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

In 2018, M.I was on a self-imposed rescue mission. Alongside his labelmates Loose Kaynon, A-Q and Blaqbonez, the famed rap messiah set on a noble quest to force a re-awakening for Nigerian hip-hop; a once-celebrated genre now relegated to the backgrounds.

Probably taking a cue from the Kanye-led 5-album Wyoming releases, these rappers united under the acronym L.A.M.B — coined out from the first letters from their names — to stage a series of back-to-back album releases in August 2018, all executive-produced by M.I. Tagged the LAMB August, albums “Crown“, “Yung Denzl” and “Bad Boy Blaq” were the tools with which these rappers sought to restore and ensure the survival of the waning culture. 

Exactly a year ago today, we got our hands on the long-teased fourth studio album by Mr Incredible, “A Study On Self Worth: Yxng Dxnzl,” the second offering in the string of the LAMB August rollout. But that was not his only release last year. 

Just a few months earlier, M.I had released a highly collaborative surprise ‘playlist’ titled “Rendezvous,” featuring an all-star cast of AKA, Cassper Nyovest, Wande Coal, Ghost (SDC). It also introduced us to talents like Chillz, Santi, Odunsi, Moelogo and others. This dual release in 2018 was perhaps in celebration of the tenth anniversary of his 2008 classic, “Talk About It,” his highly successful debut album which many claims 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 new sonic complexities on the album. Also, regardless of the laudable acclaim it got from critics, 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 in an effort not to 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. A well-timed release, M.I used the tape to lend his voice to the growing awareness about mental health and self-awareness. Across ten songs, the rapper explored several layers of self-doubt, low self-esteem and even more extremely, depression that many youths are battling in silence. And even a year later, this album is still as relevant as ever, still sparking conversations in several corners. It might not seem like much, but the album is doing its bit.

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 most of “Yung Denzl,” M.I works with a wealth of young talents, 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 over the past year.

“Do you know who you are?” a gruff voice asks, questioning our sense of identity to open the project. Sticking to a simple rhyme scheme, M.I further 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 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 perhaps the standout cut 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 might not have saved Nigerian hip-hop but with this album, the legacy-focused veteran did something much 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.  It is therefore needless to say that while Yung Denzl might not be his best or most popular album, it is by far the most important.

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