There’s no denying that music in the 2020s is different. Unlike before, many artists are less likely to stay confined within certain boundaries of genre, now prone to experimenting more and blurring the lines between these traditional modes of music-making. These days, rappers can decide to make Emo, Hip-Hop artists are dabbling in Country, and some artists mix so many different styles that it’s impossible to stick them with any labels. It’s why today we have artists such as Amaarae, Playboi Carti, Juice WRLD and more, consistently defying traditional conventions and setting their own rules.
While our ethos at NATIVE has always been to deliver content as the reliable pulse of the African millennial, we, like many millennials and Gen Zers our age have a soft spot for the nostalgic. Even though our tastes continue to acclimatise to the furore of modern times, we can’t help but remain big fans of the golden age of music back in the late ’90s and ’00s. From R&B, to Hip-Hop/Rap, to Soul music, Pop and more, it’s infinitely clear that the music of our childhood had it all and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that won’t jump at a chance to witness a Young Money reunion or kick back with your favourite Bow Wow and Nelly songs playing on a loop.
To this end, in our best efforts to kick off the first week of African American History Month, the NATIVE team is bringing you our best 8 American throwback songs that traversed time zones and cultures, crossing over to the vibrant parties that populated our younger years. From Brick & Lace’s “Love is Wicked” to Mario’s “Let Me Love You”, these are the evergreen songs that we love to love. Enjoy.
“Hard Knock Life” – Jay Z
In these parts, dinner with Jay-Z is almost as coveted as a first-class ticket through the pearly gates. The internet often throws itself into tatters debating whether an evening meal with the Hip-Hop mogul is worth forfeiting a hypothetical million dollars. For many, it is, and for many others that is ridiculous. The disagreement is fair, but as is always the case when people on the internet land in a tiff, there is a seed, from which this thorny bush of incredulity spawned, that is well worth interrogating. In dinner-with-Jay-Z’s case, it’s his inspiring rags to riches story, that forms not only the crux of his personhood but also lies at the heart of his music, in songs such as “Legacy”, verses such as “Clique” and evergreen hits such as “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)”.
A single off his 1998 third studio album, ‘Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life’, Jay-Z opens the album’s second track with one of the most famous chorus’ in theatre musical history. “Hard Knock Life” is a bleak number sung by Annie and her friends in the orphanage as they recount their gross maltreatment in an effort to justify their misbehaviour on screen. As a black person in America, the criminality projected onto the orphans, the marginalisation that strips them of their basic rights and humanity is one to which Jay-Z can most easily relate, as it’s a reality he’s had to endure too. Like Annie, this discrimination, marginalisation and societal disregard drew him into the life of crime he describes on his opening bar, “standin’ on the corners, boppin’.” In the very next line, however, comes the all important explanation as to why Jay-Z is so venerated in these parts; he has gone from dealing drugs “to driving some of the hottest cars New York has ever seen.” For a population largely suppressed by the greed of our governments, for a people whose reality is so hopeless they believe their desperation can only be alleviated through crime, Jay-Z’s hard knock life is an entirely relatable fate on the African continent. Throughout this song, and his entire discography, Jay raps about his unsavoury past, but with each new and successful album, he does so from a position of increased privilege. To be able to reminisce about the hustling days is an aspiration we all share, and hearing Jay-Z achieve this is an inspiration we all shared.
“Crank Dat” – Soulja Boy
My brother and I used to compete for music bragging rights when we were growing up. This meant that I tried staying glued to MTV and Channel ‘O’ as much as a 13-year old could so that I could say I heard a song or an artist before he did. Unfortunately, he beat me to Soulja Boy and I’ll never forget how he got so excited by the video for “Crank Dat” that he tried to do the dance to show me what I had missed. It was hilarious because we were in public and since most people hadn’t seen the dance yet, he just looked crazy.
Fast forward a couple of weeks and the catchy song was playing everywhere in Nigeria. By the end of that year 2007, the song was practically inescapable and it didn’t take long before a Nigerian parody remix, “Crank Dat 9ja boy” started making rounds on the internet. Soulja Boy’s impact was felt all over the world and Nigeria wasn’t an exception as we all joined in on the energetic dance routine and embodied the confidence the song inspires.
