MI’s Hip-Hop Revolution Needs To Be Televised
The legendary MC has spent most, if not all, of those years at the top of Nigerian hip-hop, and has evolved from an artist who over relies on his lyrics to paint pictures, to one who appreciates putting pictures right next to his words.
This year, Mr. Incredible has released two outstanding projects, the experimental Rendezvous, and the deeply personal Yxng Dxnzl.
Unfortunately, Rendezvous hasn’t posted earth-shattering numbers on MTN Music+ and BoomPlay, with “Your Father” (featuring Dice Ailes) the only video shot to promote and contextualize what was a pretty abstract project.
Contrast that with MI’s previous album The Chairman which, even four years after its release, remains in or around the Top 5 albums in the Nigerian iTunes charts, alongside Wizkid’s Ayo album.
There’s now every indication that if MI were to resort to his old, camera-shy ways once again, Yxng Dxnzl — an even more layered project than Rendezvous — might suffer a similar fate.
In a move reminiscent of Kanye’s G.O.O.D Music June rollout, Yxng Dxnzl was sandwiched between two albums from Choc City artists and affiliates in MI’s own #LAMBAugust rollout.
Last week, Crown, a collaborative album by Loose Kaynon and A-Q was released to critical acclaim, while Blaqbonez’ debut album Bad Boy Blaq is due out next Friday.
Both Loose and A-Q are rappers who’ve been around long enough to be considered veterans but haven’t done enough to be respected as such, while Blaqbonez is one of Nigerian hip-hop’s hottest young prospects.
MI co-produced and executive produced all three projects, and has given these rappers more attention and artistic direction than they’ve probably ever gotten in their careers.
The Choc boss is doing his bit to shine the light on English-spoken, lyric-driven rap, particularly after taking a swipe at the entire sub-genre last year with the scathing “You Rappers Should Fix Up Your Lives.”
“YRSFUYL” is the only song from #LAMBAugust so far with a music video, and that video came out late last year.
Worse still, after anticipation for it was built off the back of the record’s controversy, the video for “YRSFUYL” was a significant let down, with its unimaginative ancient Egyptian theme, courtesy of an increasingly uninspired Clarence Peters.
Music videos have been MI’s Achilles’ heel, the bane of his artistic existence — he doesn’t shoot enough, he doesn’t shoot videos that stand out, he releases videos far too late.
In the beginning, the challenge was probably finances but even that is questionable.
Despite claiming his classic debut Talk About It sold 30,000 copies in 30 minutes, the album only produced one music video: “Safe”.
Perhaps that level of camera shyness was forgivable in a pre-MTV Base Africa era, but doesn’t work in the YouTube world of today.
In 2010, MI released his sophomore album MI2, subtitled it “The Movie”, and set fan’s expectations for a visual representation of their favorite MC’s music.
But the rapper and his record label were guilty of overpromising and under-delivering.
While there was a marked improvement in that they released videos for “Undisputed”, “Action Film” and “Beef”, the visual connection to the music wasn’t complete, and the opportunity to create a true audio-visual experience for fans was squandered.
Also, some of the album cuts on MI2, such as “Number 1” (featuring Flavour), “Nobody” (featuring 2Face) and “One Naira” (featuring Waje), went on to become some of the biggest hits in MI’s catalog to date, but could arguably have been even bigger if they had been accompanied by music videos.
In 2014, MI released the The Chairman album, backed by videos for “Bad Belle” (featuring Moti Cakes), “Monkey” (featuring Chigurl), “Bullion Van” (featuring Runtown, Phyno and Stormrex) and, much later, “Brother” (featuring Nosa and Milli).
MI was seasoned by then and the roll out for music videos was arguably his best yet, complete with throwaways like “Superhuman” (featuring HHP) and “Chairman” to build anticipation. Although that’s not to say that everything was smooth sailing.
The original video for “Bullion Van” was shot by Kemi Adetiba but never saw the light of day due to “creative differences”.
MI then hit up his longtime video director MEX for an alternative video which, frankly, came in several months too late.
Speaking of too late, the video for “Brother” only came out a few weeks ago. The record was addressing a Choc Boy breakup to an audience who had long gone past the last stage of grieving the group’s demise.
MI has the opportunity to do even more with the visuals on this go-around, and to chronicle the #LAMBAugust moment and the Yxng Dxnzl album in real-time.
These projects are only the music aspect of MI’s overall plan to put hip-hop back in pole position; a plan that includes concerts round the country and a hip-hop festival in Lagos.
But in order for the revolution to make a real impact, it has to be seen by all, not just heard by a few.
Lyric-driven rap needs to incorporate more visuals in order to grow bigger than a niche genre, a critic’s favourite and a topic for just a few hip-hop heads.