Searching For Meaning In MohBad’s ‘Blessed’

What was the tragically-passed artist trying to tell us?

Sometime near the end of 2021, I developed a mild fascination with last words. After a year of seeing  people die without warning and witnessing firsthand more grief than any other period in my life, I was deeply invested in understanding the ways of death, and I was trying to map it out with words. I wanted to decipher the language of death; and to do so, I’d look up the last words of whatever figure popped into my head intending to figure out what their mindstate was as they became all too painfully aware of their mortality and what was – or wasn’t – coming next.

As she was being led to the guillotine in the wake of the French Revolution, French-Austrian royal, Marie Antoinette, stepped on her executioner’s shoe and swiftly apologised. “Pardon me, sir, I didn’t do it on purpose,” she said. Those were her last words.

Dutch painter, Vincent Van Gogh, is widely remembered and celebrated for his contribution to the art world’s post-impressionist school of thought, but he died in squalor a few years after cutting his left ear off. His last words were, “The sadness will last forever.” Maybe Van Gogh was right and sadness is an immovable obstacle that we’re only fated to get a brief respite from, but the thing with last words is that they’re very tricky because death is so unpredictable and, too often, no one knows when they’re uttering their last.

In modern times, death is, rightly, a private affair that many families try to handle with as much care and dignity as humanly possible. Still, some deaths come along that profoundly alter the dynamics of how people engage with the grieving process. I don’t remember what exactly I was doing on the 12th of September, 2023, when someone called to tell me that MohBad had passed on. My initial reaction was disbelief. He could not be gone because he had barely started. Even when I had definitive proof of MohBad’s death, my brain could not accept that he had left these earthly plains because it felt abhorrent to acknowledge that reality. In those frantic weeks after his passing, I’ll confess to feeling that if I closed my eyes long enough, I could probably will him back to life.

Grieving a musician that you don’t personally know, of course, presents its own contradictions. You question if you are even allowed to feel this much pain for someone that you barely knew beyond their lyrics and whatever part of their lives they wished to share with the world; and then you play their music to the heavens, joining your own grief to the huge commonwealth of sorrow.

What made MohBad’s death especially hurtful was that just three months before he died, he released a new project, ‘Blessed,’ that was supposed to herald a new era in his career but is now, for all intents and purposes, his long-winded last word. In between the scenic Hip-hop jousting of “Beast and Peace” and the konto-inflected party summons of “Pariwo,” the singer was trying to fashion a new path for himself after working his way out of despair and institutional neglect in Ikorodu, where he grew up, and negotiating his way out of a record deal that he didn’t want to be bound to anymore. What was supposed to be a celebration of beating the odds twice, is now a denouement on a career that promised so much.

The thing that most people don’t know about Mohbad is that even he didn’t truly know how popular he was. As Street-pop was working to the pole position in the Afropop plexus circa 2109, the singer was working in the blind without fully realising how immense his contribution was. Sure, he was aware that he was “blown” but he didn’t know how big he was both among residents of the ghetto that he knew, as well as Nigerians with middle-class aspirations. There’s something to be said about your music being big enough to ignite raves in places like Agege, and still being deemed cool enough to soundtrack parties in Victoria Island, right in the heart of Nigerian elitism.

There’s a reason why MohBad didn’t fully get his flowers while his hands were still warm enough to grasp them. The moments following his death finally revealed the true picture of his turbulent relationship with his former record label, with MohBad reportedly being subject to both verbal and physical harassment in the wake of leaving Marlian Music.

The one time I met Mohbad, months before the release of  ‘Blessed,’ it was easy to recognise the world-weariness that he cloaked with a cheery disposition and unassuming charm. On ‘Blessed,’ he put that weariness on full display without presenting himself in despair. The first line on the project is simple but holds tremendous weight: “I’m on silent mode but beast ni mi” is a practice in restraint from an artist trying to engage with the world without giving in to the devil dancing on his shoulder.

