The Rise of Kassmasse in Ethiopia’s Hip Hop Scene

by | Mar 30, 2023 | Africa Celebrates, Creatives On The Rise, CSA Celebrates, Culture, Entertainment, Interviews, Music, Talent, The Wire, Trends

  • Ethiopia’s first Afrima nominated hip hop artist and award winner
  • His inspirations and influences
  • Discovering hip hop
  • Stories to tell

He came from nowhere to be nominated in no less than three different categories at this year’s Afrima Awards: one regional category (for Best Male Artist in Eastern Africa) and two continental awards (Best Inspirational African Song and Best African Music Video),  going up against some big names from Nigeria, Algeria and South Africa. More importantly, the rising star took home the award for Best East African Artist at the 2022 All Africa Music Awards (AFRIMA). Within a year, his name is one of the shining lights of Ethiopian hip hop (a lively and vital scene bursting out of the underground), and through well-crafted lyrics, massive talent and artistry, Kassmasse is becoming the King of the Ethiopian Hip Hop Movement. The Wire is thrilled to present an exclusive conversation with Kassmasse.


The WIRE: Where and when were you born?

Kassmasse: I was born in Addis Ababa Ethiopia, April 8 1997.

TW: How did you develop an interest in music?

K: Music has been a part of my life since the day I was born. I grew up with an older brother who was into hip hop. Seeing him and his friends at a young age is what drove my love for hip hop and I also developed a passion for writing poetry, influenced by my big brother and the art of graffiti.

TW: What musical influences have steered your taste in music?

K: Ethiopian folk, old school hip hop, reggae and exploring music from different cultures of the world.

TW: How and when did you get into hip hop?

K: I always had a passion for graffiti and hip hop, but around my second year of college, I really started giving time to music and recording songs. That’s when I linked back up with my childhood friend, Yekuno Amlak, aka UNO, who ended up producing most of my tracks for my EP and debut album.

TW: Which hip hop artists inspire you?

K: I’m inspired by artists like Nas, Jay Z, A Tribe Called Quest and other old-school hip-hop heads.

TW: What line from a hip hop track do wish you wrote?

K: “If you can make it here you make it anywhere”. That’s how I feel about Addis. I don’t know the origin of this saying, but I’ve heard it in many hip hop tracks. I just wish I could come up with something similar!

TW: As an artist, what stories are you interested in telling?

K: I’m interested in showing the world Ethiopian principles from my upbringing. Ethiopia is a country of many cultures and I was raised to honour and respect all cultures … and that’s what I try to portray in my music as well.

TW: What is the hip hop scene like in Ethiopia?

K: The hip hop scene in Ethiopia is still in its infancy. There’s a big demand for hip hop specifically amongst the youth and the market is steadily growing. I can’t wait to see where it’s headed.

TW: How important is it for you to rap in Amharic (Ethiopia’s national language)?

K: Since my mother tongue is Amharic, I’m comfortable to articulate my feelings and ideas in Amharic more than any other language. I want to show the world the potential and beauty of this ancient language.

TW: What elements of your cultural heritage to you bring to your music?

K: I basically try to bring all the ancient expressions, folk tales, and poetry in a modern way, fused with hip hop.

TW: Are there any African hip hop artists you would like to collaborate with?

K: I would love to work with Nasty C from SA and Phyno from Nigeria.

TW: What has your journey been like since you released you EP in 2021, especially the Afrima Award nominations.

K: It has been wonderful and surreal. It has been a great opportunity to learn about music, art and the industry. Being nominated was totally unexpected so I count it as a blessing to be recognized on a continental level.

TW: What was it like working with Grammy nominated reggae star, Protoje, on the “Mela Mela” remix?

K: I feel privileged to have worked with an artist of his calibre. I was fortunate enough to share some experiences with him and the experience motivated me to keep doing what I’m doing and to keep pushing to be recognized on a global scale so I can get my message across the world.

TW: Are you working on any new music or projects?

K: I feel art is a lifestyle so I’m always thinking of new materials I can work on.

TW: Have you performed in South Africa?

K: Not yet. I’m looking forward to visiting it someday soon, along with every other African country!

C.S.A.’s monthly cultural portal, The WIRE connects the dots of culture. With concise stories, many with video content, take a premium dive into the world of African entertainment & cultural fluidity. It’s one thing to be hip to what’s happening but it is another to know why.

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