“Bedrock” – Young Money
Young Money, Cash Money was the moment, circa 2008. Everywhere you looked back then, the label imprint run by Lil Wayne was making heatwaves and ushering in the current crop of Rap legends including Drake and Nicki Minaj. Not only were they dominating in music, but the fashion of the time, snapbacks – G-shocks, coloured skinny jeans – were a reflection of Hip-Hop’s broader influence on popular culture. If you didn’t own any of these at the time, then you were pretty much a social pariah.
One of the most memorable songs to come out of the YMCMA era was “Bedrock”, the second official single from the Hip-Hop/Rap group. The song and its accompanying video were all the rave at the time, showing us the Young Money mansion where the team throw extravagant parties with all the drinks, beautiful people and drugs you could find. Personally, Wayne, Drizzy, Millz and Nicki were some of my favourite verses on the song, particularly Ms Minaj who was making a name for herself at the time. I mean what is more memorable than beginning a verse with, “Okay I get it let me think I guess it’s my turn/maybe it’s time to put this pussy on your sideburns?” The answer is nothing. As one of their biggest fans, I can probably still rap each verse on here word for word and I’m willing to battle anyone who thinks they can take me on. They don’t make songs like this anymore.
“In Da Club” – 50 cent
Full disclosure, I disliked 50 Cent for a significant part of my early lucid relationship with music. Part of it was that he was in a competition with my then fave, Kanye West, circa 2007, which turned out to be mostly imaginary, but it also heralded a sonic and thematic adjustment to Rap – so, yayyy Kanye. When I eventually grew out of my adolescent pettiness, and nudged by a classmate who wouldn’t shut up about Fif, I gave the Queens rapper a chance and actually listened to his music, which turned out to be quite alright. Even with my hate, “In Da Club” was already a mammoth smash in Nigeria, and it’s my least favourite songs on 50’s classic major label debut, ‘Get Rich or Die Tryin’’, there’s no denying that it has an everlasting place in pop culture.
When children parties were still very much blown out events – kids these have really cool parties by comparison, if you ask me – “In Da Club” was one of the mandatory songs to be played (along with Sisquo’s wildly inappropriate “Thong Song”). In fact, there was a high chance one of your “hip” uncles would start chanting “go, go, go shawty, it’s your birthday/we’re gonna party like, it’s your birthday,” everyone else would join in and you’d have move your body like you really enjoyed the song. For such a self-professed gangster and trouble-shooter, “In Da Club” being 50’s signature in a highly conservative Nigerian society fills my heart with joy from time to time. I sometimes anticipate the day I become the uncle that embarrasses my nieces and nephews with the opening chant of this song, because it needs to remain a rite of passage that doesn’t die with my younger millennial generation.
Dennis Ade Peter
“Let Me Love You” – Mario
Mario’s “Let Me Love You” served as the decade’s ultimate romantic anthem; catchy and upbeat enough to be played at full volume in clubs and romantic enough to inspire listeners to go after the woman they love. The soulful ballad was released in 2004 when R&B just began dominating the pop world as it peaked at #1 on the billboards charts. The opening lines, “Baby I just don’t get it/ Do you enjoy being hurt?” are easily one of the most memorable lyrics from that era with the specific narrative for wooing a woman who’s already in a relationship.
With his charmingly convincing lyrics, “Baby you should let me love,” written in a way that cleverly disguises the sexually suggestive sentiments behind innocent words, “Let Me Love You” was the hallmark of gooey-eyed romantic music that’s just the right dose of explicit to work on teens and their mothers. It is still Mario’s biggest hit till date as it earned him his first Grammy nomination for Best Male R&B vocal performance. Last year, 15 years after the original song was released, Mario reunited with the song’s producer, Scott Storch to make an anniversary edition that confirms the classic R&B song’s evergreen appeal.
“All I Do Is Win” – DJ Khaled
Before the ongoing pandemic made clubbing a life-threatening activity, the possibility of hearing DJ Khaled’s “All I do is Win” on a night out was pretty high, and I can say with some certainty that when clubs and dancefloors open, it will remain a staple of Nigeria’s club scene. I can’t remember when this song crashed into our shores, but it’s one of those few crossover hits that dug its grip into our local space and has refused to let go, in over a decade. Personally I have no deep sentiments towards the song, but I’ve heard it in so many public spaces – in one or two weddings and even at church – that I have now been compelled to join the collective raging it always inspires, on several occasions.
