From the small city: The case of Mutare’s hip-hop scene and the inevitable rise of ‘East Side’ rappers


EAST SIDE is the common diction in urban street parlance that some of us love to use when referring to the fourth largest city in Zimbabwe, Mutare, and the entirety of Manicaland Province. Since the rise of the genre we call ZimHipHop, which is steadily becoming influential, it is beyond any doubt that the most noteworthy artists have tended to emerge from the big cities of Harare and Bulawayo. Only a few artists from the remaining cities that include Gweru, Mutare (emphasis added) and Masvingo – which are way smaller than Harare and Bulawayo – have managed to gain some form of recognition in the mainstream spaces of the genre.

From the small city: Mutare rappers and hip hop scene
Virus ZW, one of the foremost rap talents from Mutare whose visibility in ZimHipHop spaces has been steadily rising. [Image: File Photo]

Usually, artists from smaller cities struggle to garner adequate resources and social capital for the distribution and marketing of their products. Hence, their products, which are good in their own right, are commonly "not recognized" due to the prevalent relevance of influential artists from the big cities, who revel in their colossally contagious prominence. However, this all-too-familiar phenomenon has not stopped the eclectic strands of amazing creativity that the East Side creatives possess from flourishing. 

Through resolute motivation, industry knowledge, stoic marketing, and an indestructible yearning for their due recognition, these artists have managed to overcome obstacles in their way to create competent products that equally rival – and in some instances even better – the products from the big cities that are glorified in the mainstream for their “trending” factor. To this end, the phrase ''The birth and rise of East Side Rappers" thus becomes a reality to contend with; one that should be fully recognized.

East Side rappers, are indeed gifted, powerful content creators full of frenetic energy to create top-notch art, and this is reflected in their admirable dynamism and tenacity. Due to the perennial difficulties rife in the Zimbabwean music industry, it is extremely hard for these rappers to easily break through in mainstream spaces. They are unfortunately placed in the damnation called the “underground”, a segment of the industry where one, no matter how much talent they hold, will never be widely played in the streets of the country. 

For the average artist in Zimbabwe, gaining airplay on radio and television, notable streams on streaming platforms, and attention on social media is a moment to celebrate – one could even call all family and friends to celebrate that success on wine and champagne because it’s hard out there! 

Of course Mutare, and Manicaland at large, are always teeming with artistic talent. Just like any other place on the planet. The predicament of the East Side Rapper however is a tragic one, where one will be locked in a hole—but one that leaves an opening on top of it, exposing the rapper to much-needed glimmers of hope. There is room for improvement and development. It is undeniable. 

Usually, in a city that has less exposure to new ways of urban modernity and consumption patterns of cultural products, inferiority complexes ruthlessly strike the artist; they are demotivated, scorned, laughed at, and this this negatively impacts the self-esteem of the rapper, which takes a plunge that may be hard to remedy. This leads to decreased levels of creative zest and drive; and the artist becomes less serious as regards creating certified projects, and of course, they won’t strive towards monetizing their content. It is just a hard battle. 

Picture this – if it is a Herculean task to gain noteworthy attention and rewards in Harare and Bulawayo, what more of the small cities? 

Therefore, on the overall, all artists from Mutare are plagued with the same deficiency or syndrome that leads to their invisibility, and this is not anyone’s fault (though this is not an excuse to be complacent). So, in some instances, despite all their efforts, one cannot ignore that there is a palpable is a dearth of steadfastness and collective will to surmount the obstacles on the part of artists in Mutare. One may say this is a bit harsh. In the final analysis, these creatives, even though blessed with world-class talent filled with energy and dynamism remain locked in a kraal, crying and screaming for a graze.

Mutare has witnessed the birth and rise of innumerable talented rappers. A unique attribute of the East Side rappers is that each and every artist carries their own distinct style that is different from the other; art that is perfect in its own accord. A good number of music listeners who lend their ears to ZimHipHop sounds often have the misplaced notion that Mutare is a city void of competition. But how is this so when every settlement on this planet has its own creatives? 

