Whose line is it anyway?

by AM Kaizen

Dear Nigerian artistes,

This article stems from two relating situations. A friend of mine, an aspiring musician, sent a song for me to listen to and critique. I listened and loved the song, but I had certain reservations, hence I decided to share it with my colleagues at work to get a feel of their opinions.

Barely five seconds after the song had started to play, one of my colleagues screamed “Ah! He stole the beat. It’s the beat from D’banj’s ‘Endowed’!” She started to sing ‘Endowed’ along with the beat. In an instant the rest of my colleagues joined in raining abuses on the artiste, saying he ‘jacked’ the beat from D’banj. One of them went as far as saying “you know a Don Jazzy beat when you hear it”. I had to admit, the beat sounded very familiar, but it didn’t remind me of ‘Endowed’. Rather, I was reminded of an old song by Afro Cuban reggaeton artist, Norman Howell, aka Notch – the song  being ‘VIP (Kopa Riddim)’. I remember this song from my college days in 2006. I jammed it almost every morning on my way to class. Even more interesting, is that Notch screams what sounds like “Yepa” throughout the chorus of the song. I immediately played the song for my colleagues and the rain of abuse became hotter, this time on the Mo’Hits crew.

This article is by no means written to single out one artiste or group of artistes in the Nigerian music industry, but to shed light on the reality that our industry is starting to sound like a recycle bin.

Heading home from work recently, I listened to a song on radio and totally loved it. I wasn’t sure what the name was, but I could have sworn it was DJ Zeez on the track. The next day, I asked a few friends around if they had heard this new song by DJ Zeez. I went on and on about how the song was hot and they needed to hear it. As I sang the words I heard on the radio, my friend immediately recognized the song and informed me that it was by a different artist. I argued. Perhaps DJ Zeez did his own version, because I was 100% sure – and I know my music pretty well. I got a reality check when my friend logged on to YouTube and played the song for me! It was the same song I heard on the radio and it was by a different artiste.

Another friend of mine reminded me that ‘beat jacking’ is not new and that ‘Get Squared’ by PSquare was jacked from Usher Raymonds’ ‘Yeah’; ‘Danger’ from Eminem’s ‘Slim Shady’ and Lynxxx’s ‘International’ from ‘Migraine Skank’ by Gracious K (a DJ Mix).  It was at this point that I decided to pen down my thoughts about our ‘new school’ music industry and the fact that every song is starting to sound the same.

Once upon a time it was easy to distinguish one artiste from the other. You knew an Eldee song when it came on. When the DJ switched to MI, you obviously knew that the song had changed. Styles were distinct. Today? I can barely tell when I’m dancing and a song changes to the next on the play list – our songs sound the same! Even worse, we are recycling beats and auto-tuning here and there to try and make the song sound different.

I have read and listened to media interviews where Banky, Tosin Martins, Darey and Eldee have implied that we need to make indigenous music that is internationally relevant. “We need to get Nigerian music on the map in the same way artistes like Sean Paul did with reggaeton and Rihanna with Patois,” they say. I agree. However, I think some of our artistes have totally missed the point, interpreting it to mean we must produce one ‘Nigerian’ sound that’s the same for every artiste. Producers will even tell you, “Ah! You better make ‘commercial’ music that Nigerians will listen to. They won’t listen to this your phonetics. And the sponsors won’t put you on their show bills o! See Timi Dakolo, he sounds too foreign.” I beg to differ, no apologies.

We have been saying the same thing forever! Yet, a musician of Nigerian descent breaks out in another country and we adore him, as is the case of artistes like Wale, Skepta and Taio Cruz. Did MI make history by launching one of the best selling rap albums in Nigerian music history? Has he set an unbeatable record? How about Saucekid, Modenine, Ikechukwu? Of course, Naeto C used to sit in this category before he switched to teaching us letters of the alphabet: ‘P’ and ‘MSC’. Lately he’s taken to educating us on numbers as well, with ‘10/10’, ‘5 and 6’ and ‘100%’.

People are quick to debunk my thesis with statements such as “Well, even Jay Z is commercial”. My response to that is pretty simple. After how many albums? Jay Z established his identity in his first 6 albums. We learned his style and understood his music, and at this point he can afford to sound however he wants – we still love Jigga.

However, when every  Nigerian artiste starts to sound like Timaya and DBanj, we have a problem!  There’s still a large population of us that enjoy listening to soul music by Bez, Waje, Dare Art-Alade, the old Banky (‘My Regret’; ‘Don’t wanna’), the old Naeto (‘I’ve been’; ‘Sitting on top’) and  Eldee’s ‘I go yarn’ – the old music that made us love all these artistes in the first place.

We realize that you need to make money, but out of 10 songs on your album, please give us 3 or 4 that’ll keep us happy for the next 1 year at least. We appreciate that you work hard and it’s not easy to maximize sales of your music due to piracy and other factors. We also realize that you chose the path you are pursuing. You may not feel like you owe us anything, but I am using this medium to reach out to all the artistes and encourage those who are afraid to soar out of their comfort zone, to get up and give us good music beyond the “Dum ke! Dum ke!” we hear these days.

I promise you that there is a following of people who respect your music beyond the conventional beats and want to hear you maximize your true talent. We will buy your albums and promote your good music like we currently do for Asa, Darey, Praiz, Waje, MI, Djinee, and a host of other artistes who have a clear identity.

And oh, Timaya and DJ Zeez are selling so many albums because we actually think that every song we hear is by either one of them!

Sincerely,

A humble music enthusiast

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