Things seem to be looking up for Skales. He got his first genuine hit with an EDM fused afro-pop number Shake bodi. The rapper also finally released his first collective body of work, Man of the Year.
Despite these developments, his explosive twitter exchange with Wizkid in 2015 is still the first point of reference in relation to any relevant thing the rapper has done since exiting EME in 2014. But don’t confuse this for Skales being a terrible artist. He is just another consequence of a one-faced industry where the same blueprints are used to draw up the architecture of different careers.
A similar but slightly related case in point is 9ice. The rugged-voiced singer broke into the mainstream in 2005 with Little Money. His critically acclaimed debut album Certificate set his sophomore effort Gongo Aso for greatness in 2008. However being at the helm of his career did not shield 9ice from the changes occurring in an industry where artistes like Wizkid and Davido started finding success with a style that emphasised rhythm over content.
In a bid to catch-up or assume himself some sense of artistic maturity, 9ice began to experiment with sounds outside the urban-contemporary one that made him famous. By his 7th studio album, CNN/GRA, his core fans could not make sense of what they were listening to anymore. The result, of course, is an audience that put his music where it belonged.
In the recycle bin.
The Nigerian music industry constantly creates room for the emergence of new players, dynamics and talents. Sometimes, these fresh breed of players enter with a shock value that changes the status quo. The system is stirred, feathers are ruffled and they rise quickly into the class of superstars.
At other times, the instance of their emergence witnesses a reverse for reasons many have dubbed as the curious case of “being a talented artist in Nigeria”. While that is entirely plausible, artistes and labels alike also need to take responsibility for their failures, because everybody has a role.
EME saw the potential for Wizkid’s style of music and tried to alter Skales’ sound to make him just as marketable. The rapper went from releasing heavy hip-hop debuts like Heading for a Grammy to major label singles like Mukulu and Keresimesi. Skales wasn’t trying to evolve a new sound from his original, (which would have been an organic process his career would’ve benefited from,) rather he was adopting a new one entirely. By the time the rapper exited the label in 2014, he had completely lost his hip-hop feel and most of his fan base.
9ice had a more ideological problem. His was with change. The singer’s perpetual fear of fading out of musical relevance caused him to venture into terrains his style and fans were not used to. He could have stopped the testing of unknown terrains in his Versus album where he featured a hoard of A-list artists, but he took it further to a place nobody could follow him to.
Conclusively, labels need to allow artists retain their creative prowess. Equivalently, artists need to be able to either evolve their sounds or retain their original.
Both Skales and 9ice gave in to label politics and industry dynamics and deviated from the style they found fame with. The results are two artistes who promised us Grammys but haven’t even made an appearance at the Headies in a while.