The leaders of hip-hop have laid the blueprint on how to age gracefully – it’s by diversifying. Every rapper who has been relevant for up to 20 years branched off into something else, while they kept one hand on the microphone. Whether it’s LL Cool J and Ice Cube with movies, Jay-Z and Dr. Dre with business or Snoop Dogg just by profiting off his larger-than-life image, the rappers with the most longevity became more than just MC’s.
Hip-hop in Nigeria is a lot younger and far less mature, finding a rapper who has stayed relevant for up to 10 years is an achievement, never mind for 20. Illbliss and Mode Nine still being able to put out strong albums in 2016/17 is a big deal, while Terry tha Rapman having a record like “Baby Boy” introduce him to a newer, younger audience is a blessing. But there just aren’t many rappers that started off between the late 90’s and the mid-2000’s doing music at a high level in 2017.
The truth is that it is an unreasonable expectation for a rapper to maintain relevance over a sustained period of time solely through the music. Trends in rap music change quickly, back in 07/08, the Americana polish of Ikechukwu, Naeto C and Sauce Kid was the in-thing but Dagrin would come from the streets and sully up the game a few years later. I hate to use his premature exit as an example but new rappers come and go, and they do not even have to die before they become irrelevant.
Ironically, one of the keys to remaining relevant inside of hip-hop is to keep your name alive in circles larger than hip-hop; give people more things to talk about than your raps. That way, when your raps are no longer as new and sharp as they once were, and your audience has seen you finish, you give them something else to see – it’s called diversification. Never stop trying to make new fans and also, to turn old fans of the music into fans of your life and your business. There are two legendary Nigerian MC’s (whose eras overlapped) that have become the embodiment of this, they are the semi-retired Choc boss MI Abaga and the fully-retired founder of Trybesmen, eLDee.
MI hasn’t released an album in nearly 3 years – and hasn’t had a genuine, nationwide hit song in longer – but in that time, he has bossed up and climbed up the corporate ladder. His label Loopy Records merged with Choc City in 2015 and MI was made the boss of the music division of the Choc City group. Also, with the recent appointment of DJ Lambo as president of Choc City Music, the MC has moved even higher up in the corporate ladder. In addition to going deeper into the corporate world, MI has now tried his hands on a new venture: podcasting. The rapper recently teamed up with April Maey and fellow Choc City rapper Loose Kaynon on the “Middle Ground” podcast. Listen to the first episode below:
Similarly, eLDee hasn’t released an album in 5 years but his presence is still felt in the music space; he has remained a powerful voice for the culture through his popular social media pages. eLDee lives in the US where he has become an entrepreneur and tech investor. One of the businesses he has invested in is PlayData, a solution that monitors airplay for songs on radio stations across the country. The solution has birthed PlayData Charts, easily the most credible charts in Nigeria at the moment. eLDee too has gone into the podcast game, recently announcing the “Nigerian-American”. The first episode will be out this weekend.
Diversification is the key – MI and eLDee are gifted orators and broadcasting seems like a natural progression. They now have the perfect opportunity to redefine themselves going forward, just like Joe Budden has done with the success of his podcast and his transition back into media. If both eLDee and MI’s podcasts do as well with their target audience as Joe’s did with his, it could give the veteran MC’s backdoor access to the top of the rap game, that is, if they choose to use it.