A few weeks ago, veteran Nigerian music producer, TeckZilla invited me to his podcast, 'No Shakes, No Worries.' One of the conversations we had was centred around Hip-Hop, the problems it needs to fix within itself and the power of collaborations. The conversation then led us to Nigerian rap legend, iLLBliss with whom TeckZilla had made, IllyZilla in 2019.
TeckZilla who also worked on four other collaborative projects in 2019 with likes of Vader, MCSkill Tha Preacha told me what iLLBLiss had told me weeks earlier; IllyZilla 2 was on the way. While TeckZilla was the interviewer and I could have asked iLLBLiss himself, I chose to ask TeckZilla a question.
"iLLY has been making all these collaborative projects over the past year. Obviously, the motivation cannot be money anymore. I've been wondering why he has been making these projects," I said. TeckZilla replied that, "Bro, I wish I knew, but I don't know. However, I think something has switched in iLLBliss in recent years. It's almost like he has a quest that he wants to fulfill by all means."
TeckZilla was right, but he just did not realize how right he was. Over the coming months, iLLBLiss will release two more collaborative projects. They will be made by ace producers, TeckZilla and BigFoot and will be titled the aforementioned IllyZilla II and ChapoBigFoot.
The attractive part of these projects is not just the collaborations and the celebration of Nigerian producers whom MAVIN Creative Director, Segun Akande has referred as, "Matrys." It's not even about how these producers can lay claim to the projects like an Apollo Brown can lay claim to his projects with Lockdown or Joell Ortiz.
It's that iLLBliss is naming the projects with the stamp of these producers. At first glance, you know the producers have rights to the music. That's no gratification that celebration of Nigerian producers via Instagram Live Battle of Hits or Sound Clashes can give. This directly helps Nigerian producers have a catalogue of their own.
Not having a catalogue of his own or albums mostly produced by him was Sarz's biggest criticism until 2019. With his projects, iLLBliss made producers own their own projects.
While speaking on his motivation for making these projects on March 21, 2020, he told me the following, "I guess this is a divine calling. I’m such an Underdog in this space to be honest. "I never want to create average art. Reputation is so key for me - I just put my life and the ups and downs into the music. I choose the beats with a keen ear and I can’t do zanku with the needed conviction (laughs).
"I wish more people would listen and respect. For the ones that are, I am grateful and very grateful. I have never rhymed for money. It’s a higher calling. I just want to be remembered for writing and projecting great shit! Have a great weekend bro. Will forward the reworked project."
During a February 2018 chat former Pulse Nigeria Music Editor and I had with iLLBLiss, he said, "Nigerian Hip-Hop needs to learn from the alte kids though. You see how they are collaborating effortlessly on music and projects, we need that in our culture."
On March 27, 2020, I then sought his knowledge on why we don't collaborate in the Nigerian Hip-Hop Industry. He said, "I know the true power of collaborations. I know what not working together has done to (Nigerian) Hip-Hop. It saddens - I have always preached this; one umbrella, one energy. "
Our conversation that day ended up with glowing statements from a legend who still wants Nigeria's Hip-Hop culture to stand tall and reign supreme.
On his last project, Judah EP, MI Abaga positioned himself as the 'The Lion of The Tribe of Judah.' In there are a lot of tangles and symbolisms. On the one part, that entire symbolism refers to Jesus Christ. MI Abaga feels like that because he's constantly made the scapegoat of the failings and inadequacies of Nigerian Hip-Hop.
When he gave everybody a wake-up call after the momentous Loose Talk Podcast episode, The Greatest Podcast You Ever Did In Your Life with 'You Rappers Should Fix Up Your Lives,' MI Abaga was scapegoated. When he had a high-profile beef with Vector, he was also positioned as a villain.
While he accepted that role, he also realized he had a greater destiny and a greater responsibility. He understood that he had a greater responsibility to the both his fans (the Tribe of Judah) and the larger Nigerian Hip-Hop that constantly pelts him. Thus, he refused to remain a martyr. As a Lion, he didn't die, he came out roaring.
In one of the most interesting turns of events, MI Abaga featured Alpha Ojini on 'The Tribe.' Ojini is an MI Abaga fan who became an MI Abaga critic. Now, he falls back in line to explains the pluses of MI Abaga.
In a review of Judah EP, this writer wrote, "During the 'You Rappers Should Fix Up Your Lives' debacle, Ojini replied Abaga on a track titled, 'Vendetta.' He criticized MI for ignoring him. But since then, both rappers been working together. In fact, Ojini engineered all the songs on Judah The EP."
