For those who don’t understand why Olamide, Phyno and Reminisce’ Local Rappers was more a statement of fact than a prideful boast of identity, reiterating the infamous ‘Street ti take over’ refrain from the song is a great place to start. The three rappers who share the same uncanny ability to make hits from rhymes weaved in local dialects have unwittingly brought hip-hop closer to the average Nigerian. And though not entirely the intent, they’ve also inadvertently ended a long-reigning domination of Nigerian hip-hop by battle rappers in the process.
A few days ago, Illbliss hinted a possibility that he may be quitting music. But the world kept spinning anyway because many Nigerian artists have threatened to retire in the past for cheap Linda Ikeji-type publicity without actually going through with it. However yesterday, after three albums, a few awards and achievements to his name, the rapper confirmed the curtain call for his music career. This was done via an Instagram post of himself in a jet with a placid look on his face as if the decision to drop the mic had been made long before its public announcement.
The first of many to come
Though there are indications that Illbliss had an active rap career in the early 2000s, but even after bagging an Headies award under defunct group Da Thorobreds in 2006, Illbliss didn’t become a household name until his 2008 streethop hit Aiye Po Gan. Illbliss had a simple formular that consisted of deft lyrical waxing and punchy hooks that flirted with elements from an actively local sound that fit perfectly into narratives directed by the rapper’s core hip-hop origins.
Essentially, Illbliss understood the impact of the local sound and had always been the middle ground man. Yet in nearly 8 years of an active career his inability to commercially stronghold the industry, despite a certain level of critical reverence, has only rewarded him with fleeting relevance. One may be quick to list numerous factors that may or may not have played a role in his decision to quit music, but it is damn-near impossible to rule out how much the industry has changed since the days rappers like Illbliss still managed to land charted singles.
The evolution of Nigerian rap has morphed through several shapes and configurations. If the last few years glean anything at all, it is the increasing penchant for locally primed jollof music. This, in comparison to the days when a sit on the rap throne was an egotistical battle of punchlines, wit and seamless English language already hints where Nigerian music is headed. ‘Hardcore’ rappers now face a possibility of extinction as many have either sacrificed critical appeal for commercial success like M.I or given up sales figures to isolate themselves from the soundscape altogether like Mode 9.
We’re giving IllBliss time to reconsider if he wants to sell this as a publicity stunt or not, but even that will only further highlight a lack of creative options for a much-needed career reinvention. Luckily, thanks to his involvement with indie labels Captial Hill and Gorreti Company, there are no doubts that IllBliss will do just fine beyond music. But with more rappers wildly experimenting and failing in their flirtations local sounds, and even more refusing to release new material for fear of public scrutiny or mediocre reception, more rappers are increasingly running out of options to keep their careers afloat.
Granted, exceptions like Falz will always serve as a reminder that creative tweaks to old tricks may ensure survival, battle rappers can no longer deny their own sonic mortality in an industry where Olamide has a new hit released every week. Yes despite the odds, survival may be possible in the long or short term, but it will be nothing more than surviving.