Fela and Hip Hop

Anybody who knows me would tell you I’m a big fan of HipHop, not just the music but the culture, how it came to be and why it was born. Early rap songs were all about the struggle of the streets, the oppression of “The Man” and why “Niggas” have to live in ghettos. Some rappers still give that same story today however you might also peep them in their Bentley talking about being Ghetto Fabulous.

Anyway. I took time to focus on the “story of the struggle” and I believe no other man has been able to give it a better description other than the late great Fela Kuti. Listening to his lyrics you were able to get a vivid description of the nature of the gully Nigerian environment as the country was ushered into military rule. He was like a foreshadow of Tupac Shakur, Nigeria’s answer to Bob Marley. Hmm it’s funny how these great men die in unusual ways…. However this is not why we are here.

So indeed why are here? Let’s just say it was one of my very boring days listening to Fela’s “Beast of No Nation” amongst other songs and I decided to search on his influence on other forms of music. Of course my “best friend”, Wikipedia had a lot to say about him being the pioneer of Afrobeat and how he was influenced by the Funk sounds of the 70s in the United States. However hardly anything was written about Fela and his influence on urban music, hiphop to be more precise.

Fela today is being celebrated today as a cultural icon and a revolutionary leader. Online you can find stores that sell Fela merchandise like T-Shirts, however I wonder if his family gets paid royalties…. Many Nigerian artists, like Dbanj and Sauce Kid cite Fela Kuti as a major influence in their music. However you might expect that given that they are all from the same country. However, what is Fela’s influence on Hip Hop Culture overseas? Let’s take a look:

–        The Roots referenced him off one of their critically acclaimed albums, Rising Down:

Look, my squad half Mandrill, half Mandela// My Band ’bout 70 strong just like Fela


–        Talib Referenced him on his song Joy off his Quality Album in 2002:

Kweli, I know how you feel, say bro’ I know how you feel (Fela, be my joy, yo)


–        Lupe Fiasco dropped one of the dopest Freestyles BMF- Building Minds Faster and mentioned the great legend:

I think I’m Malcom X, Martin Luther, Add a King, Add a Junior //Some Bible verses, couple sunnas, An AK-47 that’s a Revolution// I think I’m Tupac, Bob Marley, Fela Kuti, Marcus Garvey


–        Red Hot Organization created a Tribute album: Red Hot + Riot: The Music and Spirit of Fela Kuti. This album was used as a fund raising tool for AIDS awareness and featured prominent artists like D’angelo, Dead Prez, Talib Kweli and Common

–        On August 18, 2009, award winning DJ Period released a Free Mixtape to the general public via his website that was a collaboration with Somali born hip hop artist K’naan pay tribute to Fela, Bob Marley and Bob Dylan titled “The Messengers”


Common in his critically acclaimed album; “Like Water for Chocolate” had the first track track titled “Time Travelin’ (A Tribute to Fela)” and the second track is called “Heat” which contains a sample from “Asiko” performed by Tony Allen, Fela’s drummer

Nas sampled “Na Poi” by Fela for Kuti for Warrior Song featuring Alicia Keys off his God’s Son album

Mos Def sampled Fear Not For Men by Fela Kuti for his track Fear Not of Man off his Black on Both Sides Album

–        Mike Love released The Nigerian Gangster Mixtape which features lyrics off Jay-Z’s American Gangster album and Fela Kuti’s samples

Last but not least, The Fela Broadway show funded and produced by HipHop icons Jay-Z and Will Smith

These are a few of the many influences Fela Kuti has had on Urban Hip Hop music. I believe in years to come, this great man will be celebrated more and the world would truly recognize him for his contribution to music.

Tunji Akinbami