By: Eriomala John
In the history of Nigerian music, certain moments are so seminal, that one can either remember where they were, when they were, how they felt, or all of the above at once. A fitting example would be the 14th of March, 2021, when Burna Boy won his first Grammy Award for the album, Twice As Tall, a year after losing out in the same category — Global Music Album — to Beninoise songstress and legend, Angelique Kidjo. That evening, the entire country was awake, following along with proceedings at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Burna had to join via livestream when he was announced the winner, his reactions birthing one of the more iconic memes of the 2020s.
Then there are moments like October 20, 2017, when the Chairman, MI Abaga, released “You Rappers Should Fix Up Your Lives”, and set the entire music scene ablaze. Now, that was a moment. Rappers emerged from years-long hiatuses to respond, and A-list Afro-pop artists went a-tweeting, leading to a domino effect of cyphers, beef, resurgences — some failed attempts at resurgence — and fruitful co-signs. There was a fix-up and not only from rappers, either. There was an honest-to-goodness industry shake-up.
It is with hope for such an outcome in UI that this is being written. Something is seriously lacking as far as hip-hop in the Premier is concerned and no amount of videos shot at Awba Dam or in front of the Business School building will hide that. This article will consider the performance of UI rappers in the Inter-Uni Rap Battle trend, how those are an indication of the health of the rap scene and the role of fans and casuals in all of this. Just like MI, I won’t be offering any solutions. That’s for you all to deal with.
Fumbling the Inter-Uni Rap Battle
Here’s a quick summary of what went down before rappers from the first and best stepped in: Popular influencer, Alabi Lawrence, @the_Lawrenz on Twitter, reposted a video from TikTok by a rapper named Ambode (@call_me_ambode) on November 24th. In the video, Ambode called out rappers from fourteen different schools, including UI, daring them to respond in typical battle-rap fashion. It garnered a lot of views and trended on Instagram, Facebook, and quite a few WhatsApp groups. Less than a day later, rappers began to respond, and in a few days, it blew up into a mini-event of its own with a designated hashtag, #InterUniRapBattle. Six days later, the first response emerged. Up-to-speed yet? Good. Now, to the responses.
The ‘first responder’ to this crisis was Jahxmyne, a first-year student of Mechanical Engineering. He chose to deliver over a stripped-down trap beat, the University of Ibadan Business School sitting pretty in the background of his video. Objectively, that was the best touch of flair in the entire video. The bars were not creative, in the slightest. Everything from “Na we be the first and best, àbúrò lẹ jẹ sí wa” to “Best in West Africa, UI no dey carry last” which is honestly the same bar, to “UNILORIN dúró tán, òun na drop diss track/una chicks just dey gbá, them no worth the distract” which was just distasteful, landed off. The remaining were generic hard bars that barely sounded believable.
Next up was, Hot Ice — @kinghotice01 on Twitter — a Katangite. (Unrelated, but seeing his name made me wonder if he knew another rapper called Hotyce existed, a relatively established one at that). Hot Ice’s introduction was at a direct creative variance with Jahxmyne before him, as he sampled popular comedian, Wisdom 24/7’s “I greet o, bros. Help me tap that other bros” and played on it as a reference to Ambode. “See I’m so high, motherf****rs no fit bring me low (milo) or Bournvita”, a terrible way to start, but made up for with bars like “Iwasu Jesus Christ is coming soon lẹ́nu false preacher/Sword of truth, lọ́wọ́ false Seeker” and a cheeky comparison between Chelsea’s Connor Gallagher and German midfield maestro, Toni Kroos. The latter half wasn’t so good, with a forced Osama/Obama/badder rhyme scheme and hurried flow. But I guess that’s as good as it gets in one minute, at least from him.
On the 2nd of December, Kvng Savage, another Katangite, dropped a response. I was a lot more interested in this one for a few reasons. One, the title card read, “Ambode’s Ammit” in bold yellow font, with an illustration of a gun below. For the uninitiated, Ammit is a being from Egyptian mythology, who devours the hearts of the unworthy in the afterlife, and knowing this I was excited for what was to come since he was essentially calling himself Ambode’s devourer. Two, the choice of a J Dilla-esque boom-bap beat that immediately had my neck bopping. And three, the presentation; minimalist lyric cards with scrapbook adjacent editing. I was pumped and ready to listen.
