It’s not his best work, but it is his most significant in a while.
Since finding its way into our musical landscape, Nigerians have had a fragmented relationship with the hip-hop genre. One day we love it, the next day we don’t, and this has been the central theme in hip-hop’s growth since the days of Mode 9ine and Eedris Abdulkareem. The most significant reason for this can be attributed to the disparity between what the people want and what the artists are willing to commit to creating. In these parts, we love hip-hop that’s birthed at the intersection of commercial relatability and conscious braggadocio.
Towards the end of the 2000s, M.I. Abaga emerged as the lovechild of this mix. His breakout single “Anoti” was a breath of fresh air in a genre that is quick to get stale. He would make you feel, dance, and think all at the same time, erupting with euphoria when the meaning of his punchlines and innuendos dawned on you. In his prime, he was the undisputed microphone champion of the country, and arguably the continent.
With The Guy — his fourth studio album — M.I attempts to roll back the years to reinstate himself as the standard for poetic excellence in the country’s soundscape. His evolution post-Chairman saw M.I’s music morph into its most experimental iterations, but somewhere along the line, the general feeling was that its influence had started to wane. While the identity he had created for himself as the trailblazer for modern Nigerian hip-hop stayed intact, we grew ready for something new and different.
Even though he turned 40 last year, The Guy proves that M.I. has found a new release. He’s fun, vulnerable, agitated, and understanding as he relays new experiences and age-old wisdom over the project’s 40 minutes. He talks about legacy in “The Hate” (”wassup with all the hate tho/’cause all I done for you niggas is make roads”), pivots to the delicate nature of mental health in “Crazy” (”we gotta be better, we gotta be kind/people be savage on Twitter, be dying inside), explores the playfulness of romance on “The Love Song” (i found me a ten, yeah, who said that it can’t be done?/her smile just dey calm me down) and taps into the metaphysical dynamics of masculinity on “Soldier” (”they tell us boys don’t cry, but they don’t tell us why/so when tears start to fill up my eyes I wanna hide”).
These themes tied together make The Guy what it is — the renaissance of an artist which highlights that longevity does not mean stagnation. M.I. Abaga reimagines familiar elements with tasteful execution. Details like Tiwa Savage asking us to keep the same energy and the occasional sound of a dropped coin serve as little Easter Eggs as you listen through the album. Its effect is akin to the little treasures you find playing as the main character in the newest release of your favourite franchise game from childhood.
It’s not his best work, but it is his most significant in a while. M.I introduces us to some old (and new) friends on his most recent quest, and similarly to Rendezvous he displays his hospitality by prioritising the comfort of his guests. Olamide melodiously croons about heavenly grace on “Bigger” as Lord Vino allows his bars to sip through the spaces of the beat on “Soft Like Tony”. Tomi Owo assists him to good effect on “Soldier”, and the album ends with a smooth closer that features Jesse Jagz and Ice Prince. Despite this, M.I. hardly broke a sweat on any record, sometimes taking a backseat to bring out the best version of each song.
Maybe that’s a testament to the maturity he expresses on The Guy. There is an acceptance of flaws, a call for patience with our fellow person, and a yearning for companionship that leads to family. Four decades deep into his life, M.I. is still manning up and figuring it out on a daily basis. This should, in turn, lead us to be more patient with ourselves because nobody has all the answers.