A definitive history of M.I Abaga vs Vector and its importance for Nigerian Hip-Hop

A day ago, a beef that had been brewing for years finally came to a head with Vector's 'The Purge.'

M.I Abaga and Vector when the going was good. (360nobs)

Around the same time, Vector was becoming a staple of Nigerian Hip-Hop. Like M.I, he was sell-able and likeable as an English speaking rapper. But unlike M.I, he was already being thrust into the spotlight and was farther along in his development and mainstream relevance than M.I. Most gamblers would have placed bets on Vector to become the new king.

Vector was in Lagos doing bits while M.I was in the North making the rounds. He only moved to Lagos permanently after he signed with Chocolate City. Vector was also promoted as a freestyle rapper. As you know, Lagos is the bigger market. You own Lagos, you own it all.

But then something happened; it's called 'Safe' featuring Djinee. M.I not only took the lead as the top dog, he sealed it with a classic album in Talk About It and two awards at the MTV African Music Awards in 2009. Vector began to take a backseat. At the time, he hadn't even released his debut album. State of Surprise was to drop a year later, 2010.

While M.I. was already making waves, Vector still had fans who felt he could usurp M.I and he also believed it. Why wouldn't he? He hadn't even dropped his debut album yet. As a Lagos boy who grew up in barracks and with a larger than life appetite, he also felt he was more talented than the Jos transplant.

The proof came on track six of his debut album, State of Surprise. It was the Samklef-produced, Emmsong-assisted song titled, 'Kilode.' On it, Vector rapped, "Kilode? What the heck do you want from me, asking if I could kill M.I. Why would I? He's a cool kid... Ain't got no reason to be on a metaphor clash with him. He's him and I'm me..."

An OG before IG tells me the track was recorded at least 18 months before State of Surprise was released.

Vector used the word, "Kid." It might have been mainly harmless on his part, but it was passively condescending. Even on 'Sha Ma Wa Lo,' Vector thought he was the greatest. He says, "GOATs don't play around at ramadan..."

With the word "kid," seeds of this beef were planted. At the time, he still had a chance, but even clairvoyant people couldn't predict what was to come. M.I went on to stake a legitimate claim as one of the greatest. Vector has since remained a polarizing character at best and a pretender at worst.

On August 30, 2018, Vector directly responded to M.I Abaga on Cool FM’s ‘Midday Oasis.’ He thought M.I was wrong for recording ‘You Rappers Should Fix Up Your Lives.’ Before then, they'd appeared on songs together, but never featured each other.

The last time they appeared on a song together, VJ Adams tapped both for 'Define Rap 1' in July 2018. On it, Vector rapped, "I feel so many rappers decline whenever we rhyme... And I don't care who's on the track, everybody getting left back coz as long as you're a rapper, f** being cool, let's rap... This is rap, I don't trust you all..."

But before then, Vector won the Lyricist on the Roll plaque at The Headies in 2015 for hit, 'King Kong.' He won the award over illBliss, G.O.D and Reminisce. M.I released Illegal Music III a while later. On it was a track titled, 'NotjustOk/Savage.' It was a direct response to a list NotJustOk made for hottest Nigerian rappers.

Then he goes ahead and raps, "...To the headies wassup wassup. You my fam tho I wish you the best of luck. You’ve been a blessing to the game to lots of us, but that lyricist award mehn we got to talk. Not tryna say I deserve to play cause I f*ck with everyone who emerged in that. The criteria of the win it doesn’t favour the men spitting new raw shit that’s word and facts..."

On the same night, Vector also called MI Abaga a "short man" as he accepted his award for Lyricist On The Roll.

Then on the famous 2017 episode of Loose Talk Podcast, Greatest Podcast You Ever Did In Your Life, MI Abaga spoke on why there had never been any collaboration between both rappers.

Vector then responded with an open comment as he wrote, "Firstly, you mailed me a beat sometime ago on some "let's make this dope record happen" but yeah that was all it was. You were also supposed to be on the #Kingkongremix but yeah we all must have gotten very busy... hehe.

"So let me make this clear... 16 bars is nothing, i'm not the type to involve in fake talks so... yeah... you said and i quote "i am the guy who wants to rap with everybody" ok then, LET'S RAP."

