Interview: Rap Joint Lagos wants to build a Hip Hop Culture Hub for Nigerians

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Looking at contemporary Nigerian culture and its milestones of note, music has stood right at the center. This highlights the need for creators and curators who take on the thankless task of documenting the industry and its numerous subgenres for generations to come. It is with this in mind that Rap Joint Lagos, an initiative intent on taking on the role of building a Nigerian Hip Hop Culture Hub has been born.

Currently running a Kickstarter campaign to raise $4,708, we spoke to Founder, Akinwale Irokosu to get a deeper idea of what he’s trying to do, the inspiration behind it, and what the future for Nigerian Rap might look like.

Kindly find excerpts of our conversation below;

What exactly is Rap Joint Lagos and what inspired this project? What was the trigger that set this into motion? 

Rap Joint Lagos (RJL) is a contemporary cultural center where everyone can relax and share intimate experiences about rap music and the life and style around it. It was conceived on the beauty and energy that hip-hop inspires in the City of Lagos. RJL offers visitors a space to explore the genre’s philosophical and socio-political depth. It’s largely retro and nostalgic in focus.

It seeks to create a space for album listening events, lyrical dialogues, books about Rap, Lagos Lifestyle and Culture, as well as local and international Politics. It seeks a vibrant and safe venue both online and physically for anyone from anywhere in the world to connect seamlessly with the richest aspects of modern and contemporary hip-hop from a uniquely African perspective.

It was inspired by the love for hip-hop and the City of Lagos. It was triggered by a sense of displacement due to a lack of an apt space to enjoy rap music. I used to listen to rap with friends at home and we would sit down and dissect albums. And, go to night clubs in groups and enjoy the music as well. Now, everyone is busy. Many have moved on from the genre. Work, family, and life has weaned me and most of my friends off night clubs.  I was just tired of enjoying it alone. It felt like there was nothing for people like me again in rap despite the love. We needed our own space.

Talk to us about your first experience of Rap Music and how that relationship has evolved. 

My first experience and attraction to hip-hop was b-boying particularly break dancing and I moved to rap. Hip-hop is the culture and Rap is the music. I got into the culture before the music. We used to hang out at one of my neighbor’s homes during the holidays. Our parents would have gone to work. I was in primary school. Perhaps, 1985/6. We used to tap the table to make beats and someone would be rapping.

The relationship evolved as knowledge and interest of rap became the definition of cool for my generation by the time I was getting into secondary school in 1989. By the time I started A levels in the UK in 1995, it had evolved into a full-blown obsession. I usually divided my little upkeep into 2: stock my place with food and buy at least 1 CD. 2pac’s album Me Against the World was the soundtrack of my life at the time. The theme was all about keeping it real whatever the cost. My jeans were baggy in nature. Hair was twisted at a point. Ear was pierced. I bought The Source magazine every month religiously and collected it: needed to know the rating of the albums. Life weaned me off the culture a bit but not the music. Now, I appreciate the literal, art, and philosophical content more than ever particularly the metaphorical wordplay. It helps in painting vivid pictures in speaking and writing without saying too much. Some of the deepest things I have heard were from rap lyrics: “the purest form of giving is anonymous to anonymous/no guilt in giving or receiving”; “you can’t help the poor if you are one of them/make money and give back/that’s a win-win”; “when you make blames you are defective/when you take blames you are respected”; “I’m like Che with the bling on/ I’m complex” and many more. It takes a bit of study to decipher the message in some of those lyrics. The philosophical part of It helps to navigate life challenges. For example, I just lost my mother and I developed a playlist of rap songs about mothers. They are so soulful and heartwarming. I will recommend Dance by Nas to you. I enjoy my solitude and rap has evolved into my number one companion in solitude.

Your campaign has seen you asking people to talk about their first experiences with Rap music. It’s clear that nostalgia is a key element for this. Why did you opt to go that way? 

You are correct. We felt both old and young rap enthusiasts would like it. I suspect the campaign is proving us right. Personally, I find the romance of the past more appealing than the uncertainty of the future.

