“I released an entire album (Alphabetical Order) and no one cared about it,” Babatunde Olusegun popularly known as Mode 9 said in an interview in 2013. “You see how the industry is, Nigerians only follow the hype and have no idea what hip hop is.”
Three years later, the rapper moved to the United Kingdom and promised not to release any more of his music in Nigeria due to poor acceptance of the genre.
Many rappers in the country today have gone commercial with their crafts, and have transitioned to other genres or what people called ‘afro-fusion.’ However, a few of them could boost commercial success.
“The profitability of doing hardcore rap in Nigeria has gotten worse with Afrobeat taking the cake,” Nicholas Ibekwe, a music analyst, said. “Many veteran rappers and newbies in the country are broke while others just commercialise their craft by switching.”
He said there were a lot of vibes and airplay in the genre in the early 2000s, citing Mode 9’s ‘Cry’, M.I Abaga’s ‘Anoti’, Vector’s ‘King Kong’, and Da Grin’s ‘Pon Pon Pon’. “But now, it’s all down. Even M.I Abaga’s latest album came like a flash in the pan.”
Ibekwe said the downslide of the genre in Nigeria could be attributed to the fact that its market is not commercially feasible in the country.
“They also have bills to foot,” he said. “So, now we have different variants of rap like Afrorap, Afrotrap, and what have you.”
In 2022, rap projects like The Guy, T.E.S.L.I.M, Young Preacher, BAHD, Carpe Diem, and The Lost Boy were released. However, they couldn’t gain traction for long in terms of airplay and streaming.
According to TurnTable Charts, a catalogue of relative weekly and yearly popular songs in Nigeria, only two Nigerian rap projects made it to the top 50 albums in Nigeria last year. For context, rap heavyweights like Falz, Vector, M.I Abaga, Olamide, and Erigga all had an album in 2022.
The catalogue’s latest weekly top artistes showed that Phyno and Blaqbonez were the only Nigerian rappers in the top 50s log.
TurnTable Charts track thousands of songs weekly across radio and streaming platforms in Nigeria to arrive at its conclusion.
“I think the Nigerian hip-hop acts are given unrealistic expectations today,” Emmanuel Omoniyi, popularly known as Palmwinepapi, said.
He said hip-hop in Nigeria is one of the few genres that have tasted success in the modern era.
“Many big names we know now had to get a co-sign or endorsement from a Nigerian rapper at the time,” he said. “Davido’s got introduced to his first mainstream success ‘back when’ with Naeto C, and M.I Abaga introduced us to Wizkid on ‘Fast Money Fast Cars’.”
Omoniyi said rap never died or left the mainstream, rather the adaptation of western hip-hop culture is “dead” over the years.
“The overwhelming growth of Afrobeats meant the ‘death’ of everything else around it.”
Ratio of rappers in the top record labels in Nigeria
According to Exploration, record labels are businesses, large or small, that produce, distribute, and promote the recordings of affiliated musicians.
Marvin Records is one of the biggest record labels in today’s music industry. Owned by Don Jazzy, the label boasts talents like Rema, Ayra Starr, Crayon, Ladipoe, Johnny Drille, and recently Magixx, Boy Spyce, and Bayanni, as well as a producer; Andre Vibez is the hand behind the deck for worldwide hits such as ‘Feeling’, ‘Calm Down’, ‘Rush’ and ‘Overdose’.
However, the ratio of rappers to other contemporary musicians on the label is thin. For context, Ladipoe is the only rapper on the record label.
YBNL, fully known as Yahoo Boy No Laptop, was founded in 2012 by indigenous rapper Olamide Adedeji, popularly known as Olamide. The label was named after his sophomore album.
The label promoted indigenous rappers like Lil Kesh, Chinko Ekun, and Davoo Lee in its early days. However, as of the time this article was written, only the man himself was the label’s rapper.
Davido Music Worldwide, aka DMW, is one of the newest record labels in the music industry. It was founded in 2016 after Davido left HKN Music.
Dremo is the only rapper in DMW. Other artists on the record label are Peruzzi, Yonda, DJ ECool, and Liya.
Chocolate City introduced M.I Abaga, one of the biggest rappers in Nigeria and the continent of Africa, to the mainstream. The label has also produced notable rappers like Jesse Jags and Ice Prince, and has affiliated with Loose Kaynon and AQ.
However, Blaqbonez is the only rapper in the record label today as many of the old cats have gone ahead to create their own.
Starboy Entertainment, named after Wizkid’s moniker, was founded in 2013 following his exit from Empire Mates Entertainment. Starboy Records has previously been home to top acts such as Mr Eazi, LAX, Efya and Maleek Berry. It currently caters to Terri, DJ Tunez, and legendary producer Legendury Beatz.
The record label has no known record of signing a rapper since its inception.
Spaceship Records, aka Spaceship Entertainment, sits at the top of the table as one of the best labels to come out of Nigeria. It was founded by in 2015 after Burna Boy’s exit from Aristokrat Records.
Spaceship Records houses Burna Boy, Nissi, and Telz. The label has no rapper to its name.
FlyBoy Inc is founded and owned by Kizz Daniel. He is the only act signed to the label.
“To be honest, it is all about afrobeat now,” a popular artist who asked to be identified by the pseudonym ‘Pascal Adeoti’ to avoid being a target.
He said the rap culture in the country has gone subtle and would need a lot of work to resuscitate it to make it bankable.
“After all, record labels are all about profit and not many rappers out there can bring in the figure,” he said.