Jeriq has come to represent, for the streets of Iyoo, what Nas represented in the 1990s to the hoods in Queens and Manhattan through New York especially after the release of his 1994 classic, Illmatic.
By Michael Chiedoziem Chukwudera
Trap music has never been brought closer home before the rise to fame of Ani Jeremiah Chukwuebuka, professionally known as Jeriq, to the Nigerian music scene. Jeriq’s rise in the scene has simplified trap music, a genre of hip hop formerly foreign and esoteric to the bulk of Nigerian music fans. Jeriq’s earliest music output was not particularly aesthetically pleasing, neither did it have the melodies that prompted repeated listening. It was drill trap in the highest sense; he was often just speaking the words to the beat, and sometimes it seemed the rap was offbeat. Yet, this outlandish rap quickly spread like wildfire throughout Southern Nigeria. There was a large demographic of young people who related effortlessly to the music.
In 2020, when Jeriq’s debut EP, Hood Boy Dreams dropped, the world was at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The world was quiet, and everyone was locked in with their loud thoughts. In the hood and ghettos from where Jeriq came, there were the young people doing drugs, and struggling to get past each day as it came. It was largely among these people that Jeriq’s music sailed effortlessly and found an audience. Trap music has been defined in many ways, including being a brand of hip hop in which the songs are spoken rather than sung, and a brand of rap music that speaks about drugs and what happens in the street culture. Jeriq’s music fits into all of these. His rise to the top showed how art becoming popular isn’t always about the commercial clout but about cultural synchrony.
Jeriq’s debut Hood Boy Dreams, propelled his manifesto to what one may refer to as a waiting audience, at least in the eastern part of the country. He makes his identity known as a rapper very much concerned about money or “paper chasing” as it is called in the hip-hop culture, and as a hood boy out to chase his dreams. This was the first success of Hood Boy Dreams alongside establishing a hip-hop-styled blueprint for the Iyoo culture, after which the Onitsha hoods and music culture is named. Jeriq’s music espouses the Iyoo consciousness which is a product of the gangster and crime lifestyle rife in the Mkpor hood where Jeriq spent a large part of his childhood. Jeriq has come to represent, for the streets of Iyoo, what Nas represented in the 1990s to the hoods in Queens and Manhattan through New York especially after the release of his 1994 classic, Illmatic. In the viral drug cartel-themed series, Ozark, I watched a character, a black man who Ruth Langmore discussed Illmatic with, tell her how the album afforded the eyes to see Manhattan from Queens. Likewise, Jeriq’s music takes you to the slums in Mkpor, and puts you on a high pedestal. From there, you can see what is happening in the slums in Enugu, another contact point from where Jeriq emerged as an artist. All through, it is pain and suffering, like a refractory flame, that kilns young people into brick-hearted hustlers.
His deep roots in the Iyoo culture, perhaps, explains the cultural force with which Jeriq’s music came into the scene, breaking through in a region with a dilapidated music structure. Southeastern Nigeria, a region which managed to support pioneer Igbo rappers like Mr (formerly Dat Nigga) Raw, Dekumzy, highlife Superstar, Flavour over two decades ago, is in a worst state now with a system that is indifferent to emerging talents. Artistes are either faced with uncooperative OAPs who struggle to put struggling artistes on radio, and record labels who hardly keep their part of the bargain. Although originally signed to KOD Music, Jeriq’s fortune was in not having to rely on the label for his music. In the course of his career, he had to part ways with the record label in order to keep up with the pace of his music, one hinged mainly on his own financial power.
After the success of Hood Boy Dreams, Jeriq moved over to Lagos to link up with the Yoruba drill artist, Dremo, with whom he released a joint EP, EA$T N WE$T. From then on, Jeriq has continuously made audacious steps to push his music even beyond Nigeria.
