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[The Music Blog] The day Osagie Alonge and Jude ‘M.I.’ Abaga made Nigerian hip-hop history

It may be hard to take Nigerian hip-hop seriously these days because the hottest rap song on the charts, is a street hop song by Olamide, who is often criticised for his commercialisation of rap for pop hits. But, the culture thrives at the core of the industry, forward-thinking in innovation and perhaps the most effective means of sparking meaningful conversation about Nigeria’s pop culture. Over the holiday weekend, an open letter turned, Twitter rant, became an episode of Pulse’s LooseTalkGiants, a weekly pop-culture talk show hosted by Pulse Editor-In-Chief, Osagie Alonge and featuring guest host M.I. Abaga.

To give a bit of context, both M.I. and Osagie had agreed to have this podcast over Twitter, following a story published by Pulse’s Entertainment Editor, Ayomide O. Tayo. The story itself was an unremarkable self-righteous exposition of M.I.’s fall from grace, one of many written by op-writers and bloggers over the years, questioning M.I.’s legacy, a self-proclaimed messiah of Nigerian hip-hop, who has seemingly fallen off the shelf. But this particular Pulse story was triggering due to an emotion driven open letter format Ayomide used, with an accompanying single by up-and-coming rapper, KEAD, similarly titled with the same ethos attached at the bottom of the page.

Though KEAD’s perspective on “A Letter To M.I” is skewered by context, his stand is not one lost on many. That M.I. promised hip-hop and delivered nought, save for pop hits and Illegal Music Mixtapes that have not aged quite as well as they were promised. The flip side of this valid contentions, given hip-hop’s inherently leadership based reverence system, is the reality of a music industry that is constantly shifting power structures due to Nigeria’s often understated popular culture.

One of the points Osagie Alonge makes during the course the Loose Talk Episode is how, in the past, traditional press didn’t put a lot of interest into reviews or op-ed stories about Nigerian music, entertainment and arts. A glaring truth he’d pointed out as a reflection of how much his establishment has done to help groom the culture, but also as a telling of how disinterested a large mass of Nigerians are in the subculture when it’s anything but gossip, and how this influences how artists have to work doubly hard when there is no automatic discovery or promotion network based on merit or measurable critical acclaim.

This was the core of M.I.’s argument, with the rapper insisting that Chocolate City was self-made and homegrown by Nigerians who had to strive against odds of media support or foreign capital investment. While this is a given fact that highlights just how much M.I.’s career is understated, it fails to make a fair argument for the label’s inability to keep signed acts tied to the label (as seen with Brymo, Ice Prince and Milli’s respective exits from the label), nor does it explain why Dice Ailes, a rapper who had built a small following for himself in Canada, came back to Nigeria to cash out off mediocre Afropop singles.

Tempers began to flare after Osagie laid out some of this claims, albeit rather emotionally and crudely, but validly, questioning the work Chocolate City has done for its flagship artists. Some of the dropped names including, producer, singer and rapper C-Kay, an underrated piece of M.I.’s empire who has been instrumental to the few singles from the company that has managed to etch a place in the charts, including Dice Ailes‘ sleeper hit, “Miracle”.

It’s hard to tell where Osagie is coming from here. Was he questioning Chocolate City’s inability to properly push their artists as well as their contemporaries in a music industry where payola has scaled the cost of breaking artists into mainstream to capital intensive investment proportions? Or is this a reflection of how short the label has fallen off the standard expected when a new artist is branded as a major label’s most promising up next. But as he beckons “Who the f*ck is C-Kay” from M.I., the Chairman becomes rather remorseful but morosely passive-aggressive, choosing to be offended instead of stating clearly what the label has done (or not done) for C-Kay, plainly. What could have made for an important comeback for Osagie, who was apologetic but unrepentant and went further to imply Chocolate City has been manipulating numbers to create an illusion of listenership, was shut down by another hetero-‘no bro’-moment by Loose Kaynon.

From this point, the rest of the show is M.I. dominating the argument with manipulative rhetorics that didn’t prove his point, but showed his ability to command a room by pulling the right emotional strings. While it was cringeworthy to watch the Short Black Boy struggle to retain his position detailing his relationship with today’s younger crop self-publishing artists, it also showed a clear mark of leadership. It’s impressive to see how M.I. commands argument by simply debunking claims with social experiments that broke down the logic of his prosecutor instead of giving straight forward responses, it’s a clear sign of how people with innate leadership skills keep control of their followers by simply keeping them within the confines of the ideology. Whether the prosecuting claim is true, false—or made of a drunken moment of anger and misjudgement—is always most probably irrelevant. And thus, M.I. walked out of Pulse’s Lekki office, unscathed with a sleazy but effective victory.

It is worth noting that there is some back story to Osagie Alonge and M.I.’s relationship, some of it is detailed during the show. The occasional nudge of respect both men give each other during the course of the interview to tamper flares also gleans the same thing. As I spoke to Pulse’s Editor-In-Chief Osagie Alonge after the clips from what I have since come to see as a historic moment for Nigerian music made it to Twitter, and he affirmed what I had presumed to be the bottom line, that both men wanted the same things: progress for the culture. Elementally, the ripple effect of a platform like Loose Talk Giants where artists can air their grievances to their critics is how conversations are sparked.

In the last 24 hours alone, both Osagie and C-Kay have made it to Twitter’s top trending side bar, with the keyword C-Kay dominating conversations and aiding promotions for what has been released as a 6-track EP titled after Osagie’s expletive inquisition about his existence. We’re also looking at a potential comeback album from M.I. Abaga himself in the coming months. If hip-hop needs grooming, this is exactly where it should begin. Like crowded bar conversations, full of rage and passion so fans know their idols give a shit about what the streets are really saying.

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