Why Ladipoe’s Fusion of Rap and Afropop Has Always Been Generational
The artist has been on a long journey of restoration and reinvention
The artist has been on a long journey of restoration and reinvention
Ladipoe is not your everyday rapper. Mainstream audiences began to grasp the generational quality of his talent when he appeared on “Feel Alright,” alongside the mercurial Show Dem Camp who were, back in 2013, still charting incursions into the centre of Nigeria’s alternative movement. The Juls-minted production was a potent soundscape for the rappers’ innuendo-laced bars to thrive, but there was a certain musicality to Ladipoe’s delivery. Afterwards, listeners were sure to keep him on their radar.
It’s now almost a short change to rank Ladipoe purely amongst rappers. He’s proven an affinity for crafting songs which blur the lines between rap and pop music, but throughout his sonic travels, he’s retained the same qualities that made him so heralded almost a decade ago. Rap and rappers occupy a high level in the pantheon of popular Nigerian discussions; whenever casual listeners get the chance, they bemoan the supposed death of the genre, often listing acts and their songs which are considered to be classic material.
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Never mind that such stories are usually carried on nostalgia, it’s declared as truth. Nuance is abandoned; catchy declarations are game. And so rap—whose Nigerian variant has long adapted the flavours of contemporary music—is suggested to have gone commercial. The much-maligned tag of being a ‘sell out’ is one that’s followed the local Hip-Hop scene, even though for a long time a so-called sell out has been exactly what the game needs.
In the years before the 2010s, the dominant medium for expression amongst rappers was English. A few notable acts worked in the indigenous tradition, but those were few and far between. From eLDee to Eedris Abdulkareem, Sasha P, M.I Abaga and Naeto C, the language clearly influenced the zeitgeist. From the technical set-up of songs to the stateside-evoking fashion, the sensibility was unarguably suited to English-speaking rappers.
Afterwards, the new decade brought new major changes. Phyno and Olamide spearheaded the indigenous movement, joining rappers like Reminisce and Erigga in detailing Nigerian stories in the intimate flagrance of local languages. That generation of rappers—arriving between 2010 and 2015—signified the genre’s loosening grasp on popular culture and mainstream music. While subcultures and artists emerged around the country since then, none has gotten the mainstream acceptance Ladipoe has gotten. Flying the English-speaking banner, he embodies the vibrant musicality that rap needs to compete at the highest level.
Contrary to common perception, the Ladipoe story didn’t begin with “Feeling”. It began with the cultivation of his artistic interests: two years ago he told Notion about the many artists he grew up hearing, from Al Green to Victor Uwaifo, Marvin Gaye and Lagbaja. “All of these things,” he said, “feed into my style of not sticking to a genre and using rap as my outlet, a way of communicating my art but not seeing that one sound [as the only way to go]”.
His ear for rhythm was thus in training from childhood. When he began writing bars, it was natural he gravitated towards similar rappers. Little Brother’s Phonte, a rapper whose flow has been described as “lithe and jocular,” is the major descendant of Ladipoe’s easy-going inflections. Drake also emerges from this tradition, while technical savants Elzhi and Lupe Fiasco were some other rappers who influenced Ladipoe’s assured style.
By the time Ladipoe arrived on the scene, he was already an accomplished stylist. As someone who frequently scoured the internet in search of deep cuts, I was aware of Ladipoe quite early on. Through the same blog channels that revealed acts like Boogey, PayBac iBoro, X.O Senavoe, Aina More, Khali Abdu and many others, a rapper called Poe arrived.
“Slow It Down” was rinsed in retro qualities. It was an early indication of Ladipoe’s vision to unite rap flows over acceptable pop-directed beats, produced by the mercurial IKON who was also known for their affiliation with SDC. The accusations of going pop was therefore an argument that just couldn’t stick; this was as far back as 2014. On “Can’t Forget”, the rapper turned to the liquid guitar playing of Highlife. Produced by Moodini, it sampled a singer whose vocal inflections sound a whole lot like Rexx, the sage behind the classic chorus of Jesse Jagz’s “High Life”.
This awareness of his country’s sonic history thus made Ladipoe a very special MC. I could tell from the start; however, no other verse solidified my love as much as “Victoria Island of Broken Dreams”. On the ‘Clone Wars 2’ cut, he went toe to toe with the SDC duo over a fiery Kid Konnect production. Embracing a prophetic, almost journalistic clarity, his verse sounds more like a revolutionary speech:
And I’m just spitting, for a part of me that’s wishing
Elected to speak the truth, but the ballot box is missing
I’m sad how we do things, there’s trouble in the government
They roll with tinted windows, wonder if they see the suffering
Put your all for promises, I’m searching for acknowledgment
I’m looking at my people, asking them where the knowledge went
When ‘T.A.P (Talk About Poe)’ was released in the latter months of 2018, it felt like prophecy fulfilled. For many of us, Ladipoe was emblematic of rap’s soft quality, able to blend into the stories and sounds of cultures far away from its origin in America. He wasn’t following in the template of many English-speaking rappers who gloried in the Americanised presentation of their style; he was rather a descendant of SDC but also M.I Abaga, whose commercial achievements had solidified his place in the GOAT discussion.
