From "Afro-trap" to "+234drill" to street-hop.
Although Afrobeats is Nigeria’s biggest music export, hip-hop is not far behind. In recent years, rappers in the country have diversified the sound with the help of collaboration and experiments. Genres like ‘Afrotrap’ – which mixes the wavy flows of Atlanta trap with the distinct thuds and rhythms of afrobeats – and ‘Streethop’ – with its unique brand of social critique – permeate our soundscape, treating fans to the best of both worlds. Drill, which is fast taking centre stage in scenes worldwide, has also received its Naija baptism. In 2021, proponents of ‘+234 Drill’ – the Nigerian iteration of the hard-hitting rap genre – have intensified their efforts to lift the subgenre to the limelight and are succeeding with every release. In such a short time, the sound that originated in Chicago ten plus years ago has found a home in the motherland. In a nutshell, these are exciting times for Nigerian rappers and fans alike as the industry goes from strength to strength. Here are ten songs that exemplify the creative ingenuity and work ethic that sets Naija hip hop apart and define the current zeitgeist of Nigerian rap.
1. “Still Up” - Zilla Oaks
Starting this with some “real rap.” One of Abuja’s most prominent MCs, Zilla Oaks’ sophomore project No ZZZZ 2 is a solid body of work, balancing his commitment to delivering quality while experimenting with a variety of sounds. “Still Up”, the album’s second track is a hard-hitting banger. With no hook and iron-clad bars about his work ethic, mastery of rap and his plans to stay at the top of the game, he bounces comfortably on a steady beat for three minutes straight.
2. “Tycoon” - Show Dem Camp feat. Mojo & Reminisce
When the story of Nigerian hip hop is told to generations unborn, the tale of Show Dem Camp’s “Tycoon” will be a crowd favourite, mark my words. Off the duo’s Clone Wars Vol. 5: The Algorythym tape, the song features the pair exchanging bars with fellow OG Reminisce and upcomer Mojo who delivers (arguably) the best verse. As the title suggests, the track exhorts the qualities of all four MCs and establishes their standing in the music scene.
3. “Barawo” - Ajebo Hustlers
For decades, hip hop has been a tool of expression, protest and social commentary. During the October 2020 End Sars protests, this was reiterated as “Barawo” by Port Harcourt rap duo Ajebo Hustlers became an anthem. With vivid examples of the ills plaguing the country, their stripped flow resonated with listeners across various demographics, while drawing attention to their message of change.
4. “Gangland” - PSIV feat. Espiquet
Collaborating with artists from other countries and cultures is a major part of the success Nigeria’s new wave hip hop scene is experiencing. On “Gangland”, PSIV links up with South African rapper Espiquet to address the craziness that envelopes their respective hometowns. A proper drill linkup, the song was released shortly after the End Sars protests ended and features two masters of the new genre going at it hard and unfiltered.
5. “Feeling” - Ladipoe feat. Buju
Speaking of collaborations, this one has had the charts in a chokehold for weeks on end. When done right, the chemistry between rappers and “singers” is always fire, and Buju and Ladipoe certainly did justice on this song. The constant blurring of the lines between rap and afrobeats has cooked up some delicious tunes, and “Feeling”, with Buju’s melodious hook and Poe’s measured bars, is the pick of the lot.
6. “Coming” - Naira Marley & Busiswa
Naira Marley’s 2019 run was instrumental in bringing hip hop from the streets to the mainstream. His approach was refreshing, with slang and lyrics detailing life in the city’s inner neighbourhoods, even though it got him a lot of slack in the media. On “Coming”, he partners with South African singer Busiswa to appreciate one of his favourite topics: sex. A chart-topper and dancefloor bop, “Coming” is hip hop at its evolutionary best.
7. “Cash App” - Bella Shmurda, Zlatan & Lincoln
Another street-hop tune, Cash App had early 2021 charts on lock, and with good reason too. Featuring Zlatan and Lincoln, the song references the fraud lifestyle. Multitasking as social commentary and a moshpit jam, it also established Bella Shmurda as one to watch amongst the country’s ever-expanding list of rising stars.
8. “Apala Drill” - Terry Apala, MajorBangz & A-O The Machine
Terry Apala's hip hop spin on apala music already has a cult-like following among the Nigerian audience. When you add drill music to this already exciting combination, what results is a distinct explosion of sound. A representation of the creativity that moves the genre in Nigeria, "Apala Drill" is a banger in every sense of the word.
9. "TC Bop" - D.S.6
Besides husky voices threatening you and your family’s lives, drill music also provides danceable songs and accompanying routines. "TC Bop" by hip-hop group D.S.6 is one of the latter – slow enough to let you hear the lyrics and fast enough for you to jump and move your legs.
10. “Popshit”- SGaWD feat. Somadina
The Nigerian rap scene has seen a few women pop up every now and then, although none of them have successfully planted roots and held down a spot. This isn’t due to a lack of talent or drive, but a myriad of other factors, especially the reluctance of a male-dominated industry to uplift female MCs properly. However, this history isn’t deterring SGaWD. The budding rapper is determined to have a piece of the hip-hop pie and is not shying away from her intentions. Her latest single “Popshit” featuring Somadina is a testament to her lofty ambitions. Over a Trill XOE beat with sultry synths and thumping 808s, she’s assertive and clear: she’s “bad as fuck” and taking no prisoners.