Making the claim of being the best rapper in Africa is a pretty audacious move, especially from a skinny 23-year old with an affinity for bright colors. It is the kind of boastful claim that can define or derail a career, especially one that hasn’t been established in the mainstream, or even in the underground scene. But it is one that Blaqbonez (born Emeka Akumefule) wears confidently.
A veteran of 8 Eps/mixtapes, Blaqbonez has been hailed as a leading light for a new generation of wordsmiths. By calling attention to himself, he has unwittingly placed himself in leadership position. For this interview, YNaija.com takes a measure of his worth. Can he walk the talk?
A lot of us maybe on the mainstream were introduced to your presence last year with the L.A.M.B project but then it turns out you have been putting out stuff for a while, since 2012. How does it feel being labeled as an overnight success? What has your journey been like?
It has been a crazy journey from 2012 till now because I have become different things at different times but for people that think it is an overnight success they are wrong. The idea is not necessarily wrong though because I completely changed in 2017 and sort of became a new artiste, the music, the sound. One time I met A-Q in 2017 I told him that I found a sound I want to go forward with and he heard it and it sounded nothing like what I was doing before then. So from then till now, the growth has been exponential, every month or every 6 months, something happens that has been bigger than the one before. It is understandable if some people think that I am an overnight success. Like you said in the mainstream I was not recognized. It is cool but the journey is there, you can see the difference, the growth, the everything, it is all there.
What is this new sound that you have found and how would you describe it?
For me I feel like I call it new school hip hop but I also think it is what hip hop should sound like in 2019 because over the years even in the 90s, when boom bap was the popping thing that wasn’t where hip hop started, but the way time changes, everything also changes. You should always evolve, look at the afrobeat sound, right now there is the Zanku sound but there has also been the Ghanaian sound and the Pompom sound, things always evolve. As an artiste, one should put their ear to the ground and know what the sound is at the time so I feel like I finally embraced what the current sound is. A lot of hip hop heads would say no, this kind of hip hop is trash, it is not the way it is supposed to be done. When Kanye West came out, he was heavily criticized that he has destroyed hip hop, same thing with Drake but they were creating different sounds and everything was changing so I feel like the sound, I call it new school hip hop but it actually is hip hop right now but we call it new school hip hop so it seems young.
But what does it sound like specifically, is it lots of trap, bass or what is it?
It is not trap. What trap means according to the guys that live in Atlanta, trap is a way of life, it is not just music, it is how the hustle is, what the street is. So my sound, it is what hustlers enjoy but sonically, you have heavy 808s, melody, instrumentals and it is like a different bounce.
How does it differ from what you were doing before? Is it more listenable, melodious, is it that more people can embrace it, is it less of rhymes or is it less hard hitting? How would you describe it?
The difference is that the sound is more sonically pleasing. I can rap and you listen to it and call it dope and say ‘’this guy is mad’’ but it doesn’t necessarily have replay value. When Drake dropped Diplomatic Immunity and God’s Plan, both at the same time, Diplomatic Immunity disappeared really quick but Diplomatic Immunity was the one people were talking about the day it dropped, the whole internet was about Diplomatic Immunity but one week later everyone was done with it so it. There are melodies that just stick in your head and you cannot get them out. Now I can say “I came out to kill this nigga”, I can say that in a certain melody that makes it stick inside your head so that is really the change that I describe as sonically pleasing unlike before when I just come and rap for quick praise.
Is there anything wrong with that, rapping for quick praise?
There is nothing wrong with that but songs like that right now don’t move the culture because the only way hip hop can move forward is when non-hip hop people start to like it. So when you are doing stuff that only hip hop people would respond to, you are only doing it for quick praise and you are not moving the culture forward and one month later you are back to square one. But when you can make music that non-hip hop guys would listen to and bump in their cars and vibe to, hip hop can move forward. More people can come up here and we can start getting more and they can play us in the clubs. What do you gain from somebody saying you are the best rapper for one second if at the end of the day you are not doing anything for the culture.
Is the new sound a function of you signing with 100 Crowns or were you signed on because of the new sound, which came first?
I don’t know why exactly but I know that I have been rapping and I have been popular in the hip hop radar so when you mention who the rappers are right now, you always hear Blaqbonez even as far back as two years ago. I was already on Chocolate City radar but I think what pushed the conversation was when I dropped the Last Time Under mix tape. I changed my sound and did a show in my school, Obafemi Awolowo University with about 2000 people. The response was mad and many videos came out of it. So perhaps watching people sing hip hop probably made them feel like wow this guy can do something.
I was asking because M.I who is king of Chocolate City, he is a guy that everybody knows can rap but he has also figured out a way to make it very commercially pleasing so I would imagine that he would be attracted to that same sound as a label head.
It could be one of two things, it could be that or it could be because it just seems like everywhere he turned, people were talking. I didn’t know it then, but people used to just bombard him with Blaqbonez talk so I don’t know which of the two it was, probably both. I met him at Vector’s show, Vector was my guy, A-Q also, these are people that have helped me but I wasn’t signed to them. Vector was doing a show and said I could come through and perform and after the performance, I met M.I and he said he is a big fan of mine and he was like I should come through to his office
This thing with changing sounds, is it not a bit hypocritical because M.I is also the same person that put out You rappers should fix your life where he charged everybody to sit up and do rap the way it is supposed to be done. But at the same time, if you want everybody to pay attention, there are somethings you are not going to do, and somethings that you would make allowances for. Is it a push and pull for you?
