Naiboi has finally freed himself from what he considered a shitty record deal that he signed with Universal Music Group and he is ecstatic about the fact that he can now release as much music as his creativity allows him to generate.
He is one of many Kenyan celebrities who signed with an international record company only for their careers to be stifled and completely frozen. The others include guys like Sailors, Redsan, Xtatic, Gidi Gidi Maji Maji and in TZ there was Ali Kiba.
But why do Kenyan artists continue to seek out and engage international record labels even though they have been shown to be deleterious to most careers? Why did Naiboi decide to sign with them and what can we learn from this latest debacle?
For starters, we can get the question of why he signed out of the way; money. He was probably given a big cheque that made his head spin around. That is why he signed the contract without going through it with his lawyer. Why do I say this with all certainty? Because they would have warned him that the contract stipulated that the record company controlled (among other things) how and when he would be allowed to release music. And if they felt that the market was saturated by his content, they would put it on the back burner. And if they felt that his latest songs didn’t meet their standards or wouldn’t make a splash, they would simply shelf them.
Kenyan artists need to look to West Africa to see just how badly these deals have impacted some of the biggest stars in Africa and the world. The likes of Wizkid found themselves in a similar situation to Naiboi to the point he started putting out music under the name “Star Boy” just as a workaround.
Signing with a big label can be exciting because you get to say you work with the biggest names in entertainment and in theory, you really do. You can claim to have the capacity to call on one of your fellow label mates for collaborations. Hell, you can also potentially get tapped to participate in some of their bigger projects like providing soundtracks for movies but that is a mirage. A myth that they use to ensnare you.
In this day and age, any Kenyan artist should know that they are entirely capable of doing more for themselves than these record companies can. Naiboi was at the top of his game. He could call on his Kenyan peers and even if he wanted a continental collaboration, nothing stopped him from reaching out. He was in charge of his branding aswell as how he marketed himself. He is in charge of how he distributes his music and he will own all his masters. While that seems like Greek for today’s artists, it will become a huge deal in years to come as our entertainment scene blows up even more.
Naiboi should have continued to bet on himself. He left off while riding a wave but now he has to start again from scratch. Granted, he has done this before when he rebranded from rapdamu but no one wants to always feel like they have taken one step back for every two steps they took forward.
Young artists need to learn to keep their heads down and focus on their craft. International record companies do not know what to do with African content. They want to surf the wave we have created but do not know how to add to the math. All they do is approach us with a rather arrogant attitude, demanding we kowtow to their way of doing things because they have done it all before and they did it best.