In 2017, YNaija committed a big part of its time and resources towards carefully documenting the big stories happening in the country and on the continent and highlighting the efforts of young Nigerians and Africans challenging the tired narratives around the continent through personal achievement and social good. Sometimes these stories are forgotten, buried under the avalanche of a year’s worth of news reporting and spot analyses we
Our reporting has been diverse and extensive, and we have chosen to start our reporting in 2018 by returning to these stories, to remind ourselves and our readers just how much ground was covered in 2017 and reaffirm the level of quality and care we commit to telling our stories in 2018.
We hope they resonate with you now, as well as they did when they were first published.
Come on baby light my fire/Everything you drop is so tired
Music is supposed to inspire/How come we ain’t gettin no higher
Superstar- Lauryn Hill (1998)
It started with a song.
It always starts with a song.
An underground artiste, KEAD,- his name is being lost in the shuffle,- recording a bittersweet document of love and dissatisfaction towards his favourite rapper, a once and former game changer who of late, has been having a wretched time attempting to summon up the influence to switch the careers of artistes in his immediate circle. Artistes whom he is directly responsible for, on account of his present perch as label boss and leader of a musical force fallen from grace.
Ayomide Tayo, writer and entertainment editor for Pulse.ng pounced on it, like any self-respecting culture vulture would, and penned his own thoughts via a letter to M.I.,- born Jude Abaga,- that was short on facts and big on conjecture. But still tastefully done.
Like a wounded lion hit by a stray bullet, M.I. roared back, going on a Twitter rant as churlish as it was legitimate. He made a big show of clearing his schedule, and of pushing back a flight to join the duo of Tayo and Osagie Alonge, both co-hosts of Loose Talk, a popular podcast that dabbles heavily on matters of cultural importance. Souls needed to be purged and Mr Incredible was just the exorcist to get the job done.
The result was titled, as only true hip hop heads can come up with, Greatest Podcast You Ever Did In Your Life, and it promised magic.
It should have been magic.
The greatest rapper alive not named Modenine, and the one with the highest amount of cultural capital, coming on a popular platform to clear the air on the negative buzz that has enveloped the second act of his career.
On the other side of the battleground was a worthy adversary, Osagie Alonge, a respected entertainment journalist who as editor in chief of Pulse.ng has guided the online platform to the frontline status it enjoys amongst its peers. It should have been Charlamagne Tha God going full throttle with yet another aggrieved celebrity on The Breakfast Club. Instead it was a badly edited episode of TVC’s Your View.
Sparks did fly, but not enough to start a proper fire. And if anything was eventually consumed, it was everyone involved in the podcast. What could have been a critical opportunity for both sides to engage, lucidly and critically on the state of the industry and the expectations and responsibilities of the different professionals concerned, wasted no time in devolving into an angry, overblown, testosterone fueled cockfight. Things began to even out only in the final hour when most of the negative energy had been expended.
With each person determined to prove a point and unwilling to give an inch, there was neither room for introspection, nor space in the bloated two hours forty minutes running time to soak up any new or profound knowledge.
How does the true meaning of a potentially defining moment like this escape its curators and what does this say about the state of today’s media, especially the online space?
There is plenty blame to be shared. On all sides. And while some of the answers can be traced to MI’s humongous sense of entitlement, Alonge’s aggressive impudence, and Tayo’s inflated air of importance, these do not account for the complete picture.
Further deductions can be made from our daily lives and the way these interactions play out on and off social media. Proof is in the dysfunctional relationship that entertainers share with the media establishment. One half of the time each side cannot stand the other. The other half, they desperately need each other and are eventually left with little choice but to work together. To get a more comprehensive outlook, perhaps it would be wise to go back to the begin of MI’s career.
An unusual career starring a short black boy from Jos
From buying food inside newspaper to the front page of magazine…
Rich – M.I. (2014)
The broad strokes of MI’s rise from ultimate outsider to the peak of the industry pecking order have been outlined considerably documented. It is a story that is uniquely his but one that is ultimately relatable to anybody who ever struggled to make it in the creative industry. It may be lonely at the top, but the bottom is far more destructive. A survival of the fittest battle with talented and not-so-talented persons clawing and pulling to be let up, sometimes to the detriment of the next person.
