As graduation season quickly approaches, Tisch senior and rapper-producer Maũ has been using his music as an outlet to reconcile the existential dread of his days as a college student coming to an end. It is “a vessel for overthinking in a positive way,” as he calls it.
After a somewhat quiet 2019 thus far, Maũ — whose real name is Kamau Wainaina — will be dropping his latest single, the self-produced “Haba na Haba,” this Friday.
While the title “Haba na Haba” takes inspiration from the Swahili proverb “Haba na haba hujaza kibaba” — which means “little by little fills the pot” — the lyrical content of the song is universal.
“The feeling of being in comfort, and then watching the future come at you,” Wainaina said. “I’ve been super anxious and quite depressed since January […] I’ve never stayed in a place this long. Staying in New York, more so staying in New York and being unsure of the future, and having to maybe compromise […] it just felt very sudden and frustrating.”
For Wainaina, these crises range from being torn between deciding to pursue photography, film or music after graduation to the uncertainty around no longer being an international student in this period of Trump-era work visa changes.
While Wainaina recognizes the fact that, as an international post-grad arts student in the U.S., his future will be equal parts promising and uncertain, he’s taken it upon himself to start tackling his responsibilities “haba na haba”— little by little.
Though Wainaina had been rapping since his early days in high school, it wasn’t until his sophomore year of college that he’d begun to take music seriously. By the end of his junior year — “Phase 1,” as he dubs it — Wainaina was quietly dropping music on SoundCloud. Phase 1 reached its climax with the release of the song and promotional music video for “Candy,” a cover of the popular funk record “Candy” by Cameo.
Wainaina kept the momentum going into his senior year, dropping “Sundown” and “Soggy Toes,” collaborating with Kenyan artist Isaiah Wakoli for the respective cover artworks. After a series of live performances around the East Village and Alphabet City during the fall-winter 2018 season, Wainaina wrapped up his second to last semester at NYU with his “PHASE II: Interlude” EP, featuring two songs — Flickr and Dawn (feat. Freesia Flow & Maya).
In keeping with Wainaina’s “phase” analogy, “Haba na Haba” will mark the genesis of Phase 3 of Wainaina’s musical career.
Having just recently signed a distribution deal with Invertebrate Records, Wainaina’s next phase of music will see him reaching a new peak in his musical trajectory. Despite this achievement, Wainaina feels more uncertain about his music and on a greater level, his life, than he ever has.
“Haba na Haba” is a meditation on the drastic changes born out of the necessary transitions we all must make in life, but also of the unflinching self-doubt that comes with the territory — especially as an art student with no guaranteed career path in sight.
“I was doubting myself a lot, but I knew I had a lot on my mind,” Wainaina said. “Everything’s changing. I realized I’ve been keeping a lot in because I didn’t want to acknowledge how I felt or upset the people around me […] so I just wrote it all down and recorded it in one take.”
Along with lyrics about family yearning, bleak city weather and time as an unforgiving, fleeting concept, “Haba na Haba” features a self-produced instrumental which channels all of this uncertainty into a stripped down beat backed by electronic drums, bass and keys. The combination gives Wainaina ample room to effectively air out his grievances.
As more and more rappers use their music as outlets for introspective thought, Wainaina continues to stay ahead of the curve with his thought-provoking bars, honest angst and authentic representation of the trials and tribulations of a Kenyan post-grad in New York City.
“Haba na Haba” is currently streaming on the artist’s SoundCloud.
Email Kamau Holston at [email protected].