2017 was a good year in and for Nigerian pop culture. While the battle between Davido and Wizkid was going on, it seemed the likes of Tekno, Tiwa Savage Maleek Berry and Kiss Daniel soared to new heights. We also started to see moves made towards fortifying the experience economy in Nigeria. Somewhere in the midst of all this, Rap phenom MI Abaga sought to inspire his peers to return to their rap roots with the faux fiery and provocative “You Rappers Should Fix Up Your Lives”. The song and the viral interview with Pulse’s Loose Talk crew would inspire a long list of questions, some of which still remain unanswered. Who the f*** is C Kay? Who was M.I targeting? What’s really happened with Choc City under MI Abaga? How come none of the perceived targets even pretended to care? In a world where Fix Up Your Lives exists, anyone with a sense of irony would probably have chuckled upon listening to Rendezvous.
Mr. Abaga’s current standing is quite curious. In one vein, he’s the much loved and critically acclaimed OG who gives the impression he’s in tune with his legacy and what he wants it to be. This particularly came to the fore during the Loose Talk interview where he bordered on telling journalists what to think. It goes without saying that the press should always speak their truths, regardless of whose feelings or ego have to suffer. The only proviso is that it’s not borne of malice. His OG status is underlined by his subtle evolution from frontline artist to full fledged executive seeking to empower the next generation. As a creator, M.I is peerless in Nigerian rap. In the Nigerian clime where there exists such a difficult relationship with Rap, he found the sweetspot between the highbrow and populism and used that as his foundation. Despite dropping his last full album about 4 years ago, Mr. Abaga is still a heavy weight. Just about.
On the other hand, he’s the the vet MC who while loved and admired is clearly approaching the final stop on the train of relevance. This is not meant to function as a slight but there’s a point to be made about the lack of relevance currently enjoyed by any of his contemporaries from the 2008 era. D’ Banj is making knock off Trap, Naeto C seems to have grown out of the scene and Wande Coal has shown himself to be inconsistent at best. Members of his inner circle like Jesse Jagz and Ice Prince are nowhere to be found. M.I is feted in part, because he gives the impression that there’s an underlying integrity to his work. He’s proven to be particular about the work he puts out and not succumbing to money grabs. In a sense, this creates and explains the dilemma captured by his current work.
Mr. Abaga’s key legacy as an artist is probably his ear for talent and a knack of using lesser known figures to create some of his most iconic art. In that sense he’s a master in both the fields of creating and curating. It was he who introduced us to Wizkid on Fast Money, Fast Cars. Acts like Gabriel, Uche and Leony (whoever they are) can probably get into certain doors for the rest of their lives on the strength of the work they’ve done with MI Abaga. That skill comes through on Rendezvous as the likes of Odunsi, Santi, Tomi Thomas, Joules Da Kid and Nonso Amadi get their A List welcomes. In a sense, this class shaped the album. The story goes that upon playing the first cut of his 7th project to the Adeniyi Jones set, it was let known that the work was not worthy of release. Thus, he went back to the drawing board and started crafting again. And it shows. The playlist format serves as a meeting point for the creator and the curator. The Creator fashions the theme and angle to take while the Curator builds on those off the strength of others. There’s a feature on every song of the album and it’s no understatement to suggest that Mr. Abaga’s collaborators are the real stars. It’s perhaps an acknowledgement of a tested vet knowing his skill is on the wane, thus piggybacking off the talents of younger talents. On the now defunct Grantland website, writer Sean Fennessey made the point back in 2013 as Jay Z and Kanye West dropped Magna Carta Holy Grail and Yeezus that both acts had made a habit of feasting on young talents as they embarked on the process of their creation. M.I does that here on a smaller scale. In the midst of all this, perhaps it’ll be fine if the work was transcendent like Yeezus was. But when the star turns from the protagonist are few and far, it’s worrying. He’s always had a way of offsetting his corny side with his genius but that is not present on Rendezvous and thus what we get is a solid display of his curatorial powers and a sub par display of his creative tendencies.