If there’s one thing that gets most of us through the day, it’s music. Whether we’re scrolling through SoundCloud looking for mood tunes to help alleviate a case of the Mondays, or listening to a mixtape someone has sent our way, not a day goes by without some kind of music playing in our office.
Since our inboxes tend to get inundated with lots of projects from artists interested in coverage, we decided to spotlight some of the names we’ve been hearing about every month. This time we’re taking look at some of the voices driving Nigeria’s vibrant rap scene.
Take a look at past installments here.
Afrobeat and Afropop are largely considered Nigeria’s leading music markets. As a result, the Nigerian market hasn’t always been the strongest supporter of rap. It’s a reality that has, to an extent, stymied the growth of a definitive hip-hop culture in Nigeria. The actual music industry has been little help in the matter simply because many of the leading voices have deemed rap to be much less lucrative than Afrobeat or pop.
This attitude isn’t necessarily a historical standard, though. In the ’80s rap enjoyed a highly visible moment with collectives like Sound on Sound which was comprised of Mr. Kool, Monica Omorodian, Ebony Laoye, Ron “Scratch” McBean and Troy “Jedi” Williams – the latter two were Americans who relocated to Nigeria. In 1988 Sound on Sound released the album From Africa, arguably making Williams and McBean – who were also once part of a New Jersey DJ also called Sound on Sound – the first Americans to release a rap project on the continent.
A few years later, Emphasis- a trio comprised of Terry tha Rapman, Mouth MC and Junior – gave birth to the version of Nigerian hip-hop that is familiar today. The group dropped relatable verses that gave future emcees the courage to be comfortable with their unique sound. They often rapped in pidgin (a form of broken English with global variations).
This forward movement continued into the late ’90s, ushering in a new guard of rappers like Ruff, Rugged & Raw; Trybesmen, Maintain, and many more. With parallels to the golden era of hip-hop in the U.S., this time period was arguably one the richest and most innovative for Nigerian rap. Today, despite the popularity of Afrobeat and Afropop, Nigeria’s rap scene remains.
Below are 10 artists who have stayed true to their sound despite the changing landscape.
M.I., born Jude Abaga, stormed the rap scene in 2006 with his single, “Crowd Mentality.” Two years later he dropped “Talk About It,” which is still considered a classic today. His six-album discography and multiple music awards have helped pave the way for some of the best African acts of today. Without M.I. there would be no Wizkid or Davido, or any of the other notable artists currently crossing over into the U.S. market.
M.I. currently serves as CEO of the highly-sucesseful record label, Chocolate City, which has become one of the largest distributors of urban and indigenous music in Nigeria. There he works alongside the company’s Vice Chairmen, Ice Prince, another well-known name in the hip-hop scene. He is most often compared to Kanye West or Jay Z simply because not many strictly hip-hop influenced artists have achieved his amount of commercial and critical success in Africa.
Show Dem Camp
Show Dem Camp is a duo comprised of Olumide Ayeni and Wale Davies, who are popularly known as Ghost and Tec. Since first arriving on the scene in 2009, they have consistently produced dynamic sounds that have pushed Nigeria’s lagging hip-hop industry forward. Their most notable EPs, a three-volume series called Clone Wars, enjoyed massive underground success.
The duo then followed up with a full-length debut album titled The Dreamers Project. Unsurprisingly, it received similar praise, particularly because it astutely reflected the day-to-day lives of average Nigerians and tackled issues like socio-economic disparity and political corruption. Though they often offer infectious hooks and lyrics with strong commercial appeal, the two are equally as capable of producing the kind of conscious rap legends like Common, Talib Kweli and those of their ilk have become recognized for.
Remilekun Abdulkalid Safari, better known as Reminisce, has emerged as one of Nigeria’s most talented indigenous rappers. A music icon in his own right, Reminisce has accrued an impressive local following. Over the years, he has also become a respected voice in the Nigerian hip-hop community, often speaking about the necessity of preserving the culture around the genre while elevating the discourse around African rap. With several acclaimed studio albums to his name, the current Samsung brand ambassador continues to expand beyond the realm of music.
