When hip-hop became a worldwide phenomenon in the 80s and 90s, I was one of the people who became enamored with the culture. Truth be told, hip-hop in its true definition is NOT a music genre! It’s a cultural movement with certain elements. B-boying, DJ’ing, rap are all elements of that culture. So quite frankly, contextually, this piece is really about rap. In recent times though, hip-hop has become blurred to mean a music genre. The (Nigerian) media has even (erroneously) widened it to such a point where 2face is now referred to as a “hip-hop act”. Sigh. I digress. Matter for another day.
Now, I grew up on the likes of Curtis Blow, Eric B and Rakim, Public Enemy, NWA, Rob Bass and EZ Rock, Look Moe Dee, LL Cool J, Big Daddy Kane, Queen Lateefah, Monie Luv, Fresh Prince and Jazzy Jeff, Kriss Kross and more from the old school. This was when hip-hop had morphed into a movement.
The movement eventually found its way to the landscape of Nigerian entertainment through the likes of Junior and Pretty, SWAT Roots, Trybesmen, 4men, G-Vibes, Specimen A, Ruff Rugged n Raw, Black Reverenz, Maintain and a host of others.
Exciting times I tell you. From hardcore emcees, to comic rappers and the infusion of local parlance into rap. Hip-hop had become huge in Nigeria.
Collabos in the mainstream had tapped into the fever. Pop, R&B had caught the hip-hop bug as well. From Dare featuring Trybesmen to 2face featuring Freestyle. Naeto C ft Wande Coal. Ikechukwu ft D’Banj and Don Jazzy. Tony Tetuila ft Ruff Rugged n Raw.
All these were testament to the seamless integration of rap into other genres.
If we start mentioning some of the great rap songs out of Naija, we’ll be here for a bit. But for the fun of it, here’s a few. Ruggedman’s “ehen”, Trybesmen “shake body”, Mode 9 “it’s about to get ugly”, 6 ft plus “anwuli”, Teri tha Rapman “na beans”, OD “don’t hate”, Freestyle ft Blaise “bragging rights”, Sasha P “emi le gan”, Kel “waa wa alright”, Illbliss “dat Ibo boy”, DJ Jimmy Jatt “stylé”, 2shotz ft 9ice “make dem talk” and so many more.
So, in the years that followed, what in God’s name happened? Why is hip-hop seemingly so relegated lately?
Here are a few of my thoughts and observations on the matter. You can draw your own conclusions and add your own thoughts, if you please.
Firstly, I sort of believe the element of fun in hip-hop has become lost.
In the early days and glory days of Naija hip-hop, there was an element of fun to the genre that just caught both the mind and ear of the listener. Rappers crafted words in a fun(ny) way that still somehow got the message across in a relatable way. Now, I’m not saying every song was like that, but there were enough of such songs in mainstream media.
Next, collaborations were the norm. Pop and R&B stars regularly featured rappers. Rappers regularly featured other rappers. Look around today, is that the case? Of recent, maybe Zlatan and Naira Marley have become more prominent on account of features. But they are an exception, not the norm, in this case.
Next, beef! Dear Lord God! Don’t even get me started on this. Major rappers beefing each other. Minor rappers beefing each other. Minorities getting in on the act and then social media popping for a week and then it’s back to status quo. Sometimes it gets so personal that you start hearing about underground schemes and machinations to block the hustle/progress of the involved players. Tueh!
There’s also the curious case of industry-supporting corporations not reckoning with hip-hop. How many shows over the last 5yrs have had a rapper or several rappers headlining?
The state of hip-hop is, to put it quite bluntly, uninspiring at the moment. The chances of earning a living as an A-list act while doing hip-hop is unbelievably low right now. It’s funny how this is true, yet we’ve had so many incredible projects coming out of the hip-hop community in the last year or 2. Projects from Boogie and Payback, Illbliss, Flow, Ex’O, Teeto and Rae Slick, Show Dem Camp, IllZilla, MI, Vector have all been released since 2018. Yet, hip-hop is only reduced to a few beef-induced tracks for a couple of weeks of social media clout.
Is hip-hop in Naija dead? The answer would be a resounding NO. But, it’s gradually slipping into a coma.
Hip-hop in Naija needs a shot in the arm. It needs to reignite its love affair within the genre and with other genres as well. Beef is a tired and fast becoming lame strategy to herald projects. Bad blood isn’t the answer. Collaboration IS!
Hip-hop heads who are business savvy need to step up and help push the narrative. The mainstream needs to get back on the hip-hop horse and ride that wave. Differences need to be put aside and a conscious collaborative ideology needs to be engendered to push the genre forward.
I’m a true hip-hop head and fan, and I don’t want to see the genre fade to obscurity and disappear form our minds. We can do better. We must do better. Otherwise, that death knell is going to sound and the undertaker will awaken.
Now, I put the question to you all – IS NIGERIAN HIP-HOP DEAD OR ALIVE?
Kindly share your thoughts.
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