Stephen Musengi has always been a knack for creativity. Starting from his primary school days, he’s explored his creative self through writing and through music. At first these two remained separate vehicles for Stephen, until he decided, at the age of 15, to try his hand at writing rap. His experiment proved to be a hit with his classmates, and since that first mini performance 8 years ago, Stephen’s grown to be an artist in his own right, using different media to channel his thoughts and hone his skills.
The Birth of Griffin
Stephen didn’t always go by Griffin, especially when he started out with rap. Alongside his cousin Karma, he sharpened his freelancing skills and recorded his first track at G Record studios in 2009. After that he was invited to become part of the rap crew 4 Kornerz. “At this point I liked rapping because it was cool, to be honest. It was mostly my thing for getting with girls since I wasn’t a sportsman, you know how high school is.” Stephen recorded over 50 tracks with 4 Kornerz and other artists, but at this stage he hadn’t considered doing rap full-time. It was in his time at Rhodes University that the moniker of Griffin was born. “As Griffin, life was a lot of fun and good times, but as life does sometimes, things went south and I was suddenly in a very dark space. Rap became a way for me to express life, that I now saw as a journey of not only physical but mental and spiritual pain and growth.”
Stephen embraced Griffin as his official stage name, and since then he’s taken his artistry more seriously. Having performed at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival twice, as well as at the recent Mosaic food and music festival. Performance-wise, it’s been a good run, although he confesses that performing onstage is not something that comes naturally to him. “I don’t feel like I was born to perform. A part of me hates trying to get people’s attention because I’m not naturally good at it. I’ve always been quite shy. I still see it (performing) as a fear to conquer. Rapping is my way of facing that fear of public scrutiny.” This fear hasn’t stopped Stephen from continuing with his music, and growing as an artist.
Through this fear, Stephen pushes his writing. The right combination of music and lyrics is a formula that requires his time and concentration, and for some songs, getting it right can take some time – sometimes as long as a year. “Sometimes I’ll be in the studio listening to beats and I’ll pick something I really vibe with. After that, I soak into the beat for a while, listening to it periodically whilst the song takes shape.” After that, Stephen gets to writing his lyrics, the paint to the canvas as it were. “For me, the lyrics carry the song more than the beat does. The lyrics are my art.” His lyrics go beyond just rhythm and rhyme: Stephen condenses a raw honesty into his words, and blends his lyrics with a beat to convey his poetry to others.
“I only got into rapping because I love writing. Rapping is a way of expressing my writing in an exciting way plus a way to face a fear.”
Griffin and the Master plan
Music isn’t all Stephen is capable of. Apart from recording unreleased EPs and a surprise project he promises will drop shortly, Stephen’s also practiced his hand with videography. He’s written and directed a short film that was screened at the Book Café (and also received a mention in the Herald). In 2015 Stephen was production manager for Far From Yesterday, a feature film starring Ammara Brown, John Cole and Jonathan Denga, as well as co-production manager for Wine and Dine with Tumi Moleko.
Throughout all this he continues writing and planning for the future, and if he has his way, Stephen’s future will be a bright one. “My goals are different, they correspond to different aspects of my being, but I suppose the underlying aim in all of that is to understand and help others understand.” Stephen currently uses his music to achieve this goal, but he says that it’s not necessarily going to be the only instrument he uses for life. Maybe one day he’ll branch into literature. Or perhaps become a full-time director and producer. Whatever happens, only Stephen, and he’s not quite ready to share his grand master plan with the world. For now, we’ll have to content ourselves with his music. The best from Stephen is yet to come.