The Rap Report: 4 Takeaways From Nigeria’s Hip-Hop/Rap Scene

Rap is not dead

A lot has been said about Hip-Hop/Rap in Nigeria this decade. Whether it’s the wholesale adaptation of Western Hip-Hop sensibilities which have been played back through a Nigerian filter or the rise of indigenous rappers who are maligned by their peers for not matching up to pure rap, the embers of polarising discussion are always being stoked by Hip-Hop/Rap fans and industry players alike.

While these first attempts at Hip-Hop in Nigeria included parodying as a feature and ultimately served as the foundation for Nigerian pop, Nigerian rap has become decidedly more refined since the new generation of rappers like Naira Marley, Rema, Maison2500, PsychoYP, Blaqbonez and others emerged with their impressive and distinct narratives.

This year alone, the scene has been buzzing with conversation and diss tracks as the coveted spot for ‘Best Rapper’ is debated once again. There’s nothing necessarily new about these conversations, Rap fans tend to periodically get into argument with other fans about the state of the industry and the key players making great strides in the industry. However, these conversations have developed very little beyond sensationalism.

Recently, Afropop singer Wizkid sent the timeline into a state of panic when a recent interview with 10 Magazine began making rounds on social media. When asked about the comparison between Afropop and other genres; the Grammy award-winning star shares: “I don’t listen to rap – that shit is boring to me,” he continues. “It’s dead now, it’s tired. These guys do the same shit, rap on the same beats, same flows,” he says, before pressing me to mention someone in rap that’s exciting me currently, to which I draw a blank when put on the spot.”

While it’s clear that Wizkid is not referring to Nigerian Rap music, and is instead speaking about how Afropop has taken a big chunk of real estate from Hip-Hop/Rap in the UK and USA, because of the dynamism of the genre. This statement has gone on to spur a number of offshoot conversations from Nigerian rappers who were disappointed at the veteran for putting down the genre and its frontrunners, despite their best efforts to garner the attention of mainstream audiences.

No one wins when the family feuds and this current iteration of the Nigerian Rap conversation is particularly enlightening because it shines a light on the alienation of a large selection of amazing and alternative Rap acts who have been flagbearers for the movement in their own right. From indigenous rappers such as Olamide, Phyno, and more, who have been able to adeptly blend Hip-Hop/Rap with distinct Afropop elements to genre-mashing leaders of the new school such as Rema, Cruel Santino, Prettyboy D-O, Psycho YP, Zilla Oaks and more, who are a revolving door of genres and sounds, all unified by their artistic fortitude. It’s a pivotal moment for the Nigerian Rap community and the road to the ubiquity of the genre still looms without much forward motion.

To that end, the NATIVE team have come together to share our biggest takeaways from the ongoing conversation, including our thoughts for the future of the genre and its community of fans and listeners. From the need for an innate culture around the music to the apparent pressure of going mainstream, here are our takeaways below. We’re keen to know your thought as well–tweet at us.

Culture and Impact: Can the rap community please stand up?

What does it mean to create a culture around Hip-Hop/Rap music? For anyone who knows their salt, the annals of Hip-Hop/Rap music began from the deepest part of New York City, USA in the early 1970’s where block parties reigned supreme. DJs began isolating the percussion breaks of funk, soul, and disco songs and extending them. Before long, it became common for the MCs (or rappers, as they soon became known) to talk and rhyme over and in sync with the music.

Then by the ’80s and ’90s, the world saw the rise of the East Coast/West Coast hip hop beef, with Biggie and Tupac Shakur representing their respective coasts and cultures. A lot of these rappers were coming up because of their aim to soundtrack the violence that shaped the lifestyle and environment these rappers grew up in. Alongside the music, the culture was also growing through fashion, music videos, sponsorships and product placements. By the 2000’s, it was certified: Hip-Hop/Rap was all the rave and Black rappers were at the forefront of this movement.

In much the same way as Hip-Hop/Rap developed and grew out of New York, and soon became one of the most ubiquitous genres of music in America, so also can we learn lessons from Hip-Hop/Rap’s rise in an African context. For instance, when tracing back to the roots of Hip-Hop/Rap in Nigeria, we can see that back then, many rappers were adopting the sounds and lyrics of ‘90s America without considering how they would fare within a Nigerian context. The effect of this is been felt far and wide in our country today. Many rappers have been unable to connect to their audiences because there is little community and togetherness around the genre. Back in the days, it was common to see stars such as Ruggedman and Da Grin and more, command the attention of young audiences due to their penchant for bearing the flags of the places and people that raised them. In today’s context, there’s very little being done to create and sustain a community or culture of Rap lovers. While we’ve seen the rise of indigenous rappers such as Olamide, Reminisce, Phyno and more, who have ostensibly worn their locales with pride, this has not always been the case for their predecessors.

Other than the famous Hennessy cyphers and rap battles, little has been done to foster a connection between artists and listeners. Recently, there have been steps taken by rappers such as M.I and A-Q who recently created ‘The Hip-Hop Event,’ a community of Rap fans committed to gathering to further the genre or Abuja-based rappers such as Psycho YP and Zilla Oaks, who continue to work with a new generation of fans through their Apex Village imprint. In other to keep the flag flying, it’s pertinent that Nigerian rappers spend less time cooking up tasteless beefs, and more time focusing and honing their reach through the power of community and culture.

