MC Yallah: Yallah Beibe

MC Yallah doesn’t sweat getting lost in translation. The Kenya-born, Uganda-raised rapper shoots off high-speed rhymes in Luganda, Luo, Kiswahili, and English, sometimes keeping pace with 300 bpm singeli beats. “Even if they don’t understand, it’s the impact that I leave on them,” the artist said of her English-speaking listeners last year. “Music speaks to the hearts of the people.” On her second album, Yallah Beibe, the MC stretches and snaps her elastic flow across icy beats by producers Debmaster, Shigge, and Chrisman. With her distinct phrasing and charming bravado, MC Yallah is an exhilarating voice emerging from Kampala’s Nyege Nyege Tapes collective.

Born Yallah Gaudencia Mbidde, the rapper has been involved in the East African hip-hop scene since 1999, issuing a handful of singles over the following decades: 2008’s “Abakyala (Women),” 2012’s “Ndeete,” 2017’s “Mpambana,” and 2018’s “Ting Badi Malo.” In 2019, she finally released her debut album, the eerie, static-smeared Kubali, an 11-song project made entirely with Debmaster. On that record, Mbidde draped her rich voice around Debmaster’s jagged beats to a quiet, slightly muddled effect. On Yallah Beibe she embraces crisper production, and her swift, cocky verses explode from the mix. She sounds refreshed and confident.

The mainstream rap world is slow to honor non-Western artists, so Mbidde spends a chunk of the album singing her own praises. Amid the rapid-fire bars of “Sikwebela,” she demands her crown over trap hi-hats and plinking keys that recall John Carpenter’s score for Halloween. On “Miniboss,” she christens herself as HBIC; swaggering across a programmed flute loop and tinny percussion, her hard consonants pop like pressurized champagne corks. Mbidde has honed her unique meter over the years by revisiting her prior work. “I inspire myself by listening to myself, listening to my flow,” she told Resident Advisor in 2020. “When you tend to listen more to music by other rappers it corrupts you a bit.” When she writes, Mbidde cycles through all four languages in her arsenal, testing out the cadence of each tongue before committing her vocals to tape. If she raps in Lugaflow, it is not only to shine more light on the Ugandan scene, but to maximize the musicality of Luganda.

MC Yallah commands the stage all by herself, but her collaborative tracks are just as captivating. She invites Ugandan dancehall star Ratigan Era on the Chrisman-produced club cut “Big Bung,” and his velvety, Auto-Tuned voice is a perfect foil to Mbidde’s sharp and springy inflection. On the goth industrial “No One Seems to Bother,” Mbidde is joined by Lord Spikeheart, singer for Kenyan metal band Duma. His gristly screams tear through Debmaster’s dungeon synths and disperse like shattered glass under Mbidde’s verses. “I’m fed up of all the evil that I see on the cable/Brothers killing brothers, Cain killing Abel,” she snaps in English. Mbidde recorded the song after the murder of George Floyd, and she details the tragedies that plague her own country. “Greed, corruption, human sacrifice,” she raps, before citing poverty as an undeserving target of disdain: “The Disease of materialism is cutting deeper/If you have not, then you’re treated as a leper.”

Mbidde navigates the darkness with energetic bars and creeping beats. Some of the best songs on Yallah Beibe, like “No One Seems to Bother,” sound broadcast from a shadowy S&M club. On “Baliwa,” Shigge spits out drum machine beats as brittle as icicles, while Mbidde pitches her voice to demonic depths. As a pipe organ sample blares in the background, she multitracks her phrases into a sinister chant: “Always hating... Always laughing.” Mbidde strikes a delicate balance across the album, but on “Baliwa” her incantation sounds more frightening than usual: a haunting litany that transcends language.

All products featured on Pitchfork are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.