A few weeks ago, Pulse dropped its list of the hottest Nigerian rappers of 2019. Some days after that, it dropped its list of the best rap albums - Erigga was missing from both lists.
Comically, noise was minimal when the first list - hottest rappers - dropped. The noise really took steroids after the best rap albums list dropped days later. People demanded the writer’s head for ignoring Erigga. Most of the thoughts reeked of 'revenge plots' and copious doses of alarming ignorance from would-be pseudo-intellectuals.
To them, Erigga deserved to be on the list because he sells out shows, has ‘numbers’ and has a huge following in South-South Nigeria. Alongside claims that Pulse ‘ignores’ Erigga or doesn’t look beyond Lagos to rate artists, we shall address some issues later. What we shall address now is the fugazi of regional/niche stardom.
The fugazi of regional/niche stardom
Hip-Hop needs to thrive in Nigeria. If it ever will, rappers like Erigga, Naira Marley and Zlatan must not let Olamide, Reminisce, Phyno, Nigga Raw, Classiq and others down. They speak the language of the people with relatable messaging. Their brand of Hip-Hop is the Nigerian version of peculiar raps about realities from Compton, Bronx, Harlem, Long Beach or Atlanta.
They are the purveyors and painters. They are important. For that reason, they have the potential to succeed regionally. That’s why Erigga is succeeding in the South-South and parts of the East. He is making money due to loyalty and messaging which have snowballed into appeal down there.
This is not in anyway dissimilar to regional stars like Mozzy, Kevin Abstract or Russ. They will sell-out shows in different parts of the country because their music is niche and relatable. In fact, they will make money - in year-ending June of 2018, Russ made 17 million dollars. He made this money as a DIY champion.
His streaming numbers were ridiculous and his discography was ridiculously profitable. He was also selling-out shows on well-crafted tour dates. He made more money than say YBN Cordae or even 21 Savage.
American DJ, Marshmellow only made a few more quid that Russ. But when it comes down to it, 21 Savage and Marshmellow will be deemed bigger artists than Russ. YBN Cordae will be deemed to have had a better 2019 than Russ. You know why? Regional stardom is fugazi and Erigga is a regional star.
That’s Act 1 of this issue - we’ll be back to it very soon.
Excel Joab and the conundrum of stardom
Earlier today, Excel Joab of Boomplay Nigeria stirred a conversation on his Twitter page (@ExcelJoab). He posted WhatsApp conversations he had with a friend - a music lover - who left Lagos for a detty december sojourn of South-East, Nigeria.
His friend made it a point to discuss how people live in an echo chamber in Lagos. He also made it a point to point out how acts like Buju, Wavy The Creator are not bigger than Lagos. The conversation has since scaled into the importance of radio and how budgeting could help artists gain better exposure across the country - intentionally targeting radio across the country.
These were valid points, but they were only one side to the story. Lagos is not representative of realities across Nigeria. Likewise, the rest of Nigeria is too scattered to have a unified voice and produce an undisputed national star with a nationwide following without Lagos. Thus, stardom in several Nigerian regions doesn’t take away the ‘kingmaker’ status of Lagos.
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The reason is simple; Lagos is a commercial hub. In music, commercial hubs are first, unifiers or aggregators. They aggregate the needs of people and become tastemakers. They determine what obtains across the country. In that role, commercial hubs are also prime grounds for 'cross pollination.'
Regions can make their stars, but they need commercial hubs to bless and endorse those stars. Without that blessing, an artist will likely struggle. A regional star without stardom in the major commercial hub will always have his stardom disputed. There’s a reason Erigga currently struggles to sell-out shows in Europe despite his ‘numbers.’
There’s also a reason why songs don’t really become a chart success in America until they become anthems in its commercial hubs. You cannot delude yourself into stardom. Regional stardom isn’t stardom.
Commercial hubs are the heartbeat of youth. The major commercial hub of any country will forever be the standard for stardom and popularity. Sometimes, popularity and stardom get achieved by the quality/enjoyability of an artist’s music - by itself, the music reaches consciousness and becomes hard to ignore.
