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Opinion: The Rising Rap Scene in the East and What the Rappers Are Getting Wrong

Opinion: The Rising Rap Scene in the East and What the Rappers Are Getting Wrong

The Rising Rap Scene in the East and What the Rappers Are Getting Wrong | Afrocritik

It appears that the rappers at the top of the scene, whose music is making rounds in the country, are those whose crafts are not the most spectacular… There is also not enough intellectual prowess or poetic imagination in what inspires the rappers in the scene, and the main aim is not excellence in the craft, but commercial acclaim.

By Michael Chiedoziem Chukwudera 

In the wake of the 2020s in Eastern Nigeria, many young rappers sprouted from the region. With the breakout of rappers like Jeriq, Rhatti, Aguero Banks, Hugo P, Kolaboy, Beepee Rapgod, and Odumodublvck, it became apparent that the Eastern Hip-Hop scene had something new going for it. 

This new wave was initiated in 2019 with the signing of Nuno and Rhatti by Phyno’s record label, Penthauze. However, the project that cemented the beginning of this era was the EP, 777, released that year by the late Tidinz. This project inspired many other younger rappers, and it was followed by the 2020 release of Jeriq’s Hood Boy Dreamswhich became a street anthem — and Kolaboy’s The Storyteller, which also came out in 2020, and was in part profound for its storytelling. Since then, the assembly of rappers has kept on increasing.

It has been five years since this new beginning, and it is perhaps too early to give a conclusive judgement. But there is indeed enough material to come to a verdict that the new school of rap in the East, though very notable in the Grime and Trap music genre, is not producing enough profound artistes independently minded enough, or lyrically fit to create a legacy of music that is meaningful and not just a product of the drug epidemic presently sweeping among young people.

Jeriq, and perhaps Kolaboy, are notable exceptions for the national acclaim their music has garnered. But Jeriq, showing no visible sign of improvement or diversification in the monotony of his lyricism, and Kolaboy who presently sings more than he raps — although heralding one of the most profound switches in sound to his Kolapiano brand — cannot be said to be redefining Hip-Hop music as we know it in the most enduring of ways. 

The new crop still lags behind the standards set by pioneer, Nigger Raw, one of the rappers who popularised rapping in the Igbo language in the 2000s, combining witty lyricism and impressive storytelling which began with his 2005 classic album, Right or Wrung. Nigga Raw’s ingenuity was further solidified by Illbliss’s urban and cultural style, and Phyno’s undisputed lyricism and wordplay. In this trinity of rappers, there is a combination of intellect and lyrical abilities, which unfortunately can’t be said for most of the rappers currently trying to reform the rap scene.

For one, the current generation seems to be lacking in awareness of what can be considered their artistic destiny — which is to do their part as pioneers of the artistic and cultural renaissance going on in the region. There is a need for proper artiste education in the scene. There is also a need for artistes from the region to begin to respect and adhere to the structural systems of record labels, even as there is a need for record labels that will truly have the interests of their artistes at heart. Most of these artistes are independent due to the lack of credible record labels, as well as the impatience of artistes to adhere to the apprenticeship of the record label system. Part of what has contributed to the growth of businesses from the region is apprenticeship in business. It remains a pariah why this model is not thriving yet in the entertainment business.

With its long list of influential and evergreen artistes, Eastern Nigeria is arguably one of the most influential regions of the music scene in Nigeria. But there has been a dearth in the music scene in the region in recent times. This has caused artistes from the scene to move away from the region and to become dependent on other music scenes — particularly Lagos — to promote their music. The pattern is this: Eastern rappers born in the region begin their careers there, and afterwards, move to Lagos when it seems they have begun to gather momentum. There is nothing particularly wrong with this as there is a similar pattern in most entertainment industries in the world where there is a central hub for commercial activities. But in the music scene, Hip-Hop has been known to utilise its local territories more than most other music genres.

