In retrospect, the question will be asked: is A-Q truly a great? And the answer, when posed to people knowledgeable about Gilbert Bani and his rise to the top, will echo of yeses.
Nigeria has undoubtedly been blessed with a rich history of Hip Hop and Hip Hop artistes- many staking their claim to “the throne”. Where many rappers however, have claimed greatness by virtue of their unwavering talent, some have pushed their names to the top by virtue of hard work and dedication. A-Q features prominently on that list – surely, his earliest songs were filled with loud-mouthed brags which revealed a degree of irritation and impatience; like most creatives, he felt an irrepressible desire to be successful; that is, in the sense of finding critical acclaim. Where many would have waved Q off as an attention seeker (he says the controversial “International Rappers” was decisive for him), he demonstrated immense skill and passion on every song which could have been deemed justification in the face of his flawed ideologies.
For all his musical exploits, one expects A-Q to have had a similarly boisterous background. As a child, he was “free,” let loose to try his hands at whatever caught his interest. One of such things was Hip Hop, to which he was introduced by an older friend. He began by tweaking the lyrics of rap songs and in no time, he began writing his own songs and, as the tale goes, he was “hooked” to the paper, pen and words.
It isn’t really the most unique of background stories but it was A-Q’s, who, as he says, got his first music (financial) investment from his mother – “At some point I needed money to mass produce my first project. My mum gave me 60,000 naira; that would be the only money I would get from her, but it was enough.” And, as if to repay her, A-Q opened his 2016-released album “Rose” with an ode to her, the title track being a glorious recollection of the woman’s grace. Somewhere during the song, A-Q raps about his father hitting her. He would rap about his father too. Blessed Forever, released the following year, would feature Change One Thing, Change Everything a song in which, as he does often, delves into the philosophical, exploring his relationship with family, particularly his father. The song eventually places him at the middle of the existential gyre which spins and spins.
This I’m-the-center-of-my-world mentality belies A-Q’s lyrics and rap style. As one observes, there’s an arrogance with which he raps. Utterly convinced of himself, he has rapped about being The Greatest, a title that ordinarily, shouldn’t be taken seriously since almost every one who’s rapped a punchline has declared themselves the greatest. However, A-Q’s influence in the Nigerian Hip Hop industry is inestimable.
The Coronation, arguably the biggest Hip Hop gathering in the country, is his brainchild. Seeking to bridge the relative disconnect between underground acts and mainstream media (and artistes), A-Q has succeeded in creating a great atmosphere for Hip Hop enthusiasts to interact on ways in which they can advance the culture. By way of an afterthought, A-Q conjectured that “the Coronation will not be important if people don’t pick up from where I stopped… I want to see bigger gatherings.”
Asides that, A-Q has, beyond the event, established relationships with up and coming acts on social media, compiled Twitter threads on which he’s spun priceless advise, and so on. He’s the embodiment of an elder in the game – whereas MI shakes up things with a “You Rappers Should Fix Up Your Lives,” A-Q has managed to give “game” more consistently and more understandably. For many, he is the king M.I might never be: A-Q has no traditional hits to his name, and has notoriously clawed his way up. This renders his story some relativity amongst younger artistes, and has enhanced his popularity within this demographic.
Last year, A-Q formed part of the LAMB quartet. Made up of the first letters of their names, Loose Kaynon, A-Q, Blaqbonez and M.I. made quite the statement by “offering” themselves as sacrificial lambs for Hip Hop. Loose Kaynon and A-Q were the first sacrifice, releasing a “Crown” joint album which formed a credible effort as both artistes had no history of collaborating previously. The Crown album (released August 17th, 2018) marked what was perhaps, the first extended collaboration between A-Q and Chocolate City, a giant within the African label system. Although A-Q deems this relationship a “private business,” that is only temporary.
The landmark of that relationship has been the rise of Blaqbonez. The rapper, who released his debut album Bad Boy Blaq on August 31st has since then, been perhaps, the most promising rapper in these parts. His rap style is helped by a unique flow which drawls as much as it enunciates, which drips as much as it solidifies his themes. On Accommodate, whereas he “traps” for most of the song’s length, he raps matter-of-factly over the end where the beat drops. That is just one of many songs where Blaqbonez’s roundedness pays off; in some spaces, he’s been touted to be as big as Nasty C – the comparison isn’t far fetched: like the Durban native, he possesses the blend of technicality, in lyricism and youthful flair to go with it. His comedic tendencies across social media have also bolstered his reputation amongst his ever growing fan base.
Although A-Q’s relationship with Blaqbonez goes back, he says he decided to get him to sign to 100 Crowns (a record label he co-owns with Loose Kaynon) when he discovered that “his fans [are] not rap fans.” Considering the magnitude of the Play artiste’s come-up, it seems right that A-Q would want to take a step back, and actively push his protégé, not retire. However, in typical Q fashion, he says he doesn’t feel challenged anymore. “I have just done the LAMB Cypher, -Ve and God’s Work and I’m already top contended for a top five list…I’d rather just try to help the new guys reach their goals.”
On the aforementioned cypher, A-Q had rapped the sentence, “God’s Engineering every time I let the pen speak.” It will, as consequently announced, be the title of his forthcoming album, scheduled for release in his birth month of August. On that project, one would expect some BeatsbyJayy production. Across the rapper’s highly acclaimed albums, the producer has turned in quite extensive work, being a part of what could be said to be one of Nigerian Hip Hop’s most iconic musical relationships. When I asked Q how he met his “go-to man for beats,” he recounted a tale which is, in all its funny, a real-life demonstration of Hip Hop’s fluidity- that which binds even the A – listers to underground acts: a desire to be become. The tale?
“I was working in a studio with E-twins when a chubby seventeen year old kid walked into the studio. He caught my attention cause he wore a Kings College uniform. (I attended the same school.) He looked at me and told me he wanted to produce for me; I laughed, but told him to go ahead. He started making calls on his broken Blackberry phone trying to borrow a laptop. I shook my head and left the studio; like, he does not even have a laptop. He finally got a laptop from a friend, installed Fruity Loops on it and made a beat in thirty minutes. He called me and came to where I was, at a friend’s place and behold it was flames, I went right back to the studio and recorded a song called XXX on it. That song should be somewhere on the Internet.”
After the release of God’s Engineering it is expected that A-Q will settle into his role as, in Hip Hop terms, an OG. Already, he has the Coronation event going and, as an executive at a record label, there’s no doubt he’ll be recruiting- his confidence boosted by Blaqbonez’s success. He reminds me that “South Africa is not doing anything better than us.” The difference, he posits, is that they have a thriving Hip Hop culture.
The problem with Nigeria’s might be that while there is gradually becoming, in Oluwamayowa Idowu’s words, “the existence and healthy coexistence of a wide range of genres,” Hip Hop is very close to the bottom of the food chain. Its practitioners eat, but these are The Few; others, it seems, have to scramble for crumbs. Somewhere during our conversation, A-Q suggested that Show Dem Camp are “better off” – financially, that is – doing Palmwine Music. Hip Hop in Nigeria, according to A-Q, is yet to fully embody the possibilities of its culture. “It’s way past the music, we don’t have a thriving Hip Hop culture here. Hip Hop is a culture. Rap music can never be as soothing as when someone sings; for you to love the music you must understand the culture. Once we can cultivate the culture the numbers will surely come in.”
Find him at odd places arguing for the greatness of the contemporary. Published by litmags such as Brittle Paper and The Kalahari Review, he is certain that he is destined to write The Great Ajegunle novel. Emmanuel Esomnofu is also a widely published music journalist and he is fascinated by all things Hip Hop and Reggae.