Donning a box haircut back then, a stature aspiring rapper Smith Mwatia popularly known as Rufftone emerged when he came across the MC Hammer classic, ‘Hammer Time’.
But it was not until Jamaica’s Yellow man and Shabba Ranks visited Kenya in late 90’s that his interest in ragga music was struck.
At the time Rufftone had just relocated from Kakamega to Nairobi where he lived with his father in Umoja Two estate, having realised that he wouldn’t be able to impact the music industry from his home area.
As a student at Buruburu Institution of Fine Arts, he would often skip classes in a bid to pursue music.
He secured a bedsitter in the neighbouring sprawling Umoja One estate where he paid Sh2500 as rent but even so life proved difficult as he would end up being locked outside by his landlord due to his inability to pay on time.
Although he never got the chance to work with Kalamashaka and Shadz O’ Black, who were at the time redefining Kenyan music, he worked with veterans John Karani and Ras Kiplagat on It’s Up to you at Hills Music Studio.
With performances at Scorpion club in Naivasha, Ikuuni club, Machakos and the popular Vybestar in Thika, he got to move to a bigger house which he shared with Daddy Owen, Ambassada and Harry G.
“One could hardly tell the difference between the ‘sitting room’ and ‘kitchen’. All I needed to do was stretch my hands across to get whatever I needed from either of the rooms that were separated by a simple curtain,” he says.
He recalls on one occasion when his landlord almost lynched him for eating meat while he had not paid his rent on time.
But despite this Rufftone says he nurtured and guided a number of musicians from his bedsitter who have since established a name for themselves and are doing well.
Among them are Daddy Owen, Ringtone, Ambassada, Porcupine , SK Blue, Harry G, DJ Josh and Mr Googs just to name a few.
Rufftone grew in the music industry and the day he heard his song in a matatu is a cherished memory he will never forget.
Within no time he appeared on Mizizi, then a leading show by the national broadcaster and started landing performance shows alongside Majizee, Poxi Presha and the Gidigidi Majimaji duo.
While at Sync Sound, he bumped onto a producer from Pakistan with a couple of tracks. The producer, Lucas, would soon-to-be head honcho of Ogopa Deejays back then.
Within no time, Lucas and Rufftone were recording the song Meeeh, which gave got them media attention and that is when the star switched to gospel music.
“Although many saw me as successful, I was not at peace with myself and my family, much as everyone out there looked at me like some hero. I thereby considered all my achievements as total vanity (Ecclesiastes 1: 12- 14),” he reflects.
His course that would forever change him began in 2000 when he was invited to church by Harry G. “I had been invited for a show but I did not have bus fare so I did not have much to do so I went,” he recalls.
After a whole year of reflection, in 2001, he joined other artistes who prayed for him and he joined them, as a gospel artiste.
He got the chance to work with R Kay recordingMwikulu and Usichoke a collabo with Henry Mutuku.
He also featured in a number of hit collabos besides recording Exodus to Stardom, an autobiography andMungu Baba done with 75 members of the General Service Unit (GSU).
“Do not mince your message if you are a gospel artiste, do gospel music. That does not mean you cannot address universal social issues but be sure, if you doubt God, you will be erased from the industry- stick to what you do,” he says.
As many would ask what he is up to, he is busy setting up his studio dubbed Lampstand Records. It is this same outfit that produced the much-acclaimed Mungu Baba hit featuring GSU crew and the popular Confusion track done in collabo with MOG gospel group.
He recently released three new single among them Sirudi Misri, Katonda and Save the World.
“Let’s just say that I have lots of ministry to do through my music,” he concludes.