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Best Rapper In Africa Or Nah: What’s Next For Nigerian Hip-hop?

Ever since Blaqbonez crowned himself the best rapper in Africa, Nigerian hip-hop has gone bonkers. The 100 Crowns rapper first made the audacious claim in the maiden edition of the AKtivated Sessions and the reaction was volcanic.  The hip-hop community immediately spiralled into long polarising debates over the validity of Blaq’s claims. While some admired his confidence and assertiveness, others dismissed him as a nuisance and an attention seeker who had nothing to back such daring claim. 

If attention was the goal, Blaqbonez definitely got it.

The debates further diffused into claims and counterclaims, diss tracks flying around with not-so-subliminal shots, directed at the rapper and his associates. After a couple of weeks, the pink-haired rapper reaffirmed his claim in his latest release ‘Best Rapper In Africa’ where he took aim at rappers like TenTik, Holyfield and also called out some of his colleagues for being craven. This, in turn, generated swift responses from Payper Corleone, VaderDavid Meli and many others. Even the OGs aren’t left out of the frenzy as a video surfaced of AQ, Loose Kaynon and SDC’s Ghost in a heated debate on who was a better rapper. 

And all this just mean one thing to the fans, excitement. 

The last time Nigerian hip-hop got its fans this elated was in February when the scorching LAMB-Martell Cypher dropped. The culture has always thrived on competition and with projector missiles flying all around,  fans are ravishing in euphoria right now. It’s a common saying that when two elephants fight it is the grass that suffers. But in hip hop, when rappers square against each other, the only true winners are the fans.  But sadly, the euphoria is going to wear off soon. People are bound to move on. And when they do, what is left?

Nigerian hip-hop has been in a sorry state for years now and despite the several efforts being made for its rejuvenation, the future isn’t looking too bright yet. And this is not for a lack of talent – after all, we can boast of some of the best rappers on the continent – or creativity. Regardless,  it seems Nigerians have just moved on to drown their pain and realities in afrobeats. Enough has been said on what hip-hop needs to get itself on its feet again. Multiple articles have been written, plans drafted, discussions had and more. 

If not optimized, this excitement and attention Nigerian rap and rappers are getting at the moment will fizzle out back to where we started. But some things can be done to sustain some of the eyes and ears that have been captured in this whole episode for the good of the culture. 

To start with, Nigerian rappers simply need to put out good music. That’s where it all starts from, the music. The problem is that many are still stuck in the ‘golden days’ and as such have refused to evolve with the times. Each age has its demands. Some are stuck on 90s-type boom-bap beats all in the name of keeping it real, and then turn around to guilt-trip the fans and media for lack of support when the record simply doesn’t pop. This was what Blaq had in mind when he rapped “If the music ain’t good it ain’t moving/ Your aesthetics will not replace the music.

Snap out of your obsession with the past. Listen, research and understand the sonic demands of the times and let that influence how you make music. The music world today is big on bending and fusing/melding genres. The lines between genres are so blurry today that they might as well be nonexistent. Experiment with other sounds that appeals to new audiences. Approach other genres from a rap perspective. 

Show Dem Camp did this with Palm Wine Music to positive results. The move has been commercially rewarding as they have registered new fans who might have not even heard of their Clone Wars series. They’ve also held two Palmwine music festivals -which recorded impressive numbers – and are even about to take the festival to the UK.  Other rappers like Blaqbonez, Ladipoe, as well as the Lost And Found on their last tape have been fusing rap with other genres and it has been rewarding. Falz’s seminal album, “Moral Instruction” was heavily inspired sonically and thematically by Fela Anikulapo Kuti.

This is also one of the major reasons why the so-called indigenous or local rappers are more commercially successful. These guys can make music in a way that resonates with a wide scope of audience. They rap in their local dialects laced with street lingo thereby making their lyrics more relatable and easy to understand, as well as meddling rap with dance music and even introducing dance steps to go along with it. Zlatan is the poster boy for the wide-ranging Zanku dance and its accompanying sound and he is undeniably Naija’s hottest rapper at the moment. 

Rappers also have to learn to step out of their shell and work with others. While friendly competition is healthy, there is so much more that can be gained from working together. 

Nigerian rappers should be always ready to join forces with one another and synergize over records, projects and even concerts. Collaborations shouldn’t also be limited within the hip-hop circle. Rappers can reach out to acts from other genres like the alte community, soul singers and afrobeat and even Afropop. Step into their space and see their world. This would help to create much more dynamic sounds and also help to share the fanbase with their collaborators. 

Over the years, there has been a downturn of collaborations between Nigerian rappers and their pop counterparts. In fact, these pop stars tend to feature foreign rappers on their tapes much more often these days. There should also be much more joint efforts between the English rappers and the indigenous ones. 

Visuals also have to be taken seriously too. Yes, hip-hop is a word-oriented genre but videos are very much especially in the visually-driven world we live in today. And maybe as a result of a shortage in funding or whatever reason, hip-hop acts don’t seem to place much emphasis on their releasing music videos. You don’t believe me?  Take some of the best hip-hop projects in the past year as examples. “Crown”, “Yung Denzl”, “Bad Boy Blaq”, “These Buhari Times” and the Lost and Found’s “Alternate Ending” have only about two videos released at the moment. Projects with over 50 songs and only three videos out.

Even if proper music videos can’t be done due to financial constraints, rappers and their teams can take advantage of lyric videos and visualizers which can be promoted on social media. 

Now the spotlight is on Nigerian hip-hop and no one knows how long the excitement is going to last. Mere buzz or an abundance of talent isn’t enough to sustain the genre.  The best that can be done is to ensure that this rare opportunity should be optimized as much as it can. The community has to come together to create and promote premium quality content that can restore hip-hop and rap to the mainstream.

For all the dust rappers have raised in the past few weeks, it would be beautiful to see it all transcend to something bigger and not just fade out to another false start.

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