Rap Is Heavily Misunderstood And Misrepresented In Nigeria — Vector
Every year, the conversation on whether or not Hip Hop music is dead in Nigeria keeps surfacing. The latest person to stir this conversation was Wizkid, who, last week, touted rappers as ‘broke boys’, stereotyping the gender as ‘boring and dead to him.’ Rappers from MI Abaga to Ladipoe and Blaqbonez all shared their reaction differently.
Interestingly, while some took a defensive position, and some playing the maturity card, avoiding conflict, others like Ola Dips milked the situation by recording a reply diss track, using it to promote his career, Vector is the round peg in a square hole who believes that ignorance is the seed that is germinating these frequent controversies.
The Lagos-born rapper, sound whiz, and philosopher, just stepped out with his latest album dubbed, TESLIM: The Energy Still Lives In Me. Since Vector, born Olanrewaju Ogunmefun, had his 2020 spat with MI Abaga, the musician has been on everyone’s radar as one of the finest veterans in the rap scene.
After a decade of dropping relatable rap music, and creating a melange of street pop and Hip Hop that is very philosophical, exciting and entertaining. TESLIM is an extension of this effort, bringing 16 tracks of genre-bending melodies, classic flows and rich storytelling. He taps Nasty C, Seyi Vibez, Ladipoe, Goodgirl LA, and others, to create a sonic palette that continues to distinguish Vector as an A-list rapper.
Catching up with Guardian Music, Vector delves into the story behind TESLIM, which was inspired by grief and admiration following his father’s demise; his thoughts on fatherhood, as well as the heavy misrepresentation and shame culture towards the Hip Hop scene; and also possible pathways to permanently position rap as a lucrative, successful and exciting sound and community.
Congratulations on the new album. How do you feel about the record?
It feels great having it out now. I feel like the timing that we did not plan was eventually perfect.
How long did it take to make?
I had been working on the album for over four years. I even released two earlier projects before it.
What’s up with the whole TESLIM movement?
I wanted to make an album after my dad passed away in 2017. I was having a conversation with someone and I was thinking in my head around that period that I wanted to do something with my late father’s name.
While I was at the funeral, the acronym just struck in my head, The Energy Still Lives In Me. I was looking at his casket while I was thinking about it. He was a great man while he was alive, but I felt like I needed to immortalise his story in my head.
Your music is distinguished with its storytelling. What were the stories you intended to tell with TESLIM?
I named the album TESLIM, but I didn’t want it to be focused on my dad’s personal life; I wanted to focus on his energy. For example, it was until my dad died that I realised that the image of a father in your mind is of a person standing behind you to protect you. The image of a father in your head is a pillar; they don’t give too many men the credit they deserve, especially when it comes to parenting. We barely talk about the role of a father.
How do you get through Nigeria’s toughness, without seeing that your father did it before you? My dad was always relentless. There were times he probably cried, secretly. But he was always there. I wanted the album to explore the energy of a father and fatherhood.
It was my story being told in honour of my father’s legacy, for the life that he lived as a police officer. It was my experiences that I was referencing. I remembered that while I was going through those personal issues in life, because my father was still in my head mentally.
When I was growing up in the barracks, I noticed that my dad was among the few police officers that never took a bribe; he was never that guy. So, it is pretty much that energy of perseverance across the spectrum of my life – from women, to being a black man, and so much more – that I poured into this album.
You do tell relatable stories, however, some people see you as an idealist. What are your thoughts on this?
It is personally important for me to maintain a trajectory of telling relatable stories. I tell some music friends that the beautiful thing about music is that no matter how bad your experience in life, you can make music about those realities and feel better.
There’s this narrative that there is only love for Hip Hop when there are fights and beefs, do you share that sentiment?
I don’t know if I share the sentiment, but I see what you mean. However, for me to have maintained my craft for over 10 years, it must mean that it is a method that works. I like allowing people to have their opinions. The message is only meant for the receiver of the message. If Hip Hop is not for you, it is not for you.
People are fond of saying the American style of Hip Hop is the ‘real’ form of Hip Hop. I don’t agree. In Yorubaland, I have found traces of rhythm and poetry, which is the full meaning of rap. How can we now say that rap is from America and it is alien to us?
I guess it was just documented first in the United States…
The argument of documentation is not complete, because it varies. From what I observed, the Africans didn’t document anything like the white people; it was all mental documentation. Did you learn how to speak your native language from a textbook? Was it not from word-of-mouth?
As Africans, we are ideologically practical. You can term it a balance between idealism and realism. I don’t know what measure of salt I can tell you to put in a soup, but your brain would caution you on when it is too much. So, for me, rap is very African as well.
In Yoruba Language, there is something called ‘Ewi.’ The Ewi in Yoruba language, if you add beats to it, it will automatically sound like Nelly. I started to play on words since I was a child; it was fun for me. I guess I am a natural; I did not wait for rap to become popular before I ran with it. I was born with the talent to rap.
The overarching argument now is that Hip Hop itself should not be boxed. It does not have to be battle rapping before it is real Hip Hop. So, storytellers are free to use the art form to tell their stories how they want to.
I agree with you.
Also, the fact that the audience appears to love stereotyping Hip Hop music seems to be an issue. Do you think it is just a matter of consumer behaviour?
It might not just be about a way of life; it is more like the popular way of life. You know how Western influence has always kind of diluted purity? There is a high probability that the original idea of rap has been digressed from. It was kept away to give room for the ‘pop’ style of rap, which is more commercially appealing. So, when people see rappers beefing, it is exciting.
However, the truth is that people also behave the same way with other genres; they find controversies interesting. It is just a misrepresentation. What about KRS1? NWA? These are people who used rap as a form of activism. What happened to that original understanding of rap? There is a trend also that is contributing to this.