MI Abaga proceeded to writer Vector an open letter to address his comments on Loose Talk Podcast.

A few months ago, word on the street was that Vector was planning a major diss track that will be directed at M.I. Abaga. Industry ITKs waited for it, but it never happened. Yet, we salivated at the combustible prospects of a rivalry that had been brewing for 10 years. Life always seems to have a way of pitting M.I and Vector against each other.

M.I. Abaga and Vector Tha Viper have since grown into brand ambassadors for two of the biggest liquor brands in Nigeria. Vector is associated with the Hennessy Cyphers that have been emblematic for Nigerian Hip-Hop while M.I. did two highly commendable episodes of the Martell Cyphers.

There was also one problem; Hennessy is bigger than Martell. Cypher was always going to be the ‘Manila’ for this ‘Trilla’ of a Hip-Hop rivalry.

Everytime the Hennessy Cyphers came around town, M.I. fired shots via his Twitter account. He was never silent about his desire to do things with Hennessy. In the early 2010s too, MI Abaga worked with Hennessy and even appeared on the Hennessy Cyphers. His 'brother,' Ice Prince Zamani also won the Hennessy Artistry in 2009.

In a way, you would feel that it's M.I’s ego as arguably the greatest Nigerian rapper of all time working its number - it’s fair. As the big dog, you want to be at the helm of the biggest things.

Hennessy is the bigger brand with the bigger bag. On the other hand, Vector is the brand-friendly rapper whose equity as a battle rapper is more suited to the Hennessy Cyphers. From his days at the University of Lagos, he was known for rapping.

2019 was the most eventful year in Nigerian Hip-Hop since 2014 - 2017 is a close second. MI Abaga also came into the year with intentions to finally go head-to-head with Vector. A little while later, he also started baiting Vector on his Instagram DMs.

On January 10, 2019, M.I made fired shots at Vector. He orchestrated the highly pleasing and enjoyable Martell Cypher and called on his 100 Crowns brethren, AQ and Loose Kaynon to send messages to Vector. Loose Kaynon was the first. He rapped, “Washed up rappers turned pop want to son Hip-Hop artists…”

AQ

AQ has a history with Vector. At first, Vector featured AQ, Terry Tha Rapman and X.O. Senavoe on the 2011 song, ‘Ginja.’ Then In 2012, both rappers teamed up for ‘Distractions,’ a diss to Reminisce.

However, when Vector rapped that, “Somebody please mess with me, I need a new distraction. Damn A-Q, I bet that crazy n***a laughing…” on ‘Where is Vector,’ AQ went at Vector’s head with a remix of the same song. AQ and Vector also had a relationship around this time until things went sour.

On the first Martell Cypher, A-Q rapped, “How are you taking shots with a supbar album? Those joints ain’t strong enough, you need calcium…” For his part, M.I. who also bragged about the impact of his 2017 track, ‘You Rappers Should Fix Up Your Lives,’ had a verse littered with shots at Vector.

He rapped, “There’s no rapper I can beef with, I son ‘em all… The cypher that matters… I’m the head, always the head… Loose and AQ we should make this episodic, open for rappers who deliver product. And that other cognac (Hennessy), this is how to spend your budget…

As if that was not enough, the video ended with an explicit shot at Hennessy, “Don’t do cyphers that won’t pay you, come to us instead.” While rappers were paid in 2019, M.I. again fired shots when the organizers billed Boogey, Teeto Ceemos and a few rappers, ‘underground.’

Then on September 3, 2019, South African rapper, AKA became the scapegoat for Nigerians - celebrities - to discipline.

Fellow rapper, YCee misconstrued AKA’s tweets after South Africa’s July 11, 2019 loss to Nigeria at the African Cup of Nations in Egypt. M.I made it a point to support AKA. But on Twitter, Vector attacked M.I for it - boiling point was coming.

Meanwhile in between, another ‘beef’ happened. Blaqbonez, who had been on the 2018 Hennessy cypher with Vector was at the centre of it. It happened because Blaq named himself the ‘Best Rapper in Africa.’

Although the beef seemed cooked and half-done, rappers, Ten-Tik, Meji, Payper Corleone and most notably, Vader came for Blaqbonez. In the middle of it all, M.I weighed in with a video of Ghost and AQ arguing just before he dropped a video for ‘Playlist’ about a 18 months late.

