When I was in secondary school, I was a bit of a tyrant. I would say obnoxious things when the teacher backed the class, and when they eventually turned around to see what the fuss was about, my head would be buried in my books, like every other student in class.
In hindsight, I’m sure my teachers knew exactly who was causing all the trouble, they just wanted to know if I had the balls to stand by my words. I mean, it was the same voice I used to cause trouble that I used to answer ‘present’ during attendance a few minutes before – how couldn’t they have known it was me?
MI is employing a variant of the same throwing rocks and hiding your hands tactic, the legendary MC took a swipe at an entire genre on the eviscerating “You Rappers Should Fix Up Your Lives” but since then, he has moonwalked away from serious confrontation.
MI has picked fights with a number of rappers, it’s just that none of them have been his own size. Shortly after releasing the song, he cleverly exempted his peers – the likes of Olamide, Reminisce and Phyno – from the firing line, even though they are equally, if not more, guilty of some of the offences MI rapped about being detrimental to the culture.
“Rappers are singing now just to get popular… yuck! /
I just be watching like I’m at the opera”
Hip-hop is a unique genre because, unlike other forms of music, the ability to sing and be melodic is a gift and a curse for a rapper. On the one hand, it’s a sign of true artistry – a rapper who can do a song from the verse to the chorus is more self-sufficient, and their music can fit into more than one genre. But on the other hand, when a rapper spreads themselves too thin across genre lines, they lose respect within the deeply jealous hip-hop community.
It’s a delicate balance, one that Phyno, a one-time hardcore MC, is currently performing on a knife’s edge with his deep incursion into Eastern high-life music; and that Reminisce seems to have done successfully with “Ponmile” becoming one of the songs of the year. If MI wasn’t referring to these two glaring examples of rappers who are singing more in order to cross over, then he is aiming his bars at a target too small and too insignificant to move the culture.
When MI picked on singing rappers, he got a round of applause from a section of the more hardened hip-hop community; an enemy of my enemy is my friend. But when he uplifted an even bigger enemy, by (rightly) placing SA rappers on top of their Nigerian counterparts on the food chain, he got booed.
None of you rappers is real enough /
Once you blow up, now you’re switching up /
That’s why these fans are not feeling y’all /
SA rappers out here killing y’all”
The rivalry between South Africa and Nigeria isn’t only in the size of their economies or in accusations of xenophobia or of business monopoly, it’s apparently now in hip-hop. MI wants Nigerian MCs to close the gap between them and their counterparts, that has been getting wider over the past couple of years. But the truth is, as it stands right now, it’s not even close.
There is an age-old myth that America, the birthplace of hip-hop, would never embrace a rapper from Africa who raps in English, and has Western aesthetics, but SA rappers are testing that myth by increasingly finding validation Stateside. Whereas Iceprince is the only Nigerian rapper who has made an appearance on one of the important New York-based platforms for hip-hop, Cassper Nyovest, AKA and Nasty C have all snagged coveted interviews and gotten the chance to spread their wings beyond their home country.
Even within the continent, SA rappers are operating on a totally different scale. Cassper is making the audacious attempt to fill up a 75,000-seater stadium this year, after selling out a 20,000-seater stadium the year before, while Nigeria’s premier rapper Olamide continues to celebrate filling up Eko Hotel with its 4,000-capacity Convention Center. And that’s in Lagos, a city with more than twice the population of Jo’burg.
Despite their success at home, the obvious limitation for Olamide and other ‘indigenous’ rappers has been their inability, or seeming unwillingness, to cross over. And on a continent where Sarkodie is highly regarded, despite rapping in a language that comparatively fewer Africans can understand, the language barrier argument expired years ago.
“Brah, when I was out here performing, I held the country down, I held the city down…real / You rappers are underperforming, I swear it’s a shame, it’s a pity now… real”
MI’s controversial new song “YRSFUYL” does a number of things – it excites the culture as a whole, it provides buzz for MI’s new project, it creates an avenue for him to air out his frustrations with the current state of hip-hop, and it’s a chance for the Choc boss to be an elder statesman and push the younger ones to do better. But if you think that younger, less established rappers are the only ones the song insinuates aren’t out here living their best lives, I have a bridge to sell to you, and it’s between Oworonshoki and Lagos Island.