Mode 9 may not be anyone’s favourite rapper. Okay maybe he is.
But his place in Nigerian music has held it’s ground for what it is. Mode 9 has a wide array of skills that include his deft delivery, wordplay and an artistic brand whose dedication to pure hip-hop has not wavered over the years despite industry politics. One of the laudable highlights of his career till date is the song Cry off his debut album E’ Pluribus Unum in 2006.
Over two verses, Mode 9’s Cry tells two stories independent of each other but each fulfilling their purpose.
The first verse chronicles the story of a married couple whose relationship is brought to an abrupt end by the drunk driving of the alcoholic husband. Mode 9 details every event, including the controversial head-shaving culture of the Igbo tribe of South-Eastern Nigeria. Critically this verse tackles two issues that are still relevant to our society today. All over the world, intoxicated drivers still launch themselves onto the road without caution to the misery of their loved ones and whoever they hurt in the process. Similarly, the brief mention of the inhumane head-shaving culture of the Igbos was not inconsequential. The rapper helped to raise awareness about a tradition deemed by many as a violation of female rights still rampant in Nigeria till date.
The second verse takes an even moodier tone when Mode 9 opened the verse with They were best friends from the tender age of seven/both raised and had love for God in heaven.
Mode 9 describes two close friends who were separated in university after joining rival cults. Despite the promising premise of their futures before uni, a brutal face-off between the rival gangs left both friends murdered. This verse was inspired by the cultism reign in Nigerian universities which was alarmingly rampant in the mid to late 2000s. Fraternities that originated from the intellectual minds in the 50s had metamorphosed into violent cults with a cohesive network that ran across many universities in the country. The premise of two friends raised in God-fearing homes who were always ahead of their peers made the abrupt conclusion of their lives more tragic. This underlining subject matter mirrors dangers of cultism and subtly, the decay in Nigerian education. Universities used to be a platform for the acquisition of knowledge, now they have become killing grounds, where dreams are butchered, shot or stabbed.
Coupled with its noir sepia-toned video, Cry was a major turning point in Nigerian music. The success of the single was proof that artistes can still find success even when they shy away from the trite cliches of pop music. They just have to carve their music around relatable subject matters, rather than brag and boast about their versatility with nothing to show but questionable awards.
Musically the song is reminiscent of the timeless story telling techniques used by greats like Slick the Rick, Immortal Technique, Jay-Z and even the younger crop of upcoming legends like Tyler the Creator, J.Cole, Kendrick Lamar amongst others.