The present state of Nigeria’s hip hop has been hinged on many things including M.I’s 2008 debut album, Talk about it, the much talked about album that supposedly revolutionised Nigerian hip-hop albums and probably Nigerian music.
Talk About it opened with a bang. The lead single off the album, Crowd Mentality had served as a prior announcement to M.I’s unconventional in-road into the industry so it came as no surprise that the woodwork that made up most of the album is statement worthy till date. The album itself doesn’t do too much to reduce the pace M.I set for himself with his prior single releases. Anoti a heavy hitting number opens the 18 track album and the rest of the LP makes for a great listen despite 5 unnecessary over the top skits and one thematically out of place song. Talk about it is no doubt a brilliant album that has withstood the rigorous tests of time.
The massive acceptance for M.I’s debut, coupled with his introduction of other equally talented acts, had the rapper tagged as revolutionary as Nigerians quickly ascribed him an upcoming legend status. But has M.I’s revolution been an entirely good thing?
Talk About it as an album had one major statement. The promise to make rap music anybody can relate to, which it delivers effortlessly. However, on a genre based scale, M.I’s debut album will not fully fit into the category of pure rap music. The catchy sing-song hooks and fast-paced instrumentation of a majority of the album places it in the same category with the genericism of pop-music. But this does not question M.I’s ability as a rapper. The Short Black Boy is not the first to attempt floating rap music on pop instrumentations, many rappers around the world especially the likes of Eminem, Macklemore amongst others have done the same. However for an industry like Nigeria’s where artistes are more concerned with getting paid than they are about the music, the consequences of a successful pop-rap album could be far reaching.
The generic nature of pop music is a genre feature supposed to make the music accessible to anyone of any age, background or exposure. Tracing hip-hop to its NWA, Wu Tang Clan, Tribe Called Quest origins, however, rap seems to be in direct contrast with pop music. The entirety of rap music has always been motivated by the need to enlarge egos or tackle political and social issues, which automatically removes the mass appeal for rap music since different social and political issues affect different groups of people. The success of a music making formula that cross-genres rap for mass appeal, therefore, becomes the way to go for a money oriented Nigerian music industry. This by many measures, is M.I’s greatest legacy. It is also his sin.
Over the years since the release of Talk about it, the biggest Nigerian rap songs have been produced with afro-pop beats bearing the same indentation of trite braggart lyrics laid over a danceable rhythm and instrumentation. Rappers have evolved out of the pages they took from M.I’s playbook to make the music more accessible to a larger audience by dumbing down lyrics, rhymes, and many other things hip-hop should stand for. The result is a decline in hip-hop and an industry where even M.I has been struggling to keep his music above sea level.
The conclusion that M.I’s debut album ruined Nigeran hip-hop may be a stretch, but we know for a sure fact, he set us on the path. This path has led to the success Viktoh’s Skibi Dat, Lil Kesh’s Shoki, Ice Prince’ autotuned trap singing shtick amongst other cross-genre horrors that should never pass for rap music in a saner clime.
We pronounce him guilty.