The sad truth is in order to survive, to stand out from the pack, even for the guaranteed fifteen minutes, artistes need publicity, the same way that Taylor Swift needs those relationships gone sour to thrive creatively.
In a structurally challenged environment like Nigeria, artistes have to be in the early days, their own agent, publicist, makeup artiste and manager all at the same time. All of these accoutrements come with the bigger budget that sustained success allows. But at the beginning, it is common knowledge that anyone with a byline on the entertainment pages is the artiste’s best friend, and hope.
Every entertainment journalist or editor worth their pay, every blogger with a voice, and these days, every social media influencer, can attest to getting loads and loads of unsolicited material from underground artistes. It can be an avalanche and for sanity’s sake, journalists have to choose who to devote their energies too. Money does help make these decisions easier too. The result is that some artistes, even the most promising can find themselves lost in the shuffle.
An influential journalist or platform fighting in an artiste’s corner can go a long way. Olamide has credited Cool FM’s Do2dtun with championing his early years as an artiste. BlackHouse Media’s Ayeni Adekunle probably has a bag of tales regarding entertainers he has given a leg up, and Azuka Ogujuiba of This Day once narrated how Don Jazzy and D’banj would visit her Akoka home seeking for favours.
No one likes leaving their dreams to the mercy of another fellow’s pen but such is the nature of this business and insane amounts of energies can be spent cajoling, convincing, even threatening journalists to take a chance on the material.
This is a frustrating rite of passage that some artistes do not really get over no matter how successful they become. For the lucky set that go on to taste success, the tables soon turn around when these same journalists start to pursue them for interviews or scoops, or whatever. The petty ones never fail to take their pound of flesh and before long, the media guys are somehow become cast as the enemy, to be cursed at and dismissed via lengthy, Twitter or Instagram rants.
The accusations always revolve around the absence of facts, the lack of research and the poor, shady writing.
For a fellow like M.I. who has recalled with self-effacement and gratitude, his days of humble beginnings, a particular experience of his is quite instructive. In one of his earliest appearances at the Headies, M.I., then, an unknown face and far from being established as the household name that he is now, cut a lonely forlorn figure on the red carpet. Unable to score a decent spotlight interview, M.I. was harassed by a bodyguard, to make way for Omotola Jalade Ekeinde.
Incidences like these help colour the artiste’s point of view and contributes to the sense of entitlement that seems to have become the curse of celebrity. When one is convinced they have paid their dues, it is hard to provide argument that the sun does not shine from their gorgeous behinds.
This is perhaps what M.I. tried to communicate so smugly when he urged journalists to get to know the stories, crests and troughs of artistes before writing about them. A selfish, entitled request, if ever there was one. While insider knowledge is definitely a vital part of forms of journalism like the profile or interview, for aspects like criticism and some opinion pieces, no one is owed anything beyond the unbiased, critical assessment of the work at hand. In fact, for the sake of objectivity in these cases, the farther removed the interrogator is, the better.
It goes beyond the primary players of the podcast, to what is considered acceptable societal behavior. In many cases, from politics to governance, business to civil society, the Nigerian system seems built to discourage excellence while embracing mediocrity. Mere effort is considered good enough. Resting on one’s oars is par for the course and the excuses for settling begin to pile up.
‘’The country is hard.’’ ‘’People succeed in spite of government.’’ ‘’These are young people doing it for themselves.’’ ‘’There are no gatekeepers, everything is self-taught.’’ And other stories that touch.
This lowering of the bar is why M.I. would three years removed from a studio album critically considered to be his weakest body of work,- and seven years from the truly great M.I-2,- plus a spotty record as manager and executive, still expect to be revered as if this were his 2010/2011 prime.
Pop culture is amnesiac, more so in a system with a paucity of credible, verifiable records. So it must hurt to watch persons without unimpeachable facts come together to promote an incomplete narrative that isn’t entirely friendly.
