Last year, by the grace of God, and the overwhelmingly willing resources (energy, time, money) of bosom friends whom hell would have to freeze over first before I forget (Chioma, Michael, Queen, Chima, Michael, Nigel, Joseph, Ifunanya, Joshua, Stanley, Christian), I started a literary club in my alma mater – Federal University of Technology Owerri. It’s called Route Africa (Official Name: Route Africa Writers Organization).
I’m currently serving as a youth corps member in Nigeria, and can I tell you folks, it is a hoot!
There are many bad days; there are funny days, there are meh days, but there are good days too, like very good, promising days. Guess, it’s just the same way with the rest of life, and living.
There was once a desire for NYSC. I say there was once, not entire suggesting there isn’t anymore, but from a quantitative angle, not many Nigerian youth and school leavers jump with excitement at the p
For most people, beginning a first draft is the most difficult step in writing a document. Even experienced writers find themselves frozen when they first confront an empty screen or a blank sheet of paper.
You spend minutes thinking about the first word, then some extra minutes thinking about the first sentence. You find that you spend the same amount of time taken to write an entire page or two just thinking about how to start. Some writers just give up, or keep rewriting and cancelling. It’s gruelling, trust me.
“Everybody, whether they know it or not, needs a platform to scream—at the world, at life, at nature. Most people never get that chance, or rather, never get to stumble upon it as most others do. So, they have to create it for themselves. Tukobos is a way of reminding writers out there that freedom of speech is real, and can be exercised. They can scream, just as I constantly do here.”
It’s been barely three weeks since The Chairman, M.I dropped what is now, arguably, his most controversial song of recent. It’s been received with mixed feelings, especially within the Nigerian rap community; and why shouldn’t it? It’s a direct and bold challenge (some would say ‘attack’) on the state of rap music in Nigeria, and the rappers that sing them. I’m talking about no other track than ‘You Rappers Should Fix Up Your Lives’. Guess, he’s not one for subtlety, judging from the track’s title.
I’m a big music lover. Well, so are most persons I’ve met. However, persons who’ve gone through my music collection summarise that I listen to weird music. The truth is that I listen to a large—laaarrgge—range of music. Why? Because, I am a big music lover. I thought I just said it. I am not just a rap music lover, nor just an afrobeats music lover, nor just an afrobeat (yes, afrobeat is different from afrobeats) music lover, nor RnB. I am a music lover. And the truth is, I honestly think Nigerians should start being music lovers too. The whole indigenously produced sound thing is all nice and fun, but open yourself up to the world, even as you’re taking your indigenous indie craft to them. It makes for good harmony and music sense. You can even push boundaries and begin hoarding songs like me. I have a music library that can run a non-stop music radio station for two weeks without repeating a song. I am not exaggerating.
Where am I going with all this? Taste. That’s the word, taste. But before I delve in properly, a little time to dissect M.I’s new track and the buzz that has been following it.
“None of you rapper’s inspiring, none of you pass the requirement
Who gonna face the environment? (is it you?)
You rappers should fix up your lives
Y’all getting killed by the south
None of you rappers are real enough
Once you blow up, now you’re switching up
Rappers are singing now, just to get popular
That’s an excerpt from M.I’s song.
What I see is a cry for some revolution—for the return of inspiration, realness, integrity and faith in the rap art. What people have argued against however is that a revolution is not what is needed. They argue that good rap music exists in Nigeria, has always existed, even throughout the time period M.I claimed to have been absent and things died down. The only thing is that it isn’t heard because it isn’t what is popular. Dancehall afrobeats and party jams have so cemented its place in the Nigerian music environment that anything new, or different, if not fused somehow or compromised somewhat by the afrobeats or party sound, dies a natural death even before it goes anywhere. This is so apparent to the extent that world-renowned artiste Asa, who sings predominantly in Yoruba, finds it easier to sell and promote her songs in France than in Nigeria. They argue that good rap has become meat and bone for the underdogs and those who have chosen to remain so. And this is sad. So, it isn’t a revolution that is needed. It’s a change (or rather, an expansion) of taste.
