By: Eriomala John
I am aware that the above title looks harsh.. So, instead, read it as this, “Dear Non-Hip-Hop heads, what you say doesn’t change anything. It’s irrelevant”.
For the uninitiated, Hip-Hop heads are people who consume a lot of Hip-Hop music and content. Think of that one friend of yours who listens to a lot of lyrical and experimental rap, follows sample and lyric breakdown pages on Instagram, and always has music from the past to recommend to you.
Yes, that one. They (read as ‘we’) are essentially folks who love hip-hop culture and immerse themselves in it at every opportunity.
In Nigeria, hip-hop heads make up a sizeable portion of the music community online and offline. The emergence of the Afrobeats-to-the-World movement has meant that on a global stage, Nigerian Hip-Hop, or for want of specificity, Rap, suffers the same fate as genres like RnB and Dancehall in that all are classified as Afrobeats.
However, compared to those two, Nigerian Hip-Hop has suffered too much of a decline for core fans to be bothered.
What does tick them (read as ‘us’) off are the comments and opinions of casuals. Opinions that do not matter. Lest this be misinterpreted to be what it isn’t — not like I care — listeners who don’t fall into the category of ‘heads’ can and should have an opinion on Hip-Hop music. Those opinions just won’t matter. Here’s why:
Olamide dropping Unruly on August 8, 2023, was a canon event. Album number ten. A rollout with the explicit mention of this being his last album (think Jay Z with The Black Album back in ‘03). Well-received lead singles in New Religion (featuring Asake) and Trumpet (featuring CKay) and the promise of being a classic project.
For Hip-Hop heads, it was another reminder that casuals didn’t want to hear ‘rappity rap’ Olamide despite what tweets and IG comments had suggested. Their words were there, but the numbers weren’t.
On Spotify, Hardcore and Street Jam which contain some of Olamide’s best verses in a while, were the least and fifth least streamed songs respectively. In fact, the last five songs on the album, which coincidentally have more of a traditional rap feel to them — unlike earlier-placed Afropop banger Jinja, Shibebe or album opener Celebrate — had the lowest amount of streams. And this was a far cry from what comment sections portrayed. “The old Olamide is back” “I wish Olamide rapped more” “See bars!”. All of these just to then skip those songs on subsequent listens. And that’s not even the only example.
Following their infamous 2019 beef, heads and non-heads alike called for MI Abaga and Vector to drop music together. It was supposed to be this huge moment that would unify fans across the divide and bring glory to Mother Hip-Hop.
When they eventually did drop in 2021, social media was in blazes with opinions and counter-opinions on who had the better verse. People from sections of the internet you wouldn’t even have expected showed up to argue and spout history of how long they had waited for the collaboration among other things.
Two years later, streaming numbers tell a different story. Both MI and Vector dropped quality LPs a year later in The Guy and TESLIM: The Energy Still Lives In Me — the latter was even delayed — to low numbers.
Both have organised and headlined Hip-Hop shows where mostly Hip-Hop heads were in attendance. And in case you think it was a question of the quality of the first collaboration, they went on to make Spirit off Hennessy’s The Very Special Tape Volume 1, a top 5 rap song from last year with a low number of spins on all the DSPs you can think of.
I could cite more examples Casuals simply do not contribute to Nigerian Hip-Hop in any way that should make their criticisms and cycle of opinions matter.
It’s annoying because time and time again, they show that their money is nowhere near where their mouths are yet they never cease to run those lips. “It’s because Nigerian rappers aren’t doing this and this.”
Nigerian Barz Association or one of the other pages dedicated to Hip-Hop posts a popular rap song from the past and suddenly everyone’s talking about how the artist(s) fell off and how they miss their music.
Lies upon freaking lies! Or is it when a young rapper’s freestyle blows up and they tell them to put out music only to give disappointing numbers in return? Or when OGs like Phenom make a return and Twitter says they’ve missed them but leave the promotion of their new singles to Hip-Hop heads alone to handle? It’s a tiring cycle. Too tiring for me, in fact.
One thing I’ve come to understand is that fans of major genres tend to live in a bubble, musically. In the US/Europe, for instance, you’re more likely to find an Alternative Rock enthusiast who listens to bubblegum pop than you are to find a pop fan who listens to hardcore hip-hop or country, and that’s even with Hip-Hop’s emergence as the top genre in the US market since 2017, according to Billboard.
Similarly, in Nigeria, Afrobeats and Afropop listeners tend to do little listening outside what is offered by the mainstream. If it’s not promoted right in their face, on a playlist, or charting on the fugazi Apple Music Top 100, it doesn’t exist for non-Hip-Hop heads.
Fuelled by this ignorance, they then go ahead to give some of the worst takes you’ve ever heard. Take 1 — and one I’m sure you’ve heard a thousand times — Hip-Hop is dead in Nigeria. It’s a take I no longer consider worth my response and joyfully ignore even when it’s directed at me particularly. It’s just dumb.