In Billion Dollar Dream, Jeriq, like almost every self-respecting artiste, has become better in his art. He has inched closer to mainstream hip hop with his sounds, rapping with better harmony to Jay Swagz production, and delivering smoother bars while maintaining the essence of his music which is to tell the story of his ordeal in the streets, and mull about his difficult past. It is in telling his stories that Jeriq shows his humane side, although it is concealed in braggadocious lines. In Billion Dollar Dream, he raps about his father dying early and having to rise to become the man of the house. Elsewhere, he talks about his mother, despite being a teacher, having to also be a trader to survive. The 24-year-old rapper has no doubt seen a life of penury, full of suffering and pains. These experiences have contributed in no small measure to moulding him into the person and artiste he has become.
His rise in music, and success in the fashion business have marked a turning point in his life to balance out his previous experiences. With his music now streamed by millions on various streaming platforms, being booked for shows all over the country, establishing his Iyoo Cartel fashion clothing line, Jeriq now has better stories to tell.
“On one of those days when I had just cashed out,” he tells me, “I bought myself a new car. I bought for my mother, too. And while driving home, I realised that I have achieved my hood boy dreams. And if those were the only dreams I have, then there was nothing to work for any longer. But the passion was still there. The drive is stronger than ever. So I knew I was back to the drawing board. As I drove home, I began singing, ‘Ógbè I’m back to basics, Mercedes racing, I am accelerating, even in quarantine, I’m all about Muller making…’ I had achieved my hood boy dreams. And there was still enough energy to go after other dreams, so I began to dream once again. I was back to the basics. This time, my dream was a Billion Dollar Dream. And this formed the basis for my album which followed. The Jeriq of Billion Dollar Dream is quite different from the hood boy.”
He talks confidently now of changing his younger brother’s school to Marist Brothers, one of the most prestigious secondary schools in the region, of intentionally making so much money for his mother, of missing flights instead of missing women, of booking a flight for his DJ. This balances out Jeriq’s story and makes it one of rising to fame from obscurity and to riches from poverty. There are many such stories in society. They don’t get cliché because poverty, suffering and success is a constant in the human experience and exist in unlimited guises. But what makes Jeriq’s story spectacular is the art from which he tells it, the breath of fresh air which he has brought into the scene with his brand of drill trap music. Jeriq’s story is not limited to the binary of suffering and success, poverty and riches. His story is also rich in cultural registers, spanning the aspects of religion, everyday life, etc. Through the extensive religious themes in his music, we see that Jeriq has had a very good religious upbringing, and that Catholicism had a profound impact on him.
Jeriq, though a special artiste, is exactly what you would call an outlaw, bred in the culture of survival by instinct, instinct being the blurred line between morality and societal code for good behaviour. In those parts of society which Jeriq raps about, crime is inevitable. And Jeriq does not pretend to be innocent about them. He raps about smoking weed, stealing phones, doing drugs. His stories are suggestive that his life partly relies on doing drugs. In “Chukwuebuka,” he says, “Ihe mere m ji agba ọgwụ bụ that I cannot afford to be sober…” which casts addiction in a new light. It is a state of being where being in a normal state of mind is a danger zone. It is in antics like this that lie the dangers of Jeriq’s art, especially because of the potentially harmful influences it is bound to have on younger people in the society, many who are already victims to the predatory system.
Jeriq has a way with words and with language. With these, he is able to express his own story so beautifully that millions of other young people relate and readily sing along to it. For this reason, his art is both beautiful and powerful since language has the power to fortify and alter consciousness. Yet, the beauty of his art does not take away from its danger. Art comes from anywhere, and is not a preoccupation of policing morality. What makes Jeriq’s art profound is its mode of expression and how other people, not part of the creation, are able to relate to it.
Jeriq has successfully infiltrated part of the Nigerian demographic for whom his brand of music is made. He did this amidst a scuffle with an unsupportive record label, and without the backing of industry bigwigs. Jeriq is no pioneer like Mr Raw, neither is he nearly as poetic as Phyno with the English language, but for the Gen Z artistes in the hood, he represents artistic ingenuity as well as inspiration for many up-and-coming artistes. And among the most common demographic, especially in the Iyoo culture, he has at least lent expression to experience.
Michael Chiedoziem Chukwudera writes weekly pieces on Culture, literature and music for Afrocritik. Follow him on Twitter, @ChukwderaEdozi.