But instead of embracing the challenge and fighting back through his work; by making more acclaimed records, introducing buzzworthy talent, keeping old ones and making Chocolate City roar once again, M.I. has chosen to take the least interesting route. The one where he is stuck somewhere, pointing to his past achievements. People see them, all right but they also see more, beyond solid mixtapes downloadable for free. Innovation. It is the price of genius. Why won’t he?
Searching elsewhere for behaviour that reinforces this national pastime of wallowing in mediocrity? Look no further than the choices Nigerians have made in terms of who governs them. Since 1999, the trio of Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’adua and Goodluck Jonathan have failed woefully to inspire. Present leadership is largely absent,-an absent minded president,- and carries on as if existing in a parallel universe.
Check out the Governors currently occupying office. Apart from bright spots that are painfully few and far in between, it has been chief security officers mowing down their citizens in broad daylight, watching helplessly while citizens do the killing themselves or blaming a deadly Meningitis outbreak on fornication.
How about at work where employees are immediately conditioned to keep opinions within for fear of offending the boss’ sensitivities? The same environment that encourages University graduates to learn to call the boss’ spouse ‘’mummy’’ or ‘’uncle,’ depending on how important that expected favour is.
Instead of continuously seeking career and professional development, it becomes easy to sail on past glories and view critiques as an affront to personal space. One to be punished with swift retribution. Mr Tayo was caught making unsubstantiated claims about M.I.’s album but could not quite bring himself to own up to his gaffe, or to agree that his writing could be improved upon. But can you blame him? Even Tayo’s editor thought a problematic 2face Idibia article published on Pulse.ng was hot stuff.
It certainly didn’t help that M.I. came not to teach, or correct, but to whip and smugly declare victory. How can both sides genuinely get better when there is a blunt refusal to interrogate each other’s ideas?
One challenge is Tayo hails from a culture that likes to fancy itself the last word on everything pop. Or Hip Hop. When bandying buzzwords like ‘’facts only,’’ and ‘’dropping knowledge’’ with a thundering note of finality, it is important to do the extra work to back up the claims.
With great hype comes great responsibility and the burden of proof must be accepted magnanimously, and taken seriously too. The number of times Alonge and Tayo were found lacking and outclassed by a less than informed M.I. was quite embarrassing for serious meaning journalists. Claiming to have receipts and shouting facts only are just not enough.
The Greatest Podcast You Ever Did in Your Life podcast is not without its merits.
For one, it perpetuates a dimension of reporting where healthy debates can be organised around trending topics and issues that matter, by the parties actively involved. Notice that the conversation began to really come together the moment M.I. got off his high horse and recognised both Alonge and Tayo as his equals, worthy of his time and attention. At its best, it certainly housed moments that made for crackling listening, or viewing.
Suppose it managed to better accommodate opposing views and employed more judicious editing,- a problem that trails a lot of the stuff that Pulse.ng publishes,- it could have been king. It is still royalty though.
M.I. did raise a few uncomfortable truths about the state of entertainment and culture journalism. He doesn’t have a full picture, and his gaze is terribly jaundiced, but his snapshot is pretty damning nevertheless. The writing, the thinking, the context does have to get better, and not just in construction of sentences, but in the fact checking, the copy editing and the approach to issues.
It isn’t enough to hide shoddiness under the cover of new media journalism. Standards remain standards. The Huffington Post, initially conceived as a content aggregator, won a Pulitzer for its original reporting in 2012. Buzzfeed loves their lists and viral content, but will publish personality profiles on Hilary Clinton or Charlize Theron that will rival the best writing from the New York Times.
The truth is after years of decline, the entertainment space is only just waking up to criticism. Artistes are not used to it, and would always prefer writers and journalists to be extensions of their PR machinery. Lasting industries weren’t built only on congratulatory pats on the back, but also on an intense regulatory feedback system. Alonge and Tayo have shown that it is the same on the other side. Criticism is a bitter pill to swallow but it is so crucial to development. Nothing trumps the art of listening, and the challenge of thoughtful engagement.
This particular debate started with a song.
And if we are lucky, it will end with one too. Or two, or ten. Maybe enough to make that comeback album we are all dying to hear.
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.