The uniqueness of every rapper debunks that notion and when tracing the Mutare Hip Hop scene one can clearly observe that the city never rests in birthing new creatives for the world. The likes of Kritic Igwe, Trapper, C Bleech, Gransunn, Zexy Maine, Blu Eye, Kastic, Teqnic, Flexxo Mushawarukwa and many others have been the blueprint for mostly the young rising creatives and other aged artists as well. They are industry veterans. These artists mentioned above have been carrying Mutare Hip Hop on their backs with the hope that the locked kraal full of creatives might open and put the city on the map. 

It is not an impossible phenomenon for the average rapper coming from Mutare to make it in being played countrywide. Outside of hip-hop confines, Mutare has birthed immensely talented artists throughout the passage of time, and the process is unending because it is life in itself—new amazing artists are still being born. Prominent artists from Mutare such as Hosiah Chipanga, Juicer Mupostori, Assegai Crew, Agatha Murudzwa, Blessing Shumba, Memo Chinamasa, Sam Mature, Runn Family, among many others all emerged from the East Side as some of the country’s best artists. In the contemporary the city has birthed artists who have recognizable names including Rutendo Jackie, Flexxo Mushawarukwa, Doubles WekwaMarange, and others. 

This reinforces the solid idea that artists do not necessarily need to come from the big cities to make it in Zimbabwe’s cut-throat music scene. ZimHipHop has had some dope talent from the smaller urban areas: Noble Stylz, Jungle Loco, Kriss Newtone, come from Masvingo; Brian Jeck is a Chegutu native; Michael Magz comes from Chinhoyi; Kayflow from Gweru; and so on and so on. Perhaps the big city belief is a fallacy.

Although in the Mutare Hip Hop Scene it has mainly been the likes of Kritic Igwe and Flexxo on the forefront, the city has produced new age talented rappers that include Aguila, ArieMars, Virus ZW, Majestic, L- Tee, Pelican305, Jay ZW, 44blocks, Besuzu, Larri G, Lagoon, Aieno, A1Blax, Kimo Savage, El Khosa, Terrifiq Terry, Marnexy, Jae Drilla, Carnot, KD Da Gr8 among others (surely, lists are endless). These rappers have proved that it is indeed possible for Mutare to be given light too. In the subaltern areas of Mutare – notably Dangamvura, Chikanga, Sakubva, and Hobhouse – there is a collosal upsurge of brilliant upcoming rappers; and this has been the same phenomenon in the high-income areas too (uptown) – mainly in locations like Greenside, Palmerston, Morningside, Darlington, and Bordervale.

But, after all is said and done, the issue finally comes down to what needs to be implemented for these voices to broaden their audiences. These artists now have to rise out of their horizons, in a spirit of collective unison, and step out of their rap dungeons so that they masterfully showcase all their rich and lively content to the world. A radical shift in attitudes will go a long way in improving the fortunes of Mutare rappers. Because their birth and rise is inevitable. 

There is need for fundamental changes in terms of the “shifting of hip-hop culture” in Mutare and all artists need to assiduously strive towards producing material and intellectual incentives to uplift their unshakeable hip-hop spirits—they can fill the city's atmosphere with a resplendent hip-hop vibe that will obviously allow the advancement of hip-hop culture, in how it reflects our contextual realities and aspirations, and the fans will vindicate them. 

More hip-hop shows should be done on Diamond FM; more cyphers, rap battles, and live performances should come through; more cultural products should be tirelessly created; as well as collaborations with artists from other cities, both big and small; more sales of merchandise should be realized; healthy relations with the media and business stakeholders should be cultivated—this will lead to the inevitable recognition of the East Side rappers. Therefore, our exhortation is that ardent fans of creativity should keep their ears open for the East Side rappers. It can be done. It is possible. 

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