Boogey or David Iye Odey starting rapping in 2010. After completing his university degree in Morocco, he returned to Nigeria to launch his career. Two year later he released his debuted mixtape, Artificial Intelligence, which, while positively received, didn’t quite catapult him to star status. What it did do was catch the attention of several rap veterans, including M.I.. Odey went on to achieve nationwide recognition after M.I. featured him on his infamous mixtape, Illegal Music 2, in 2012.
Gilbert Bani adopted the stage name A-Q and from there set about building a career based largely on his extraordinary lyrical dexterity. Over the years, he’s also proven himself to be on of the most consistently able-bodied rappers in Nigeria. Bani currently has three studio albums and five EPs to his name. For those just starting their journey with his is music, start from the beginning. You’ll be able to audibly trace the arc of his artistic growth; it’s well worth taking the time to do so.
Tobechukwu Melvin Ejiofor or Illbliss is often considered one of the more conscious rappers in the game. Much of his output focuses on lyricism, creativity and ethnic pride. IllyGaty or Oga Boss as he is popularly referred to by his fans, was a member of the now defunct hip-hop collective Da Thorobreds.
The group, consisting of other notable rappers such as Elajoe, Obiwon and B-Elect, copped the award for the best hip-hop song by a group or duo at the 2006 edition of the Hip-Hop World Awards. The honor was bestowed on the group’s massive radio hit “Street Hop,” which many still consider a classic. Since then, Illbliss has produced four LPs and one EP as a solo artist.
Azubuike Chibuzo Nelson also known as Phyno is a rapper and producer who has been in the industry for over a decade. Nelson got his start in production and is the unsung hero behind many of the biggest Nigerian rap hits of the late 2000s. Over the past half decade, however, Phyno has turned himself into a major force on the artist side too, releasing two critically acclaimed albums: No Guts No Glory, and The Playmaker. Phyno primarily raps in his native Igbo though he often blends in English and pidgin English.
Although a relatively new kid on the block, Oludemilade Alaje or Ycee is quickly becoming one of the leaders of the new guard of Nigerian rap. Popular mainstream hits like “Omo Alhjaji” and “Jagaban”, both of which released in 2015, have made Ycee a buzzing emerging talent poised to make longterm influence in the industry. Ycee is yet to release a debut studio album, but his forthcoming mixtape, The First Wave is already highly anticipated throughout Nigeria.
Eva Alordiah challenges the status quo as one of the few female rappers to achieve mainstream prominence in the Nigerian hip-hop scene. Like its Stateside counterpart, the rap scene on the continent remains largely male dominated – perhaps even more so than in America.
Despite that, Alordiah managed to attain a solid foothold and the respect of veteran rappers and newcomers alike. Thus far, she has three critically acclaimed EPs to her name – GIGO, Eva, Because You’ve Been Waiting, and a studio album titled 1960. Part of Alordiah’s appeal and effectiveness comes from her sonic creativity. She is truly a master of infusing hip-hop and traditional Nigerian music.
Florin Falana’s stage name, Falz The Bahd Guy, is straight from the rapper’s handbook of memorable monikers. Blending comic characters and strong socially conscious lyrics, the lawyer turned emcee has found a way to use humor as a vehicle for identifying with virtually every social class in Nigeria. Falz currenlty has two critically acclaimed albums under his belt – Wazup Guy, and Stories That Touch.
The latter is often regarded as one of the best albums of 2015 by music critics. In 2016, Falz also released a collaborative EP titled Chemistry with Nigerian singer, Simi. In a world where highly pop-oriented sounds and half-baked lyrics prevail, Falz has managed to cultivate an audience willing to pay attention to lyrical content and interact with his music – an epic feat if ever there was one.
Also take an inside look at Nigeria’s underground skate scene via the WAFFLESNCREAM crew here.
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