Thugs and Gangsters: Imagination and the practice of rapping in Dar es Salaam

  • David Kerr University of Johannesburg


Since the arrival of hip hop in Tanzania in the 1980s, a diverse and vibrant range of musical genres has developed in Tanzania’s commercial capital, Dar es Salaam.  Incorporating rapping, these new musical genres and their associated practices have produced new imaginative spaces, social practices, and identities. In this paper, I argue that rappers have appropriated signs and symbols from the transnational image of hip hop to cast themselves as ‘thugs’ or ‘gangsters’, simultaneously imbuing these symbols with distinctly Tanzanian political conceptions of hard work (kazi ya jasho), justice (haki) and self-reliance (kujitegemea). This article examines how the persona of the rapper acts as a nexus for transnational and local moral and ethical conceptions such as self-reliance, strength, and struggle. Exploring the complicated, ambiguous, and contradictory nature of cultural production in contemporary Tanzania,  argue that rappers use the practice of rapping to negotiate both the socialist past and neo-liberal present. Drawing on the work of De Certeau and Graeber, I argue that rappers use these circulating signs, symbols, and concepts both tactically and strategically to generate value, shape social reality and inscribe themselves into the social and political fabric of everyday life.

Sep 19, 2017
How to Cite
Kerr, D. (2017). Thugs and Gangsters: Imagination and the practice of rapping in Dar es Salaam. Suomen Antropologi: Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society, 42(2), 10-24. Retrieved from