In the heart of West Africa, Nigerian music has seen a remarkable transformation over the past few decades. From the late 90s’ struggles of duplicating American Hip-hop to the emergence of a distinctively African sound, the Nigerian rap music scene has evolved immensely.
Today, the genre, now globally celebrated as Afrobeats, is a testament to the resilience and creativity of Nigerian musicians who dared to look beyond the Western blueprint and embrace their indigenous musical heritage.
As Hip-hop reaches its 50th anniversary, BusinessDay delves into the world of Nigerian rap, exploring its vibrant history and the transformative journey from artists who rapped with American influences to those who forged a distinct and innovative indigenous sound. By examining the past and present of Nigerian rappers, we uncover the captivating narrative of how this genre has evolved and flourished within the country’s musical landscape.
In the early 2000s, Nigerian rap music was on the brink of a revolution. The Billboard Top 50 Best Rappers of All Time featured American artists who inspired a generation of Nigerian musicians. Among them, some early Nigerian rappers initially based in the US, such as MI Abaga, Eldee and Sauce Kid who were highly influenced by these American acts.
The turn of the millennium saw the rise of pioneering Nigerian rap artists like Mode 9, Ruggedman, and Eedris Abdulkareem. These trailblazers tactfully used their music as a platform to address societal issues and express their experiences through thought-provoking lyrics. Some other noteworthy artists who graced the Nigerian rap space in the 2000s include Sasha, Jahbless, Reminisce, Naeto C, Overdose, Terry tha Rapman, Ice Prince, and CDQ.
In the indigenous rap genre, the diversity of Nigerian rap music was brought to the fore. Artists like Lord of Ajasa, Dagrin, Reminisce, Nigga Raw, Too Short, Big Lo, and Ill Bliss began to make music that resonated with their indigenous audience. Inspired by top acts like Nas, Snoop Dogg, Tupac, and 50 Cent, together with Fuji music and local highlife legends, these artists felt compelled to create music that would appeal to their local listeners but in a different way, making local sound feel more urban.
In the 2010s, the rap genre experienced a significant surge in popularity, thanks to the notable contributions of several talented artists. Among them, Olamide, Phyno, M.I Abaga, Falz, Ycee, Jesse Jagz and Erigga who had a hold of the rap in the southern part of Nigeria stood out as key figures who dominated the Nigerian rap genre in that era.
Olamide, known for his infectious energy and local street vibes, consistently released hit tracks like ‘Bobo’ and ‘Lagos Boys’, captivating audiences nationwide. Phyno, with his unique blend of Igbo rap and contemporary beats, produced bangers such as ‘Fada Fada’ and ‘Connect’, earning him substantial acclaim. M.I Abaga, renowned for his exceptional lyrical ability and thought-provoking storytelling, maintained his influence with tracks like ‘Mr. Incredible’ and ‘Bad Belle’.
Additionally, Falz, with his distinct delivery and wordplay, became an instant favourite with hits such as ‘Karishika’ and ‘This is Nigeria’, while Ycee reigned with the ‘Jagaban’ bandwagon. Together, these artists played pivotal roles in defining and shaping the Nigerian rap genre throughout the exciting decade of the 2010s.
MI Abaga and Vector the Viper are the first to be mentioned when Nigerian rap is discussed as their significant impact on the Nigerian music scene is undeniable.
In a battle that reverberated through the Nigerian music scene in 2019, the two titans of Nigerian rap engaged in an intense rap beef that sent shockwaves across the nation. This clash of lyrical prowess not only captivated fans but also highlighted the significance of rap as a powerful medium for self-expression and social commentary in Nigeria.
As the feud unfolded, it underscored the rich history and evolving landscape of Nigerian rap, firmly establishing it as a force to be reckoned with in the global hip-hop community.
The conversation about gender equality in the workplace is just as relevant in the music industry. Female rappers in Nigeria have had to grapple with many challenges to keep up with their male counterparts. Nevertheless, several female artists broke through these barriers, becoming trailblazers and role models for the next generation of female Afrobeats artists.
Artists like Sasha P, Weird MC, Eva Alordiah, Mo’Cheddah, and Cynthia Morgan in the 2000s paved the way for current female rappers like Candy Bleakz and Mavin’s newly signed artist, Lifesize Teddy.
In a documentary series on Afrobeats, Vector reflects on his early exposure to hip-hop in Nigeria. His anecdote about depending on local CD pirates at a bus-stop in Lagos for his supply of hip-hop music resonates with many Nigerians of his era. Despite the inadequacy of this resource, it was sufficient to fuel Vector’s passion for rap music.
During the early 2000s, Compact Discs (CDs) were the primary medium for music distribution in Nigeria. Artists had to produce physical copies of their albums, which were then sold in stores or by street vendors. Although this method allowed for some level of exposure, it was often hindered by piracy and limited access to distribution channels.
As the 2010s approached, technology began to reshape the global music industry. With the advent of streaming platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music, and Deezer, Nigerian rappers found a new avenue to showcase their talent. These platforms offered an opportunity for artists to reach a wider audience beyond physical boundaries, enabling them to connect with fans worldwide.
The significant strides made by these past artists have facilitated the emergence of talented artists of the 2020s like Ladipoe, Blaqbonez, ODUMODUBLVCK, Marz BGX and others. These young talents, armed with the legacy of their predecessors, are determined to take the Nigerian rap scene to the next level.
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, the evolution of Nigerian rap stands as a testament to the power of cultural exchange and artistic innovation. What began as an emulation of American influences has blossomed into a unique and thriving musical movement that reflects the rich tapestry of Nigerian culture.
From the trailblazers who paved the way to the current generation of talented artists pushing boundaries and amplifying their voices, Nigerian rap continues to captivate audiences both at home and abroad.
As we look to the future, it is clear that this genre will play an integral role in shaping the global hip-hop landscape, showcasing the resilience, creativity, and immense talent of Nigeria’s rap community.