Okay that question is a bit of a misnomer. What that headline should say instead is why won’t we ever forgive M.I for going pop?
I just finished my album… 🙂
— Yung denzL (@MI_Abaga) August 18, 2017
Over the weekend, the former Chocolate City president, Jude M.I Abaga, announced via his twitter account that work on his fourth studio album was complete. This comes after a well received final installment to his Illegal Music series, and a shoddy Love EP, released in February to commemorate the month of love. As expected blog headlines ran almost simultaneously with vague details on what we presume to quite possibly be M.I’s retirement album (given that he’s threatened to hang the microphone on at least two occasions in the last two years). Though most of the details are still hush, the short black boy’s recent affiliation with Nigeria’s rising new school artist profile indicates M.I may be about to pull off a similar gesture as he did with his Illegal Music 2 mixtape, an LP that housed a bulk of the industry’s next-up talents of the time.
Despite the widespread excitement from fans about the announcement of the project’s completion M.I knows better than to presume that a confirmation of how well the eventual product will be received. Since the release of a relatively jollof M.I 2: The Movie sophomore, every major LP the rapper has released since then has been met with mixed receptions. With the exception of Illegal Music 2, the hype that followed M.I’s third studio album The Chairman, withered as soon as the project was served up under the scrutinising gaze of critics as an attempt to pass mainstream jollof music as a hip-hop album. Fast forward 2016, a surprising turn of events put other rappers in the limelight of M.I’s Illegal Music 3 release. Though M.I’s noble intent with the LP sought to merge “local” rap with “hardcore” rap , reactions however birthed arguments sprawling on social media about who the best rapper is, because clearly M.I’s ‘Africa rapper number 1’ days are quite behind him.
Funny, everyone’s problem with M.I is the quite the cliché: simply put, after becoming critically acclaimed as a rapper, he branched out to make hits. Is this really an unforgivable sin for hip-hop? As history would indicate, not really. The idea of blending a bit of what’s hot on the mainstream pop with hip-hop dates as far back as Notorious B.I.G’s infusion of R&B into hip-hop, a similar style Drake eventually solidified into one single act as a singer-rapper. Though the means has become more diverse, even more critically acclaimed rappers like Kendrick Lamar have had to give up the obscurity of niche audiences to appeal to a wider mass by tapping into trap hip-hop and R N’ B influences for his fourth studio album, DAMN. Besides, In a market like Nigeria’s where singles are emphasised over albums, it is almost a natural progression for artists who establish enough clout to attempt to signal boost by attempting to go viral. One of the understated facts about M.I’s 2014 The Chairman album, was a dedicated attempt to balance rap with street-hop, though most of them resulted in fails like “Shekpe” featuring Reminisce, cuts like “The Middle” featuring Olamide worked quite well.
Fans love to hate M.I because they feel betrayed by the same man who was once touted as the messiah for modern African hip-hop. Today the only legacy attributed to him is as an old-timer who used to be great but could have done better at retaining some authenticity. Frankly, this is unfair for a man who inspired a bulk today’s active emcees. Still, noble intentions or not, it will be hypocritical for M.I to assume taking the commercial high road will come with no consequences.
It’s hard to tell if we will be looking at a redemption album from M.I when this upcoming project drops, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed at how this history will be retold.