I am worried because there is still a lot of people that don’t understand what the sound is, especially your day ones. I have one of my oldest fans that doesn’t like me at all now. The guy was the guy that used to hype me, I still see him tweet occasionally that this is not the Blaqbonez I know but when you step on stage and you perform and you see the reaction live, you know it. You drop a project and see the chart move, you realize you are on the right path. Look at my song Denied, the way it sounds, there is a bounce to it. Now I could just say ‘’I’m so ahead of my time/ 2018 held me back’’ and make it sound hardcore. The same line but it would sound aggressive and stronger and everybody would be like, ‘’dude you can rap so well’’ but it would not last. The song won’t have shelf life, people would just make noise about it and that is really what people do when a song is really hardcore, they make noise about it. From the Reup mixtape, the track one is titled No Longer Stupid. I rap throughout, no hook. The song is probably the most talked about song or maybe second or something from the internet but on streaming platforms, it is the sixth most streamed songs out of seven so the ones that they are not really talking about, typing or tweeting or making so much noise they are listening to those one over one million times while the hard ones are the least streamed. When you have things like that, you know what to do. You need to plan it out. You need to know that there is a single and there is a best song in the project, there is also a song that is good to open the project and also a song that is good to end the project so you need to see everything and not just go there and say you want to rap and be the best. And as for that, there is no guy you can argue for being the best rapper that never blew up. You have to blow up first. If you are not going to blow up, if you like rap the greatest rap ever, nobody is gonna put you in the best rapper list.
Is it maturity as an artiste and as a person, knowing that you have responsibilities, knowing that you want to do this for long, for a longer period or just that it is time?
What made my sound change wasn’t even when that I had responsibilities or maturity, it was my own introspection. In school when you are performing on stage, this rap songs that are really hard, you drop them and everybody in school is talking about them but when you step on stage to perform you cannot see the same reaction. It is frustrating when you step on stage and try to rap and everybody is just looking at you but in that moment I felt like I also want to step on stage and have people sing my song, you understand? I want to have fun on stage, I want to be happy so that is when I started working on my sound. I was like okay what do I need to do? Who do I need to listen to to unlock something because that sound obviously was more like I was just a Twitter and internet artiste, those ones whom are talked about so much on the internet but once you step on stage everybody is looking at you, there is zero reaction. To switch it up, I was listening to a lot of Drake, Travis Scott, Tory Lanez, Bryson Tiller, i listened to so much, listened to a lot of R&B and soul because of the musicality in most of all these guys. It just sounds so good. Locally, I listen to a lot of Wizkid, Davido, Tekno but I won’t say that those guys affected my music at all.
There are those who complain that everybody is singing now, particularly the ones rapping in indigenous languages. You don’t see that as a problem obviously.
When you come to the earth, you are first a human being before you are a Christian. Everybody in the music industry is first an artiste before they are a rapper. If Wizkid decides to rap on a song nobody is going to say Wizkid has sold out, everybody is going to be like Wizkid can rap. So when a rapper decides to sing, if it is dope, it is supposed to have that same reaction. But because of the ego, a lot of people, people believe that when you decide to sing instead of rap, you have come down to the level of everybody and they say oh you are a sell out and all that but first an artiste needs to do what an artiste needs to do. If you want to do pure rap, now you can make money from it because all you need to do is be smart about it, make your rap music sonically pleasing and properly distributed unlike before where you need a hit song before you can make money. People are doing millions of streams without stress. If what you are doing is good doesn’t matter if you are singing or rapping, your fans will listen to it and talk about it, the oga song that we just dropped which is number 30 is a rap song so you can make money of streams and you can be good but the moment the music is not sonically pleasing you cant make any money off it unless you are doing it just for fun maybe in a studio but if you want to make money off music, the music needs to be good and people would respond when something is good. But it is also your job to get people to hear the music. You must push it however you can, for example when I started posting videos on Twitter, the first, I had like 600 views and dropped another one and it had like 2000 views then 5000 views, the last one I dropped had 80,000 views. If the music is good, you are winning people along the way till you get to your goal.
What is the goal for you?
For me as a person, I ought to have money. I want to make money from music but I also want to move the culture forward, I want to be comfortable, you know sometimes some people make this smash hit that you feel like this guy cannot do it again and then the guy drops another one, it doesn’t work and everybody is like yeah we knew it, there are people that chase that one hit they made their own career and never just do it. I don’t want to be that guy.
Wilfred Okiche is a medic, reader, writer, journalist, culture critic, and occasional ruffler of feathers. One of the most influential critics working in the Nigerian culture space, his writing has appeared extensively in platforms like YNaija.com and 360nobs.com. Okiche has provided editorial assistance to the UK Guardian and has had his work published in African Arguments, Africa is a Country and South Africa’s City Press. He has received trainings and acquired experience in multimedia and online journalism. He also appears on the culture television show, Africana Literati. He has participated at critic programs in Lagos, Durban and Rotterdam.