa

After a notable absence from making music, Kahu$h delivers a cohesive body of work. His spacey beats and trunk-thundering trap meet silky Afro bops.

As much as critics ridicule Kahu$h for his lyricism, he more than makes up for the same with his infectious energy and emo-rap frequencies.

Glock Kwa Lap is easily a vignette, Energy is reminiscent of the soulful Camp Mulla music in the early 2010s, and Stoned is a powerful collaborative number alongside Shrap maven Boutross. And he doesn’t go wrong tapping Kilimani freshman Korb$.

Uptown Chokoraa sees a full-on project where Kahu$h is slowly finding out his sound, and it feels right.

Wakadinali - Ndani Ya Cockpit 3

After 2022’s track of the year Geri Inegi, many would anticipate a fall from grace from the most grungy Hip Hop group Kenya has seen since the Ukoo Flani days.

With mainstream media already trying to poke holes in the Rong Rende freight train for not being a clean enough brand, Wakadinali is more than certified on the streets.

Their Ndani Ya Cockpit series continues their indomitable run as a music force with unparalleled tracks such as MC MCA, and Sikutambui.

Their unrivalled sense of how to ride instrumentals unconventionally, and command of sheng lingo continue to help them make strong records.

Xenia Manasseh - Love/ Hate Part 1

Kenya’s R&B royalty Xenia Manasseh is like an outlier in Kenyan music. Her adroit nature to produce and weave music is a joy to behold.

On her debut studio album, Xenia unfolds songs that express her forlorn relationship with romance and intimacy. She sings wearingly and scorns her lover at times, but this makes for raw emotion and a superb record.

Having a year to remember, Xenia’s fervour shines through on the title track Love/Hate.

TwennyEights - Rich Before Rap 

A rapper from Kilimani faction TNT, TwennyEights, is one of Kenya’s best rappers.

A tastemaker in hip-hop, TwennyEights unveiled his studio album laden with soul samples and trauma-filled rap.

Nairobi can be a tough nut to crack as an artiste, forcing them to use ulterior means to fund their music, and this makes for great tales.

The adversity is a canvas TwennyEights paints on and no one can address the Nairobi lifestyle as he does, at least in English.

Permeating confidence through his music with lyrics are filled with braggadocio and wit.

“I ain’t do a show in ‘bout a year, and I’m still doing fine”, and “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time” are some of the poetic one-liners Twenny raps so easily, making him one of Kenya’s most prolific lyricists able to constantly produce bodies of work worth our time. 

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