M.I. is fixing up the Nigerian hip-hop Industry

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The only time a conversation about the poor state of Nigerian Hip-hop was raised high enough to cause a change was when M.I Abaga released “Fix Up Your Lives”, and he had to be confrontational and up front about it to get the needed reaction.

Hip-hop in Nigeria died a long time ago, we just kept speaking of it as if it lives. Even if it never died, it lived as a sick dog – inactive, dormant and dull.

It suffered afflictions from the treatment given to it by both its creatives and its consumers. While the audience treated it as an option (a mere alternative to pop music); the artists turned away from it to embrace the more popular genre, failing in the test of love for the art.

Death of Hip-hop in Nigeria

If you do not think interest in Hiphop music dropped, how come “Fast Money Fast Cars” blew up in 2009 but and “Mine” (on the “Chairman” album) never climbed the charts? How come Modo’s “Cry” succeeded commercially in 2007, and his most commercial track ever – “Some More” – even with the backing of Don Jazzy, was only spoken of due to the essence of collaboration, not exactly because people love the music?

The Hip-hop numbers were low and rappers took note of the flat figures. So, with that as an excuse, many of them made the kind of diversification that would have been beneficial if it happened to the country’s economy.

Of all the genres that lost acts to the trend of art commercialization, Hip-hop lost the most; but some of these acts continued to touch base with the genre through infrequent rap recordings yet they still ate the most at the dinner table of rap – sweeping the rap awards and the claiming the recognition meant for the truest and purest of Hip-hop practitioners. This was largely due to the confusion of award organizers in separating what is Hip-hop from what they say is Hip-hop.

This sinful practice continued for long years, whenever the topic of the dying Hip-hop culture was raised, it was dismissed by the artists, sometimes by their sycophantic friends and many times by  the audience that would never admit that they would never accept a “Jagz Nation” album as they’d accept Sean Tizzle’s “The Journey.

The only time a conversation about the poor state of Nigerian Hip-hop was raised high enough to cause a change was when M.I Abaga released “Fix Up Your Lives”, and he had to be confrontational and up front about it to get the needed reaction.

The rap veteran who, too, is not without guilt, criticized other Nigerian rappers for switching allegiance. He mentioned the backsliding act as an explanation for the fading interest in Nigerian Hip-hop and the falling off of the commendable structure that rappers like himself, Mode 9 and Da Grin built. “None you of you rappers inspiring/None of you pass the requirements/I can’t retire yet, damn…/Who gonna fix the environment? (Is it you?)”, he raps on the first verse of “You Rappers Should Fix Up Your Lives.”

He goes on rapping, “None of you rappers is real enough/Once you blow up now you switching up/That’s why these fans are not feeling ya’ll.” The verse continues, “SA rappers out here killing ya’ll/Bruh, when I was out here performing/I held the country down I held the city down real/You rappers are under performing/I swear it’s a shame it’s a pity no real/Rappers are singing now just to get popular (yuck).”

But is he right? Is “Lagos Nawa” not almost all singing? Is Nasty C not the torchbearer of African Hip-hop on the big stage? Rappers like Vector chose to challenge M.I. because, according to him, “he (M.I) doesn’t have to say it openly that SA rappers are ‘killing’ Nigerian rappers.” Part-time rapper, N6 dissed M.I for his approach to topic, saying, “when the niggas who should be in the front line, turn around and call you losers.” The attack on M.I was not because he wasn’t telling the truth but because he chose to tell it publicly rather than call them on the phone.

The Mission To Revive It

M.I proved his character as a leader – the type of leader who would say “let’s dig” while rolling his sleeves. He released “Rendezvous” – a playlist of music that isn’t exactly the Hip-hop music of Modo at his prime or even MI of ’08; rather it takes the form of the urban Hip-hop sound that shares semblance with music featuring prominently on the Hip-hop global charts; sounds similar to that of the likes of Drake and Post Malone.

Even the Hip-hop capital is witnessing an evolution of sound but the “new sound” is certainly not the excuse of music that Nigerian rappers have played to us in the last couple years. The Rendezvous playlist seemed more like it. M.I seemed to introduce what could turn out to be the “new wave” of Nigerian Hip-hop music. Joey Akan wrote about the sound composition of the playlist. In his words, “much of the music is designed from that template, with neo-Trap, combining with groovy R&B, before transitioning into soft and lyrically-driven reggaeton.

What is even more exemplary about the project is its factor of inclusiveness. M.I strategically featured two of the popular rap acts in the current hot zone of African Hip-hop and tens of exciting Nigerian talents on Rendezvous. M.I, again, put new kids on like he did for Wizkid on “Talk About It” Remember?

Coronation Concert

To stoke up the movement of reviving the culture of Hip-hop in Nigeria, MI setup the 100 Crowns movement, “whose focus is to revive and grow the hip hop culture in Nigeria and Africa by showcasing the artists and bringing together the fanbase.” The movement also aims “to encourage underground artists to continue in their craft and connecting them with  the right fan base.”

One of the first projects executed by the resurgence movement is the “Coronation Concert.” The plan for the project is to become the standard in hip-hop concerts on the continent and it is to be held quarterly. The first edition which was held in April, 2018, showcasing the talents of then promising but now renowned acts like Blaqbonez and Alpha. About the event, Ehis of Pulse wrote, “the Coronation is a major step in the right direction confirming that collaboration works and the rap community needs more events like this.”

Ehis gave a  progress report after the second edition of the concert. He acknowledged the increasing interest in Hip-hop music where he  wrote, “Hip-hop made a call on the night, and its disciples obeyed in decent numbers.” In his piece, he also captured how the concert is starting to restore faith in the culture.

He wrote, “the crowd dispersed satisfied that there is yet light for the culture and ‘The Coronation’ is a clear pointer to that fact.”  Folu Storms had a similar take on the topic. “watching MI Abaga headline Coronation, it was a clear reminder that Hip Hop will always continue to enrapture the audience if done right,” she wrote.

LAMB August

With the mission in progress, MI pulled a Kanye-West culture-defining move by executive producing three Hip-hop albums and slating them for release in the month of August. The albums are: Loose Kaynon & AQ’s joint album titled “Crown”, MI’s “Young Denzel” and Blaqbonez’ “Bad Boy Blaq.”

Another participant of the Coronation concert, Alpha put out his LP titled “Half Price.” And what it did was ensure that there was a lot of Hip-hop music to talk about. And it is good for a change considering that the only time Hip-hop was talked about in recent years, it was always about its dying state.

MI and his team have managed to make Hip-hop a fascinating topic again. Interestingly, these events seem to have given rise to new stars. Blaqbonez for instance, is currently enjoying well-deserved attention for the quality of his album. It’s a case of double-joy for him as the project is ranked on the charts, recently climbing ahead of “Yung Denzel” – his idol’s album.

There hasn’t been such success story in the Nigerian Hip-hop scene in a while. M.I must be having that proud feeling of “we did it again. Another star has been helped up.” He’s been called the “rap messiah”, “the Chairman” and many other exalting titles, although many have challenged these titles.

However, what cannot be challenged is the fact that M.I has walked his talk. He called on Nigerian rappers to fix things up and since they would rather throw stones, he is picking up the pieces and fixing it himself.

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