In the middle of this, AQ pulled Blaqbonez out of an interview on Douglas Jekan’s, PGM show. He spotted Vader in the crowd and felt it was a set-up.

Then on September 10, 2019, Martell Cypher II: Purification dropped. Blaqbonez stood behind claims on his track, ‘B.R.I.A.’ Loose Kaynon fired shots at people gossiping in their 30’s and AQ fired shots at a lot of people, most notably, Douglas Jekan.

For his part, M.I fired heavier shots at Vector in a verse that really started with, “Hi hater, I hear you talking…” and continued with, “When you’re ready, it will be a seismic event, I think you chicken though 'cuz chickens only lie with their hands…” He also called the Hennessy cypher boring and likened it to an economic event or an oil drill.

But before then, on the ‘Headliners’ segment of the 2019 Hennessy cyphers on August 16, Vector strategically featured M.I’s brother, Ice Prince who left Chocolate City in 2016.

He rapped, “I’m here to rap, you scared to die, you p***y… I’d rather lyrical bars over Sarz killing the things, over trying to trade bars over alcoholic drinks. Your period of drought, this is your summer days.

"We know the sun dey hammer you now.. And the whole world has heard you subbing me in other ways, but we all know you shading me won’t keep your sun away…

The drought he was referring to is M.I’s lack of a mainstream hit and possibly the vacation of his seat as CEO of Chocolate City Music.

Now, it’s all come to a head. Direct shots are being fired with dedicated diss tracks. Vector picked two ‘enemies’ of the TASCK/Chocolate City/100 Crowns clan in Payper Corleone and Vader for his diss track. Also noteworthy is that Vader is an affiliate of the Hennessy clan. He won the Hennessy VS Class Season IV in 2017.

On September 20, 2019, social media went mad after Vector released ‘The Purge.’ Vader cleared the air on what happened on the PGM. He also called M.I., AQ and Loose egomaniacs.

Payper Corleone fired his own shots. Vector then came for M.I asking how he went from a two lettered name to a Chairman and shamed M.I’s height. He also bashed AQ, Loose Kaynon and Blaqbonez before addressing M.I’s desire for the Hennessy job.

But just minutes before release, MI Abaga released Vector's diss track first on his own YouTube page. However, after what seemed like a lawsuit around intellectual property infringement, the video has since been taken down from M.I's YouTube page.

Then on September 26, 2019, Vector released what has since turned out to be a 'bait' track in, 'Tetracycling.' Then on October 5, 2019, MI Abaga marked his 39th birthday with 'The Viper,' his highly anticipated reply to Vector. The track was impressive in execution, timing and quality.

On October 6, 2020, Vector spoke with Pulse Nigeria about the beef, but remained coy on whether he would reply to 'The Viper.' On October 11, 2020, Vector tha Viper delivered a deadly blow with, 'Judas The Rat.' While the track took some hours to truly resonate, it became clear by 6 pm that day that Vector had won the beef.

Later that day, Vector also released the baits MI Abaga had been loading into his Instagram DMs. But then, AQ was mentioned on 'Judas The Rat' so he came back with 'Distractions 2.'

MI Abaga still doesn't agree that he lost the beef, but he respects the 'strategy' to it. Then on October 16, 2020, Vector and MI Abaga appeared on Zorro's 'One on One (Remix)'

Beef and diss tracks are either evidence of mutually assured respect or deep-rooted condescension. Sometimes, it’s a mix of both - one of those situations is M.I. vs Vector.

M.I. Abaga and Vector Tha Viper are two of the most recognizable rappers of their generation. They’re also pretty close in age. The conversation about greatness will definitely favour Mr. Abaga. He is arguably the greatest Nigerian rapper of all time. On the other hand, Vector was hailed as a rapper to carry to the torch of Nigerian rap.

His discography will betray any arguments you want to make about his greatness, but he does have a part in the history of Nigerian Hip-Hop. He has two Lyricist on the Roll awards at the Headies. You might argue against the relevance of the Headies, but artists live off recognition and awards.

