Rap music (interchangeably used with hip hop in this editorial) and rappers recently made the headlines in Nigeria, with several rappers deploring how the genre is being marginalised, and rappers met with disdain by industry show promoters.
But while there are certain truths in their assertions, have they done enough to demand or earn a place at the same table as their Afrobeats counterparts?
Simple answer, NO!
Burna Boy’s 2021 Grammy success elevated Afrobeats to an all new high, and beyond reasonable doubt, cemented Nigeria’s status the headquarters of the genre, which now arguably has the fastest growing global appeal of all musical genres.
Selling out historic arenas, performing at music’s biggest festivals, being sort after for features by international acts, topping foreign charts– the testaments are too numerous to mention– the remarkable growth and success that Afrobeats has enjoyed in the past decade.
However, although it appears simple now, it’s the fruit from 60 plus years of hard labour, solid groundwork laid by pioneers like the legendary Fela Kuti, King Sunny Ade, Tony Allen, Oliver De Coque, Osita Osadebe, Ebeneezer Obe, to name but a few, as Afrobeats is typically a blend of different sounds across Africa and environs.
Why then do Nigerian rappers complain, when rap is a relatively new genre in dire need of pioneers who will influence pop culture as much as Fela and his cohorts did, people who will not cave or switch lanes when the going gets tough?
Rap occupies a certain grey area between poetry, prose and spoken words. It’s also more than just music, its a lifestyle requiring it’s roots to be planted in every scintilla of popular popular culture.
It’s not that Nigerians don’t like rap music or hip hop, it’s that rappers have not found a sustainable solution to making the music appeal to them.
The people will love rap music as long as they find it relevant and relatable.
Nigerians warmed to South African rappers, Casper Nyovest, AKA, Nasty C, even Proverb when they broke into the Nigerian market. It might be lazy evidence, but there is truth in it when you also consider that MI, Jesse Jagz, Ice Prince, Vector, Da Grin, Phyno, Olamide rose to prominence as rappers, not as singers.
If Nigerian rappers want to get the same level of recognition as their Afrobeats counterparts, then a lot has to change, starting from their perception of what the people like, how much quality and effort and they commit into their craft and how to tackle the global stereotype that basically classifies everything straight out of Africa as Afrobeats.
So rather than blame the audience and promoters, rappers need to go back to the drawing board and ask themselves: “What happened?” “Where did our early shine go?” What happened to our consistency?”
After all a core part of the MCship or Emceeship is self-application. The craft is deeper than every other musical genre, and there’s a reason rappers are perceived as poets, often valuated as gifted people and geniuses.
It’s not a game for the chicken-hearted. Take drug dealing culture for instance, or gangsterism, which has drawn millions of references in hip hop, not because all rappers are criminals, or that rappers had to get their hands dirty to do rap.
Rather, it’s a metaphorical explanation how determined and ready you have to be to be successful in the game. Why do you think rappers do battle?
America is regarded as the home of rap and hip hop, but ancestrally, west African griots began such performances. Safe to say it’s not a surprise why rap is a Black people’s art.
The rap and hip hop evolution thickened with the MC era, starting from the 70s and culminating in the 90s. The genre saw its greatest transformation and invention from the 80s to the mid 90s, with modern rap pioneering artists like Rakim, KRS One, Big Daddy Kane, MF Doom, Run-DMC, and co.
Rap/hip hop is not an overnight success in America. Rappers didn’t switch lanes, they had a point to prove, and not even commercial frustrations or police brutality could stop them and the genre from growing.
Rap is not music for the chicken-hearted. It’s a craft only the most determined musicians will succeed at, because you often have to be the mouthpiece of the people.
It’s admirable to be versatile, Canadian singer and rapper Drake is a typical example, but Drake has sold as much rap records as he has his occasional RNB-style music. And America is an entirely different market, with different demographics, but above all, rappers have done and continue to do their assignments, with the likes of Andre 3000, Jay Z, Kanye West, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar boasting numerous Grammy awards.
Talking about rap and music’s most prized award- the Grammys- it wasn’t until the 1989th edition, after more than 2 decades that rap music was recognised fully by the Recording Academy. Again suggesting that just like in Nigeria now, there was a time rap was in the backseat in America.
The future can be bright, but a lot of work needs to be done. With social media and globalisation, expect the rewards to come sooner rather than later. But the gap grows wider everyday as more rappers chase the easy path to wealth by plugging into the earned success of Afrobeats.
Making quality rap albums, songs etc is great. Making quality rap music for the people is greater, but adapting that style to the culture and the way of the people is greatest for the rap industry in Nigeria.
Also, rappers need to organise and engage in more non-commercial rap related pursuits and projects for the growth of the culture. Examples include free shows, talent hunts, free tours, lectures and more, just to be able to influence poplar culture enough to the point that the audience perceive them as relevant.
There are barely rap-focused labels in Nigeria, including groups. Rap groups are crucial to the popularisation of the genre. The most memorable one Nigeria has had were the Chocolate City Boys- MI, Jesse Jagz, and Ice prince, not particularly a group, but they did make a collaborative project and the people loved them at that time. The culture needs more.
Talent production also has to be paid sufficient attention. Because that’s the only way to transfer and maintain knowledge and legacy. For example, MI may have enjoyed a relatively successful career as a rapper, but didn’t quite manage to nurture or produce a progeny.
So when rappers want to ask why the people don’t value their craft, they must understand that in this creative business, people mostly value what they can relate to.
And until they begin to work really hard for the genre and for the culture without merely thinking about their pockets, they will continue to be knocked to the passenger seats as far as music in Nigeria is concerned.