Nostalgia has the ability to take you back to the essence of things. The reason why things are the way they are. It allows you to trace your way back. Like: how did I get here?  We needed to bring the older generation back into the culture. Find a way to remind them of the excitement and joy that rap brought to their youth and lives. Remind them of people, events, and places.  Also, the younger elements would find it interesting and cool to relate and they want to show their peers that the depth of the music is deep because we took them into the history. For example, I have been asking my nephews and nieces who are largely teenagers for their views and the feedback has been positive.

Lagos can boast of culture hubs like Quintessence, Terra Kulture, and Jazzhole but there’s none built on Hip Hop culture. Why do you think this has been so despite the genre’s popularity? 

I think hip-hop’s traditional hub is the nightclub, to be honest. And, there are plenty of them in Lagos. The culture has a lot of cultural hubs. The problem is that most of them are at night. And, some of us are now obsessed with our sleep because we have to wake up early to earn a living. We can’t fit in anymore. So we are displaced. I call us IDRs(Internally Displaced Rapheads). So, you could only get the younger elements, entertainers, and a few older folks in those places. Awon boys ti move on.

You’re currently running a Kickstarter campaign. What is the aim of the campaign and what has been the reception like? 

The aim of the campaign is to get the Lagos Global Rap community behind us. We want it to be their space. We don’t want it to be a vanity project of one person or a group of people. We want to open it up from the onset. By donating to the Kickstarter you become a member with privileges. You get some of our merch. It’s driven by some passionate people but we can’t do it alone. Even if we can start it alone, sustainability would become an issue. As I said, it’s a cultural center. One person or a group of people can’t own a culture. The reception has been good but it can be better. We have more than 20 people backing us within a week but we are yet to meet our target. I prefer that to less than 5-10 donating the money we need.

There’s a never-ending conversation about Rap in Nigeria. On one hand, the genre’s most successful artists have found success from fusing other genres and there’s a belief that the audience has grown disconnected. What do you think the future of Nigerian rap looks like? 

I think the future is bright. The fundamentals are strong particularly the culture. It’s not a fad or trend. It can’t be wished away. It’s been around in Lagos for over 40 years. One thing about rap is authenticity. You have to keep it real. You can’t fake things. Where is Vanilla Ice or MC Hammer today?  Rappers have to remain true to the art form. They have to study the business side and do better without selling out. I know this is not the US but if Dr. Dre, Jay-Z and Kanye West are worth close to or over a billion dollars each, I don’t see why MI or Naeto or Modé 9 can’t be worth 10m dollars? These are very intelligent guys. How did Dr. Dre, Jay Z, and Kanye do it?  It’s largely from the business or commercial side of rap not from record sales. The business side is another side of the same coin. Rap is aspirational in nature: the fans want to see aspirational stuff in your music. The bling. You can’t rap about it if you don’t live it. They won’t believe you. Rap requires growth and success to remain relevant.

What’s the end goal for Rap Joint Lagos? 

We will like to export Rap Joint Lagos to all the major cities of the World. We will like to see it in Times Square and Piccadilly Circus, and others. Hard Rock Cafe started in London and it’s all over the world including Lagos.  We are special in this city and the world needs to know.

Let’s get an idea of your taste. Who are your top five rappers? Your favorite albums? 

1. Nas

2. Jay-Z

3. Eminem

4. Tupac

5. Biggie Smalls

Favorite albums

1. Me Against the World-Tupac

2. God’s Son-Nas

3. Reasonable Doubt-Jay-Z

4. Black Album-Jay-Z

5. American Gangster-Jay-Z

6. The Infamous-Mobb Deep

7. Eminem Show-Eminem

8. The College Dropout– Kanye West

What contemporary albums are you listening to?

1. Dying to Live-Kodak Black

2. Nasir-Nas

3. Lost Tapes 2-Nas

4. 4:44-Jay-Z

Follow Rap Joint Lagos on Twitter and Instagram.

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