Since the song dropped on 20th October though, I’ve screened it and the buzz it has intentionally engendered with a slightly different set of lenses. Yes, M.I expressed his disappointment and handed over the winner’s plaque for best African rap to South Africa. (Side note here, our brothers in the South, they know their stuff: A.K.A., Nasty C, Emtee, Da LES, J.R, Khuli Chana, Yanga.) I believe though, M.I used reverse psychology to achieve what he wanted to achieve—the responses. And he got ‘em served hot, in many many creative ways, by many many creative Nigerian rappers, big, small, known, unknown. And here’s the beauty in this: One, everybody’s replying, so anyone that gets on the bandwagon would surely get their stuff played over and over again (on radio, on soundcloud, spotify, audiomack, what have you), so, awesome PR. Two, it is buzz surrounding M.I. History knows that M.I isn’t new to rap beefs (ask Kelly Hansome, and even his little bro, Jesse Jagz), and some of his controversial beefs brought about quite the creative shifts in hip hop music making back in the day, so, by all indications, it is expected that this, in some surreptitious way, is his way of throwing the talk back to the periscope of Nigeria’s best lyrical wordsmiths and anticipating magic in return. Three, record labels, like the walls, are out there, silently watching, sorting out talents, and because he had to go and touch the soft spot by crowning SA rappers, these labels (and their ogas) are surely going back to the drawing board to see to it that Nigeria comes on top. I mean, if we can struggle best jollof rice with Ghana, and struggle whatever-it-finally-was that we struggled with Kenya, this won’t go scot-free.
Possibly, the most popular responder is Lord Vino, who didn’t shy away from naming names in his response track, Fix Up The Lies. There’s Rukus who came out of retirement, and in response talks about how an icon like M.I who has managed to remain in the limelight has not at all helped the up-and-coming talents become all these that he wishes they were. Blames him for causing divisions instead. Alpha Muzik shares the same views. For the less popular rappers who responded, most of their lines is a cry for a change of taste among Nigerian consumers, and as well, support from the acclaimed big boys of the music industry. Holyfield, N6, Mayne, David Millz, S’old, Paper Corleone, Blaqbonez, Cloud9ne, MCSkill Tha Preacha, Emmzy, Vader, Dabu the Gemini, Okaim, Tito Brown, Lord Gedes, Maick’l, HEC, Zade, and newer and newer rappers appearing from all over the country.
Here’s what I have to say about all these though. First of all, the cancer, the cancer of lack of good (or deterred) music taste, is not of rap alone. There’s a whole ecosystem of musical genres that are as foreign to Nigeria and Nigerians as a Buddhist monk is foreign to hair. This is not advocating that Nigerian musicians to leave what makes their music Nigerian. I’m simply saying—experiment. Foreign artistes and DJs are doing it every day, especially with what is considered indigenous African sounds, and then they release it, and it does so well. Riton is a DJ from the UK who made Nigerians know about Nigerian singer Kah-Lo. Listen to any of the songs they’ve done together (Rinse and Repeat, Money, Betta Riddim, Fasta), you’ll hear it, the African sound. But you hear something else—the European Electro-House pattern driving the African sound and giving it a new edge. How many Nigerians listen to pure European Electro-House? Few. And this is why, one, they won’t dig Riton’s work as much; two, they end up stuck in a rigmarole around the African scene alone, completely invisible to the rest of the world.
Sure, our Juju(King Sunny Ade, I.K. Dairo), Highlife(Chief Osita Osadebe, Cardinal Rex Lawson, Sir Victor Olaiya—only Nigerian to ever earn a platinum record, Prince Nico Mbarga), Fuji(Ayinla Omowura, Alhaji Sikiru Ayinde Barrister), Yo-pop(Segun Adewale), Afro-juju (Sir Shina Peters), Funky juju (Dele Taiwo), Afrobeat(Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Lagbaja, William Onyeabor, Femi Kuti), Waka(Salawa Abeni, Timi Korus, Tila man), Nigerian reggae(Terakota, Ras Kimono, Majek Fashek, The Mandators, Jerry Jheto, Daddy Showkey, Duncan Mighty, Timaya, Slim Burna, Orezi, Burna Boy, Patoranking), Nigerian Hip Hop, (Sound on Sound, De Weez, Black Masquradaz, The Remedies, Plantashun Boiz, eLDee, Ruggedman, Eedris Abdulkareem, Weird MC, Naeto C, Olamide, Vector, Reminisce, Ice Prince, M.I, Lil Kesh), Apala(Haruna Ishola, Kasumu Adio, Sefiu Ayan), Afrobeats(Wizkid, D’Banj, Davido, Fuse ODG, R2Bees, Tiwa Savage, P Square), they help. But imagine combining the richness of Juju’s percussion with the ethereal ambience of New Age or the entrancing groove of Igbo Highlife with the very danceable rhythms of American Swing Jazz, or the lyrical transcendence Afrobeat offers fused with magical Tropical House. Done perfectly, such music would triumph over anything that exists now, no matter who made it.