It’s like validation for them. They deny it, but awards are only immaterial when artists don’t win. Jay Z said as much during his speech at the 2018 pre-grammy party. So for Vector, it's something.

They both have grounds on which to be mad at each other. It’s only normal that their egos clash. Vector is a good rapper who must feel hard done by when conversations of greatness rightly ignore him. Also Hip-Hop is a highly competitive contact sport. Vector must hate how M.I has gone from the underdog to the top dog.

On the other hand, M.I hates how Vector got the biggest bag in the cypher business and consistently messes it up. Also, he probably still hates Vector's guts for the "kid" description in 2010. It’s normal and it’s only fair that they don’t like each other.

It’s competition and competition is human nature. The best entities in any field are fueled by competition. It’s basic human nature to want the top and body the competitor into your rearview.

It’s how the best can stay the best and the underling can become the best. You have to be on your toes, you have to be hungry and you have to respond whenever you’re called out. It’s why Mohammed Salah and Sadio Mane, friends who play for the same team are still competitive with each other.

It’s why every tech company in the world rushed to invest in self-driving vehicles circa 2012 when Tesla started knocking. It’s why every automobile company in the world has invested in lithium-ion batteries when Tesla started cracking it.

It’s why every major tech company is investing in digital streaming platforms for music and movies, artificial intelligence and so forth. You don’t want to get left behind.

Hip-Hop is no different. From time immemorial, the game thrives on beef and diss. It’s how the best spar and prove themselves. Some will call it simple vanity contest of hyper-masculinity and they will have a point. Hip-Hop is the quintessential ground for vanity and hyper-masculinity in music, but that’s just one version of the truth.

The women in Hip-Hop also compete. Competition is why Jay Z has remained the best for over 20 years. Competition is why Kendrick Lamar is the best of his generation. His ‘Control’ verse was his calling card.

Beef and diss tracks will never leave Hip-Hop because the game is a cultural movement built on a fabric or DNA. You’re either in it or you’re not. You either get it, or you don’t. Beef might also be a disruptive tool that promotes disunity and a lack of collaboration in the Nigerian music industry.

However, even if collaboration suddenly became part of Nigerian Hip-Hop, collaborators will collaborate and people will still beef.

Contrary to certain opinions that Nigerian Hip-Hop should be building ways to make money, this is good for Nigerian Hip-Hop. Diss tracks and beef will never stop being a part of Hip-Hop. It’s also not going to impair the focus of sensible rappers to make money - those things are not mutually exclusive.

The sensible rappers who will get hampered by diss tracks were probably never going to be successful, anyways.

Rappers can strive to make money and for global domination while making diss tracks and contracting beef. It’s a global phenomenon. The best rappers don’t like each other. Kendrick Lamar and Drake don’t like each other.

They’re both friends with J. Cole because he wasn’t a threat to both of them on anything till recently. If he starts winning Grammys, the beef will spring up. For one, the proposed album by Kendrick and J. Cole is not happening for a reason - competition and brands.

Cyphers will also never stop happening for the purpose of vanity and beef.

Cyphers are about braggadocio and addressing rivals and haters. They represent the evolution of battle rap and freestyle sessions. To put it simply, cyphers are organized battle rap without the other team present. It’s the ground to articulate your vanity with braggadocio and get things off your chest.

If you don’t get it, you shouldn’t knock it. It might seem inconsequential to you, but it’s best to canvass perspectives before you come up with an opinion. This is life and livelihood for some people.

Nigerian rappers need to make money and create avenues. Beef and diss tracks lead to notoriety and popularity. They also help Hip-Hop gain more traction and traction can lead to more paid listenerships and huge shows where rappers can get paid. The Nigerian Hip-Hop scene needs to become an acceptable and profitable street culture as in South Africa.

Vector noted the same in his August 2018 interview with Do2dtun and Kemi Smallz on Cool FM. We need to get Nigerian Hip-Hop to that level. Only then can it become profitable for rappers. It’s not enough to diss rappers for making diss tracks. One of the ways they can get people interested is through the virality of diss tracks and beef.

However, beef should never be the focal point of our Hip-Hop culture. This writer doesn't think it is. At least, it's not the major issue. Fresh L can learn a thing or two as we wait for M.I to drop his verse. He's not making the money, yet he's abstaining from diss tracks.

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