Say what you will about M.I, you still have to admit that not many rappers can release an LP that leaves the Nigerian internet stuttering and scrambling for download links and first listen social media updates.
The numbers are even less if we were to count the number of Nigerian artistes who can actually make an entire collective with great replay value. Or anything beyond catchy one-liners worth a wholesome listening ear without being peppered with cliche rhetorics and tedious subject matters.
But this is where the star power of M.I’s brand lies and not even the mega-stardom of younger caliber rappers has come close to diminishing his in terms of brand strength and impact.
After teasing a series of screenshots of verses for this final instalment of the Illegal Music series, coupled with questionable declarations of the extent of his own skill and malleability as a rapper, fans were already on edge about what to expect from M.I’s latest sonic venture. And to prove the peak level anticipation, the original download link counter read over 114000 downloads in less than 12 hours after the rapper tweeted the download the link.
M.I’s Illegal Music 3 holds the same sonic format as its prequels. It samples everything from sound arrangements to vocals, but thematically M.I separates this final installment in composition, delivery. Distinctively, IM3 doesn’t have the aggrandizing playful braggadocio of the first Illegal Music nor does it share the poetic touch of the 18-track IM2, which M.I used as launch pad for the careers of many talented rappers in the industry today.
On his latest collective, M.I keeps things minimalistic with just 10-tracks, but it is clear from the solemn opening track The Finale that M.I intends to say as much as he could in the allotted 45 minutes runtime of the album.
Without a doubt, M.I is finally coming to terms with his role and purpose in the industry today. But mostly he is encumbered by the work ahead and blames himself for the rot and decay he now has to fix in the same lone-solider manner it took him to revolutionize Nigerian hip hop.
M.I maintains this messiah-esque narrative style through most of the album to signify his assumption of position as a leader in all ramifications of wisdom, wealth, skill and impact. Though occasionally, songs like Numbers come up to remind us M.I will never be free of the materialistic genre rules of hip-hop, he doesn’t stray too far from his stance. Even when he boldly tackles his critics on NotjustOk/Savage an ingenious sample of Burna Boy’s Soke and Rihanna’s Needed Me. The Chairman doesn’t speak to them as equals, he just declares himself as an artiste whose craft is beyond the evaluation of keyboard taps by music critics and social media vultures.
M.I is clearly more infuriated than ever, but he sleekly converts his anger to finding a balance between his experience in the industry and his frustrations. The corollary effect is M occasionally exuding vexed but often insightful lyrics. Everything I Have Seen holds the first evidence of this narrative as M.I delivers bar for bar, pseudo-preaches complete with Biblical references across two verses. He repeats the same frustration-experience yin and yang on All Falls Down featuring rapper, Poe with an epic closing line “Life is soon a part to all you silly niggas wisdom/Gravity is not a superstition”. These ideological but picturesque low spots on the mixtape are so haunting it almost depresses.
But M.I probably intentionally employed these morose narratives to highlight the view from where he currently stands and to glimpse just how far he has come.
Beyond the themes of M.I’s self-assumption of the role of a savior and his frustrations, as he progresses through the creative process of the LP, the most overarching theme is the rapper’s exhaustion.
He is tired of being in an industry segregated by language barriers. He is tired of trying to survive in an atmosphere where music commentators and Voltrons are constantly trying to pit artistes against one another. But most importantly M.I is tired of constantly having to prove himself to an industry that should have immortalized him by now considering his impact. You can hear it when he calls out the Headies award on NotjustOk/Savage indirectly demanding about their Lyricist on the Roll award and the parameters used to select its recipient. But even here, M.I keeps his hands clean “because at the end of the day it’s just music”
But M.I still sees himself as a big brother to many artistes in the industry, so he channels his exhaustion into one last rite on his re-fix of Tay Iwar’s The Box featuring C.Kay and Pryse. M.I prays and advocates for upcoming talents, especially hammering on preventing the industry from bending them to its rules.
The forlorn mood of these last songs on the album glints M.I resignment to fate, without sounding exasperated. By the time, the last song Remember Me featuring Ruby Gyang begins, there are already goosebumps on your arms as M.I lets his guard down and begs for the industry not to forget his music, impact, and legacy. And frankly, you’re almost inclined to feel sorry for him.
IM3 is a great album for the solid narrative and dedicated thematic plot elements. But it seems that as much as M.I finally understands his place and purpose in the industry, he is still haunted by the specters of all the moments, he felt insufficient for not getting thumbs ups from the same critics that once adored him.
M.I wants IM3 to be as confrontational as possible, but he shies away from actively vocalizing his real opinions by cowering behind maturity and shoddy idealisms. For someone who is tired of proving himself, he seems to be unable to get the point on full throttle.
But M.I puts up a credible argument for this. In his words “If I kill these rappers off/I’ll still receive condolence/in the end nobody wins/it’s a game that’s goal-less”. Simply put, if M.I decides to call out names and draw up hit lists, he would have to say goodbye to a legacy he started when he opened the doors for the same rappers to come through.