The old school Nigerian artistes did this in their heyday, and it took them places. Imagine my surprise when I heard that King Sunny Ade recorded a song with Stevie Wonder, and had a huge tour in Japan. It sounded like a tale from a place I could not recognize. Sure, there’s Wizkid and Davido, and Tiwa Savage, and they’re closing down arenas today, but—all due respect to their hustle—they tried harder than they would have if they had started off with brilliant music (stuff that takes time to come up with because it just has to be perfect and enchanting) and well-thought out lyrics.
We praise musicians like Kendrick Lamar, Lorde, Twenty One Pilots, J Cole, Adele, Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith, Passenger, fun., John Legend, Jon Bellion, Sia, firstly because of their lyrical prowess. I’m yet to find a song by any of them whose lyrics are bland, empty, or not carrying some powerful message or the other. And they’re not all rappers. They sing different things. Twenty One Pilots especially sing very weird rock and rap fusion. But song, after song, right from the first time we heard them on air, they’ve created hit after hit. And they won’t stop because they have taste, and faith in the careful process of lyrics composition. But most of all, because they have an audience that understands their taste, and would buy their music and play it on end, every day. Nigerian music and her audience needs to get there.
But hold up however, we’re not totally hopeless. We have artistes who see what I see and do something about it. There’s Bez, Simi, Asa, Johnny Drille, and the ever controversial chairman himself, M.I (yup, he deserves to be on this list). These lyricists impress all the time. I believe they’re being held back by the people’s wishes though. (M.I’s Crowd Mentality was chuck full of references to how crowd pleasing is the mainstay in the Nigerian music industry). So, can I ask of these hopefuls, can you, you who the limelight still shines upon, show the crowd the error of their ways? Here, I believe, what is needed is the wisdom of these few, not that of the crowd. Show them, and they would follow. And then, hope would be given to the many like you hiding at the forgotten corners of the country, hoping and praying that something comes out of their penchant to express themselves through brilliant lyrical poetry, wishing that their love for good music doesn’t get drowned out like others’ have, and then find themselves as a teller in one nondescript banking hall or the other.
I don’t condemn the Nigerian afrobeat sound, don’t get me wrong. I’m proud we have something that is proudly Nigerian which we’ve sold to the world, and the world is eating it up. I am simply saying it doesn’t have to be all we have. We can diversify and experiment. We must diversify and experiment, if we want the next Kendrick Lamar or J Cole taking the world by storm to come from Nigeria.
Nigerian music consumers, firstly, we must switch up our taste.
PS: You’ll notice I say nothing about religious music. I’m Christian. I’d consider myself devout. I restrict discussions about music like this to the secular scene because I believe gospel music exists to do something completely different from these ones. Gospel music should remind me of my Christian obligations and connect me to God every time I listen to it. So, I revere the music genre too much to have it included.
So...you're looking for that new book to start reading, or you're already reading one and you need motivation/a reading partner, look no further than my goodreads reading list here. Feel free to email me for more suggestions and/or questions on any of these books at firstname.lastname@example.org
Chizzy Ndukwe N is a graduate of Petroleum Engineering from Federal University of Technology Owerri. He is a yet unpublished writer, and has been writing, mostly on online platforms, for eight years now and counting. His works can be seen on his wattpad profile, toryhub, yolar magazine, inspirecrib.com, and Birds and Bridges (the official blog for Route Africa Writers Organization, which he founded in May, 2016).