An example is ‘Parte After Parte’ by Big Tril. However, the reach of the music does not confer the status of a star. In fact, more of than not, minimally accepted acts in the mainstream of commercial hubs have bigger claims to stardom than regional stars. The reason is simple; hypervisibility and branding.
When endorsements come, an artist in a commercial hub gets priority because he is known. Capitalism is driven by commercial hubs. Thus, the attention of capitalists is fixated on what’s ‘popping’ in a commercial hub. You cannot be a star without the commercial traits and benefits of a true star.
Without those traits, you only have the looks of a true star - you are not a star. Thus, regional stardom is fugazi thanks to laissez-faire/free market capitalism and neoliberalism.
Just like regional stardom is fugazi, niche acceptance/stardom still isn’t stardom. Despite their reasonably good numbers, alte stars have failed to make any meaningful impact on Nigeria. They have good numbers because their circle and fans arguably have the highest numbers of paid listeners in Nigerian music.
They are elites and they are enlightened. More importantly, they can afford to pay for music. Thus, good numbers isn’t equivalent to adequate circulation in Nigeria. With the efforts of Boomplay, despite the rapid increase in 2019, paid listenership in Nigeria is still less than 25% of the actual number of music lovers.
Thus, numbers and ‘hype’ will never be truly representative of stardom in Nigeria. To that end, they will only be remotely known in other parts of the country. It also makes me agree that these acts need to invest in radio and create detailed plans to involve press in their plans. It’s the only way they get exposure.
Of course, good numbers and hype are great. They will secure you money and position you for endorsement. However, those things might be fickle when the success of the music isn’t backing it up. Thus, the music must be pushed with great detail. ‘Popping guys’ or guys with ‘hype’ in commercial hubs like Lagos cannot afford to get delusional.
They have crave ‘blowing up’ in other parts of the country.
However, I disagree that an artist needs to really invest money into pushing music on radio and tour dates across the country to get accepted. First, that will be ridiculously capital intensive and unnecessarily disadvantageous. An artist cannot essentially work on every part of the country. Lagos is still the most vivid route to stardom.
What then is the way?
It’s good to target - and be fixated on - commercial hubs like Lagos(especially), but you have to target it the right way. As said earlier, An artist cannot essentially work on every part of the country. What an artist should do is appeal to the mainstream of the commercial hubs like Lagos (again, especially).
If you can, you could also try to appeal to the mainstream of hubs like Port Harcourt, Kaduna, Enugu and Benin. But more importantly, focus on the Lagos mainstream. The reason is simple; if the artist/song pops to the Lagos mainstream, it's more likely to reach other parts of Nigeria than not.
If the Lagos mainstream accepts you, your music is likely to reach other parts of the country than not. People like Buju and Wavy are not especially known because the Lagos mainstream has not accepted them. Of course, you will find exceptions to this theory, but that’s what they will forever be, ‘exceptions.’
Whereas, successful music/artist in the mainstream of regions or niche markets will most likely be unable to get you to other parts.
90% of the time, only commercial hubs like Lagos can make nationally accepted stars. Lagos is the most vibrant hub of youth culture. Socially, everyone in Nigeria looks up to Lagos as the ‘popping place’ filled with cool people. Thus, if it pops in Lagos, people across the country will be subconsciously inclined to test it and accept it.
As sad as it sounds, even though there is vibrant life outside Lagos, the city is still the route to being known in other places. Regions can help you, but the national nature of your stardom and success will forever be in question. Asides that, you will unlikely be unable to lay claim to truly successful singles and capitalist favours.
What is the mainstream?
The mainstream is the sum of a society’s populace outside the minimal elite class. Usually, they represent the majority of any society.
But of course, Lagos is not for everybody. You can decide to do what you are content with. For acts like Buju and Wavy, they might need time to even pop in the Lagos mainstream.