Yet again, I was disappointed. Savage failed to hit the pockets with his staggered flow; end rhymes and punch lines coming out flawed, as a result. Also, the choice of lyrics left much to be desired. He attempted a stage play scheme which just didn’t land, opted for “You’re like the letter ‘t’ when the British man says a bo(tt)le of water/It’s like you’re there but you ain’t” mid-way and the equally awkward, “Every part of that verse of yours was ass, get thee behind me” towards the end. It was frustrating knowing that he could pull off lines like, “Ambode AKA Icarus, you’re reaching for me, you’re reaching for too much, son (sun)” in the same verse but chose to stick with the aforementioned. Why do such on a stage like this?
In retrospect, it could have been worse. The final entry from rapper, Dione, came in a day after Savage’s, and there was nothing to assure me that hers would be any different. But it, in fact, was. It wasn’t the best thing I heard, but compared to what came before, it was… better? Her video opened with a shot of one of UI’s more iconic relics, the Trenchard Clocktower, and then panned to views of the gates of Indy, Idia, Awo, and Zik Halls, respectively, before finally arriving at Awo Stadium and a view of Dione. In those seconds, a sample of the famous ‘Bad Guy’ speech by Al Pacino’s character, Tony Montana, in the 1983 Classic, Scarface, also plays, alerting you that this might just be a rapper as dangerous as Nicki Minaj on 2018’s Chun Li (which utilises the same sample).
Two bars in, and I was sure. She really could rap. “Shaking tables ASAP, this about to get rocky/ Mo sọ fún yín tẹ́lẹ̀, ẹgbẹẹgbẹ̀rún yín ó lè stop mí”. Next two, and I was bopping – “Even the Rock couldn’t save Ambode from this grip/E be like Thanos with the sword, it’s about to get Kraken.” She followed that up with a quick bars/shots/Onana scheme, and two other punches — which while not so spectacular, were still good — took shots at Bowen, FUTA, and a bunch of other schools, and closed it off with an Ola Dips punch. Overall, nicely done.
Here’s the thing, even as ‘nicely done’ as that was, there were flaws that were too glaring to overlook. For one, she didn’t sound believable, much like Jahxmyne and Hot Ice before her. As a rapper, you cannot afford to sound like you’re forcing a character while rapping. You have to rap like you wrote the bars. It’s unsettling to hear a rapper go “Rarrrrrr” and immediately think “Knock-off Nicki” or tell their opponents “Ṣẹ tí lọ ká Chronicles?” but having it come off like even they do not believe the history they are defending. You have to sound freaking believable.
Also, the flows. Is there a rule against flow-switching on campus that we, the listeners, aren’t aware of? Because at some point in all four verses, it felt that way. Rapping on a trap beat doesn’t mean you should stick to a simple flow all through. Switch! Even the rap greats switch when they rap on trap beats. Think Olamide (Street Jam) or a younger rapper like Jeriq (Secure The Bag). Even ‘mumble’ rappers switch flows. One minute is more than enough time to switch it up on a couple of bars rather than maintaining the same pace all through.
On entries from LASU, OAU, and everywhere else, one could see the gulf in skill between our rappers and theirs. Multisyllabic rhymes and internal rhymes — that barely featured in UI rappers’ verses — were sprinkled everywhere else. And yes, even among rappers that spat in pure Yoruba. Also, how difficult is it to stay on a beat? Unless you claim you’re trying to pull off an A-Q or DMX-styled delivery, there’s no reason to constantly fall out of pocket, end-rhymes emerging after the beat. There’s also no reason to be attempting some of the cringiest punchlines since Yung6ix appeared on MI’s Illegal Music II. Leave “First and Best” alone. We already know that. They already know that. The initial aggressor, Ambode, even mentioned that. There’s an abundance of punchlines available to choose from without attempting a “U and I” pun like a rookie public speaker at an inter-Hall oratory contest.
