Olamide calls himself the voice of the streets and his music largely reflects it, but should art only mirror its environment and not attempt to shape it?
Sometime in the 80s, gangsta rap became a thing in the US. Rappers bragged about drugs they sold, guns they owned, women they slept with and even called out the Police.
This was during the height of a number of aggressive movements so the messages resonated especially with the black community and were accepted, even 50 Cent many years later glorified a major street business on his hit record ‘P.I.M.P’, but as rap became more mainstream, characters evolved and the message began to gain more balance.
In Nigeria, while social media trend is something to be excited about, street credibility has proven to be the surest path to industry success.
The streets dictate what becomes a hit and artists usually try to appeal to what they relate with in their music.
Music in Nigeria has always mirrored happenings in the society. At different points in the pulse of events in the nation, some of our artists have tapped into the conversation to create monster records and become household names.
The likes of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti fully exemplify this at different stages in his career.
Fast forward to the last decade and the biggest overnight madness that has eaten into the fabric of the average Nigerian is the ”Get rich or die trying” syndrome, hence the explosion of advanced fee fraud popularly known as ‘419.’
While an artist like Modenine saw the need to educate his listeners about the ills of the act in ‘419 State of Mind’, some others like Osuofia felt it important to ‘chop the Oyinbo man dollars.’
As the trend grew and became more ‘attractive’ for the average youth, so also did the music that fed into it multiply and songs like Olu Maintain‘s ‘Yahooze’ and more recently ‘Living Things’ by 9ice became viral, now back to Olamide.
Olamide is without a doubt one of the most successful artists of his generation, both discography and commercial wise.
The rapper whose energy and grit was infectious on his breakout single, ‘Eni Duro’ has grown into a household name over the years.
Olamide’s music has always catered for the people he represents; the streets, and while in the early days the message was more about the hustle, survival and boastful lines of his experiences; with fame and glamour, his music began to change and not just the music but more importantly, the message.
His second album, ”YBNL” (Yahoo Boy No Laptop) released in 2012 was the earliest indication of his path, while disguised as an anti-yahoo message, YBNL became a viral and cool term and it was no surprise to see the opening track on the album titled, ‘Money.’
On ‘Owotabua’, Olamide said ”them say money no dey for country, plenty people dey hungry if you want to stand out, alaye, lo dogbon si” [They say there is no money in the country, many are hungry, if you want to stand out, find a way].
His obsession with money has continued on follow-up albums, ”Baddest Guy Ever Liveth” where he had a single titled ‘Dope Money’, while on ”Street OT”, he and fellow rapper Phyno teamed up for a song titled, ‘Blood Money.’ On ‘Prayer for the client’ on the same album, Olamide said ”Baba God, fun mi Client ti ma mu lote” [God give me a Client that is gullible]
In song titles and one-liners, the references to vain acts have always been there, but while these have largely gone under the radar because of its subtlety, the contents have only gotten brazen over the years.
On ‘Story For The Gods’, Olamide was accused of extolling rape, with ‘Science Student’, Olamide’s stand on the use of drugs wasn’t exactly clear at a time when the nation was battling with the implosion of a drug like Codeine in the North.
Was he glorifying it or condemning it? The video toes towards the latter but the music itself sounded more like someone sitting comfortably in-between.
His last album ”Lagos Na Wa” is heavily littered with coded messages on sexual abuse while ‘Poverty Die’ is another well-veiled song that had a message that only those who it is addressed to properly understood and when the visuals were released with a scene showing boys packed in a room replicating a cyber cafe, the message had been fully delivered at the point.
On giving artists creative license
Artists have due right to create and imitate their society, but there comes a time where art demands self censorship.
Nollywood has over the years glorified and even etched the frequency of ‘rituals’ and ‘blood money’ in our minds and this has shaped our mindsets as Nigerians and how people see us outside, only now is the new cast of directors seeking to do something different.
Olamide is a creative and his art is a reflection of the things he sees.
Tapping into the same sound as ‘Able God’, the mentor and his prodigy Lil Kesh reunited for a new song titled, ‘Logo Benz’, the song will likely get plenty spins at concerts this December but the lyrics is getting plenty attention as Nigerians on social media are calling it out for what it is.
Just like sex, vain lyrics sells and Olamide knows his audience will feed on this but we can’t afford to keep silent.
‘Logo Benz’ is not the type of music that should be encouraged especially from an artist that carries his type of weight.
From the artcover where a pant is hanged on the Benz logo to the opening lines of ”dry your pata at owner’s risk” to more worrying lyrics, ”If money do enter. I go do blood money”, Olamide and Lil Kesh loudly amplified a cancer that has taken over the news in recent weeks.
While I agree that the song is only a reflection of the environment, and artists are simply the mouthpiece of cultural occurrences, there comes a time when they need to consciously form their music to contribute positively to the society.
Olamide needs to evolve in his music and its representation. While in 2011, he was the young boy from the streets of Bariga and it was easy to accept his reality, this is 2018, he is now a pop icon who sits by the right hand of the Governor of Lagos State and it is only responsible that as an artist, he seeks to shape the narrative and not tailor to it.
He sits atop a generation that has the power to articulate the type of music we want our young ones to be open to.
Why it is important we call these type of songs out
Irrespective of who the artist is, we should take a more vocal stand on songs like this.
I remember sitting in the midst of a group of young people at the Agege stadium where I had gone to witness Small Doctor‘s ”Omo Better Concert” and one of the songs that enjoyed constant rotation from disc jockeys all through the night had the lyrics of Eleniyan‘s ‘Yahoo Lawon Oremi’,
”Yahoo lawon ore mi, Olosho lawon ore mi” [My friends are yahoo boys, my friends are prostitutes] and the reaction everytime this song was played was stunningly repulsive.
Songs like this are fast providing the soundtrack to society’s irresponsible behavior and while it may be acceptable in some quarters, dear Nigerian artists, you know better, it is time you begin to do better.
Nigerians need to stop selective condemnation
Now, here lies another major problem and the reason why songs like this have continued to foster.
While it is good to call out the likes of Olamide and hold him accountable for the part he is presently playing, there is a bigger epidemic, one that is even bigger than Olamide, and one that we should attack more as Nigerians. The society needs a refix with the vices we allow.
We danced to Yahooze, we attacked Falz when he condemned 9ice for ‘Living Things.’ ‘Able God’ is a hit today despite clearly glorifying advanced fee fraud, Zlatan‘s verse is one of the most detailed lyrics on how the act can be perfected but Nigerians have been selective in what they condemn and this only helps in making things worse.
Finally, Nigerian pop music in recent times has largely glamorized the ills and negatives of the society, paying less regard to the emotive charge that this gives to its perpetrators and while we do not have the answers to bring these acts to an end, the music should not be a tool to dramatise, amplify or give it a voice.