Wonu Osikoya

We Need To Pay More Attention To Indigenous Rappers

The story of Nigerian rap isn’t complete without the contributions of indigenous rappers to the genre’s growth and development. Whereas the media and listeners have been accustomed to parse Hip-Hop through the prism of English-speaking rappers, there’s been more wholesome development from the purveyors of the street life, who present Nigeria as it is and not as an extension of America’s rap expression. From Nigga Raw down to I.D Cabasa, El Dee, Dagrin and Olamide, these rappers soak an incredible amount of everyday life into their stories while retaining textures from broader indigenous genres such as Highlife and Fuji. Asides making the music more relatable, this works as a form of cultural documentation, placing Rap music side by side with pop music which knows better than isolating the inherent richness in these cultures. 

It’s thereby detrimental when indigenous rappers are left out of such conversations. Recent times have seen the likes of Zlatan, Naira Marley, Zoro and Magnito among others, create some of the most interesting rap music we’ve heard. Even the phenomenon that is Asake owes a lot to this movement, as you’ll frequently hear him unfurling lyrics with the verbal dexterity of a rap artist. It brings to mind Chimamanda’s storied warning about the dangers of a single story, and if posterity serves right, the ongoing conversation will suffer from a similar dearth of nuance. 

Emmanuel Esomnofu

Relatability Of The Music

A significant element that adds to the value of music, beyond its composition, is the level of relatability of the music. More often than not, this manifests in form the sounds used to piece together the tracks instrumental but most especially the language and lyrics used to communicate messages. Like any art form, but most especially music being the most widely consumable medium, the art is more likely to leave a lasting impression if it draws from a common reality or speaks of a message the listeners can understand and Rap is no exception. By extension, it enables listeners to see themselves in the artists, making support, promotion and collaboration, among artists alike, much more seamless.

It’s easy to see why tracks such as Burna Boy’s “Last Last” can travel as widely as it did. In addition to the stellar composition of chords on the tuneful track, is how common the message of heartbreak is to a world-wide audience. Not to mention that the track was majorly sung in Pidgin. In the context of Hip-Hop/Rap, relatability is an underrated skill which isn’t factored into the music we’re getting. For instance, one of the most commercial Rap tracks “Joor Oh,” which features Jah Bless, Ice Prince, Reminisce, Durella, ElDee and is produced by Sarz takes listeners through a battle rap event, where each rapper spits bars that instantly have the crowd going wild. From Ice Prince sprinkling his bars with references to bus conductors, the bleaching cream epidemic and Yahoo boys, the music is instantly relatable to anyone from Nigeria, who can visualise the experiences being talked about.

For many Hip-Hop artists in Nigeria, however, audiences struggle to understand the meaning behind their messages. It sometimes seems like the focus is on putting out a couple of catchy one-liners, sacrificing lyrical depth and a core message for cheap rhymes. Their verses also lack a clear  storyline, leaving their lyrical dexterity -which is not always present- to bear the weight of the track’s enjoyment. Coupled with disconnected storytelling, a large number of Nigerian rappers major in English rap and prioritise a level of foreign sophistication a majority of Nigerian listeners are detached from. 

Without a connection, it is impossible for Nigerian rap to go mainstream let alone cross over locally yet alone, to a global audience. In order to garner a wider audience and ensure long-lasting influence, a balance of good lyricism, relatable storytelling and clever delivery must be in place. 

Nwanneamaka Igwe

Pressure Of Rap Becoming Mainstream

In an industry that is ruthlessly dedicated in discovering the hot new thing, it’s easy for things to come in and out of fashion. Rappers are often viewed as the urban voice of the youth, not only in Nigeria but around the world. From telling stories of the oppressed in the society, Rap has evolved from being braggadocious talk to its own unique art form that is punctured with real stories of hustling and suffering. 

In 2018, Hip-Hop/Rap was heralded as the biggest genre by publications such as Business Insider, Complex, Okay Player and more, surpassing genres such as Rock and Pop which once commanded the lion share of audience attention. In the 2017 report by Nielsen, it was stated that the growth in popularity of the Hip-Hop/R&B genre was “powered by a 72% increase in on-demand audio streaming” in the genre.

Within a Nigerian context, ascertaining the growth of Hip-Hop/Rap proves even more difficult given that we don’t have a verifiable chart system. On that note, TurnTable Chart has emerged to redress these issues by presenting a cumulative breakdown of music consumption in Nigeria. Over the past two years since its birth, TurnTable Chart has published the TurnTable Top 100 and other charts including Top Albums, that aggregates the most popular songs and releases in the country across freemium streaming, radio airplay, and TV airplay.

Purveying the charts, it’s easy to see that the lion share of music consumption in Nigeria revolves around mainstream Nigerian pop music, with other genres taking residency in the lower degrees of the chart. Currently, there is little representation of Rap music on the charts, safe for recent releases such as Black Sherif’s “Soja” at No. 67 and Odumodublvck’s “Picanto” at No. 87, which have bent Hip-Hop, Pop and more into their orbit.

For me, I think the constant pressure of Nigerian Rap to become mainstream takes away the authenticity of the culture. If you rap beyond the ineptitude topics of sex, money and fame, you garner very little attention without a well-established cult following. There are a number of Nigerian artists making Rap music today that is unheard of in any other part of the world, yet they receive very little support because listeners are waiting on big-feature co-signs before exploring newer acts. This is working to our detriment because we’re not allowing the genre to take its own shape and form its own trajectory but are focused on melding it into Western mainstream ideals. There’s little value in doing this, as Rap is a fairly young genre in Nigeria, and deserves the space to grow and develop its own culture and style. I’m a firm believer that Rap should be allowed to take its own course instead of comparing its success with other genres and trying to garner massive attention from the fans while conveying relevance. 

Tela Wangeci

Featured image credits/NATIVE

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