It’s pardonable to blame exams and a lack of free time as reasons for not putting proper 16s or 32s together, evidenced by the quality of the bars seen in some of the other freestyles, and singles, that these rappers have put out. What’s not pardonable is making a video, editing it, and sending it out in the name of UI. Anyways, glory to mother Hip-Hop.
Fans As Villains
What’s worse than having rappers that should do better? I’ll tell you: A fan base that shouts down their own. For reference, if a non-UIte had been told that those rappers had beef with their school fanbase, before seeing tweets from Uites, they would very likely have believed it to be the case, There was too much hate for those comments and quoted tweets to have been merely about the quality of the raps. Guys, girls, College of Medicine Twitter, Tech boys Twitter, ‘We Outside’ Twitter, Idia-Awo Twitter, Alumnus Twitter, just name it. Everyone was going for their carotid. And this I have problems with.
I’ll begin with the fact that this behaviour seems to be an exclusively UI thing. I spent time scrolling through entries from other schools, watching to see if their reactions were the same for rappers who didn’t do so well. What I found was that I’d been right to check in the first place. Folks were hyping, reposting, and tagging everyone that could be tagged. Over here, only a few individuals showed positivity and a trip down the rabbit hole would show that these were people who were friends or affiliates of the rappers. Shoutout to Kenneth Mellanby Hall and Independence Hall, by the way, for pushing their reps. (The Students’ Union also quoted one of the responses — Dione’s — but given that there were far more pressing issues at the time that they had been tagged to but instead ignored, I’d say applause is needless).
Moving on, there’s the fact that the turn-up is always less than encouraging for events involving rappers in UI. And for the umpteenth time, the excuse that this is because UItes only love intellectual events doesn’t fly. Last year, for instance, there were at least four major concerts (Ckay, MAVINS, Blaqbonez x Pepsi, and Beautiful Nubia) and at every single one, the venues were packed. Even at Jaw War, most, if not all of the hoots, are for punch lines and banter, rather than the quality of the points or logic. So, let’s not deceive ourselves here that it’s deeper. In March of last year, Brain Jotter’s Campus Tour stopped in Ibadan for the UI leg. It featured a rap battle which was eventually won by Bello Hall and Science and Technology Education rapper, Mehdoh. The turn-up for that? Non-existent. The same for the Infinix Campus Storm X event held a year earlier where two rappers even won prizes for their freestyles and the Samsung Campus Tour of last year. UItes can’t be convinced to support their rappers for whatever reason. Unless of course, you’re Richard the Rapper, a freestyler of the same ilk as PH rapper, Dan Dizzy, and have everyone fawn over you — “Oh my God, I love his freestyles so much” — but not invite you to perform at events.
For the alumnus, my gripe has more to do with the fact that they gave rappers of their time support than anything else. When rappers like Proof, Sultan, Gad the Screamer, Wale Rapper, Moss the Fireman, Majek (who now goes by Charles Majek), Osai (now Osai, and all their friends), Vader The Wildcard (went on to win the Hennessy VS Class and is currently a brand ambassador for 9 Mobile) and Spyro Freeze (Headies Next Rated-nominee Spyro, Who’s Your Guy? Spyro), were on the scene, these folks gave them all of their support and never failed to turn up. Granted, the art scene in the University was a world apart from what it is now but that isn’t enough of a reason to shoot down these new cats and what they have to offer at every given opportunity. If you crave the past so much, dwell there permanently, and leave these new rappers alone. It’s the least you can do. Maybe soon, there’d be a movement like the WeTalkSound collective again that would morph into a proper Nigerian creative industry giant. Maybe not. Yours is to give room for the rappers to breathe long enough to find that out for themselves.
If I go any further, chances are that my objectivity would vanish altogether, and this just descends into a hail storm of shots with no solutions. So, I’ll leave it at that. Everyone needs to fix up, pronto. Either that, or we pretend rap doesn’t exist here and call it a day.