For the past one week, social media has been buzzing with opinions on MI’s appearance on Loose Talk podcast. At several points during the episode, MI told his hosts it was the ‘greatest podcast they ever did’, and going by how viral it’s gone, The Chairman had a point.
MI appeared alongside his label mate Loose Kaynon and was hosted by the duo of Osagie Alonge and Ayomide Tayo, two of the country’s leading entertainment journalists. A great conversation was promised but the heated conversation featured a battle of egos, an overflow of emotions, unnecessary use of foul language and uncontrolled passionate outbursts.
Even though they often needed a member of either team to be the cool head which prevented the situation from getting uglier, that interview would perhaps go down as one of the most iconic moments in Nigeria’s pop culture.
As expected, the podcast has been trending and there has been a fair share of people criticizing the conduct of the host, Osagz (rightly so) with some choosing to take sides. But amidst the excesses and irrelevant back and forth shots, several issues were raised, and one would wish that for an art-form that has not hit the heights to match the potentials of the talent that it possesses, another step has been taken towards a better industry, not just for the artists but for the writers and the fans.
1. “We don’t write weak bars in Nigeria because we are wack rappers, we write it because of the listenership.” – MI
For someone who is an ardent listener of rap music, I found this line condescending and a generic excuse for sub par output from MI and the first question that popped in my mind when M.I said this was – at what point in his career did he take this decision? Many are quick to reference Jay Z’s line about ‘dumbing down his music to double his dollars’, forgetting that at that point he had dropped the Reasonable Doubt album. While critically-acclaimed, the album did not fare well commercially, at first. With that context, his utterance had basis. So did M.I make his own decision after the commercial successes of his first two albums? There is also a big difference in delivering more relatable lyrics, which was what Jay-Z did in comparison to weak lyrics, which was what the fans complained about on The Chairman album.
M.I serves his core rap fans with his Illegal Music mixtapes and he seeks to appeal to a broader audience with his albums, but, here’s the thing: M.I Abaga is a legend and his lyrics, whether on his albums or his mixtapes, will undergo the highest level of scrutiny.
So while he may spit less complex bars on his party anthems or dilute the quality of his lyrics on his album, there is at least a standard that must be upheld regardless. Why? Because, with rap albums, a critique is mainly based on its impact and the message in the lyrics.
2. Criticism doesn’t negate history
Nigerian artists need to understand this: great music is the condition for the followership and the coverage, not the profile of the artist. The reason you are being criticized passionately is because the writer actually respects your work, appreciates your music and holds you to a high standard. When Jay-Z released the Magna Carter Holy Grail album, the Business Insider had a bold headline tagging it as a ‘huge disappointment’. Top-rated sites like Pitchfork and Washington Post all rated it poorly but that doesn’t take anything away from the legacy of Shawn Carter or the fact that he remains one of the greatest who ever did it.
MI has admitted to a change in the trend of rap music and how it is hard for some veterans to cope. But if anything, that makes it even more important for writers to objectively critique the music irrespective of the profile of the artist and ensure that in following a trend, some form of sanity prevails in the music scene.
3. M.I is toeing the Black Excellence path
Probably inspired by Jay Z’s 4.44 album, which was largely dedicated to celebrating black excellence, Jude Abaga at several times during the interview harped on this. He referred to himself and Audu Maikori as pioneers, name dropped Kelechi Amadi and told several stories of how his fellow artists were able to come up from nothing and build a dynasty with little or no support. Lately, he’s created the ‘Young Denzel’ alias and has an album with the same title under works so it will really be interesting to see if his music expresses the direction of his thoughts and yet again channels a consciousness like his Talk About It album achieved
4. Do Nigerians buy music?
As the debate raged on, both parties attacked the matter of shelf-life and album sales. M.I brought up his iTunes numbers and Osagz attacked the demography of Nigerians who had access to that platform and how it was not a proper basis for justifying numbers. I am not too certain that the iTunes data is qualified to be a sample size for a survey if 90% of Nigerians do not have access to it, as it fails to fully represent the number under observations. Industry observers once argued that it makes no sense promoting iTunes and Spotify links in Nigeria when majority of the fans can’t access these international platforms especially with the card restrictions, but that aside, the discussion reinforced a reality: the music industry is at a point where physical album sales aren’t commercially viable as online streaming and downloads have become a more primary source of revenue.
There’s just one problem: artists have to find a way to bypass third-party entities involved in music distribution who take a fat cut. So far, the artists have been left with the smaller piece of the pie. That has to change. The future of our music industry depends on it.
Finally, opinions are not facts and while facts could be misleading, they remain facts.