The Hip Hop culture was birthed in the 70/80’s in minority (mostly African American) areas in New York. It was a culture formed by the people for the people. It gave minorities a voice, sense of awareness, and also occupied them positively. The culture as we know it today has evolved to a global phenomenon. With that being said, Rap can be tagged as American music. American rap stars are the most dominant and are the yard stick by which the rest are measured.
Nigerian traditional music ranges from Fuji, Juju, Fela’s Afro beats amongst others. Traditional Nigerian music is live, indigenous and a perfect reflection of the society. In these modern times with the relevance of technology in making music, Live music is losing relevance. Nigerian artists have successfully taken local traditional beats, fused it with the more universal genres of music to produce the Afro genres we have today. Pop, Dance Hall and R&B are the ruling afro genres. Rap music has struggled though. The Nigerian audiences have proven non receptive to the genre. A practical example being Mode 9, a well seasoned lyricist who has released undiluted rap music over the years to little or no appreciation. With minimal record sales and scanty bookings, lyricists like Mode 9 never last. The Nigerian audience do not seem particularly invested in decoding witty lyrics. The sound is also alien to the country. It is easier to accept an act like Wizkid because the fundamentals of the Nigerian culture is embedded in his music over a Mode 9 replicating an alien culture and throwing around robust words.
Nigerian rap has come a long way. The first mainstream Hip Hop album was Trybes Men- ‘Lag Style’.The Trybe’s men, led by Eldee comprised of Dr Sid, 2shotz, Sasha, Freestyle, Blaize and OD. They independently distributed their album when major labels were only buying into traditional musicians . They ushered in acts like Eedris Abdulkareem, Mantain, Rugged Man amongst others in the 90’s. At this time,Hip Hop was just maturing as a global phenomenon, so the quality of rap from Nigerian rappers at the time was way below par in terms of lyrics, production and even the aura and personality of the supposed rappers. No one was willing to lend an ear. Mode 9 who was quality at the time was viewed as too grimy for anyone to grasp. In American culture, his style would probably be termed “underground”. Things began to look up when Storm Records introduced the ‘World Famous Akademy’ helmed by two young rappers returning from America with a new style and sound.They were Ikechukwu and Naeto C. They mastered the art of mixing their foreign and local musical influences to produce rap music that would be accepted by Nigerians. Ikechukwu, used his Igbo heritage as a selling point. His introductory single ‘My Name is Ikechukwu’ was a smash. Not too long after, Naeto C’s break after two poorly received American style records ‘Sitting on top’ and ‘You Know My P’. ‘Kini Big Deal’ produced by Tee Y Mix with a local chorus to relate with the masses was an undeniable smash. Naeto C has maintained this formula successfully.
Chocolate City then introduced M.I. whose mixtape ‘Illegal Music’ might be one of the most acclaimed releases in the short history of Nigerian Rap. Using local lingo over already released international and domestic beats meant that M.I was regarded as the light for Nigerian Rap without even releasing an album. When the album, ‘Talk About It’ came Nigeria was exposed to uncompromised quality rap music that was understandable and relatable. By introducing us to the Choc Boiz (Jesse Jagz and Ice Prince) the presence of the genre was enhanced. With the success of both rap camps, there was an influx of rappers in Nigeria producing quality Nigerian themed rap music, majority of them returnees from abroad with first class hip hop knowledge. They would include acts like Sauce Kid, Lynxxx and SDC. Some were quick to discover the formula, while others fighting for Hip Hop to prevail left the industry frustrated. With the mere success of the genre pioneered by the aforementioned, a similar trait can be noticed, the ones that are still relevant today have compromised greatly. Some totally dumping rapping for singing (i.e Dr Sid),while some just put sentences together with little care on how sensible it is, focusing all attention on the chorus. The rappers at the forefront release dance tunes with little or no hip hop embedded in it. Rappers don’t see the need when it won’t be accepted ,understood and praised by the masses. The niche market that appreciate rap music can not sustain any artist.
However in the past year, the indigenous rappers have proven that the culture exists, but must be communicated in the most efficient way. Indigenous rappers, Phyno, Olamide and Reminisce have released the hardest and most successful rap albums over the last 20 months (excluding Ice Prince). They have scored chart topping rap songs like Ghost Mode, Ka Ko Bi, Government, Parcel, Obago amongst many other hits. Unlike English speaking rappers going for more commercial sounds and choruses to appeal to the masses, the indigenous rappers have rapped on dope beats accompanied with hard rap choruses and have been accepted. The difference in reaction is clear when an M.I or Naeto C performs as opposed to when an Olamide or Phyno performs. Whilst the crowd might sing the chorus along with a Naeto C, the crowd is chanting verses of an Olamide word for word. Why is that? It’s the same story being told by both factions. However while an English speaking rapper tells his story with a foreign accent, slangs and mannerisms the masses have difficulty in connecting with, an indigenous speaking rapper by being essentially one of them telling the story in a way they they understand is more accepted.
There are millions of excellent records in English that could be appreciated even at Grammy level but have received the most lukewarm and discouraging reaction from the Nigerian audience. Rappers like Show Dem Camp have released quality international standard rap music on two slept on mixtapes and an unsuccessful album. They finally got their big break on ‘Feel Alright’, following the pattern of their successful colleagues, realizing that the magic lay in the chorus. With a catchy hook from Boj, they were good to go. However, not all rappers would be willing to compromise or experiment. Rappers like Poe, Blink and Khali Abdu are still releasing international standard hip hop to deaf ears.
In the present day, the issue is not the non existence of the genre, it is getting the public to accept the genre fully. The likes of Phyno, Olamide have done a good job in proving that non commercial rap music can be sold in Nigeria. To complete the cycle, the English speaking rappers must discover how to make their music acceptable without compromising. The next generation of rappers have a huge task on their hands. The likes of M.I, Naeto C and Ice Prince are too far along in their careers to take it back to the roots. They do often release songs that reflect the rap culture but the fight is no longer theirs. It is left for the next generation to keep promoting the art form in its true but most relatable form. The next generation has to take the culture to the mainstream. The next generation should usher in more frequent mixtapes, more collaborations between rappers, more rap DJ’S and Producers. It will be interesting to see how things unfold,the standard of rap being released is improving daily and with new rappers of international standard like Poe, Blink and L.O.S members lurking around, we can only hope they are accepted.
Rap may have originated in America but it thrives globally. Nigeria has rappers that will stand out internationally. The dilemma of the genre is a complex one in that both the audience and artistes are to blame. Whilst many special rappers have been frustrated out of the industry, we are hopeful that events will occur which will gradually solve the dilemma.