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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Holding Uganda’s banner for Christian rap

With a mic in hand, in baggy jeans and cowboy boots, wearing black-rimmed glasses, he swaggered onto the stage and launched into an intense rap session like all his life depended on it. It was at a men's convention organised by Makerere Full Gospel Church. The older men that first looked on nonchalantly soon rose and bopped to the rhythms, moving their heads like thrilled lizards!  

Straight Eloquent writes eloquent lyrics for Jesus. God has given him a message of love, hope and salvation
Straight Eloquent was the rapper, and the track with which he rocked the convention is his 2010 debut, Better Day, about the tough times he has had to endure and how God saw him through it all. 

"I was once expelled from school for disobedience, and have had to battle several addictions but God has always had my back," says the lanky rapper. "This inspired the message of the song –that no matter what life hurls at you, you have to remain strong and keep hoping for the best because the days always get better."

Better Day's uplifting message, infectious chorus and overall lyrical flow all combined to earn the artiste credibility among gospel and secular hip-hop lovers. The hit is the craze on Christian radio stations and has defied the odds to top the Hot 100 FM Hot 6 countdown which runs 6-7pm weekdays.

Eloquent was born Martin Mubangizi, in 1988, the first-born of eight children. As a boy, he had a brush with death after swallowing a 50-shilling coin. He also sees with one eye, the other having been poked blind with a stick by his mother while trying to get him from under the bed where he had hidden to avoid punishment. And at school, he was often a target of teasing: "People called me names like 'cross-eyed' and 'crocodile' because I've large teeth."

In a quest for acceptance and the restlessness that comes with growing up without a father-figure, Eloquent often jumped the school fence to go drinking and dancing in night clubs.

He also sought refuge in American rap music: "Eminem was the guy I looked up to because he too was single-handedly raised by his mother under difficult circumstances, and I was inspired by his me-against-them attitude." Soon, Eloquent adopted Emenem's swagger, and started writing his own rhymes as well. 

In 2005, he was invited to Abundant Church in Entebbe by a friend. So was he moved by the preacher's message that he got got saved.

"It was relieving but because I didn't have any spiritual friends, I continued struggling with low self-esteem and jumping over the fence to access drugs," he says. "But I also kept telling myself my walk would be straight  now that I was saved, and started writing eloquent rhymes for Jesus. That's how I became 'Straight Eloquent'. 

After getting saved, Eloquent attended a gospel rap show, and in excitement started rapping. An underground gospel rapper and producer was mesmerised by the boy's stage magnetism, rapid-fire flow, beguiling wordplay and emotional voice, he asked him to join him. The duo became Holy Rhapsody and recorded six tracks together, including popular songs like Busted and Rap the Devil Dead.

In 2007, the other member went solo, leaving Eloquent shattered: "It felt like a vote of no confidence in my ability. I quit rapping and concentrated on my books."

A year later, Hot 100FM organised an all-school hip-hop contest. Eloquent then in S.5 at Crane High School, won the berth to represent his school.

"The battle was fierce, man, they would play you a beat and you would rap on it freestyle," he recalls. "I was up against tight kids from cutting-edge schools like Budo and Kisubi but God favoured me because they rapped about girls, guns and drugs in vulgarity but I chose to be different; my lyrics had a message."

Eloquent won the competition, and with it a recording contract at Baava Studios. He went on to record hits like Lord Jesus, Through It All and Talk This That which are all enjoying radio airplay. The Ride or Die video in which he features Levite Clan is enjoying massive television rotation on LTV, Top Television and on NBS and NTV's Sunday gospel shows. His latest performance was at the 2011 Bayimba International Festival of the Arts.

"God has given me a message of love, hope and salvation." he concludes. "My mission is to share this message with the world through hip-hop."

--Saturday Monitor,  January 14, 2012