According to the announcement post for ‘Blessed,’ it was MohBad’s project of growth as he sought to move into a new phase of his career that purged the gimmicky shtick of his earlier work. There is proof of maturity in how he rides the beat on “Beast & Peace” to deliver a warning to those who would wish him ill and threaten to hold him back. Yes, part of growing up is recognising that our world is not ideal and that sometimes you have to fight for the  respect you want to be accorded. MohBad knew this and that’s why he opened ‘Blessed,’ a project about embracing ease and finding peace, on that note. There’s intent but it’s all in service of abiding tranquility.

The song that is undoubtedly most indicative of MohBad’s second arc is “Ask About Me,” a song that’s unabashedly about flexing your street credentials in the face of people who wish that you would disappear and never be heard from again. For all its blustery angst, the true miracle of  “Ask About Me” is in how it still leaves space for MohBad to hint at the things that hurt him and how he hoped to find some solace in his faith. Like many people working in Nigerian music, MohBad started making music as a kid in church but, unlike others, he never left the church or let the church leave him.

It made sense that the announcement for ‘Blessed’ would see MohBad return to church to share his testimony with the brethren. There is comfort in knowing that a certain place will always be open to you regardless of whatever burdens trouble your mind and that all you need to do is show up and lose yourself in the singing and dancing of those who pray to the same supreme being that you call on to. In many ways, MohBad was secure in the strength of his relationship with his God. In fact, on “Blessing,” he directly references it, singing, “Covered by your blessings / I’m living by your grace / I’m guided by your blessings / Nothing fit shake me.” At the time when ‘Blessed’  was released, MohBad was starting all over again but he wasn’t deterred as much as he was excited to share his light with anyone who cared to listen, thanks to the faith that he drew from being at one with God.

Much as we publicly loved him, MohBad belonged to family, friends, and loved ones before he was a voice that recorded a song that made a dreadful day easier to deal with. I say this because some of the commentary in the months after MohBad’s passing was uncharitable at best, and downright vitriolic at worst all of it directed at the people who held him through the darkest of nights and worst of situations. Even when alive, he was keen to let people know where his priorities lay and you can hear it in the roll call of friends he shouts out at the end of “Beast & Peace.” It is that same impulse that moved the singer to make a song dedicated to the mother of his child and the great love of his life on “Omo Mi.”


I’m not at all ignorant of all the ways and times when even that love faltered but, my friends, what is love if not affection persevering? What is the cost of love if not consciously deciding to choose the ones we call ours, even when they fall short of the best versions of themselves and yet keep showing up? Many times on “Omo Mi,” MohBad acknowledges that he and his lover have hurt each other but they keep choosing one another because their best version is together despite their imperfections,and I instinctively want to run towards love that has seen me at my worst but still believes me worthy of treasuring. When I talk about love here, I mean it in all its forms, like when my friends nursed me through the hurt of a heartbreak while we constantly played “Ask About Me” on the loudest volume possible in 2023, or how Bella Shmurda always looked out for MohBad through his nasty split with Marlian Records.

It was perhaps fitting that on the day that Lagos said its final goodbye to MohBad last year, Victoria Island bore witness to his light as the streets surrounding Muri Okunola Park reverberated with his gravelly voice spilling out of speakers with people singing along. In life, MohBad didn’t get to witness the true reach of his music; it would have been cruel to deny him a fitting homage in death.While with us, he never stood still. Starting as a rapper, he slowly but surely showed himself to be at ease with melodies, refusing to let himself be limited sonically as he moved between gritty Hip-hop anthems and sunny Pop scorchers. ‘Blessed’ was supposed to be a window to another portal for the Ikorodu-born singer, and we were not supposed to be considering what could have been for a man who was exuding such confidence, healing, and camaraderie just one year after the project’s release.

No loss hits quite as hard as that of a person whose star is so clearly, and so undeniably on the rise. In a 1987 Newswatch column, Nigerian scholar, Adebayo Williams, correctly opined about Nigeria that, “Wastage has become the dominant metaphor, the all-embracing formula for the tragedy of our collective existence.” It’s an inestimable tragedy that MohBad cannot tell us how much his life shifted in the year since the release of ‘Blessed,’ but we must remember him as he was in the months directly leading to and just after the release of this project: Free, strong, and fighting for his future.