Released as part of his fourth studio album, ‘Victory’, “All I do is Win” heightened DJ Khaled’s popularity in these parts up to a ten, and the reasons are easy to detect. Obviously, the song is synonymous with head-banging hype, with a supercharge beat that sounds like it was inspired by the roaring verve of a sports car engine. On a thematic level, a song about winning will always become a huge favourite, because which Nigerian doesn’t like winning? Parents always want their children to win, young people are always trying to win against a broken system that puts us at a disadvantage; so when you see people violently thrashing when the DJ fast-forwards to Busta Rhymes’ motor-mouth flow on the remix, it’s not just because they love the song, it’s that it in some way feels spiritual to a lot of us.
“Love is Wicked” – Brick and Lace
Did you listen to the DJ spin this bad girl anthem on a loop at the function back then or did you have a normal childhood? I, for one, am certainly sure that you could not have missed Brick and Lace’s smash hit “Love is Wicked” unless you were living under a rock – respectfully. Released back in 2007, this song was an unmissable number both here in Nigeria and in the US where the Jamaican-American R&B sister duo resided. For one, it was a passionate callout at an unworthy lover who took their love for granted, endlessly lending itself to those of us who’ve been through similar plights, while on the other hand, the song’s upbeat production could get anyone off their feet.
“Love Is Wicked” became a staple at many block parties in its time, with the ability to draw partygoers of all ages to the dance floor to burst out their best moves. RIP to the waists back then. I distinctively remember winning many dance competitions because of the killer dance routine I had crafted to accompany the Reggae song’s upbeat production. With lyrics like, “cry me a river cause your love is wicked,” the melodramatic song was packed with enough memorable one-liners to perform a heartfelt rendition to each time it was revisited. And it’s certainly earned its stripes over the years, having featured on film motion picture soundtracks including the soundtrack for the Bratz movie. If that isn’t Y2K, I don’t know what is.
“Umbrella” – Rihanna ft. Jay-Z
Rihanna has changed our lives in so many ways. Even before singlehandedly diversifying the make up industry, her many looks were responsible for several hairstyle revolutions, for example the undercut hairstyle that rocked the early 2010s, or the ‘Loud’ red that inspired us to be that little bit more daring with our hair colours. When it comes to her music, Rihanna has made many songs that have been hugely impactful and influential, and amongst these remains her ‘Good Girl Gan Bad’ lead single, “Umbrella”. There are innumerable reasons why “Umbrella” changed the world, but here in Nigeria there are only two that really matter.
Featuring Roc Nation boss, Jay-Z, “Umbrella” was the fuel to the fire of the Beyoncé vs Rihanna feud for pop stardom and Jay-Z’s heart (apparently), rumours that gave us Nigerians a Nollywood franchise to adore, Beyonce & Rihanna. Pitting the two singers against each other, Beyoncé became synonymous with virtue and good values, whilst Rihanna was the role models for all us girls who had gone bad. It was a silly dichotomy (that even reared its ugly head during Versuz talk last year), but during peak Beyoncé vs Rih, your preferred artist was definitely a point to be judged by; I remember a friend telling me I was unserious because I loved Rihanna, and I should aspire to be more like Beyoncé.
Another distinctly Nigerian cultural artefact “Umbrella” gave birth to, this time directly, was Banky W’s “Ebute Metta”. From Nate Dogg’s “Area Codes” hook to Cassie’s whole thing on “Long Way To Go”, in the ‘00s, Nigerian musicians refused to let a US hit go by without a local refix. Unfortunately, Nigerian Pop is a little too far into the global game for these sort of infringements to fly – I highly doubt “Catch Cold” was cleared – but hearing the familiar Tricky Stewart beat, Rihanna melody and even Jay-Z’s throat clearing intro, as the setting to Bank W’s proud ode to Nigeria’s many states was as emotive as they come. Sure, we laughed, but “Ebute Metta” has remained memorable, and with the growing unrest unrest across the nation, this song is the unifying anthem we need at this time, and it couldn’t have happened without Bad Gyal RiRi’s dancing in the rain. As Bank W reassures us using the original “Umbrella” flow, “doesn’t matter we gon’ make it out to the end.”
Featured image credits/NATIVE