What is the long term significance of these rap beefs to Nigerian Hip-Hop?

In the past few months, the Nigerian rap scene has witnessed a relentless series of beefs, and with it, a lot of attention. It all seems to have started with Blaqbonez’ late June appearance on Aktivated Sessions, where the rapper performed a verse, mouthing off at other Nigerian rappers and declaring himself the ‘Best Rapper in Africa’.

As a result, we got a slew of diss tracks from artists such as Tentik, Payper Coreleone, Vader the Wildcard and Meji, contesting Blaqbonez’ bold and ambitious claim as the best rapper on the continent. While the 100 Crowns rapper released “Best Rapper in Africa (BRIA)”as a one-size-fits-all reply, the target for most other rappers was on his back.

Two weeks ago, ex-YBNL affiliate, Davolee released the vitriolic, “Giveaway”,  which saw him taking shots at a long list of rappers, with his main contact points being Blaqbonez and DMW rapper Dremo.

Seemingly focused on pushing his latest single, “Shut Up” Blaqbonez didn’t reply on wax, and instead, he opted for the social media attack, which is also fitting to his larger-than-life personality. Dremo, however, took a different route and responded with “Scapegoat” in just over 24hrs of being called out, which was responded to with Davolee’s “Lightweight” the next day. Dremo pulled no punches, and managed to have the last say in this spat with “Scapegoat 2.0”.

With their no holds barred approach, and the rapid fire speed of responses, the Davolee-Dremo back-and-forth had all the elements of a thrilling beef, however, it was overshadowed by the ongoing, headline-grabbing row between A-list rappers M.I Abaga and Vector.

Apart from being pitted against each other by fans, both rappers have fanned the flame of a potential beef for the better part of the decade, taking interpretation-based digs at one another. It finally flared out last month, with Vector explicitly swinging at M.I on “The Purge”, a three verse rap song featuring rappers Vader the Wildcard and Payper Corleone.

Since then, the rappers have taken each other head on, with Vector’s latest shot being “Judas the Rat”, and M.I’s “The Viper”. As this exchange has gone on, it’s nearly impossible to navigate Nigerian Twitter without seeing discussions around released tracks, upcoming responses and other antics. This shows the ability rap beef has to generate quick, widespread attention, especially when the stakes are deemed to be high.

For a scene which isn’t enjoying too much mainstream appeal, this moment is the highest level of interest rap music in Nigeria has garnered in recent times, roping in enthusiasts and casual listeners alike. While this series of events has renewed the energy of conversations around rap music in Nigeria, one can’t help but to wonder what long term effects this has on the industry, when tensions eventually dissipate.

Will rap continue to command this same –or at least, a respectable– level of fanfare, or does it mean there has to be some form of controversy for Nigerians to tune in?

A similar scenario that emboldens this question is M.I’s “You Rappers Should Fix Up Your Lives”, a contentious song that received instant attention from all quarters. Eager fans debated the validity of M.I’s sentiments that his colleagues were “under-performing”, and it inspired a long list of response tracks.

For the first time in a while, “YRSFUYL” pushed conversations around rap music to a mainstream level, but only held a brief stint. Since then, it’s been rinse-repeat, with Nigerian rap mostly earning wide attention with dramatic events such as this, Blaqbonez’ aforementioned claims and the Martell Cyphers.)

Currently, Nigerian rap mostly exists in a place of sensationalism, which says a lot about using controversies to wrestle temporary spotlight. Earlier this week, MTV Base ran a face-off segment between M.I and Vector, alternately playing videos from both rappers. For some, it was a positive thing to see a popular cable channel run consecutive rap music videos, while others saw it as an indictment on the fact that rap music doesn’t command that type of airtime on a regular basis.

There’s a running belief that rap music is not commercially viable in Nigeria. Merging this outlook with the attention from recent controversies, it suggests that it’s a ‘viral or nothing’ situation for rap music to be sustainable in Nigeria. In the post-digital age where people look for new thrills every day, this is a dire position to be in.

Even if the novelty doesn’t run out, it is grossly reductive for rap music in Nigeria to only be looked at as a place for disputes and drama. In a bravado-fuelled genre like rap, beef culture is a cornerstone and a facet of it, not the foundation on which to build a thriving hip-hop scene.

Controversy will draw people in, but it might not necessarily make them stay.

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