There was a time in the Nigerian music industry when the outlook of Hip Hop was great. Arguably spearheaded by legendary Mode 9, the mini-industry held so much promise in the first generation, artists like Eldee, Naeto C, Ikechukwu, Sauce Kid, would return from overseas to kickstart their musical careers. Then there was MI, Jesse Jagz, and Ice Prince – three rappers who made Chocolate City the choicest record label for every aspiring Emcee in the country in the late 2000s and early 2010s. It’s also worthy to remember late Oladapo Olaitan Olaonipekun a.k.a. Da Grin who does not get enough credit for revolutionising Yoruba dialectal rap – a feat many second-generation artists like Olamide have benefitted greatly from.
During the pace-setting generation, often was the industry laden with American-style Hip Hop that was and will always be the benchmark for Hip Hop anywhere around the world. It felt like we had arrived in that genre. As a boy and lover of Hip Hop, I remember listening to DJ Jimmy Jatt’s Stylee in 2007 for the first time and was wowed. Stylee quickly became a street anthem, getting regular airplay and rocking every street corner. It wasn’t just the beat or the richly ensembled feature, it was the message. Like the title of the song, we had finally found our own style.
In that same 2007, there was another 2Face assisted song, Sip Easy, this time by Freestyle. Freestyle’s delivery on the track remains one of the best I’ve ever heard coming from a Nigerian rapper and you know 2Face always delivers on every hook. Of course, a certain Jude Abaga, MI had been making waves since 2006, with Crowd Mentality getting positive acclaim and setting him up to take the industry by storm. In 2008, he debuted his first studio album: MI 1: Talk About It. A year later he released the first of his Illegal Music mixtape series, another project that was acknowledged with series of positivity.
In 2010, Naeto C and Ikechukwu dominated the game with Kini Big Deal. The video is one from the future and continues to impress to date. I won’t fail to mention that Ikechucukwu’s imprint had been growing on the game since 2006. Neither will I miss highlighting Banky W’s success in bringing the biggest stars under one umbrella in the 2009 remix of Lagos Party– it remains the biggest cross label collaboration straight out of Naija. Remember Eldee The Don’s Big Boy that also featured Banky and the star-studded remix to Jahbless’ hit song, Joor Oh? Honour where honour is due, Rugged Man, Terry Tha Rapman, Ill Bliss, and Nigga Raw all deserve mentions as part of those who set the pace, including producers, Jimmy Jatt, Suspect, Icon, E Kelly, Jay Sleek, to name but a few.
It all felt like Hip Hop was here to stay, thanks to these pacesetters that dominated from 2006 – 2011. However, although the 2nd gen rappers benefited from the works of the pacesetters, they became polarised and couldn’t hold it down. Rather than bending the market, they bent their music. Hip Hop’s growth started declining; Ice Prince, Olamide, a few that shone at the beginning of the new era, became more of singers than rappers. Even, as hardcore and as talented Vector is, the market bent his music. Only Phyno and Falz stand out from that 2nd gen, releasing more rap hit songs than bangers for clubs and dropping dope verses on many features.
As for the present generation which I think began in 2017, it’s harder to separate a singer from a rapper. The songs are so polarised, we almost call anyone who can string together a couple of rhymes, rappers. So much talk has surrounded Blaqbonez, Ladipoe, Ycee, and a few other recent rappers but, listening to them, I get more singer vibes than rapper vibes.
We see in Hollywood every day how the best rappers collaborate with the best singers in order to meet in the middle. In my opinion, the life of every rap song is the hook. Once the hook is easily chant-able, forget about the other lyrics, the audience will eventually get that too. Those marquee collaborations from the first era of Nigerian Hip Hop benefitted the genre. It was Hip Hop but, the features made it seem universal. It’s a tad surprising that the second era of rappers couldn’t sustain that culture. That’s why Lagos Party remix remains the biggest collab in the history of Nigerian music after so many years. Whatever reason caused it, it was a caveat on the growth of the industry.
As a true lover and keen follower of the game, I can tell you the pacesetters are yet to be dethroned. The narrative is that they have less commercial success but, Emceeship has never been about commercial success. It’s a special craft that only the most intelligent people succeed at. Quality Rap music is timeless! So, whomever your new kings are, remind them every day to bow to the old kings, MI, Modo, Ikechukwu, Jimmy Jatt, Ill Bliss, Rugged Man, Terry Tha Rap Man, Nigga Raw. Not forgetting Phyno and Falz who still hold it down from the second wave.