MI started a fire today with his comeback single “You Rappers Should Fix Up Your Lives” causing mild panic in the Nigerian hip-hop space.
MI’s sharp words served as a painful reminder of just how far behind hip-hop music had fallen in the country, if ever we needed one, and the veteran MC laid the blame for the demise solely at the foot of his colleagues.
He didn’t mention any names but rappers-turned-pop stars such as Skales and ex-Choc Boy Iceprince are usually mentioned whenever the topic of artists who sold their hip-hop birthright and helped to weaken their culture comes up.
But there is more than enough blame to go around, and the same fans cheering the brilliance of MI’s new record are the ones responsible for some of the things he’s rapping so passionately about.
On TwitterNG, encountering hypocrisy and double standards on a daily basis is a norm. There’s always some issue that needs to be discussed and dissected, and everyone has a useful opinion on everything. Ample knowledge or not, the class is always rowdy because everyone wants to talk.
In many cases, topics based on relationships and football are constantly regurgitated like a cat on a Ferris wheel.
But few other issues interject the cyclic flow, claiming their usually slightly elongated 15 seconds of attention. These debated issues often come around after an event triggers attention towards that topic.
The state of Nigerian hip-hop always becomes trending topic whenever there’s a significant event linked with hip-hop outside the borders of the country. Everyone seems to have a problem with Nigerian rappers because they are not as audible as their counterparts from other countries, and the idea is that it is simply an effect of lack of skill on the path of these artists.
A couple of months back, South African rapper, Nasty C spit an amazing freestyle on Sway In The Morning that visibly impressed the host.
Nasty’s brilliance on that freestyle is as bright as day, and the internet was agog with his praise in following days. The collective applause of that freestyle turned into pungent criticism of Nigerian rappers shortly after.
One thing many didn’t consider while working their Twitter fingers is the nuance involved in the popularity of Nasty C and South African hip-hop. Even an unbothered observer can easily tell that SA currently has the best structured and the biggest hip-hop scene in Africa these days. While the talent of its artists is proof of skill, the other important half is the presence of an accepting audience. A base that supports and lifts up its hip-hop acts, enabling these rappers to thrive commercially as well as critically.
There’s an undeniable steep tilt towards melody-heavy, dance-ready songs in the Nigerian music mainstream. It isn’t a crime that we’re groovy people, we love music that sets the rhythmic joints in our bodies off, with infectious melodies and lyrics that are easy to memorize.
As for hip-hop music – at least Nigerian hip-hop, the narrative is that Nigerians don’t have the patience for rap music, supporting a select few rappers and letting those relegated to the side rest scrape around for attention. The major reason I don’t fully buy into the above gist is that the same Nigerians quote rap lyrics from foreign rappers and even debate foreign hip-hop on the same social media platforms.
It is obvious that rap music by Nigerian rappers isn’t as pronounced as it is in the countries we like holding it up against, and the major reason is attention deficit. Music that dominates the mainstream is an amplification of people’s preferences, music that garners attention the most. The clear truth is that many Nigerians largely ignore hip-hop until controversy kicks in and it’s time to brawl online.
Acting like we’re giving Nigerian hip-hop the same amount of supportive energy when criticizing isn’t just unfair, it is extremely silly. There are Nigerians rapping really well, you’re just not giving a fuck.
Being a Nigerian rapper these days is akin to setting yourself up for a curve. People will be passive about the music you’re making because it doesn’t figure into the current commercial terrain, and they’d still expect you to continue with it in hopes for acceptance. Switch up to gain a wider fanbase a chance at making money from music, you’re tagged a sellout.
A couple of months back, respected music journalist, Joey Akan wrote an article for PulseNG in which he gleefully celebrated the death of the Nigerian rapper. The premise of that article makes some sense – the evolution of rappers like Olamide, Phyno and Ycee to infuse more melodies into their music to create commercial appeal. “The taste of the masses is switching, and these artists, to stay ahead of the game, they have to move with the times. Being just a ‘rapper’ is a limitation today”, Mr. Akan wrote.
But terming that stylistic change a death to traditional rapping is like writing an untimely eulogy for a living, breathing ex-celebrity just because they’re aren’t popular anymore.
There have been informal takes in line with that article, but when it is articulated by a respected music journalist like Mr. Akan, it’s not surprising that many artists who predominantly rap aren’t overtly eager to associate themselves with just rap music.
From Poe’s inscrutable answer about the genre of his music to D-Truce declining to be boxed in as rapper, it’s like running from the rap genre is being used as a type of quality control measure. I’m all for artists exploring and expressing themselves in whatever mode they want, but artists who predominantly rap treating the rapper tag like it’s a disease is disheartening.
Range is an impressive part of being an artist these days, but many times, it mostly applies to artists that rap. You’d never find fans asking their favorite singers to start rapping just to get more acceptance. At the end, it all traces back to the subtle disdain being “just a rapper” gets.
After Eminem’s politically-charged a capella freestyle aimed at US president, Donald Trump, went viral last week, the floodgates opened for Nigerians to start dissing its rappers again. Amidst the usual “Nasty C > Naija rappers” rhetoric, the question of why Nigerian rappers aren’t politically inclined continually surfaced.
Being a typical Nigerian, let me answer that question with another question; do you pay attention to and support rappers? Much less those who try to go against the establishment, especially in a country where “hate speech” is banned?
Say what you want, but an artist has to eat. Asking an artist to stick to strictly rapping and not paying attention is the mother of all ironies. Many people would ask these rappers to do it for the culture, in a country where our music history is shabbily documented, tied together with loose strings and largely forgotten. Why become a legend when you won’t be given your roses when you can AND can’t smell them?
Nigerian hip-hop isn’t exactly mainstream, but there isn’t a dearth of rappers rapping their asses off and tackling topical subjects. All you have to do is ask around and search the internet. Sadly, Nigerians are like a doctor that prefers to lament the ailment instead of searching for a diagnosis.
If you aren’t trying to make Nigerian hip-hop better by supporting the artists and you’re also openly deriding the artists and their art form, you’re the biggest hypocrite of 2017.