For a bunch of rap lovers in Nigeria, Hip-hop started 10 years ago, the day M.I stepped unto the scene with his staggeringly resonating album, ”Talk About It”.
Coincidentally his debut album had also arrived just around a decade after the pop scene in Nigeria started to move in the right direction.
Prior to 1998, playing Nigerian songs on local radio or TV stations was close to being an idea never thought of, but the late 90s saw a number of ‘John The Baptists’ who screamed out loud in the wilderness and paved the way for the ‘Messiah’ who was to come next.
Names like Eedris Abdulkareem, Dr Fresh, Def O Clan, Blackface of the Plantashun Boiz, SWAT ROOT, Thoroughbreds, Ruggedman and many more had toiled to build a reputation for the genre in the country.
But it wasn’t till 2008 when the scene seemingly stumbled on the perfect template to balance not just elite lyricism on one hand but also scoring mainstream records that are commercially appealing not just to the few but to plenty.
There are few epic moments in Nigerian rap that stay unforgettable in my head. Moments like when I first saw the video to Ruggedman’s ‘Ehen’, the day Da Grin died and how it changed the mood of the nation or watching Eedris cockily sit on that sofa in ‘Wackawickee Mcs’.
These are watershed moments that helped shape the culture at their respective points but perhaps the most iconic was that of the first time I heard M.I’s ‘Safe.’
He had released ‘Crowd Mentality’ months before and I had been fortunate to hear him on a number of other records, but nothing can be compared to when I heard ‘Safe’ for the first time.
It was premiered on Rhythm’s ‘Afternoon Drive’ with Bigtyme and he played the record back to back and I remember being at home all alone and was screaming excitedly. This was too good to be true, this was rap in its most immaculate form.
Released on December 1, 2008, ”Talk About It” would ultimately go on to serve as the foundation for what has now proven to be a stellar and memorable career for the short black boy.
Numbers are hard to gather in this part of the world, but when M.I rhymed on ‘I’m Hot’ that the album promoted by then leading Alaba marketer, Tjoe Records, sold ”30,000 units in 30 minutes”, it was hard to dispute. That was how much he took the country by storm.
M.I introduced listeners to how best to deliver a project that could both be critically acclaimed and commercially viable.
With the conscious ‘Crowd Mentality’ came the playful ‘Safe’, With the uptempo ‘Anoti’, there was a ‘Short Black Boy’ created to steady the pace and while he could show his versatility on ‘Teaser’, M.I never forgot that the master plan was for him to ‘Hustle’. The album was creatively balanced and artistically executed.
Another major feat M.I achieved with the album was introducing the audience to a new generation of stars. Although Wizkid had been around for a while, ‘Fast Money, Fast Cars’ was his gateway into the industry proper. Jesse Jagz and Ice Prince joined Blaise on ‘Blaze’, the likes of Gen Pype, YQ, Eben, Lindsey and Leony all benefitted based on their contributions to the project.
”It’s one short black boy with a very big a**, flows like Jigga yet he sounds like Nas/maybe he’s the best, Nigeria’s own Kanye West’,’ M.I prophesied on ‘Short Black Boy.’
”Talk About It” ensured that a rapper can no longer be limited just to his ‘rap fanbase’ and when it comes to making good rap music in the 2000s, there were no rules. He was more than capable of crafting any type of record he wanted and it turned out a gem.
The album not only put him on the map but it helped launch him into the elite class of rappers who packed a mean pen game and a flawless delivery, solidifying him as one of the biggest rappers ever.
In terms of cultural impact, success, ground-breaking moments and just disrupting the order of how things were being done, ”Talk About It” is the key to the glory age.
From the album’s title, which is still popularly used in pop culture discussions [prominently by hosts of the LooseTalk podcast] to the meticulous A&R displayed in sequencing and guests selection. ‘Talk About It’ fast became the grape from which rap could squeeze its wine going forward.
The success of the album opened the floodgates for a generation of other rappers to emerge and join the industry confident that they could deliver their music to a larger and importantly, a more receptive audience.
Awards-wise, MI also bagged a number of honours from City People Awards (Best Hip Hop Artist), Headies Revelation of the year 2009, Best Rap Album (Headies 2009), Best Mainstream Hip-Hop video (NMVA) and more.
Seven other projects have been released by him afterwards but a decade has allowed us to properly examine ”Talk About It” not in the excitement of the moment or what they say it achieved, but for the truly great piece of fine art that the album is.
While the scene was getting stale and rappers were more focused on going to war with each other, M.I Abaga laid his own path to success and 10 years after he continues to stand as one of the more remarkable success stories of the past decade.