These gifted acts who grew up deprived of so much ー but with so much to offer ー are now breaking boundaries, showing the world that their dreams, regardless of how big, are achievable.
On the warm evening of March 14, 2021, I was holed up in a small classroom, head buried in a book in Agudama-Epie, a small community situated on the outskirts of the capital city of Bayelsa, Yengoa, which is also home to one of the six branches of the Nigerian Law School. The dreaded Bar Finals was fast approaching and every passing second counted. I had to study extra hard every opportunity I got but on that day, I made an exemption. I took an extended break a few hours after studying to keep up with the 63rd Grammy Awards ceremony held at the Los Angeles Convention Center. While I had been passively interested in the famous award show for some years now, this one felt different. Burna Boy and Wizkid, two of the country’s biggest acts were nominated in the Best Global Music and Best Music Video categories respectively and not only was their excitement for their nominations but there was also a genuine feeling that this time was going to be our time.
After several nominations and winners had been announced, it was time to announce the winner of the Best Global Music award, a closely contested category filled with past nominees and very stiff competition. Half of the nation held its breath. This had to be our time, it seemed inevitable. Burna Boy had just missed out on the award the previous year, losing to Beninese singer and four-time Grammy winner Angélique Kidjo, after delivering arguably the strongest album in his extensive discography. A successive loss would feel like a twist of the knife in our collective wound.
When Chika, the American rapper of Nigerian descent announced Burna Boy as the winner, the joy and euphoria that rippled through me and presumably many Nigerians was as pure as the snow-white suit Burna doned for his acceptance speech. It finally happened. That which seemed out of reach for so many years had finally happened. When Wizkid’s win was announced minutes later, our collective joy went through the roof. For a rare moment, we were immensely proud as a nation.
Fast forward several months later and I’m standing in my apartment kitchen, leisurely doing the dishes while listening through a number of new music releases. Rexxie’s new single “Wallet” featuring Seyi Vibez and popular street disco jockey Dj 4kerty came on and the 27-year-old producer’s signature buoyant percussion immediately jolted me to life. Seyi attacks Rexxie’s percussive tour de force with his gruff inflection, seamlessly riding it like he’s Tadej Pogačar. What however caught my attention the most was when the 21-year-old began to extol everyone: himself, Lagos boys, Lagos girls and Rexxie who he repeatedly refers to as Grammy Boy. You could sense a huge amount of pride when he sings “Rexxie wole o po gan / Grammy Boy to tan na”. And that’s when it finally hit me.
Rexxie, born Chisom Faith Eze, spent his early years in Lagos, living in a couple of inner-city areas populated by the hoi polloi and characterized by poor infrastructure and gang culture. He moved to the country’s capital, Abuja for most of his teenage years before moving back to Lagos to enrol in YabaTech, Nigeria’s first higher education institution, to study Printing Technology. This is where Chisom began to metamorphose into Rexxie. While he had dallied with music growing up — playing the keyboard as a child and for most of his teenage years — his proper sojourn into the world of drums, pitch scaling, equalizers and whatnot began with a fatuous lie. In a bid to move with the in-crowd in his new environment, he fraudulently convinced people he was a producer and he had to live up to the billing. This is where he picked up the popular production software Fruity Loops for the first time in his life and the rest from there on is history.
Years later and Rexxie is without a doubt the most important architect of Street-Hop music in the last couple of years. He has almost single-handedly redefined and reinvigorated the sounds coming out of the different crevices of the street, inspiring many and producing some of the country’s most defining records in the last few years along the way. However, regardless of his achievements and unbridled talent and gift, there’s a tincture of blot that has accompanied his career, the same one that follows almost every artist or creative who comes from the street. There’s an ingrained prejudice with how people relate to them and their art. They’re placed in fortified steel metaphorical boxes ー damn near as secure as the ADX Florence ー created in many’s supercilious minds. They’re told they can dream but not too big. Even though they possess huge cultural relevance ー as they’re largely responsible for a huge chunk of the enthralling dance moves and slang that has permeated popular culture ー there is still a dodgy manner in which many relate to street-level art. It’s good but not that good, their talent and artistry largely circumscribed. Many ignore the fact that these artists are some of, if not the most genuine and innovative in a musical landscape glutted with pastiche. They’re extremely candid in their approach, creating something unique and authentic out of their various pains and vices.
However, on that day, the 14th of March 2021, when Burna Boy won the highly coveted award, Rexxie also became a Grammy-certified producer for his contributions to Twice As Tall. He produced “Bebo” and “Comma”, two energetic cuts that’ll have any dancefloor rocking. He became one of the first, if not the first, that many will consider a street artist or producer from these parts, to win the holy grail of musical awards, a Grammy. Even though he doesn’t have a gramophone to his name, only a Grammy Certification (Rules of the Best Global Music Album states that only producers, mixers and engineers who worked on 50% or more of the album will get statuettes. Producers who work on less than 50% will get certificates), he now proudly goes as Grammy Boy. His Twitter and Instagram name has also been changed to Grammy Boy ever since his win and why not? He has every reason to be immensely proud of himself.
Right now, he almost exists as a beacon of hope for so many other artists, producers or creatives on the streets. Coming from where he comes from, the ghetto, the streets, whatever you want to call it, the probability was damn near impossible. But Rexxie broke the glass ceiling, against all odds, and that’s why he carries his win like a badge of honour and if you’re not from these parts, you might never truly understand what his win means for both him and the streets.
Growing up in these disadvantaged communities, talented but underprivileged kids dream as big as the next kid living in Chevron Drive or Banana Island behind fancy gates and heavily guarded estates. Their child-like wonder and imagination have no limits. They dream as big as their mind allows them to. But as they grow up and come to terms with the harsh realities of their environment, faced with austere conditions, they’re forced to downsize their dreams. They substitute their high aspirations for menial jobs that simply put food on the table, or worse, illicit dealings. Their hopes dashed and replaced with an incessant need to survive. Music for many then becomes first, a way out, before anything else. Even the few ones that make it out are made to believe that they can’t exceed a certain level. Alleviation of poverty and a need for a better life is the major drive, any other thing is an added bonus. That’s why when Seyi sings “I don do many things kinto ma k’orin / ‘Cause every time I reason oh / All I want is money” on the titular track off his debut project, it resonates to a T.
But now, the Bariga-bred singer and rapper comfortably cruises on a Grammy-certified producer’s beat like he’s casually strolling in a park. If you had told him there was a chance of this happening a few years ago, he’ll have surely doubted it. When 9ice, another Bariga-bred artiste sang the famous lyrics "Don't doubt me I go bring home Grammy" on his classic record "Street Credibility" several years ago, it seemed inconceivable, a silly joke even. But times have changed now and these gifted acts who grew up deprived of so much ー but with so much to offer ー are now breaking boundaries, showing the world that their dreams, regardless of how big, are achievable.