Indigenous Rap: Telling The African Tale The Western Way

Mo ni dream lati fi Ajah sey residence

(I have a dream to use Ajah as my residence)

Moni dream lati di Nigerian president

(I have a dream to become the Nigerian president)

Owo ti awon president n je lo encourage mi

(The money stolen by our presidents, is what encourages me)

Epe ti awon eyan n se fun won lo n discourage mi

(The curses placed on them by the masses, is what discourages me)

At the time when Da Grin dropped this verse on his song Everyday, the song became an instant hit on the street. Both the hip-hop and non-hip-hop fans could relate with the verse because it projects the struggles of a typical African hustler and especially because the verse was communicated in a native language – a language that is ours not that of ‘the queen.’ The words struck delicate chords because in the verse, Da Grin bore down the deepest aspects of the life of an average Nigerian youth, without doing an impression of the hustle on the streets of New York, where it is majorly about skin-colour discrimination, drug trade and guns.

The struggle on the Nigerian street is a different kind but not any less intense. On the Nigerian street, the struggle for most young kids born without a spoon made of silver, is to break free from the hold of limiting societal factors like poverty, perpetual governmental corruption and the struggle to crossover to a better economic class. It is the everyday exercise for Ghetto kids like Da Grin (before the fame). It is the message Reminisce preached about on Where I Come From, this same drive manifests on Phyno’s music and for several other ‘indigenous’ rappers.

For these artistes, experience has put them in a position to listen to uncommon tales of life and made them witnesses to real life happenings that are worth sharing; like the success story of an Enugu kid that was earlier tagged ‘no good,’ the narrative of the dreamer who got turned down again and again by Lagos studio owners until he finally got a chance and success came through, the tale of a kid who had no parent but had to grind on the streets of Mushin to survive.These stories have formed the theme of most indigenous rap projects in the past, they are a core part of the discussion being made in the Nigerian rap community today and centuries from now, the hard knock life stories would continually be told.

Everywhere in the world, similar stories are being told but the unique thing about the way Phyno or Reminisce would do their own narrative, is in the language of use, the originality of the content and the delivery, even though the approach is an adoption of the Western music genre called Hip-hop. Hip-hop itself is more than just a genre but also a culture and its beauty in poetry, rhyme and delivery makes it highly appealing and so, it spreads even outside its original home in US, to become generally accepted in several other music-loving communities of the world including Nigeria.

Contemporary music used to be the heart and soul of the Nigerian music culture but things started to take a different form with increased international interaction and the wave of internet penetration that brought about a high level of exposure to new trends and culture -both good and bad. The adoption of Hip-hop being one of the good adoptions, has turned out to be a major influence on our music culture and it has undergone different levels of metamorphosis in the bid to blend into the Nigerian society and impact the culture more.

While a lot  of experimenting has been done with Hip-hop in Nigeria and the results have been considered good in some areas and bad in some, the invention of ‘ indigenous rap ‘ is one of the major successes so far recorded in this area because it allows Nigerians share their own story properly, using the US originated Hip-hop. Artistes like Lord Of Ajasa, Da Grin, Ruggedman, Nigga Raw have at different times contributed to the growth of indigenous rap, by modelling their style of rap music in local languages such that different sections of the Nigerian audience find their works entertaining and relatable. The present generation of indigenous rap artistes including Reminisce, Olamide, Phyno, Zoro and a long list of others are pushing the culture further forward. A lot of them started out as soldiers of destiny, equipped with their innate belief, the street lessons and a determination to get a fair share of success out of life.

So when Meek Mill would rap about his beginnings and say something like,‘I grew up looking up to niggas that was selling coke/Oh, I was raised by the stop sign/No religion I was getting saved by the Glock nine/By the minute I was getting paid like a hot line,’ an Olamide verse would sound like, ‘mo ti nje idi Malu (Now I eat fleshy meat)/Erankekere o ka mi mo (I cannot be satisfied by small meat anymore)…/Atikekereni mo ti jara mi (from a young age, I have been aware)/Won le ja mi mo’ (I don’t need them to enlighten me). The verses are similar because they are narratives about tough start to life but the difference in the two perspectives lies in the fact that while Meek’s verse captures the reality on the streets of Philly; the deals being made around the dark corners, the guns changing hands and putting bodies to the ground; Olamide’s verse bares it all out on the elevated view of a man who came from the house of lack in Bariga to live a first-class life in the urban areas of Lagos and that’s that the beauty of the Nigerian hustler’s story, told by Nigerian natives using  indigenous rap.

 

This article was written by Ibironke Oluwatobi. He tweets via: @ibironketweets 

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