On “Double Homicide” he floated over a pensive loop, rapping his words with a destructive intent. “I don’t have to quantify, the rappers that I nullify, it’s easy being dope when the rest of them are borderline,” he raps, and then cheekily inserting, “Man, I really love it when they talk about Poe, but I know it’s all pride and I really have to swallow mine”. His feature Ghost continues by referencing Poe’s smoothness with it: “Man, there you go again Poe, always hogging all the shine/ This dude stays getting all the dimes…”
“Revival” had the controversy-courting bar “and rappers dying off from Afrobeat fever” but beyond its edgy perspective, Poe gave a good account of himself on that closer. As a collection, the project represented his alternative roots in as much lyricism and storytelling as the mainstream could accept; take for instance, the Sir Dauda-featured “Hello Goodbye” whose folksy production sounds cut from the music within an obscure bar in the southwest. Tems was evocative as usual on “Falling,” switching the direction towards a more pop lane.
After that project, the rapper returned five months later to kick off a new arc. ‘Talk About Poe’ was the project he owed his day ones, but it wasn’t necessarily the vision Mavin Records had to ensure his ubiquity as an artist. “Jaiye (Time of Our Lives)” was the first step in that direction, featuring the acceptable figure of Johnny Drille who also produced its sunny rhythm. Even the colourful visuals were attuned to this motivation, and it was only right Ladipoe scored his then biggest hit three songs afterwards.
“Know You” by now is known as the quintessential soundtrack of the pandemic, a balmy record carried by the world’s genuine desire for intimacy. However, the song’s success couldn’t have been possible without the duo of preceding records. “Based On Kpa” and “Lemme Know” were produced by Altims and Ozedikus respectively, both pop savants who tuned down the usual pomp for sensitivity, a trait which “Know You” would later perfect. Teni’s appearance on the remix of the latter record was a fine extension of the cheeky bar “your sugar mummy on my case like Teni” but it also signified Ladipoe’s oncoming immersion in the mainstream.
In 2021, LADIPOE was feeling confident. He’d scored that hit with Simi and had become one of the genre’s most important artists. Colouring inside popular music with his rapping, he released “Rap Messiah” just a month before “Feeling”. This demonstrates his readiness to move between both lanes, flexing his signature flow with a savant’s ease.
I once likened that flow to “a vehicle filled with tourists which slows down at designated spots so the passengers can pick details of the world outside and Ladipoe is like the grey haired driver with quips and an astounding knowledge of the city”. If this was true, then Ladipoe’s perspective has changed in the time since; he’s now the man in the passenger seat, observing the minutiae details of the life around him. He’s now the main character.
That perspective came into total light on the ‘Providence’ EP. Released while the world was still on the “Feeling” wave, he was set on the clouds. Everything was coming together. The project reflected that appreciative aura, in lyricism and sonic vision. It featured the popular trio of Rema, Amaarae and Fireboy DML, each contributing their unique perspectives to the records. While the Mavin star reaffirmed their superstar lifestyle, the ‘Fountain Baby’ explored romantic tensions and the YBNL star contributed to the aspirational zest in “Running,” the project’s runaway hit song.
Rap wise, Ladipoe’s own skills came to the fore on “LOTR II” and “Providence”. Both songs showcase the trademark effervescence of his delivery, filled with unique storytelling and the rapper’s undeniably A-level ear for a resonating quotable. On the former, he raps, “The secret to longevity is always rewrite the narrative/ repeat it in Swahili, in Igbo, or perfect Arabic, the truth translates in all languages”.
In recent times, Ladipoe has been sharpening the plots in his narrative. To his credit, he’s set the wheels in motion since coming into the scene, only now he’s more matured in his choices. A record like “Big Energy” thus shines with that intentionality, its bigness of vision reflected not only in the title but also in the song.
The years have been kinder to rappers. Even as Afropop valiantly moves into the uncontested position of being a global phenomenon, rappers have been creating music that sticks, from Psycho YP to ODUMODUBLVCK. Artists like Mohbad and Amaarae, even while not expressively identifying as rappers, have eagerly translated its cadences into pop-licked bangers, making Ladipoe something of an early sojourner in that path.
In an exclusive interview with NATIVE Mag, he related the motivation that informs his culture-pulling sound. “When you feel like you represent something to people, you want to hit that target,” he said. “And more so, because you represent that thing to yourself”. For those who’ve noticed, there’s a chest-thumping bragaddocio that’s accompanied his recent releases, now comfortable in the fact he’s hit that mark. What is left is solidifying their successes.
These past few months, he’s rolled out similar aesthetics to the Revival Sunday, where short, succinct clips of freestyles where attended with DIY-esque videos. He’s also rolled back the years, adapting some verses from previously-released songs; these choices, in essence, aim to reconstruct his narrative, painting them in a new gloss while he maps out the terrain of his oncoming movement.
A peek through the prism has come with “Guy Man”, his latest record. It features Bella Shmurda, another artist whose Hip-Hop roots are enmeshed in the peculiarities of Nigerian Pop traditions. On a meta level, it’s a self-aware song, on the level of understanding oneself while referencing Ladipoe’s pop credentials. Sandwiched between Bella’s emotive hook, he raps tellingly on the second verse, “You’ve entered one chance, this one na club jam” and later on, elucidating on that point: “I got a tip, no dey trip off the success/ Cos Afrobeat hit no mean say Hip-Hop’s dead”.
It’s a long way from the Afrobeat bar on “Revival,” but every artist should ideally grow. Ladipoe has been evolving for a long time, first by establishing the core tenets of his craft before getting onto the scene, and later by shifting some parts to accommodate the concerns of being Nigerian. In the imminent expectation of a new project, the flowers are well watered for Ladipoe’s indulgence. He’s been leading the revival and now he’s here, a champion of rap’s eternal presence within the sprawling soundscape that is known as Afropop.