Thirty years since its entrance into the country's airwaves, hip hop remains an undeniable cultural influence in Nigeria.
Sometimes, the exact origin of a genre can be pretty tricky to pinpoint, especially with the fading nature of internet archives. But for hip hop, one thing is undoubtedly known – the genre was born in 1973, at a party deep in the heart of the Bronx, New York City, with DJ Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa named as pioneers.
Still, it would take a while for the sound to permeate the soundscape and make a cultural impact here in Nigeria. Back then, hip hop was spreading across the globe like wildfire, but until the early 90s, it remained a stranger in these parts. Instead, prominent music genres like Sunny Ade's folksy Afrojuju and the vibrant Fuji music consistently reverberated at parties in the country’s SouthWest.
In 1981, an OAP and TV presenter, DJ Ron (aka Ronnie), would facilitate its entry into the airwaves. Being in sync with hip hop's growth and increasing popularity overseas, he created the country’s first rap record. Heavily experimental, the track excessively borrowed elements from early iterations of the rap genre: quick-paced conversational cadences, squiggly synths, and funky drums.
Spotting a new sound trend, the likes of Chris Okotie – yes, before he became Pastor Chris Okotie – Dizzy K, Dili Jukson would model their works after the sound pattern of Ronnie's first drop. Yet, it felt alien to the music audience here. There was some sort of originality missing, a sprinkle of local content that could transform the rap songs dished out at the time.
Years later, fresh-faced, swagger-oozing three-man band Remedies grasped precisely what it would take to register a hit. Adding bits of street flavor and melodic cadences, the group's "Sha Komo" single became an instant hit, endearing Nigerians to the sound. Tailing after the crew, Trybesmen also followed in quick succession with "Shake Bodi" released in 1999.
2000s: Influence of Brands and Platforms
By the early naughts, the number of rappers in the game was on the rise. Freestyle battles in several campuses in the Southwest embodied the culture; emerging artists co-opted Jay-Z, Nas, Tupac as their influences and replicated what they saw on TV.
Brands also saw it as a worthy venture to invest in; many of the first record labels signed hip-hop acts as their flagship artists. Kennis Music snapped up Eedris Abdulkareem, Maintain and Rasqie. Storm Records in the mid-aughts boasted some of the genre's brightest talents: Sauce Kid, Jazzman Olofin, Naeto C, Sasha P.
The advent of radio and urban TV shows made it easy for listeners to stay in sync with trendy American hip hop. With Kennis Music’s Kenny Ogungbe creating Primetime Jamz, listeners could catch up on new music releases, music videos and behind-the-scenes interviews of Nigerian artists.
Although the industry was still in its formative years, with acts like Eedris Abdulkareem and Plantashun Boiz at the top, it was still open to new talents that possessed the ability to bring something fresh to the scene.
Enter Ruggedman in 2002. Armed with a husky voice and a free-flowing boisterous style, industry players would register his name in their minds due to his controversial hit song, "Ehen Pt.1." Arguably the first diss song the industry ever heard, on “Ehen Pt.1”, Ruggedman bragged about his rap prowess, making a mockery of Eedris Abdulkareem, Maintain and Rasqie, who were all signed to Kennis Music at the time.
Not to miss out, Nigerian Breweries – in a bid to draw more attention to its most loved product, Star Lager Beer – launched the Star Mega Jam Fiesta inviting some of the most popular names in World hip hop and pairing them with their Nigerian contemporaries: 50 Cent alongside Eedris Abdulkareem; LL Cool J together with Ruggedman.
Hip-Hop’s cultural impact in Nigeria
Soon enough, not only were the doors of hip hop flung open for young artists to dabble with, but the genre also came with its complementary culture. While artists like Eedris Abdulkareem and Ruggedman would soar with their distinct rap styles, enjoying success along the way, they projected a lifestyle in the process – embodying the personas of American hip hop acts. This was most notable in their fashion choices: oversized knee-length tees, baggy denim, colourful snapbacks, bandanas, and durags adorning their heads.
These adopted fashion and lifestyle habits soon began to influence the local audience – mainly through music videos. Outfits worn by artists informed the fashion choice of youths, and many developed this obsession to sound like some of the artists they heard on radio and TV. Girls would want to replicate the dress styles they saw video vixens in music videos wear, especially with the crop tops and bootcut jeans at that period; guys in universities also had a fetish for those Kangol caps that matched any outfit.
"Hip-Hop influenced street culture & fashion definitely," Abe Adeile, a hip hop head, says of the genre’s influence back then. "With retro basketball jerseys, Adidas’ involvement with early hip hop, fashion styles across the years to even rap statements that became street style lingo's branded on them. Hip hop's influence on fashion was huge in the 90s and [is] still massive now."
As the industry continued its expansion, more artists propped up with exciting debut singles and the listening audience became diversified to the genres of soul, RnB and pop music. This period (2005–2006) also ushered in rappers who could compete in terms of lyricism. Adept in that area were the lyrical Mode 9, the brazen, silver-tongued Naeto C and the classy M.I. With his fiery flows and gritty deliveries, Mode 9 won the Headies' Lyricist on the roll for six consecutive years.
In contrast to its early years, where most of the songs contained samples used on low-grade beats, the period where this trio functioned in the limelight was the zenith of commercial rap. M.I and Naeto C both put out songs rich in profound lyricism and catchy bars: Naeto C with finesse on "Kini Big Deal" and M.I. exuding confidence on "Crowd Mentality."
It’s possible to assume the mainstream audience wasn't really into rap albums back then. And although several artists had dispensed projects before Naeto C and M.I., their debut projects hit the sweet spot between commercial music and #realrap. Naeto C's U Know My P sold over a million copies in 2008 and M.I's Talk About It was one of the most popular albums that same year.
But that era would give way to a style that hasn't faded yet. Though music heads may be quick to point to the late Dagrin as the sole originator of the street-hop style where rappers found it easy to flow with indigenous intonation, Lord of Ajasa begs to differ. However, Dagrin had a much more resonating hit single – “Pon Pon”. Inserting hustle tales, haunting scenes of the streets and familiar life issues in his album, CEO, he laid out a bankable formula.
In a way, Dagrin's innovative sonic idea warmed its way into the hearts of many because he had this gift of storytelling that was missing in Nigeria music. This eventually opened the door of success to indigenous rap acts like Reminisce, Olamide and Phyno.
It's been over 30 years since DJ Ron leashed out the first Nigerian rap song. And although some may argue the genre is on a decline, it wields an evergreen impact. Its most concentrated area has been music, and through this sonic medium, it has dictated fashion trends, inspired music visuals and informed lifestyle choices.