“Nigeria to the World”: The Bullet That Killed Mo Hits

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Do you remember where you were on the 1st of March, 2011? I do. I was in a room in a village somewhere in the middle of England. I took a study break as I prepared for my Psychology A Level – to go on Twitter, as you do. There, I saw something that initially looked like #fakenews. Kanye West post MBDTF was tweeting at Nigeria’s musical icons of the time, D’Banj and Don Jazzy. A follow up tweet and a reply from the Mo Hits camp seemed to corroborate this: Kanye motherfucking West was actually talking to D’Banj and Don Jazzy. Nigerian Twitter went into overdrive and made it a trending topic. #WhenKanyeWestTweetedAtDBanjAndDonJazzy

At the time, this moment seemed like the culmination of the work done by the Mo Hits frontmen. There comes a time when one has to ask themselves: is it time to take it to the next level? How do we do this? D’Banj and Don Jazzy were seemingly aware of this and had showed their hands with a collaboration with Snoop Dogg on Mr Endowed Remix. Kanye West, though was a different proposition entirely. For one, this seemed different from the more transactional stuff we’d seen previously. Mr. West was the purveyor of an air of authenticity that was largely uncommon. Whatever this was could really boost Nigerian Music. Music has an inherent value as a cultural export and this confirmed that Nigerian Music had reached the point where it was sellable. In the years to follow hearing Wizkid in Selfridges would become commonplace. Eventually, it would make sense.

Kanye West via his GOOD Music imprint went on to sign D’Banj and Don Jazzy. This was announced via a video recorded while Mr. West and Jay Z were working on their collaborative effort, Watch the Throne. Pusha T was also somewhere in the mix.  D’Banj’s account of his meeting Kanye goes something like: While at the airport getting ready to fly out of Dubai- the airport staff mistook him for Kanye. All black people look the same, sometimes. He corrected them but took the hint that Kanye was around the corner and stayed alert. Upon Kanye’s arrival, he walked up to him and introduced himself. Kanye asked for some music and was particularly taken with Don Jazzy’s production. This account was true to our perception of D’Banj and Don Jazzy: Don Jazzy was the brains of the operation while D’Banj had the business savvy to sniff out life altering opportunities. This was before Wizkid was working with Drake and Davido was riding horses with Tinashe. D’Banj paved the way.

D’Banj and Don Jazzy signing with Kanye provided some wins. Don Jazzy got a Watch The Throne credit. We got to hear D’Banj’s vocals on Cruel Summer. There was also Kanye West turning up at a D’Banj concert in the same clothes he’d worn at the VMA’s the day before and chaining D’Banj. D’Banj’s Oliver Twist crossed over- something he’s been trying to recreate and bask in, ever since. It also helped that Kanye and Big Sean made cameos in the video. He was also able to leverage on his GOOD Music ties for the 2012 installment of his annual Koko Concert- Big Sean, Pusha T and Tinie Tempah performed while Idris Elba hosted. Throw in a Ye feature on the remix to Scapegoat and D’Banj was eating good.

However, there’s a point to be made about this quest for greatness ultimately leading to the label’s demise. It’s one of the cruel ironies of life. The GOOD Music deal which was supposed to give them the extra push they needed, exacerbated the issues that had otherwise been carefully managed and subsequently led to its demise. Per D’Banj, the GOOD Music deal meant that their focus tilted from the Nigerian market which they had conquered to the Western market which they were seeking to conquer. The logic was sound- the music ecosystem in the West is more suitable for the artist. It’s just the way things work- Even British and Canadian artists try and cross over to the States because it’s ultimately, the premier music market. Also, conquering the West would have accelerated the growth of the Nigerian Music Industry and favored all those who would come after Mo Hits. The problem though was that not everyone bought into this. Wande Coal whose 2009 debut, Mushin to MoHits had catapulted him to A List status needed to solidify his spot with an album and would surely not have benefited from the unavailability of his producer, Don Jazzy. Dr Sid whose views would come to the public via leaked audio of a conversation with Davido where he spoke of feeling like D’Banj’s star was overshining his, didn’t really want to spend what would be the peak years of his career being a reserve player. The seeds of conflict were sown. Don Jazzy, protective of what they had built in Nigeria was reluctant to abandon the security stemming from that, to try his hands at cracking a new market. What if they failed? Consequently, it made sense that the professional relationship that had defined Nigerian music was brought to an end.

10 years on from the birth of the Mo Hits All Stars, 5 years on from the death of Mo Hits, Wizkid and Davido have deals with foreign labels and have completed world tours. Tiwa Savage has Roc Nation affiliations and Maleek Berry does A List festivals. In seeking to further the possibilities, MoHits paved the way. If there’s anything to be sad about, it’s that the protagonists didn’t get to benefit directly from the foundation they laid. Their episode served as a cautionary tale and template for the generation to come after. Looking at people like Davido and Wizkid and the manner in which they’ve sought to appeal to the base that took them to the A List as they’ve made their most adventurous moves outside Nigeria, you get the impression that they have taken the lessons from the MoHits debacle. And perhaps in the future, we will say that one of MoHits’ legacies was showing us how and how not to manage a crossover.

Photo Credit: Kayode Adegbola