It really is just dumb. Who killed it? ‘Cause it definitely isn’t the same Nigerian Hip-Hop that accounts for at least four of the top ten songs (Beast & Peace, Sabi – Mohbad, City Boys – Burna Boy and Ask About Me – Ayox, Zlatan, and the late Mohbad) on the TurnTable Charts Official Naija Top 100 as of 28th September, 2023.
Neither is it tthe same Hip-Hop on 2023 Headies Rookie of the Year, Odumodublvck’s mixtape, Eziokwu, which currently dominates all of the major and minor DSP charts in Nigeria. There has to be another Hip-Hop we are not aware of.
It is knowledge of that non-existent form of Hip-Hop that makes them drop a take like “Nasty C is the best rapper in Africa and no Nigerian rapper freestyles as well as he does.”
This particular statement almost gave me an aneurysm for several reasons. One, outside of his 2018 continental smash LP, Strings and Blings, and the hit singles Particula and Said (shoutout to Runtown) there has been little buzz for Nasty C’s music in Nigeria.
You want to ask how I know? Fine. The data isn’t readily available so let’s do a quick experiment. Go on Twitter and type in the words “Nasty C, Nigeria” or “Nasty C, Africa” or just mix up the keywords making sure his name as well as ‘rappers in Nigeria” or something similar is in the mix. Whatever responses you get from Nigerian accounts are sure to fall into one of the following brackets:
- Those who listen to a lot of Hip-Hop and his music in particular.
- Those who mention his name in multiple conversations but seem not to have listened to anything from ‘The Zulu Man With Some Power’ since his 2018 run.
- Those who bring his name up to talk about rap in Africa and how he’s the GOAT but barely mention his music.
- Those who just want to feel among
If you’re in doubt, just try it out. You’ll also discover that the first category is in the minority. As for why this is so, I believe MI Abaga said it best in 2008: Crowd Mentality.
People are willing to go with whatever narrative the majority seem to agree with, never mind their lack of knowledge on the subject matter. It’s why folks would compare his 2022 On The Radar (over the beat to Kodak Black’s Super Gremlin) freestyle with Odumodublvck’s (over Skepta’s Greaze Mode beat) and claim it to be proof of Nasty C’s supremacy in Africa without taking other factors into context.
Let’s start with the fact that Odumodu, despite being the current face of Nigerian hip-hop, isn’t a lyrical boom-bap type rapper or the best of the lot. Boogey on Jimmy’s Jump Off, Vector’s legendary two-hour freestyle on Rhythm FM, BarelyAnyHook and Dan Dizzy’s Aktivated Sessions are examples I can call to mind off the top of my head that are way better than Nasty C’s. Let’s not even include any of the Martell or Hennessy Cyphers.
Even in his home country of South Africa, there’s Stogie T whose Sway performance edged his. So why in heaven’s name should they be taken seriously?
Sadly, the limited knowledge of non-Hip-Hop-heads makes them spew these untruths time and time again.
A lot are so stuck in the 2000s that they give takes like “Rappers stopped rapping and started singing” when Blaqbonez and Psycho YP exist who do both effortlessly or when the reverse is even the case with an Afropop act like Asake employing triple rhyme schemes on a Basquiat. Or that “indigenous rappers stopped pushing music” when JeriQ, Davolee, TROD, Zoro and co keep pushing out new records every other week.
Bottom-barrel opinions that deserve no place being regarded but still pull thousands of reposts and shares regardless.
Victims of Circumstances
To be fair, non-hip-hop heads aren’t totally at fault in this matter. Music is a matter of connection and regardless of how good content or production might be, people will only listen if they can connect to it.
It’s why indigenous and more experimental Hip-Hop artists tend to do better in the Nigerian music space. A prime example is Show Dem Camp and their Palmwine Music series which caters for hook-loving groove-inclined Nigerians.
Even in their foreign shows, fans tend to show up more for the Palmwine music than social commentary from any of their Clone Wars projects. Not many people are willing to listen to philosophy on the Nigerian condition while stuck in 5 PM traffic. It’s not our way. We like to dance. We like gbedu.
We like substance but it has to be served to us on a plate of rhythm and have us on our feet, gluteuses vibrating.
As for ignorance, music has evolved to a point where the average listener doesn’t want to do the job of discovery.
Even within the Hip-Hop community, it gets tiring trying to keep track of multiple releases at once, especially because most hip-hop acts lack label backing that would have translated into massive promotion and publicity.
Their music has to compete with others whose reach extends from Snapchat to TikTok and can afford to be in our faces all the time.
That’s even without regard to the fact that signed Afropop, Afrobeats, Alternative, RnB etc. artists also make quality music, carving out their own section of the multi-billion market that is the music industry. So, yes, to an extent, non-hip-hop heads are justified in their ignorance.
It pains me to admit but as much as their opinions do not count, they are still an unavoidable marker of the current state of Nigerian Hip-Hop.
No amount of thinkpieces will take that away any time soon. So, if you’re reading this and feel pushed to make further derision of the genre, that’s fine. Do you. I’m off to listen to trap a la Rema Freestyle EP.