In memory of Mohbad, the street-pop artist who always sought the light

Rest in peace, Imole.

The first time I went to Ikorodu—not ‘IKD’—Mohbad was there. Not in person. Actually, that wasn’t the first time that I was in that deep southern axis of Lagos. I had extended family there for a couple of years and we visited at least four times that I can remember, but they lived in the more vanilla side of town and my cousins were the type to call it IKD. This time around, in late 2020, I was cramped in the backseat of a Sienna with two other friends, all seven of us in the vehicle going to Lagos State University of Science and Technology (LASUSTECH), fka LASPOTECH, for a volleyball match.

Like I said, Mohbad was there, but not in person. In the car, as the driver—‘Papa’, as we like to call him—snaked through roads that sloped up and down, “KPK,” the inescapable hit song with super-producer Rexxie, rang out at least three times and we all sang along judiciously. I think that was Shola, the dedicated aux guy, just reloading the song every time a new song came on and he didn’t like it. I can’t remember what the conversation was about till today, it must have been something very mischievous, but I remember Innocent, left corner at the backseat beside me and Henry, yelled “for my life, I never see pussy wey bitter,” quoting that viral line from Mohbad’s “Ponmo.” We were just minutes away from turning onto LASPOTECH road.

We were in the real Ikorodu. I mean, I grew up in another hood in Lagos, far away from Ikorodu, but I easily latched unto and spoke the slangs that caught my ears as soon as we were dapping people up, the blasé roughness in their cadences. Everywhere I turned, I heard niggas saying “Aje.” I heard the ladies, who were checking us out, say “ko po ke?” in playful jest. Mohbad was here, expectedly. During pre-game warm-ups, a speaker was rattling out tunes next to the court: “KPK” played, so did “Ponmo,” and the Davido collab, “Once Debe.” Of course, he’s beloved in the place that he came up in—no stereotypical prophet.

Yesterday evening, the family of the man born Ilerioluwa Aloba confirmed his passing. He was 27-years old. Gone too soon, fuck the 27 club. (Related: RIP Dablixx Osha.) I’ve heard people say death is the ultimate leveller, which I think that’s dishonest, because not everyone lived life the same and there’s a reason we consider a person’s legacy after they pass. Death didn’t level Mohbad, it snatched a star who clearly believed that we were not put on this earth to just flounder in the wind and wait for the end.

Like many street-pop artists, Mohbad didn’t try to be everything to everybody; he sang and rapped for himself, for his people—people raised in circumstances where you have to make shit happen because that was the only option. “I’ve learnt to always do what comes to your mind,” he said in an interview on ‘Osikoya Speaks’ months ago. No floundering, no waiting for the end. Just do it. I think he was wearing a pair of Nikes at that Blaqbonez Valetntine’s Day show in 2022.

“Iya to je mummy mi, to je daddy mi/ma je ko je mi,” he rapped on “Imole,” a song that pre-dates being an official Marlian but helped build his street cred. That line is simple but loaded, a prayer to God to escape the familial history of financial want. I never could relate, my parents were civil servants on very modest income, so we had food and some Christmas clothes, and they earned enough to make sure I got a degree from a Nigerian university. But I lived in close proximity to people whose parents couldn’t afford them that latter privilege. After secondary school, they either learned trades or hit the streets. Tarrying wasn’t an option, just make something happen for your sake, for your family’s sake.

On “Sorry,” the intro to his December 2020 debut project, ‘Light’, Mohbad recalls ditching classes after his father scavenged around for money to enrol him at the polytechnic—he didn’t see a pathway through school. “I don dey do yahoo/I don dey take banku,” he confessed. By this time, he had been signed to Marlian Music, the record label founded and floated by the patron saint of irreverence, Naira Marley. Success had started coming in, but he wasn’t far removed from the formative experiences that shaped him. “Omo pastor ti wonu aye,” a submission that he was a sinner; music was his redemptive arc.


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Mohbad always sought the light. “Imole ni mi, mo de fe tan kari aye,” he shared amidst the life-baring bars on “Imole.” “I am light and I want to shine all over the world.” His debut EP was partly defined by the trappings of being closely affiliated with a crew whose pioneer turned cruddy and lewd slang into period-defining bangers. Beyond that, it was evident that Mohbad was a lot more soulful than a song like “Ponmo” would suggest. He just so happened to be a versatile artist, one that could synthesise street slang into lung-raising slappers.

The obvious one is “KPK,” the Rexxie co-headlined single that revolutionised Nigerian pop’s sonic relationship with Amapiano. Mohbad inhabits the rolling drums and shiny synths with his trademark drawl, as if it had been predestined that this would be a hit song. Personally, I’m a big fan of his verse on “Money,” the collab with Terri and Bella Shmurda. It’s sixteen bars of infectious precision, nothing is wasted and everything is quotable. Perhaps, he knew that minting ear candy out colourful quips would be too easy, so he turned inward as often as he could. Besides, it’s not that he couldn’t do both at the same time, as “Feel Good” proved.

At that Blaqbonez show I mentioned earlier, Mohbad came on stage but I can’t remember what song he performed first. Maybe it was “KPK.” I do remember that he performed “Feel Good” last and as he went into the second verse, he asked Blaq, who was hanging on the side, to come closer and join him at the centre of the stage. “Feel Good” was a hit record, not as popular as the Rexxie collab, but the crowd knew the song and were chanting along. As soon as Blaq joined in to adlib that second verse, the level of vocal activity dropped, as if we all wanted to hear some positive admonition. “I know there is a day, all my pains will go away,” Mohbad sang, Blaqbonez adlibbed the last word. I’d heard that line more than a few times before, but it touched me (and possibly many more of us) in a different way.

“I’m not feeling the way I’m supposed to feel but I’m OK,” he sang on “Feel Better,” in the aftermath of his messy split from Marlian Music. In his search for better, there was a sense of gratitude, a lot of it rooted in religion but also as part of a formative street tenet that you never take anything good for granted. That’s what made ‘Blessed’, his June-released sophomore project, so delightful. There was stuff to be embittered by, but the focus was on a present where he was the one now sending money to his father, and a future where happiness, actual happiness, could be achieved.

“Beast & Peace,” one of the best intros in Nigerian music this year, is packed with stream of consciousness raps, poignant bars that reflected his status as a star who was still very much in touch with reality. “Doctor want  you sick, lawyer want you in trouble/Na only thief dey pray make you successful,” he sang on the gospel track, “Blessing,” one of the most profound lines you’ll hear in music this year. The depth in Mohbad’s music was earned, but he never claimed to be an authority. Like many of us, what he wanted the most was to have fun and find peace amidst life’s randomness.

There’s no neat resolution to his life, he could’ve written so many more chapters if he had more time. However, his work is testament that he lived as best as he could. In a sense, he’s found the light.