Opinion: An open letter to MI Abaga – too many chocolates in a lost city

MI, Music

by Umar Hassan

Dear MI,

First off, I must say I’m a huge fan and I’ve been one from the jump. You would think that would deter me from speaking my mind but it turns out it’s quite the opposite. Guess I wanna see you become a better you.


It’s no secret you had long taken over key decision-making from Audu Maikori before he stepped down as Chocolate City boss. You were responsible for almost every artiste the label had signed since you, Jagz and Ice Prince. It was quite easy; you baked the most bread and more or less put the others on. While I am not disputing the fact that you may very well be the best rapper on these shores, I must say you haven’t done well as a label executive and that, quite ironically, is more down to your love for music than anything else.

Well, Love is irrational, Love is toxic and Love is wicked.

Love blinded you, MI, to the most basic principle of label management: you don’t sign every artiste you love. Besides having to consider a probable investment-return ratio within a certain time frame, you also have to worry about how much time you can devote to their careers, more so for a recording artiste/exec like yourself.

A budding talent is like a baby and these days, promos are more unconventional than they used to be.The importance of time and attention cannot be over-emphasized. Besides, Dice Ailes and maybe Koker, none of your signees have come close to getting enough of these. I’m talking solid back to back releases in the space of three months with at least a video and enough buzz to not escape the average music lover. There are just too many artistes on your label and what I am used to seeing is just songs or videos on blogs.

Know how Don Jazzy managed to have us all talking about Reekado Bank’s SPOTLIGHT album before it dropped even with no hit single and anything outstanding about the artiste? He pays quality attention to his artistes’ careers through interviews, lots of ‘he & us, he & they’ photos- a testament to the unconventional route promos are taking these days. Jazzy knew when to flood the airwaves with his singles and knew when to give us a break. He cut him loose to go feature on non-mavin tracks (some by upcoming artistes) before and after the album dropped and the end result? Reekado is everywhere you turn with no bonafide hit to match all the efforts.

I’m an avid music follower but I still can’t remember watching or reading any Dice, Nosa or Ruby interviews.If you ask me, leaving Choc City gave Milli all the promo he couldn’t get on the label for UNLOOKING and yes, so many people are starting to know Pryse just after she left you.

Sometimes I wonder if you have any money left at all at the end of the day.The label has so many artistes it has to spend on one way or the other without getting anything in return and by ‘spend’ I mean salaries, allowances, bonuses or whatever remunerative framework you have carved out. Know the sad part bro? You keep talking about expanding!

Yea, that’s what it is- TALK.

You had Jagz’s Jagz Nation and Ice Prince’s Super Cool Cats become part of Chocolate City and I wondered why a record label run solely from the pockets of its President and Vice with no visible success would talk about emulating Aftermath, Universal and Sony by incorporating its artistes’ imprints? The answer is simple; you are getting way ahead of yourself.

Perhaps a day will come when we will start to run our labels like the oyibos do by talking structuring et al in detail but for now, here remains Naija. If it doesn’t mean more naira, then it doesn’t mean anything at all. Expanding a virtually non-existent business doesn’t make sense to me. While we understand it is the dream of every label to run Africa, signing another Kenyan act (Qritical) after watching the Victoria Kimani experiment blow up in your face doesn’t speak well of your business acumen.

That’s charity, bro.

Finally, the part where I offer some free advice. Free up the roster and retain a very ‘bankable’ few while also improving the promotional aspect of things. Watch what you learn from the white man because we simply aren’t even close to them yet, as far as music being a business is concerned. It’s better to worry about how best to get returns on your investments than being excessively standardized.
I guess that’s all I have to say.

All the best,
Umar Sa’ad Hassan

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

Umar Sa’ad Hassan tweets @alaye26.

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