“Nigerian Twitter” – the section of Twitter where the interaction involves mostly Nigerians – can be tiring, particularly when what’s trending is an overstretched adoption of the question in Sesotho dialect that provokes mind-itching thoughts: O jewa ke eng?; and then that is followed by a meltdown on the uppity of a hiring personnel who referred to an interviewee as rude for passing a compliment about her smell. Such overdone conversations are common on Nigerian Twitter; and honestly, I am very often uninterested. Thank God for characters like Blaqbonez that brings an engaging alternative option to the Twitter experience, particularly for someone with interest in Nigerian music.
A good day on Blaq’s timeline is interesting to see: a blend of pure goofiness and good music – like watching his caricature performance of the INEC collation officer – a professor – who needed more “illumination” to read election results from a sheet; and then a video post of him doing an impressive freestyle to the instrumental of Wizkid’s “Ojuelegba.” On his day, Blaqbonez could be either of Maraji or Eva Alordiah, but with a little less consistency. He explained, “There is no obligation to do it at anytime. It is not that serious.” “If I feel like there’s something that happened and I want to be part of, I just do it. It is not like there’s an obligation to do it.” His posts usually score tens of thousands of views and generate hundreds of happy comments about how funny he is; and about his unordinary ability with rhyme and poetry.
Many do not know that Blaq has been polishing his rap skill for long years – the young rapper is as old as Wizkid and Davido in the art. “I found out on SoundCloud that the first song I ever made in the studio was recorded in 2012”, he told me. The years that followed went to combining his pursuit of a Computer Engineering degree at OAU to please his family, and chasing his own personal ambition of making a career out of music. “If you chase two rabbits, both will escape” is a golden advice that Blaqbonez could not take because he loves music too much to quit; and he feared his family’s wrath too much to leave school. “Imagine I say I am not going to study Engineering, that I am just going to focus on music and I can’t feed myself and I can’t pay my rent at that time. Imagine them cutting me off. What will I do?” Blaq has managed to hold on to both. He is, today, a well ranked Hiphop artist, holding a degree in Engineering. But he admits he struggled with his academics; he gives his best effort to music. “I did focus fully on education. All I did was pass enough so I could finish University”, he said, with no trace of regret in his countenance.
Unlike Wiz who scored his first hit before enrolling to the Uni, and David who was schooling in Babcock as a celebrity, Blaqbonez had to see school through before making his grand industry appearance. “The difference for me was, I finished school then I came down to Lagos and that’s when everything changed for me.” Lagos is considered the headquarters of the music industry. The city is known to possess the components needed for music success – the network, the top events, and the audience. It is a commonly said that “if you can lockdown the Lagos market, you have locked down the Nigerian market.” People from across the country and beyond, troop in to gain access to heart of the Nigerian music industry. Blaqbonez shares this belief in the Lagos factor. He said, “when you are away from Lagos, you can do so much and still not get recognised.” “I realised that the music is like 20%, or like 10% and every other thing makes up the remaining 90%” – with every other thing, he meant the visibility that Lagos affords an artist, the ease of networking with other artists and industry practitioners, the endless available events to perform at.
In Blaq’s case, he caught the eyes of Vector at a number of rap competitions, and got invited to VEC’s Lafiaji concert of 2017, where he met MI. That meeting ultimately led to his affiliation with Chocolate City, and his signing with 100 Crowns – a label owned by Loose Kaynon and AQ. The timing of the deal, for Blaq, was crucial, because it helped put his dream in perspective. “2months before I finished school that’s when I signed with 100Crowns and Chocolate City”, he revealed. “It is different if you’re coming out of school and you are not sure if music will work; and you don’t even have a deal.” “The timing of the deal was just perfect for me. If I came out of school without a way forward, I probably would have fallen into depression or something.”
Blaq’s relationship with Vector, who had earlier taken him under his wings, never translated into a deal, in fact, there was never an offer from the “King Kong” rapper who, at the time, had just dealt with a difficult label exit and was setting up his own imprint – G.R.A.P. “I feel like he felt like he wasn’t ready”, Blaq said. And logically, established acts do not always have to sign a promising artist to help, especially when the necessary framework for more artists isn’t available. Like VEC did, paving the way for one’s protégée could mean supporting the young artist on talent-showcasing platforms like the Hennessy Cypher; using your influence to get the artist perform at shows; and helping the act secure big features. It was no surprise that Blaq said, “Vector is one of the most important people in my career.” – reiterating his adulation of the GRAP man which he had earlier done on No Longer Stupid. The line goes: “Vector supported me after all of the fuckery. For that he will remain a freaking boss to me.”
In his new clique – a unit consisting of himself and 3 of the most dedicated Nigerian Hiphop artists (one G.O.A.T, one veteran, one with a catalog housing 9 commendable projects) – Blaq is the “new one” – the one whose slim shoulder is believed, would lift the weight of Nigerian Hiphop into the new age. Blaqbonez is confident, yet aware of the challenge that comes with being seen as “the future of Nigerian Hiphop.” He told me, “This is where I have always wanted to be. But it puts on more pressure because I know a lot of people have been in this position and it never materialised.” “I never lose sight of this fact”, he added. Truly, the bubble era of the Nigerian Hiphop scene was long in the past. Nigerian music, in general, has experienced significant evolution since then, but the Hiphop genre hasn’t seen much growth despite having many promising characters surface over the years.
Blaq is the new guy with the spotlight – the one whose first mainstream album ranked among the top 10 of the year, the young lyricist shinning in the midst of veterans on the Martell Cypher, the guy who makes trendy music and has got good jokes, the one who isn’t a fashion icon but is interesting to watch his efforts. Like in Teni’s case, Julius Religious’ theory – “if you make good music, there’s a chance that people will like you; but when you make good music and you‘re funny, there’s no chance in hell that they won’t like your music” – manifests in the act of Blaqbonez. Artists are finding it difficult monetising their materials; and it is even more difficult for Hiphop artists. But Blaq is seeing growth in the acceptance of his music. At the time of our chat, his number was nearing a million in streams. “It is about to be four weeks now (since I dropped the “Re-up”). In two and a half weeks I had done 400,000 streams. It took me 2months to do that with BadBoyBlaq”, he said.
“Right now, I have done 600,000 streams.” A lot of this is owed to his internet presence. I guess, all the making himself look stupid isn’t just for nothing, his comical character helps his music. “My project was #19 on the charts, after I posted it online, it went up to #9”, he told me. His internet habits sometimes cause him to clash with people, including other industry figures. If you’ve been following him on Twitter you’d be aware of his clash with members of YBNL Mafia, around December 2018. This case, very similar to Falz’s criticism of the act of glorying fraud by artists. Blaq maintains that “it is wrong.” He thinks its stems from a place of ignorance. He cited the damaging effects of glorification of fraud though music, then said to me: “I won’t jump on a song like that.” He seemed convincing but we might to have till it’s an offer of a dream collaboration.
Many artists are as talented as Blaqbonez but his artistic awareness is marvelling, especially for an artist with so much time for growth ahead of him. Perhaps it is the reward for experience – an asset he has 7years of. When I asked him, “where do you see yourself in 5 – 10 years?” He replied, “legend status bro.” “Then the Grammies” This isn’t new. Too many artists speak of their Grammy aspirations and it starting to seem like it’s every artist’s empty wish. But Blaq, in his own defence, asks, “Are they dope enough?”
This article was written by Ibironke Oluwatobi. He tweets via: @ibironketweets