In the US for example, even though New York is the central hub for the entertainment industry, California, Los Angeles, South Carolina, and others, all have their thriving rap communities, which explains why they have so many thriving rappers, and each vicinity can support its rappers, where the best from each region can compete with those from other places. 

In 2022, Nuno seemed to be on his way up again, after his EP, No Day Off, was released and became an instant sensation in the East, from Onitsha to Awka to Enugu. Being one of the best lyricists of his peers, the lyricism of the EP and its impressive wordplay and storytelling especially of the Onitsha/Awada environs where the rapper grew, made an impressive statement. Even with its meagre marketing, it quickly snapped its place in the heart of the Eastern audience,  garnering a few million streams across different music platforms. However, the artiste and his management failed to put out videos or do any promotional tours of the EP, especially in the region where it was making a rave. He moved to Lagos, and for close to two years now, he has not put out anything and is again back on the drawing board. 

The business of rap music has always been about maintaining close contact with one’s roots and making sure to not lose ground in it, even after gaining international acclaim. The rappers with the most solid breakout in Hip-Hop history are those who have maintained close contact with their roots. Even the best Hip-Hop albums, from Nas’s Illmatic to Tupac’s All Eyes on Me, to Jay Z’s Reasonable Doubt, Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid Maad City, and J Cole’s Forest Hills Drive are albums about the stories and roots of the rappers. This is part of what sets rap apart and makes it such a personal art, having the most passionate fan base.

There is no denying that the rappers currently working from the scene in the East today are doing their bit, even with the aforementioned metrics. But, there is still not enough brilliance in their assembly to evoke an effective presence in the music industry. Other rappers including the incredibly talented duo, Nuno and Rhatti, have been underdogs, though having had an arguable head start than the others after being signed to Penthauze in 2019.

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It appears that the rappers at the top of the scene, whose music is making rounds in the country, are those whose crafts are not the most spectacular. There seems to be a situation where the up-and-doing rappers need to step up in their lyricism, and the lyrical rappers need to put out more projects. There is also not enough intellectual prowess or poetic imagination in what inspires the rappers in the scene, and the main aim is not excellence in the craft, but commercial acclaim. And even in the pursuit of commercial acclaim, the artistes are unable to maximise their natural audience and lack the audacity to move things around. There is a thriving market for the rap scene in the East, yet only Jeriq has had the vision to hold music concerts and establish a solid physical presence in the region. Yet one can argue that his counterparts like Kolaboy, and even Nuno can afford to pull perhaps half the crowd and contribute an exponential growth to the culture. 

Hip-Hop culture also thrives on collaboration. One of the most popular Grime songs three years ago was Rhatti’s “God is da Plug” which even with little or no promotion, became a street anthem because it features Nuno and Jeriq — all rappers with their cult fanbase at the time. In places where rappers really thrive, the scene is defined by healthy competition and collaboration. Even the pioneer Igbo rappers like Mr. Raw, Slow Dogg, 2Shots and the like were more collaborative than the present crop.

There is a need for Igbo rappers to ride on the wave of what is going on for them, to collaborate and build a bigger room for the culture. Jeriq’s concerts which have featured many fellow rappers are a good example, but we need more collaborative songs too. There is also a need to foster conversations about what is happening in the scene, through the media. One of the biggest deficiencies in the contemporary entertainment industry in the East is the meltdown of the media industry. In the past five years, a lot has happened in the industry in the east, independent of what’s happening in Lagos with little or no consolidation.  

These artistes need to be more intentional in taking advantage of what’s happening in the scene, and of the potential alone in conquering areas like Enugu, Imo, Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Delta, Rivers and its environs. They have to hold strong to their local identity and be intimate with their local audience, as their primary fanbase, which they need to consolidate before seeking validation outside. 

Michael Chiedoziem Chukwudera writes pieces on culture for Afrocritik. His debut novel, “Loss is an Aftertaste of Memories” is forthcoming from Mmụta Books.

Cover Photo (L-R): Jeriq, Kolaboy, Rhatti, and Nuno Zigi

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