History of Nigerian Hip-Hop: A Tale of 3 Decades

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The Nigerian Music Industry is yet to attain a colossal status wherewith it will be called an industry indeed. However, taking into cognizance the obvious tendencies of a mega industry, one can either choose to look at the cup as half-filled or half empty. A genre that has come to thrive over the years is the Nigerian Hip Hop which has informed most of the developments in the Nigerian Music. In this post, we shall be taking a brief tour of this 30 years old genre and how it had evolved overtime.

Sound on Sound (1988) was the first Hip-Hop and rap group that I came across in Nigeria due to their accrued popularity. Therefore, like some of Nigerian Hip Hop critics and commentators, I was under the assumption that the group pioneered Nigerian Hip Hop and Rap Music. This assumption is somewhat true. This is because Sound on Sound, which included Mr. Kool (yes; same Mr. Kool), Ebony Laoye, Monica Omorodion, Troy “Jedi” Williams and Ron “Scratch” McBean (Scratch is Oye AKD’s friend by the way) were the first Hip Hop and Rap group to make a full-fledged rap album produced in Nigeria. However, a decade barely passed after the birth of Hip Hop in the blocks of South Bronx, New York when Nigerian artistes caught the bug.

[audio:https://www.360nobs.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Sound-on-Sound-–-I_m-African360nobs.com_1.mp3|titles=Sound on Sound – I_m African(360nobs.com)]

One can directly relate this to the ripple effect which the success of “rapper’s delight” by the Sugar Hill Gang had in this part of the world barely 2 years before the first rap record was produced in Nigeria.

[audio:https://www.360nobs.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/SugarHill-Gang-Rappers-Delight.mp3|titles=SugarHill Gang – Rappers Delight]

It is little wonder Nigerian Hip Hop has become one of the nation’s vanguard in the international entertainment community.

The first rap music in Nigeria emanated in 1981 from the mind of a protesting On-Air personality who decided to throw a dagger at the disco rap trend which suddenly became the rave of the moment. With the release of “The Way I Feel Rap“, Ron “Ronnie” Ekundayo became the proponent of hip hop and rap music in Nigeria. His album, The Way I Feel consisted of similar Kris Okotie‘s pop tunes, just like Run DMC jumped on rock tunes in 1983 and beyond.

[audio:https://www.360nobs.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Ronnie-The-Way-I-Feel-Rap360nobs.com_.mp3|titles=Ronnie – The Way I Feel Rap(360nobs.com)]

Apparently, he was inspired by the singer and decided to add rapper to his title which previously included Television presenter and DJ amidst the others mentioned above. One would expect Ron to have stuck around and defend his title as a pioneer of Rap music in Nigeria (and possibly Africa) but with his one-hit-wonder, he already earned his place in history.

Other proponents of the first era include: Dizzy K. Falola, Rapmaster Lexy Mella (who could neither rap well nor rap much), Dili I. Jukson, I.C. Rock (who pushed conscious music), and so on.

Rap music in Nigeria during this period was mainly vague expressions and predominantly mindless chants which has been adapted poorly from the more artistic American counterparts, which some of today’s rappers will refer to as wack.

In 1991, the trio of Terry, Mouth MC and Junior, with the release of “Which One You Dey?” gave birth to what was going to become the trend of the second era of Nigerian Hip Hop and rap music. Unlike most of their predecessors who were “American rappers wannabe”, Emphasis gave birth to the genre “Nigerian Hip Hop” by choosing to deliver their lyrics in pidgin which is the true language of the streets in Nigeria. They delivered their lyrics in a lay back flow and with elements of drama.

[audio:https://www.360nobs.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Emphasis-Which-One-You-Dey360nobs.mp3|titles=Emphasis – Which One You Dey]

This ushered in the second decade of Hip Hop in Nigeria, an era on which little or next to nothing has been documented on (to my utmost surprise). It’s appalling that on a few Nigerian social networks and blogs, the “bloggers”, music critics and Hip Hop scholars always refer to the duo of Junior and Pretty as the pioneer of Hip Hop in Nigeria when in actual fact they only took off from where Emphasis left off.

That said, Junior and Pretty took Hip-Hop mainstream with their comical pidgin style of rapping which was adapted for the streets of Nigeria. This quickly became a prominent attribute of the second decade of Hip Hop.

Junior & Pretty

[audio:https://www.360nobs.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Junior-Pretty-Monika.mp3]

Unlike the first era, they showed more originality by owning the art and making it Nigerian. Even the instrumentations were heavy on indigenous content. Truthfully, Reggae and Disco music ruled supreme in Nigeria between the 80s and late 90s and due to the success of the likes of Majek Fashek, Mandators, Kris Okotie, Edna Ogoli (my favourite) and so on, most promoters and labels (both foreign and local) were focused on the reggae artistes as they were the money makers at this period.

As a result, the Hip Hop genre suffered in terms of prominence and lucrativeness. Some artistes had to inculcate the reggae culture into their Hip Hop genre; for instance – Daniel Wilson aka Mr Raggamuffin, Blackky and even Oritz Wiliki had to infuse rap bars into their songs.

Oritz Wiliki - Heart Of Stone

Other rappers who stood out in this era include: Cashman Davies, Weird MC, Seyi Shodimu, Baba Dee, Zaaki, Felix and Moses, etc.

