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One Year After: Revisiting M.I Abaga’s “Yxng Dxnzl”

M.I was on a mission. Alongside Loose Kaynon, A-Q and Blaqbonez, the self-ascribed rap messiah decided to take on a noble quest to force a re-awakening for Nigerian hip-hop: a once-celebrated genre now relegated to the background.

Probably taking a cue from the Kanye-led 5-album Wyoming releases, these rappers came together under the acronym L.A.M.B -coined out from the first letters from their names-to stage a series of album releases in August. Tagged the LAMB August releases, albums “Crown“, “Yung Denzl” and “Bad Boy Blaq” were the projects with which these rappers sought to restore and ensure the survival of the culture. 

All three projects were executive produced by M.I himself.

Exactly a year ago today, we finally got our hands on the long-teased and highly anticipated fourth studio album by Mr Incredible, “Yung Denzl,” the second offering in the string of LAMB August rollout. But that was not his only release last year. 

A few months earlier, the revered rapper released a  highly collaborative surprise ‘playlist’ titled “Rendezvous,” that boasted appearances from an all-star cast including  AKA, Cassper Nyovest, Wande Coal, Ghost(SDC) and introduced many to talents like Chillz, and many others. Perhaps this 2018 dual release was in celebration of the tenth anniversary of his 2008 classic, “Talk About It,” his debut and introductory release which many claim to have ‘democratized’ Nigerian hip-hop.

A Study On Self Worth: Yxng Dxnzl” would be the first of a said three-album series that would include yet-to-be-released LPs, “A Study of Love” and “A Study of Society”. However, despite the anticipation for the project, the exhilaration surrounding it faded rather quickly for a project of such quality. This could have been as a result of the fact that unlike his last two albums, “Yung Denzl” did not rely on pop or radio-friendly formulas as he explored and experimented with new sonic complexities on the album. Also, regardless of the laudable acclaim it got from critics given its depth, a huge number of listeners found it a bit too sombre, with some dismissing it as “TED Talk music“.  The promotion for the album was also rather deficient – perhaps trying not eclipse ‘Crown’ and ‘Bad Boy Blaq’ given his huge star power- such that even a year later, we still haven’t gotten any visuals off the project despite rumours of its existence. 

This, however, takes nothing from the brilliance of the project. Well-timed, M.I lent his voice to the growing awareness about mental health and self-worth in the country. Over ten songs, he explored in several layers issues like self-doubt, low self-esteem and even more extremely, depression that many youths are battling in silence. A year later, this album is relevant as ever, spurring conversations in small corners. It might not seem like much, but the album is doing its bits.

He passed his messages not only through verses and hooks but also with fiery monologues and therapy sessions alongside the music to get his message across. Soundbites from his therapy sessions were prevalent throughout the album often coming at the end of a track, serving as a prelude to another. By putting his vulnerability out there, he shows fans and listeners that it’s okay to seek help when you need it.

For the most part, M.I works with a wealth of young talents on the album, shedding the spotlight on these acts and in turn tapping into their talents, sound and raw energy. A number of them like Odunsi, Lady Donli and Tay Iwar have gone on to drop their debut albums.

The album opens with a gruff whisper questioning our sense of identity, “do you know who you are?” it asks. Sticking to a simple rhyme scheme, M.I charges the black man to begin his journey to self-awareness and discovery.

On songs like ‘Last Night I Had A Dream’, ‘Stop Never Second Guess Yourself’ and ‘I Believe In You’, M.I is concerned about our self-confidence, repeatedly nudging us throughout these songs to let go of our insecurities and self-doubt and find comfort in our skin.

Love Never Fails‘ reflects on missteps taken to check mental health in this part of the world largely as a result of culture and religion-induced ignorance.

Perhaps the most pop-leaning record on the album, ‘+/-‘ finds M.I alongside Odunsi and Lady Donli -new-gen frontliners- ridding themselves of all negativity vibes, focusing solely on the positives. 

In full elder statesman mode, M.I attempts to force a change with ‘You Rappers Should Fix Up’, fuming at the sorry state of the art. And say what you will about this record, it’s inarguable that it defibrillated a pulse back into the Nigerian hip-hop scene howbeit temporal.  

The penultimate track, ‘Self Evaluation Over Yxng Dxzl’ is the standout record off this project. Over a gloomy instrumental,  M.I drowns in darkness, picking up escapist vices to numb the pain. He does a good job taking a first-person narrative on the song putting himself in the shoes of a depressed creative, despite revealing that he actually hasn’t had a personal experience.

Picking up where he left off on ‘Everything’ off “Illegal Music 3“, M.I in ‘Do Not Be a Groupie‘ emphasises the importance of loyalty while decrying the deterioration of the virtue in today’s world, an issue he still touched on in his verse on SDC‘s ‘Respect, Loyalty and Honour‘.

It’s been one year since the “Yung Denzl” dropped and it’s still as relevant as ever. The LAMB August releases did not save Nigerian hip-hop but with this album, the legacy-focused veteran did something more remarkable. In his mature and most refined self, he contributed to the growing awareness about our psychological well-being, a theme that rappers have come to be more open about this past year.  While Yung Denzl might not be his best or most popular album, it is by far the most important.

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