Nigerian Hip-Hop Has A Value Problem
In my time in the music industry, one of the crucial skills that I have discovered that people ought to have is to spot the appearance of vanity, as opposed to actual progress.
The music industry operates on the basis of exchange of value, far beyond money. A placement on a popular platform is worth more than N100,000 to an artist. The access to powerful or influential people is another currency that possesses value. There is value everywhere and anywhere. It just depends on who is evaluating the cost.
While it is positive that beyond money, value can still be had, there’s also the tendency for people to place value in vanity as an end in itself. A record label executive signing off on paying beautiful women money to escort their upcoming artist to a red carpet, creating the illusion that he isn’t such a poor loser might have value. But when analyzed by a more experienced (prudent) hand, it is a waste of cash.
I once witnessed a truckload of people being offloaded outside an event venue. None of these new arrivals made any effort to get inside the hall, but just milled around and waited, until an obscure musician showed up. Instantly, cameras were turned on, and those loafers instantly became a fake welcoming pack. They were filmed screaming the name of the would-be star, and after that, they filed back into the buses, collected their payment, and bounced. Value or vanity? It depends on who is seeing it.
Nigerian Hip-hop is currently battling this problem. Once a staple of music enthusiasts, rap music has been moved to the fringes of the game. Pop music has minted effective sounds and stars to edge them out from the centre of the scene, into the recesses of Hip-hop heads, and underground followership. It’s a sorry state to be in. The Nigerian music industry rewards perceived influence. The more people you influence, the better your cash flow rate. If you are in the niche spaces, no amount of strategic gymnastics can give you the type of money that you dream of. Pop money is plentiful and sweet. And artists who are beneficiaries of it, know how difficult it is to be weaned off it, due to a falling profile or a bad run of ineffective music. That’s why competition is rife, and nobody is ‘dulling’.
In the niche spaces, money also reigns supreme. But that god status can be rivalled by attention. Niche artists rarely ever get mass attention. Apart from core music weirdoes and enthusiasts, and music industry professionals, nobody pays attention to them. And in that cold lonely corner, they can see the bright lights of fame and success fall on their pop colleagues. They begin to plot steps on how to get a slice of that pie. But they have a problem; instead of focusing on the core cause of their relegation, which is their disconnected art, they throw energy into the vanity of driving conversations. People know Kizz Daniel because they connect with his music. They don’t connect with his music after hearing about him. The horse comes before the cart.
Nigerian Hip-hop is putting the cart before the horse, but they don’t know because people are cheering them on. Blaqbonez, the new enfant terrible of the genre, makes great music. He has pink hair, markets himself as a cross between a singer and a cartoon character, with a huge smattering of humour. To make things interesting, he is claiming to be the best rapper in Africa. That declaration would have been ignored or laughed at in pop spaces where there is money to be made. But Nigerian rappers operate from a position of lack, and in the absence of any real value, the vacuum is filled with ego and vanity.
People are dissing Blaqbonez. Beef is being served from many quarters, and the fans are cheering from the sidelines. There is some activity happening in that niche space again. And to many rappers and their underdog-loving fans, it is progress.
But that is a lie. Progress resides in the advancement of the art. Progress is a value measured by tangible metrics such as cold, hard, cash hitting your bank account. Progress is filling concert venues with paying fans, who are turning up because they are emotionally contracted to the music. Progress is signing huge endorsement deals with brands that push you and your bottom line forward. Progress is seeing your streaming numbers continue to climb in millions, enough for you to your efforts in the studio by your ability to be a profitable business. That, my beef-loving people, is true progress.
But if you ask the random Hip-hop head, they will make arguments about the increased media coverage of the drama as some sort of win. They will say the attention benefits the culture, and that money can be made from people chuckling from one beef to another. They will tell you that the presence of strife is a necessary part of rap music. They will put the cart before the horse and try to senselessly make sense out of it. But they are wrong, and they know it.
Nigerian Hip-hop has a value problem. The biggest rappers in Nigeria right now; Falz and Zlatan Ibile, are not considered and respected by Hip-hop heads because they have fused their art with elements of pop music to increase their fanbase and profit. While they are smiling to the bank, the rest are laughing to the bants. Vanity constantly fills up the space that value ought to take up, and until that is rectified by the rappers and handlers, they will spend more time at the back of the queue, depending on occasional crumbs to survive. Beef tastes good to people who cannot afford a more beneficial upgrade.