J. Cole is one of the biggest rappers in the world so there was a buzz among oh ye #LazyNigerianYouth when the dreaded one touched down in Lagos last Wednesday, April 25 to headline a show which also had Wizkid, Davido, Falz, Ycee and more on the bill.
During the show, he may have been skeptical at first but when he started performing songs from his new album, KOD, he did well to manage the shock from seeing people rap along to the lyrics of the songs from an album barely one week old at the time – in what was his first ever show in Lagos, Nigeria.
By the end of the concert, though, it was another matter that was being discussed – how Nigerian rap artistes should quit complaining that fans don’t appreciate rap music but rather, should make rap music as good as the likes of J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar and other big mainstream names do. Only then would the Nigerian rappers get to see fans rap along like they did to J. Cole last weekend.
But is it true Nigerian rappers don’t make the kind of songs or music fans would appreciate as much as they would that of a foreign act? Also, does this mean Nigerian rappers should rap exactly about what their foreign (read American) counterparts do?
For the first question, without a doubt, it is false to think Nigerian rappers don’t make songs fans greatly appreciate, even if some of the songs and/or artiste somehow don’t receive the accolades they should be getting for their work.
Take Mode 9 for instance. In fact, there’s little need to write more here. Modo has released so many lyrical gems over the years yet has never achieved the commercial success which largely (and wrongly) is used as measure of how good a rapper is.
As a result, despite J. Cole being the kind of rapper Mode 9 used to be (people do describe J. Cole’s music as boring), if we had both (young Mode 9 and present J. Cole) rapping to a crowd on the same night at the same venue, I’d bet you the crowd would rap along to Cole’s week-old album yet react weakly to years-old works of Mode 9.
And we’re talking about a Mode 9 who dropped enough bars to win Lyricist on the Roll award more times than any of your favourites would ever dream of. Still, as is the case with many Nigerian artistes, fans will tell you he just wasn’t pop enough to appeal to the crowd… as if J. Cole is out here being a Drake?
So what is really the issue?
This brings us to the second question: should Nigerian rappers rap exactly about what their foreign counterparts do before gaining similar levels of reverence with the fans? Probably not.
Here’s the thing, when a Nigerian music fan listens to J. Cole rapping about drugs, money, bad governance, and other societal ills, they believe that they relate with what he’s saying simply because it is his (Cole’s) reality. When a Nigerian rapper does similar, the issue becomes “you (the rapper) are in a position to help us out by pressuring those in charge, you’re here rapping instead. Let me see road abeg!”
There’s also the issue of Nigerians preferring pop songs to rap – better to groove to Davido and his DMW artistes, or Wizkid, Olamide, Flavour or so, rather than to be hearing the ‘big grammar’ of Nigerian rappers.
That said, there have been Nigerian rappers who have gained the local listeners’ ears over the years, from Trybesmen as a collective and (a good number of them) individually to Ruggedman, M.I Abaga, Dagrin, Olamide, Falz, Phyno, and Reminisce, fans have people to whose songs they would rap along too.
One can say this is because fans find the songs of the aforementioned artistes very relatable while also ticking the boxes for being good to listen to and social consciousness. And to Nigerian music fans, it’s usually about money, sex, drugs, lavish living, or comedy.
Take Dagrin for instance. The late rapper was able to infuse local slangs and way of life into his music without necessarily sounding like a pop artiste, earning him unprecedented mainstream acclaim and undeniable street cred – a combination hard to achieve in Nigeria at one time.
Then there’s Falz who doesn’t really enjoy the level of street cred Dagrin did but definitely has mainstream acclaim. The rapper “having AMVCA (ehn!)” adopts a delivery comprising poor use of diction for comic effect to the point he can now afford to rap about more serious issues such as the youth paying more attention to better music content over that which promotes social ills.
There’s also Olamide who basically went pop to attain serious commercial success and do songs such as “Science Student” which hopes to shed light on the prevalence of drug abuse among the populace, according to him anyway. Otherwise, Olamide gets any crowd raving where he performs, just that most of the songs he does now are pop.
M.I Abaga is one who’s enjoyed commercial success before Falz while also making proper rap music. Music fans usually look forward to the Chocolate City boss’ “Illegal Music” mixtapes as they are seen as M.I in his true element without the restraints that come with an album that suits the artiste, the label, and fans to some extent.
And of course, Phyno, who raps mostly in Igbo language. What person wouldn’t relate with a rapper making songs in their own tongue? It is part of what earned Dagrin iconic status among fans and also why Olamide gained popularity – being able to infuse the mother tongue in their rap songs.
Among all the above named Nigerian rappers, Dagrin arguably, would be the only one who could have the same crowd at the venue of the J. Cole concert on their feet, rapping to all his rap songs like they were the key to longer life. The rest would have to switch to pop material to really get a Nigerian crowd going. Maybe M.I, Falz and Phyno, too.
And this is not because these guys or others can’t rap (Jesse Jagz, Ice Prince, Ycee, and more are capable of dropping bars as well), it boils down to Nigerian music fans’ over-familiarity with Nigerian rappers hence, the reverence is reserved for the foreign rappers.