Most of these artistes fizzled out as Nigerians still weren’t ready to accept Hip-Hop over Pop and Reggae although some of them re-emerge much later in the following era. The late 90s saw an emergence of young Hip-Hop acts pop up everywhere from Trybesmen to Ruff, Rugged & Raw to Maintain, Blackface was the rapper in Plantainshun Boiz; and just like Emphasis in the first decade, a 3man group called The Remedies emerged towards the end of the second era with the smash hit “Shakomo” in 1997, and re-ignited the Hip-Hop fire in the Nigerian Hip Hop arena.

Remedies - Peace Nigeria

[audio:https://www.360nobs.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Remedies-Shakomo.mp3]

The now defunct group which was made up the trio of Tony Tetuila, Eedris Abdulkarim and Eddy Montana dropped another single “Judile” before Tony Tetuila left to become a solo artist based on irreconcilable differences.

[audio:https://www.360nobs.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Remedies-Judile.mp3|titles=Remedies – Judile]

The split helped to create the 1st public major Hip-Hop beef in Nigeria as Tony Tetuila still upset with the split went on to release the beef track “Omode Meta” which featured Plantashun Boiz & Ruff, Rugged & Raw

[audio:https://www.360nobs.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Tony-Tetuila-Ft-Plantainshun-Boiz-Ruff-Rugged-Raw-Omode-Meta1.mp3|titles=Tony Tetuila Ft Plantainshun Boiz & Ruff, Rugged & Raw – Omode Meta]

It is safe to say their split gave birth to the major types of contemporary music common amongst the youth in Nigeria today. I can still remember vividly how I brainstormed on what genre to classify Tony Tetuila‘s music having successfully placed the others into Rap and R’n’B respectively. It ended up being called Yo Pop which is today called Afro-Pop.

At the end of the 2nd decade – driven by the successes of Hip-Hop joints “Monica”, “Shakomo“, “Allen Avenue” and even the 1999 “Shake Body” by Trybesmen; nu skool cats emerged with such ferociousness. Amongst these were – Trybesmen, X-Appeal, Plantashun boiz, Rasqie, SWATROOT, Apostles, Maintain, Ruff Rugged & Raw, Terry Da Rapman, Lord of Ajasa, Mode Nine, Big Lo and so on.

The defining moment of the start of 3rd decade happened in 2002 when Micheal Ugochukwu Steven AKA Ruggedman released his diss track “Ehen Pt.1” where he targeted various Hip Hop arts, calling them out as “wack”. It was a marketing gimmick which worked; the direct hit forced a lot of MCs to sit up and accept the emergence of “dope MCs” and also stirred the tense 2nd major Hip-Hop beef between him and the lyricist who’s been rapping since he was 5 … Mode Nine.

[audio:https://www.360nobs.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Rugged-Man-Ehen.mp3|titles=Rugged Man – Ehen]

All in all, Ruggedman pioneered the era of “lyrical awakening” because he used Rap features that are synonymous with the foreign counterparts, depicting intellectual as well as artistic skillfulness and he sold it! If Eedris had shown that much professionalism when he released “Wackawiki MC”, perhaps, he would have been the one we are talking about now due to the number of hits he churned out at the time.

2008 saw the emergence of the short black one – M.I as he released his debut album “Talk About It”, to quickly become a contender for the Hip-Hop Crown. The tail-end also saw a lot of dope MCs like Naeto C, Da Grin, Ikechukwu, Jesse Jagz, SauceKid, Ill Bliss.

[audio:https://www.360nobs.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/MI-Crowd-Mentality.mp3|titles=MI – Crowd Mentality]

Some of the features of the 3rd decade include: clearly defined style, heavy play on words, use of metaphorical expressions, use of punchlines, and so on.

I will love to mention the MCs in this new decade but that will just be a waste of bytes. Why? Because 2011 just rolled off and except you were born last year, you know 🙂

Written by Alex Amos

Music & Images provided from Oye AKD’s personal collection

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13 comments

  1. This is all great stuff. I think you guys should collaborate with Uchenna Ikonne on a Nigerian hiphop history project that just won’t end on a web page. I’ll be willing to chip in too. There’s a lot to tap into here. I’m yet to see any sampling of the old rap acts especially those that did their thing between 1981 to 1991. It would be nice to see Ronnie Ekundayo being interviewed too.

  2. To me EEDRIS ABDULKAREEM was the revolution in Nigeria hip hop..he popularised hip hop and with hard work he excelled compared to ruggedman who became famous through diss.

    1. Kenny, you don’t know shit;as they say in hip hop. You did a very good job Alex. MODE9 and terry da rapman were in SWATROOTS though. there was a four man group that had one AY guy in it, he even presented a music programme on T.V, i think we missed out on that. except i am mistaken.

  3. There is a Nigerian rap group, I think it is Emphasis. Don’t remember the title of the song, but the lyrics are something like this:

    RAP
    If your oga for office tell you say you be fool, cool down no vex
    Your pickin nor dey read as you send am to school, cool down no vex.
    If you get one problem, some people get two
    Wetin you want make do

    Even even even if molue jam your Mercedes Benz
    Cool down, no vex.

    SONG
    This type of thing dey always happen
    This type of thingn dey always happen to people yea
    This type of this dey always to people…

    This is all I remember about it.
    Been searching for this song since I was little.

  4. Its just sad that these pioneers couldn’t make any reasonably income from their work. One could say that the hiphop genre in Nigeria isn’t reaching its commercial potential.

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