Back in 2007, looking to launch his solo career, Olu Maintain released Yahooze, the lead single from his debut album, a record that took Olu to unimaginable heights and set the tone for a highly impactful and illustrious career.
Last year, Nigeria was regaled with tales of watershed moments and zeitgeist establishment for our stellar efforts in entertainment. Everyone from Wizkid to Poco Lee got in on the action, garnering accolades for their furtherance of Nigerian entertainment’s cause in one way or another. While it is easier to pay attention to what has just happened and what is happening, it is often important to take a close look at events and trends that might have set the pace for our current trajectory.
As a country accustomed to conjuring new globally impactful dances every few years, Nigeria media is no stranger to the importance of creating a complete set of trends to accompany content releases. Everything from slang and lingo to fashion and style is open to change every time a smash hit is released and that was exactly the case with "Yahooze".
The term watershed moment is very loosely thrown around these days, occasionally it is anything but the appropriate verbiage. Certain feats had already been achieved as early as the 2000s as far as Nigerian entertainment is concerned. Perhaps this has more to do with history simply being glazed over by more illustrious events. This is the importance of properly documenting said history, to ensure these moments are remembered for exactly what they were and how they made us feel.
Released in October 2007 as the lead single off his debut solo album ー also titled Yahooze ー the bulk of "Yahooze’s" first reactions rebounded between dismay and an appreciation of genius. Lyrically, it introduced new lingo right from the hook, sonically, it was a welcome departure from the more simplistic majority of Nigerian production at the time. Visually, the aesthetic stuck with many of the elements that worked for Olu when he was a member of Maintain albeit with a more refined outlook. Ostentatious jewellery, top of the line luxury automobiles and the standard-issue backdrop that is a party you only wish you could see.
It was an instant smash. Nigeria can often be its own worst enemy and in 2007 the NBC once again proved this, refusing the record national airplay and citing its suggestive subject matter as the reason behind the action. The broadcasting corporation changed its tune almost a year later and allowed Yahooze receive regular airplay across the country. This pivotal moment for Nigerian art marked one of the first instances of a creator going to bat against the NBC and winning. With the rise of cybercrime in Nigeria during the early 2000s, it made sense to deride any content that glamorized the acts and sought to create heroes from fraudsters. Yet Olu Maintain maintained his stance that it was just a clever play on words and was actually a glamorization of the average working Joe that put in 40 hours a week. Nobody bought it. But that didn’t matter, the record was massive and would remain so for the foreseeable future. Everyone from traditional rulers to politicians were doing the famous Yahooze dance, from Colin Powell at the O2 to Yaradua (and the Super Eagles U-17 team) at Aso Rock, Yahooze was viral.
Scam rap and music that centres fraud or cybercrime as the subject matter is no longer nascent. Throughout the 2010s till the present day, everyone from American to Ghanaian rappers have referenced credit card fraud, identity theft and general credit scams. Kodak Black, Future, City Girls, A$AP Rocky, G4Boyz, Bella Shmurda, the list is inexhaustible. While Teejayx6 and Guapdad4000 might be the current mainstream faces of the growing subgenre, artists like Olu Maintain and Kelly Hansome had foreseen the possibilities surrounding both crafts. Today, the contexts in which the lyrics are applied greatly differ, the coy, humorous and underhanded lyricism used to tell the stories are missing. The anecdotes and metaphors that made these songs entertaining are replaced with blatant explainers that break down fraud-related actions bar for bar. This inevitable evolution would have been impossible however without the efforts of their predecessors.
This points to the sharing of influences that cross-cultural overlap encourages. Olu Maintain’s obsession with American culture is a clear example of how those influences defined his artistry, from his lyrics to videography. The Ludacris sample from I Catch Cold to the opulence-tinged themes he adopted post going solo are reminiscent of early 2000 Hype Williams videos. Scantily clad models, bottles of expensive premium liquor and more cars and jewellery than God cares for. This imagery became heavily adopted by his contemporaries and became the industry standard till the mid-2010s. His position as a trendsetter is infallible, especially because he possesses a catalogue to back it.
An accounting major in university, the source of his wealth being questioned as a result of the subject matter of his biggest hit song points to the power of profiling and presumption. Already a successful entertainer for many years before the release of Yahooze, highlighting his portrayals as evidence that he truly committed any acts loosely related to the content of his lyrics is the same thing as saying an actor is responsible for everything they do in character.
In support of the singles and impending album, he launched a yearlong tour, while it was still technically impossible for him to perform his hit. Fast forward to April 2008 and Olu Maintain was in beast mode. He released his album, Yahooze: Maintain Reloaded and in 2008 the video for "Kama Kazee" continued his support for the project. It went on to win an award at the Nigerian Entertainment Awards the same year, his first of two. In 2009, he launched the American leg for his Yahooze tour alongside members of his new Kentro Level imprint. They had a 35 state-run that led to the European leg a year later. In 2011, he began the recording of his new album in the U.S., enlisting former G-Unit first lady, Olivia and her ex-employer, 50 Cent for one of the singles. While recording the project, he created his next smash, "Nawti". An acronym for Natural African Woman Totally Inspiring (sigh), the Caribbean influenced record won him his second award for a video and served as the precursor for his next album, Chosen One. The single with 50 Cent and Olivia would be released a year later.
In many ways, Olu Maintain never went anywhere, he was active as early as 2012 and consolidated his biggest hits into a Best Of compilation in 2017. However, transitioning from music being a day job to it being a thing of passion again is a challenge many artists after their primes struggle with. What is the appropriate way to slip away from the spotlight? Do you continue to churn outdated and uninspired material, force yourself to keep up with trends you have no hope of catching up to? Or do simply become a hobbyist and slinker away into ignominy? After his album never came out, Olu Maintain might have chosen the latter, perhaps to focus on other ventures and pursue new obsessions.
This takes nothing away from his influence and import. To support the release of his debut album, rare, Odunsi the Engine, one of the modern generation’s front runners tapped Olu Maintain for the album’s maiden performance at Hard Rock Cafe. The importance of creating immortal and infallible records regardless of the messaging or subject matter has to be stressed by more artists. To remain able to rock a crowd and not even have to perform for more than five minutes is commendable. Shaggy’s It Wasn't Me and Nelly’s Hot in Here will be spoken about in the same breath.