There are some interactions between artists and the media that you just know will become important parts of music history, like when Kanye West barked ‘you don’t have the answers’ at Sway Calloway or when Birdman walked out on the Breakfast Club for not putting ‘respek’ on his name. Recently, MI Abaga and the Loose Talk Giants gave our own culture one of those moments. As the legendary MC sat between two men in Osagie Alonge (Osagz) and Ayomide Tayo (AOT2), who had simultaneously praised and critiqued his work for practically his entire career, you could tell we’d be talking about that moment for some time to come.
Osagie and Ayomide are two of Nigeria’s foremost pop culture critics. They both work at Pulse, Osagie is the Editor-in-Chief and head honcho, while Ayomide is the Editor of Entertainment and Gist.
Full disclosure: I am privileged to have worked with both of them, I joined HipHopWorld in 2008 as a Writer and Ayomide was already on the team, and in 2011, when I left the role of Online Editor at Nigerian Entertainment Today (NET), Osagie took over and took the platform to another level; I stayed on as a contributor.
Osagie’s profile would rise and rise, he joined Pulse in 2014 and gained infamy from his hot-takes on Nigerian music on the show “Facts Only”. Ayomide, on the other hand, is so unassuming that MI wasn’t even aware that his journey as a journalist started before Osagie’s. A writer at heart, he grew into his role as a talking head on “Music 360” – a video show where he reviews the biggest albums released. Last year, Osagie and Ayomide joined forces with Steve Dede, also an Editor at Pulse, and together they became the “Loose Talk Giants”.
The Giants come together every week to give their highly-sought after opinions on the biggest events in pop culture. They had extended an open invite to MI for an interview which the MC left open for several months. Last week, he eventually honored it. The turning point was a strongly-worded open letter that Ayomide had written to him, which the rapper responded to on Twitter and wanted to respond to again in person.
In it, Ayomide expressed disappointment with the direction of MI’s career and what he termed the “shelf-life” of his last album The Chairman. MI’s response was that shelf-life connotes commercial success and that since The Chairman album had been in and around the iTunes top 5 since its release 3 years ago, it was indeed commercially successful. He then argued that there ought to be a separation between fact and opinion, before systematically trying to discredit Ayomide as a journalist and Pulse as curator of pop culture.
Osagie took exception to this and mounted a spirited, and occasionally foul-mouth, defense of his colleague and his company. He then tried to sidestep MI’s initial query by countering with points of his own. An already tense situation blew over when Osagie gave us the most memorable quote of the nearly 3 hour-long debate. While referring to the (so far) unremarkable career of one of Chocolate City’s main acts, Osagie asked MI to his face:
Who the fuck is Ckay?
MI’s rage was palpable. The Choc boss had come to the Pulse office with another C.City artist, Loose Kaynon, but both Loose and Ayomide were already doing more firefighting than discussing at this point – they had to do even more. Eventually, cooler heads prevailed, Osagie apologized and the 4 gentlemen were able to have a deep, honest conversation about Nigerian music and artist/press relations.
At the heart of the conversation is a misunderstanding of what the job of a critic really is. A critic’s job is to chronicle the good, the bad and the ugly sides of pop culture – how they see it, when they see it. It’s a specialist skill in journalism. Critics stake their credibility, industry relationships and even their personal safety at times in order to do their jobs. In Nigeria, critics usually don’t last very long. In the past, after making a name for themselves, they usually take their contact list and influence, and pivot to greener pastures in media and business. Having been critics for over 15 years combined, it is commendable that Osagie and Ayomide are standing tall, still.
That said, you can understand MI and his colleagues’ frustration, it stems from operating in a tough industry where artists need all the help they can get and can only recognize that help when it’s in the form of cheque or a patronizing pat on the back. But critiquing is a form of help, especially if it is done constructively.
However, that is not to say that the Giants couldn’t have done it better, disrespect is a non-starter for any constructive debate, especially one where arguably the greatest rapper in Nigeria’s history is involved. Furthermore facts aren’t opinions, opinions are not facts – in a post-truth world of Donald Trump, it is important to be able distinguish between the two.
But MI isn’t without fault either, artists short-change themselves by avoiding journalists who have studied their careers and as a result, might have tougher more inquisitive questions, and would rather sit down with those who’ll ask them asinine things like who they’re dating now and how their career started – they then turn around and wonder why their ‘real’ stories aren’t being told.
So for breaking a dangerous tradition, and stepping into the field with 2 Giants of music journalism without knowing whether he’d emerge as David or as Goliath, MI too deserves credit.
Originally written for Guardian Nigeriad