In Nigeria, for instance, you could blow with a song that does not entirely define your depth or range as an artiste. So, because you want to keep the cash flow, you keep exhausting yourself by repeating the same thing and killing your creativity. You would be left with money and then you fall off. This is because it is not originally you; it is just one side of you that people enjoyed. So, why restrict your entire self? So, rap is heavily misunderstood and misrepresented in Nigeria.
You had some exciting features on this album, from Ladipoe, to Nasty C, and some others. Why did you pick those collaborators?
A while ago, Nasty C was in Nigeria; we met and recorded some music. I had the idea of experimenting with Afrobeat and rap, and calling it Rapfrobeat. Fela’s image as a rapper will be gangster, if you want to think of it. I was playing with the idea of making something unique.
I remember Nasty C saying, ‘I don’t know what that shit is, but it is dope.’ If we really want to move ahead, we need to approach ourselves. We should not force unity, but you should allow it. The collabo was meant to be. With Seyi Vibez, I had constantly heard him, but not really deeply. I wanted to record Mercy, because the song was inspired off a conversation I had with my dad before he passed away. He was suggesting that I should try to mix rap music with some ‘cele’ music.
After he passed, I made the song. I sent it to a video director called Olu the Wave, to come up with a concept for the shoot. Instead, the director came back and strongly recommended that I put Seyi Vibez on the song. Normally, I don’t chase too many features, because people in the industry move algorithmically. They seem to move only by algorithms and force collaborations based on the idea of who is popular.
However, when I heard the verse from Seyi Vibez, I was impressed. I respect Seyi for the song, because it was a befitting verse. Most people, when they want to jump on a collabo, they are always just trying to ‘kill it’, and they forget to ‘feel it’ and ‘fill it’. Seyi felt it and he filled in. I even had to repeat his lines at the outro of the song, intentionally, because it was so wholesome. Myself and Seyi Vibez connected without even seeing each other.
With Goodgirl LA, it was also amazing. I had insomnia at one period, and I started to record in the living room. So, a few weeks after, I was talking to someone and he said he had interest in working with Goodgirl LA. I had heard her perform at some point before, but we didn’t know each other much. So, we linked up again now and we tried to make a song, but it felt forced. So, I just frantically played one hook I did and immediately we vibed. We recorded Early Momo, just like that.
With this album, you have shown your versatility as an artiste. It seems you can record music with anyone?
It has always been my approach. I was a lead in my church choir. When I was in secondary school, I went to the market, bought Fruity Loops and installed it on my laptop. I figured out how to use it to make beats and record music, all by myself; I started to learn production myself. I can really sing, produce, compose, arrange music, and even master and mix slightly too.
I am happy that the impression is gradually shifting, so people can see me for who I am.
I won’t even ask you if you think Hip Hop is dead, but I want to know what you think is a way forward for the culture?
I feel like the barest minimum that can be done is for the artistes to ensure they make relatable content and they maintain their artistic authenticity. On every rap contest I have adjudged, I always tell the contestants, ‘Why are you the bomb like ISIS, when Boko Haram is there?’ It is the same reference.
It is time to start including our own data and information into the intelligence of making Hip Hop. We must be more intentional to be pan-African in our thoughts; you can draw thoughts from every African reality. Rap is also about heavy levels of consciousness. So, a Nigerian rapper should be able to relate to a Ugandan.
Rap music is not pop music, and it will never be pop music. It is also okay for other stakeholders like the media to give more coverage to the surrounding ecosystem of the Hip Hop art form. Of all the music genres, rap is the most tasking and thought-provoking. For there to be a more unanimous journey for rap towards success, the creators have to start creating more relatable content. You need to blend in all your realities.
For instance, I am learned, but I am Yoruba. I went to St Gregory’s College and UNILAG, but I also grew up on Lagos Island. I be barrack boy, but I am eloquent and well studied; all those realities count. As an artiste, you have to utilise your realities creatively to make music on that level.
On the side of people investing, it will be nice to encourage more investment. Rap is mental exercise and it is good for everyone to listen to, including children. Rappers need to do better with their relatability and lyricism. And for those investing, you need to do more. You don’t have to remind a rapper that Wizkid has more money than him. Don’t tempt him to consider being a pop artiste, so he can be like Wizkid.
Some people are multitalented. How dare you put a man who can sing and rap in one box? It is a lot of careful communication and intentionality that will lead us out of this situation. Rap can never die; pop progressions will die. There was a time when dancehall was famous. Now, it is Afrobeats. All through those progressions, rap has constantly remained, although evolving.
As a matter of fact, when people criticize the era of Trap music, calling it monotonous – which is true, by the way – we forget that we can still innovate it. Travis Scott and Future have done so successfully.
I want to stretch it just a bit further, to see if boosting the frequency of releases of rap albums every year would be good for growth?
Making music is based on inspiration. It took me over four years to finally finish my album; it doesn’t mean it took me four years to record it. I feel like we should actually tone down on frequency. You probably don’t listen to Adele often, but you still remember the depth of her music. Just let music be music. One verse of rap draws from multiple experiences; you reference so many things. It is a broad spectrum of thinking for just a single 45-second verse.
Artistes should be allowed to create when their spirit is in tuned and not pressured to meet up with your mental capacity for volume. Pop is popular, Rap is not everywhere; it is a mental exercise.
So, what is next for Vector?
The tours are coming up. We have a number of dates in December where I will perform. The tour kicks off properly next year. There are more records that we will make videos for. This is an album that is not monotonous and is rich with lessons. TESLIM will be the front burner for me, till it is time to drop a deluxe.