Lost Files is a column dedicated to celebrating older projects that might have flown under the radar when they were released. This week Oluchukwu Nwabuikwu takes a deep dive into M.I Abaga's self-assuring yet vulnerable hat tip to his Illegal music series, Illegal Music 3: The Finale.
On 29 February 2016, rapper M.I Abaga released Illegal Music 3: The Finale, the last installment in his Illegal Music series. The project’s guest features include Ruby Gyang, Ckay, Pryse, Khaligraph Jones, and LadiPoe. Initially released as a free mixtape, the project sees M.I at his most honest and vulnerable: discussing various issues, from his Headies snub to his record label Chocolate City Music losing artistes.
Heavy on the samples, M.I returns to his rap roots to deliver one of the most essential rap projects of the decade. Listening to this takes you back to his humble days of beginning, with the hunger and drive in his voice. With Illegal Music 3, the Chocolate City boss lets everyone know that success has not robbed him of his acumen, making a strong statement to doubters and providing us with great music.
1. “The Finale”
On the intro track, M.I is pensive, the weight of history on his shoulders. Backed by James Blake samples and excerpts from Martin Luther King Jr’s speech at Barratt Junior High School on October 26, 1967, he raps about the crumbling Nigerian hip hop industry and his determination to rebuild, no matter how long it takes. In the second verse, he tackles the age-long debate about “real rap” by purists:
Local versus punchline versus imitation
You have to realize that there’s no limitation
Just turn your inspiration into innovation.
His opinion is simple: rap is a craft, and there are various methods to approach it. There is always room for innovation, and no one should shoot new ideas and styles down.
2. “Everything I Have Seen”
M.I addresses his struggles in this song, tackling his gloomier days as head of Chocolate City Music label, where he had to deal with artistes leaving – including his brother Jesse Jagz. He attributes these betrayals to a variety of things: money, pride, and misdirection. He assures his fans that he will come back strong despite losing important people in both his career and personal life.
The song’s outro is both a warning to fans and a statement of fact: people show you love when everything is popping and leave when you are down.
3. “Black Bill Gates”
On this hard-hitting track, M.I and Kenyan rapper KhaliGraph Jones chronicle their rise to fame and riches. The introspection from the first two songs remains, but Mr Incredible adds a side dish of boastful swagger:
From the drop, always knew this shit was gonna pop
Now we popping and nobody talking when we drop
In the opera, they all applaud the way we walk in
In New York, we just murder the game and do it often
A nigga only leaving in the coffin!
The mixtape leaned heavily on samples, and this track is no exception, with the hook and outro lifted from Beyonce’s “Formation”.
4. “All Falls Down”
The soft, introspective rap is back. Cued by a Mike Tyson speech, M.I Abaga starts by admitting his weaknesses as a human being and struggling with his dreams so much he had to go down on his knees to ask for direction from a higher power.
Rising star, LadiPoe, carries this on, revealing his struggles with newfound fame and coming to terms with expectations and ambition. Sampling Leon Else’s “Tomorrow Land”, the track provides an insight into celebrity life and the hurdles they face.
Diss track M.I is here.
On the back of a Rihanna sample and excerpts from a Greg Hardy interview, he unleashes scathing bars directed at popular music blog NotJustOk because of what he considers an unfair position on a list of best rappers published on their website. In the same vein, he also has smoke for the Headies Awards as he was overlooked for the Lyricist On The Roll award that year. The song ends with him focusing on his haters, especially those online, informing them of his disdain for online battles: ‘I ain’t with that tweet and deleting shit, Nigga bars are my weapon of choice!’
Plaques. Stacks. Tax.
Mr Incredible put all the chips on the table here. Supported by JayZ, Pusha T, and Assassin samples, he raps about his wealth, fame, and rapping prowess. Filled with pure gloating and bragging, “Number” is M.I at his flamboyant best; his self-assurance is evident in how he calmly rides the beat, switching between fast and slow rap styles and confident that none of his challengers could ever match up to him. He even blows his trumpet a little more by reminding everyone that he gave Wizkid his first big break.
Even my weak bars, if it’s possible, wreak havoc
Break down my Clipse, and you be unable to keep malice
Let’s do some quick logic; I’m on my sixth project
I’m on my sixtieth award since we started
I put on some key artists, even got Wiz started…
7. “Head Of The Family”
Sampling Jay Z’s “La Familia” and Kanye West’s “Never Let Me Down”, M.I stresses the importance of family and carrying your people along as you become successful. While acknowledging his role as the head, he does not let this make him inaccessible but maintains his relationships before the come-up.
8. “The Box”
The sampled song here is Tay Iwar’s “The Box” from his Passport album. Picking up from his train of thought about “real rap” debates on the first track, M.I sends out a message to upcoming rappers who feel pressure to fit into various categories and labels. He urges them to shake off the shackles and make music the way they’re most comfortable. He also chronicles the growth of Nigerian hip hop, from Modenine and Eldee to Da Grin and Olamide.
Featured artistes Pryse and CKay echo this sentiment by pledging to stay true to innovation and desire to experiment no matter the criticism or harassment to do otherwise.
On ‘Sedi’, M.I takes a break from being hip-hop’s Messiah and counselor to attend to matters of the heart. Interpolating Nina Simone’s “Seems I'm Never Tired Lovin' You”, Sedi is a simple love song showing M.I’s gratitude to his lover for their support throughout the years, as well as a prayer for peace and wellness in their life.
10. “Remember Me”
On the closing track, questions of legacy are on M.I’s mind. Featuring Ruby Gyang, the song interpolates LYNYRD SKYNYRD’s “Free Bird”. M.I looks to a distant future and wonders if posterity will remember him for good. A fitting end to a project with so much depth, it also seeks answers from the listeners. The question of legacy and memory is one that is so strong in all humans. When we are gone, will our names be crowned? Or dead in the mud?