Essentials: M.I Abaga redresses his self-assured persona on ‘Judah (EP)’

For the first time in his longstanding career as the Shogun of rap music in Nigeria, M.I Abaga wasn’t aiming to look invincible. After years of speculation and on-and-off subliminal shots, the Jos-born rapper finally squared up with self-appointed arch-nemesis, Vector, resulting in one of the most monumental beefs in Nigerian hip-hop. For fans who avidly followed the squabble, the decision of who won was eventually based on who they were supporting, since both sides of the aisles can lay claim to winning jabs and blows. Given his spotless records—Kelly Handsome and Iceberg Slim—, the ambiguity of his latest beef is merely a perceived smear on his career.

‘Judah’, M.I’s newly released EP, was meant for release during the heat of beef. If it had dropped in its initially announced timing, the reception of the project would have been heavily tainted by the ongoing controversy. While there’s still some residual energy from the beef, the EP transcends that situation for a motif built around the end of an era. On the day of release, it was also announced that M.I would be departing Chocolate City—the place he’s called home since his break out—for his own self-floated record label, adding an extra layer of meaning to the EP.

On the equally thoughtful, brash and celebratory tape, M.I broaches what it means to find the inner strength to keep going and the importance of choosing the right, loyal people to surround you. He traces through past experiences and relationships, redressing his self-assured persona and using the lessons he’s picked up along the way as the foundation for the range of emotion he displays on the EP. Within the 8-track projected, M.I comes across as merciful (“The Parable”), conceited (“The Lion), villainous (“The Trinity”), hurt (“The Blood”), wizened (“The Commandment”) and grateful (“The Tribe”), all of which is rooted in his status as a triumphant pioneer with even more fruitful years ahead of him.

Similar to his previous album, ‘Yxng Dxnzl’‘Judah’ finds a balance between portraiture and working an overarching concept. A side-by-side look at the album art covers of both projects suggests that they are two sides to a coin, or at  least there’s a direct link between them. Where ‘Yxng Dxnzl’ found M.I poking at the roots of his flaws, in order to figure out the meaning of self-worth, ‘Judah’ shows the rapper taking delight in who he is at the moment, an indication of a man who now knows his worth.

Also falling line with its predecessor, ‘Judah’ emphasises M.I’s renewed focus on playing to his technical abilities as a lyricist. No longer making music with the aim to garner mainstream hits, the production on ‘Judah’ is nimble, featuring evocative samples, moody piano chords and strings, as well as varying drum and percussion patterns that fit his vocal and thematic cadence. Rap wise, M.I barely slacks, turning in some truly MVP-worthy performances, like on “The Trinity”, where trades vicious bars with A-Q, dropping two of the best verses of his career in the process. In pushing his pen and overall craft, twelve long years after his break out, M.I shows his commitment to cementing himself as not just one of the greats, but one of the best rappers to come from this side of the Atlantic.

Stream ‘Judah’ here.

Featured Image Credits: Instagram/MI_Abaga

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