Rap is a competitive sport as they say, so everytime there is a discussion around the art globally, it usually evokes emotions, ego and a truckload of stock opinions.
The debate over the state of rap in Nigeria resurfaced yet again on social media during the week following the appearance of South African hip-hop veteran, Stoogie T on Sway in the morning.
As usual, Nigerian rappers were on the receiving end of the stick, on a day when they had nothing to do with what was actually happening on the screens.
The debate is one that will not end anytime soon. We have been here before and we will be here again, it is only a matter of time.
First, South African rap has been killing Nigerian rap for long, we just refused to admit it and it didn’t happen overnight.
What they have is a thriving Hip-hop scene added to a strong culture of Hip-hop in every one of its elements and not just rap coupled with a long list of very talented rappers. What the Nigerian hip-hop scene has is a bunch of highly hypocritical and unsupportive audience with a long list of very talented rappers. It is easy to know which one will always perform better.
But amidst the largely ignorant and distorted takes expressed on all sides of the divide, let’s focus on proferring solutions.
Here are 7 ways the Nigerian hip-hop scene can get to successfully compete again
1. Investment and belief from label executives and radio stations
The impact of investment cannot be understated and in this age, where the cost of effectively creating the next music star is quite expensive, it is more difficult for rappers in Nigeria to compete.
A quick throwback to rappers who have thrived in Nigeria will point at something major, which even trumps their obvious skill and that is investment and support from label executives.
Eedris became the biggest name in Nigerian rap off the well-oiled marketing vehicle deployed by Kennis Music. Eldee with support from his mum invested heavily into Trybesmen, Ruggedman arrived at a time when the radio needed an alternative and practically helped his career grow before he then got signed by Little Fish Records.
M.I Abaga had Chocolate City, Storm was supporting Naeto, Modenine‘s biggest mainstream moment came with QuestionMark Records, Olamide gained prominence with help from the likes of ID Cabasa and 9ice and the list goes on.
At each of this period, these rappers were the major artists on their respective labels, not anymore. It is no coincidence that the downslide tallies with the demise of labels and the few labels bold enough to sign rappers are having to make them ‘dumb down’ just to appeal.
For Nigerian rappers to excel again, major investments must be made in terms of structure and promotion while record labels must show faith in rappers and be willing to take more chances with them.
2. They need the help of Radio and TV stations
While the internet currently occupies the biggest space in spreading your music, the traditional houses are still very important in making the musician a household name.
The reach of radio stations in Nigeria cannot be downplayed. Radio listenership is nowhere near it used to be, but there is a reason why record labels continue to work hand in hand with stations to deliver the music from their artists.
There is a reason why artists line up at every radio station just to see that DJ or OAP and why Payola remains a problem today. Despite this internet age, the radio and TV stations contribute majorly in the mass exposure of songs and where Hip-hop does not have a space on major belts, it is inevitable that at primetime, it always get to miss out in the pool of reachable audience.
3. A good gratification system; structure, an effective way to make money off their music, great laws on royalties
Even though this is a long shot because it includes stringent laws and enforcement, the fact that Hip-hop has never been the main genre in the country points to the reality that they cater largely to a niche audience and as such there should be an effective way where they can make returns from their tiny pool of ‘loyal’ fans.
From constantly paid Hip-hop shows, a sponsored and identifiable battle rap culture totally separate from the mainstream seeking rappers but contributing in terms of buzz and conveyor belt for new talents, streamlined endorsement deals, streaming and royalties, the Hip-hop scene needs to devise a way to make this work if we seriously want to see better rappers emerge.
4. It should not just be about Lagos
Erigga has been doing his thing consistently in the South, delivering his rap in the indigenous language familiar with his people and widely spoken in Nigeria, yet when a supposed ‘Hip-hop head’ is discussing Nigerian rap, his name rarely gets mentioned, maybe because he is not based in Lagos, where the ‘action’ is.
While across every country where Hip-hop is a force, there are major cities where it is usually more vibrant like New York in the US, but there is also New Orleans and Detroit who have solid underground cultures and have birthed some of the biggest names ever.
At the point when Hip-hop thrived the most in Nigeria, Lagos was alive, Abuja and Jos brought flames, while Port Harcourt showed flashes, but today it is almost only about Lagos and as soon as these rappers hit the state, all they see are the successful pop artists and the plot is lost as they seek to compete rather than standout.
Just like we need major deepwater ports to lessen the Apapa gridlock, we also need other hot spots for Hip-hop rappers to not just come up but actually, thrive outside Lagos.
5. Good A&R, admitting that we can both have English speaking rappers and ‘Local’ rappers in the same scene catering to their unique audience and not necessarily turning it into a competition while encouraging the rappers to infuse more African stories into their verses.
A&R is one area where the Hip-hop community has also suffered of late, yes rappers can rap, have good songs and are convinced they are the best at what they do, but how many have a good team, that person who helps direct their collaborations, tracklisting, album themes, song selections and ways to promote their works?
Globally, rap is viewed as the genre that collaborates the most despite how competitive it can be. You find rappers featuring rappers to up their skill level, or rappers featuring singers to help their areas of deficiencies which is usually in delivering hooks and these collaborations are mostly done from a win-win point of view, but the case is not the same for Nigerian rappers.
Big names are afraid to cosign younger talents and when they are forced to do, they particularly refuse to shoot videos or promote those records for reasons best known to them.
Some of our most memorable rap records in history have come from collaborations, from DJ Jimmy Jatt‘s Stylee, to ‘Spazmodic’ with Modenine and Terry Tha Rapman or Terry on ‘Ekwe’, it is not always a path to certified success but you can be sure of a wider audience from both fanbase.
Admittedly, 2018 has witnessed more collaborative efforts with the likes of Loose Kaynon and A-Q‘s who came together to set up the ”100 Crowns” label, started the ‘Coronation’ event and released their joint album ”Crown” as a successful template, we need more. It is good for the culture.
7. Kill the Ego, stakeholders selecting the best and not the biggest
Now this is the hardest part, as rappers globally have more of this than they actuall have talents, but it is essential, Rappers NEED to tuck in their ego, listen to the fans [even though I admit a number of them are clowns], stay away from silly ‘beefs’, except when it is brought to your doorsteps, tell better stories and continue to put in the work.
There are rappers abroad with over 20 projects who are still underground but they have developed a cult following and are making an impact through their music. Commercial success may not come immediately but rap is meaningless if it is not inspiring the community.
There was a time ‘Rock’ was the biggest genre in the world, not anymore. Nigerian rap once had its time in the spotlight, but despite loosing its grip, there remains a strong presence of really talented rappers who hold the proverbial ‘light at the end of the tunnel.’ They need to be appreciated, constructively criticized and supported.
And when next there is a rap moment on the global stage, it is on us to select the very best talents and not just the ones making the most noise, as some of their failings many years ago continue to serve as a dampener today.