Essentials: 13 Songs Which Capture The Essence of M.I.

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Ekpenyong Ekpenyong

Since dropping his critically acclaimed debut album in 2008, Jude Abaga has remained relevant and successfully etched his name in the Nigerian Hip Hop Hall of Fame. In a time when the likes of Modenine, Ruggedman, and Eedris Abdulkareem were dominating the scene with hardcore raps, witty lyrics and punchlines that were difficult for most Nigerians to decipher, Mr Increidble (M.I) came into the game and completely shifted the status quo. He made rap sociable, as he found a sweet spot between lyricism and commercial appeal in all of his projects, which is something only a handful of Nigerian musicians can boast of. From impeccable verses with hard-hitting punchlines to the most affectionate of love songs to addressing socio-political and mental health issues, he has done it all. As we anticipate his forthcoming project, here are 13 essential songs, in chronological order, by the Nigerian rap legend:

ANOTI FT. GABRIEL [2008]

Anoti is one of the biggest tracks of his debut Talk About It album. On a fast-paced beat, M.I introduces himself with a couple of monikers. He talks about people doubting his artistry, specifically, not having what it takes to make clubs move. In the same breath, he goes on to list the qualities that he possesses to not just stand out, but be Nigeria’s hip hop token. This remains one of his most loved songs by fans to this day.

SAFE FT. DJINEE [2008]

“If there’s ever been a rap this fly, yo, it had to be done by another M.I” is the line that closes M.I’s second and final verse on this song. M.I is braggadocious as he warns other rappers to steer clear of him on this five-minute track mostly in proper English language. The chorus and hook are delivered in pidgin English. His occasional singing adds sauce to the overall delivery. Djinee, who featured on this song, reinstates M.I’s supremacy with his euphonic vocals, as he closes the track. Your breath control has to be top-notch if you want to rap along to this song

END OF TIME (DAGRIN TRIBUTE) [2010]

Dagrin was the poster boy for “indigenous rap” in Nigeria until he passed away just as his music career was taking off. He died after putting out his sophomore album, C.E.O. (Chief Executive Omo-Ita), released late in 2009, which received critical acclaim and achieved commercial success. Paying homage to the late legend, M.I says; “Where have you gone now? Is it where angels fly? When will we see your face again, is it the end of time?”

WILD WILD WEST [2010]

In 2010, Jos, the capital of Plateau State, witnessed one of the worst killings in the last decade as a result of ethno-religious conflicts. Houses, churches, mosques, and vehicles were set ablaze and it was estimated that more than 1000 lives were lost. The immortalization of this gruesome event in this song doesn’t come as a surprise because Jos is M.I’s hometown. On a slow tempo beat, he raps and sings, as he expresses sadness, pain, and anger.

ACTION FILM FT. BRYMO [2010]

This is the second track and one of the fan favourites off the best hip hop album of 2010 — MI2: The Movie. The ‘African rapper number one’ is assisted on this very energetic track by the then new kid on the block, Brymo, who delivers sonic vocals on the hook and chorus. Right off the bat, he announces his return on his sophomore album with the following opening lines: “back with a banger/ for the hood, for the streets, for the zanga/ the return of the microphone handler/came back to set a new standard.”

HUMAN BEING FT. 2 BABA & SOUND SULTAN [2010]

M.I gives us a sneak peak into his personal life on a slow-paced beat that allows you to focus on the lyrics of the song. He enlists the help of industry legends, 2 Baba and the late Sound Sultan. They team up to explain that artists, though always covered by the smoke screen that is wealth and happiness, are human beings too who are affected by negative comments on social media, gossip, sadness, and peer pressure. One can say he echoed the thoughts of all Nigerian artists

DO I MOVE YOU [2012]

“See really I’m a humble dude. I don’t like to talk too much. I don’t like to brag. But the thing is if you don’t toot your own horn, these niggas are gonna act like you ain’t doing nothing,” says M.I alongside Nina Simone’s vocals on this track. How audacious of M.I to sample one of the most gifted vocalists of her generation. M.I goes into this track, tooting his own horn and being more cocky than ever. This is definitely one of the standouts of the Illegal Music 2 mixtape. Nina Simone would be proud.

NOTJUSTOK/SAVAGE [2016]

This is a two-part track on the third instalment of the Illegal Music series. In the first part of this song, M.I samples Burna Boy’s Soke, where he directly addresses NotJustOk, one of Nigeria’s biggest music blogs. He expresses displeasure at his placement on their 2015 Annual Rap List. M.I also calls out The Headies on the “Lyricist on the Roll” Award category on account of the criteria to win. At the time, only singles accompanied by video were eligible for this award. He notes that this doesn’t favour rappers who are “spitting new raw sh*t.” In the second part where he samples Rihanna’s Needed Me, he announces that critics should be bold enough to stand by their words, adding that he and his squad, Choc Boy Nation, are ready for confrontation.

REMEMBER ME [2016]

This is a song to close the curtains with because it sounds like the perfect eulogy. It is the tenth and final track on the Illegal Music 3 mixtape. M.I samples Lynyrd Skynyrd’s 1973 Free Bird and features a familiar collaborator — Ruby Gyang, who delivers a soulful hook. In this song, he hopes that his legacy will be remembered when he is gone. He also reminisces on his early years in the industry, how no one thought he would make it this far; his achievements, adding that he made hip hop as viable as pop.

YOU RAPPERS SHOULD FIX UP YOUR LIVES [2018]

This is one of the most controversial songs of his career. In 2017, M.I issued an open letter to all Nigerian rappers. He expresses his displeasure at not seeing any rapper worthy enough to pass the baton onto; noting that their South African counterparts are doing better and that some of them are now rappers turned singers. This generated a lot of conversation online as people debated the state and decline of the genre in Nigeria. In usual hip hop fashion, this did not go unresponded to, as rappers released reply tracks immediately.

POPPING (FT. GHOST, ODUNSI) [2018]

Off Rendezvous, a playlist that tells a story of a typical average day in the city of Lagos, is this song that features the eclectic Odunsi, and one half of the Show Dem Camp rap duo, Ghost. It’s about people being around you when you are popular who immediately desert you once you stop popping. M.I goes bar for bar with Ghost on this subject as he raps from the perspective of one whose eyes have been opened. This is evidenced by his opening line: “Thank God for granting me this moment of clarity.” Odunsi also delivers a melodic hook between the verses that leaves you nodding in agreement.

THE SACRIFICE FT. NAWE [2020]

Off the 2020 Judah EP is a song about heartbreak that features Nawe, who offers support vocals for the hook and the outro of this song. He enters familiar “lover boy” mode as he sings directly to an ex-lover who left him for another man, despite all the sacrifices he made for her. Let’s talk about vocal range. This song is an emotional one. On the hook, he urges us to let the things we love leave. The Sacrifice ends with a voice note addressed to him, where the speaker talks about her adulation and respect for him.

JESUS SAID USE YOUR HEAD [2020]

At the start of the lockdown in the first quarter of 2020, M.I and fellow rapper AQ, set the tone of the conversation on a 6-track EP titled The Live Report to address some events surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. This track focuses on one of such events — the misinformation about the virus spread by self-proclaimed men of God. AQ starts the track by admonishing Christians to study the bible for themselves and not rely only on what their pastors say. M.I joins later wishing that God reveals himself to those who are searching. He also highlights some of what the masses should do to know that God is good.

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