Arriving seven years into Femi One’s career, her debut album Greatness excels as a multifaced, exhilarating and inspiring body of hip hop. It is bold and filled with a wild dose of personality and style.
Anyone bored of overused rap beats with rattling hi-hats, piercing snares and rumbling 808s should be refreshed by what Femi One has been able to accomplish on Greatness. Successful collaborations strew the 14-track record with artists from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. If she has chosen to name her album this way, it is primarily to set the record straight.
Greatness carries her signature punchlines, locally comedic nuances, thought-provoking rawness and the sheng (slang) street language. On the title track she sends shots to her haters in every direction (“Bad bitch nyi mumecome jana, nyi ma puppy” [I’m a bad bitch, but y’all who came yesterday are puppies]) with the confidence of a woman holding court in a kingdom she conquered.
Femi One frequently bends her words to create unique rhymes and packs her verses tightly with clever wordplay and obscure references, with lines like “Kachumbari haitaki joto, haipashwi moto”(Kachumbari [a tomato and onion salad] can neither be heated nor cooked) on ‘Balance’. She has endless lines worthy of a laugh, highlighting the kind of quick wit and humour that earned her the spotlight in the first place. ‘Utawezana’, which claimed its share of fame on TikTok with the Utawezana Dance Challenge last year, also rides on a similar vibe.
‘Duru za Kuaminika’ featuring Tanzanian rapper Joh Makini displays the lyrical brilliance of the two artists. Joh Makini spits rhymes about his haters while Femi One talks about her journey to success, although she is also notorious for releasing furious and fiery diss tracks like ‘Pilau Njeri’.
‘Adonai’ taps into Femi One’s gospel roots as she thanks God for her booming career. For the chorus, she enlists singer and producer Bern Mziki to emphasize that if one is good at what they do, they should hold their head up high and accept the accolades. That said, she still delivers a twerk anthem with ‘100 Bob’. The track has a heavy beat and is best experienced as loud as possible.
The juxtaposition between ‘Sina’ and ‘Diva’ is a showing of fierce sexuality. The former, which features singer Sanaipei Tande , is as raunchy as it is empowering. The two artists’ sexuality is assertive while demonstrating the desire for absolute commitment in relationships. This collaboration is significant for Femi One, who is rarely caught on wax with other female artists and who considers Tande an inspiration. Other collaborators on the album include B2C, Oksyde, Feffe Busi, and Jay ROX.
The 27-year-old Femi One is among a pantheon of rappers in Kenya. It’s why she was recently named Monster Energy brand ambassador, making her the first African female artist to be associated with the brand. Still, some deny her obvious talent and regard her success as a lucky break – led by industry power brokers who refuse to grant women their due in music. She has spent her career engaged in a battle against being boxed in and has on several occasions remarked that women find more challenges in the music industry than men: it’s harder to become known purely for talent than for looks. The Kaka Empire record label signee has contended with these double standards and expectations to emerge as a hip hop champion whose rapping skills have ensured her continued relevance in the genre’s conversation. Greatness asserts her as hip hop royalty, and nearly every song is glossy enough to be on rotation.