Sierra Leone Rap King Kao Denero lights the African rap game

Kao Denero

By Alpha Kamara New York University

The first time I interviewed Sierra Leone’s Hip Hop star Kao Denero was in 2012. It was for the BBC World Service radio program Focus on Africa after he won an award in Columbus Ohio defeating other well-known local based African rappers. In that interview, Kao Denero said he was ready to take on any other African rapper to prove that he is one of the best in the continent. Since then, he has never stopped releasing classical hip hop songs.

My BBC Interview with Denero in 2012.

Born Amara Dennis Turay in the Airport town of Lungi outside the capital Freetown, Denero started rapping in the early 2000’s as a high school student at the St Edwards secondary school in Freetown. He later continued pursuing his talent when he moved to the US releasing hits songs at a time local Hip Hop music was not well appreciated in Sierra Leone. He released Emonah (times are getting harder) in 2005. The song depicted the hardship facing youths in the country and it was a smash hit that captured the attention of the nation. Since then, Kao Denero has been a household name in the music industry in Sierra Leone becoming one of the most popular musician the country has produced. 

Emonah by Kao Denero released in 2005.

In 2012, his song Baby Love was also a smash hit in the country that added more weight in Denero’s name after he was tagged the King of Freetown. At some point, Kao Denero also faced controversies from his love life, to conflict with rival rap stars and political comments. But the Black Leo CEO has never backed down. He has consistently survived all other controversies to continue pushing his career forward.  Denero’s fan base is also very strong controlling a lot of loyal fans who are ready to always support his craft.

Baby Love by Kao Denero

Between 2017 to 2019, Kao Denero featured other big names in African and world music including Ghana’s SarkodieNigeria’s RunTown, Jamaica’s Busy Signal, Uganda’s Sindi to name but a few. In 2020, Kao Denero changed his strategy and started releasing “Attack/beef songs” targeting other African rappers. His first hit was Kenyatta a song that caught the attention of hip hop You-tubers across Africa and the world.  

The song was aimed at Kenya’s Khaligraph Jones after he (Jones) came at rappers in Nigeria referring himself as the best rapper in that country and by extension the whole of West Africa. In defense of West African rappers, Denero released Kenyatta to settle scores. He later released several songs that question the rap skills of other African rappers especially Ghana’s Sarkodie, Nigeria’s MI and Kenya’s Khaligraph Jones who are tagged as the best in the continent.  The Sierra Leone rapper is no doubt one of the most recognised lyricist in Africa at the moment. This was even said by Hollywood actor Denzel Washington in an interview he made in New York. However, Denero’s country’s size and presence online are affecting his presence on social media in terms of subscriptions and support. Kao said his strategy is also to force the region to recognized talents from small African countries not just focus on ones with more population and subscriptions.

Kao Denero’s hip hop songs are mostly about the realities in the streets and also about African heroes whose legacies are being ignored by the main stream media. His recent song Story of Lumumba is still applauded widely because it explores the legacy of Patrice Lumumba Congo’s first Prime minister who was killed by the colonial Belgium while defending his people.

Story of Lumumba by Kao Denero

Denero says his new project titled ‘Heroes Project’ will explain more about African ancestors and heroes who fought for the liberation of the continent in the interest of this and the future generation. Kao Denero no doubt is one of Sierra Leone and Africa’s most popular hip-hop star at the moment because of his style, lyrics and consistency in the rap game for the past 20 years singing African hip hop with his American fusion. His songs are being reacted to by various Youtubers across the world. Today, Kao Denero is easier to be found on Youtube and social media. Thanks to the multiples of reactions of his songs from across the world. He has a catalogue of hit songs including Hakuna Matata, Legendary, Escort, RIP rappers and of recent I am Sierra Leone with over ten music albums to his his credit. Sierra Leone should be more proud of him.

Back to my interview with Denero in 2012, he said his fame comes with its challenges. “It’s both a blessing and a curse to be famous because people expect you to be super human. But at the end of the day, I am human, things happen and I got to react”, he said. For more on Kao Denero’s songs on YouTube, you can subscribe to his channel.

This is a special feature produced by Mountain Waves Blog from New York University.

Sierra Leone Rap King Kao Denero lights the African rap game
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