MI Abaga probably saw the bigger picture of uniting an entire industry and decided to put a former critic on his own project. Instead of pushing him away, he chose to collaborate with him and embrace him. This was the greatest show of 'put your money where your mouth is.'
The problems confronting Nigerian Hip-Hop
In a way, it was an example in an industry and culture that's largely and constantly marred by divides, ego and flimsy issues that can be resolved.
These issues are birthed by the greatest impediment for an entire industry and culture - a lack of collaboration on a grand scale. This problem has marred the existence of quality projects, potential timeless content, creation of money-making structures that could enhance the culture and the decrease in opportunity for striving MCees.
It's not entirely limited to Nigerian Hip-Hop though - it's a black nigh a global thing. When MI Abaga, AQ, Loose Kaynon and Blaqbonez released Martell Cypher II, South African rapper, Cassper Nyovest took to Twitter to blast his fellow South African rappers for a lack of collaboration. Nasty C echoed the same sentiment during an April 7, 2020 chat with Pulse Nigeria on Instagram Live.
On his earth-shattering 'What's Free' verse, Jay Z rapped, "Since most of my niggas won't ever work together, you run a check up but they never give you leverage..." The lack of collaboration is a major problem across Hip-Hop communities who are struggling to make a living for themselves and create a structure that other rappers can benefit from.
But unlike South Africa, the UK and the US, Nigerian Hip-Hop has little to no existent structure. South African, UK and American rappers can release albums, make some money off streaming and go on local tours. This could make them fine for months at a time - Nigerian rappers have no such luxury.
A 2017 FactMag article wrote about the power of platforms like SB Nation, GRM Daily, BlackBox and so forth on the growth of UK Hip-Hop. The article specifically noted how certain rappers went on successful tours simply off Fire In The Booth appearances.
British rapper, speaker and teacher, Akala said, "Rappers are selling out tours from coming on Charlie Sloth’s show (Fire In The Booth) and rapping. That to me is beautiful.” They built that with the understanding of collaboration as an entire industry - artistes, journalists, OAPS and more. However, it started with the artistes.
For that reason, the collaborative projects by MI Abaga, AQ, Loose Kaynon, iLLBliss, Modenine and more might seem pointless, but they are not. From effortless collaboration between artists - especially key players in an industry drunk on male energy and primed by ego - will other factors come in for full development.
After a long time, Nigerian rappers are slowly getting it - the cream of the crop, nonetheless. The results won't be immediate, they are seeds planted - seeds that need to be watered, nurtured and planted in many other spaces to have optimum results. It's an amazing time that we have bee witnessing in Nigerian Hip-Hop.
MI Abaga and AQ - Nameless (For Now)
That's why news of a still nameless EP by MI Abaga and AQ deserves all the anticipation it gets. Yes, we saw Olamide and Phyno link-up for 2 Kings, which is probably the Nigerian equivalent of Watch The Throne (for status). It was the collision of two indigenous rappers to unite entrenched tribal divides in Nigeria.
One rapped in Yoruba, one rapped in Igbo and the rest is history. However, MI Abaga and AQ is like Watch The Throne for raw ability to actually bar with the soul of goalposts. MI Abaga has been the Alpha of 'Nigerian Hip-Hop' for more than a decade. He is the legend who has been accused of fostering divides in Nigerian Hip-Hop.
He is also the legend whom Nasty C called the best African rapper on April 7, 2020 during a chat with Pulse Nigeria on Instagram Live. There might have been the belated Indestructible Choc Boi Nation album, but that was an album made by a collective, bound by label ties and brotherhood. A project by MI Abaga and AQ will represent a collaboration from the ties of brotherhood.
However, it is more a genuine collision course in the form of Watch The Throne than Indestructible Choc Boi Nation. AQ, on the other hand was the underdog troublemaker for a number of years. In recent times though, he has swapped his boxing gloves for executive suits while commanding his driver and making money.
He has gone from obscurity to sub-mainstream in following and acceptance. Admittedly, all this came after he started rolling with MI Abaga - as he rapped on 'Men Slept, Jesus Wept.' Now, he is one of the biggest and most recognizable Nigerian rappers. The day he released his latest album, God's Engineering, people were awake till 12 am to cop the project.
Thus, a collaborative project between MI Abaga and AQ is nearly as big as it gets. If there was ever something worthy of an example on the need and worth of collaboration, it is this project. It will not only dance around the fire of intense creativity, it will be top quality that is forged in the embers of heated angst.
Already, MI Abaga and AQ have had some sparring bouts in the last year alone and this will be a ridiculous project for quality. This is not the first time AQ has shown his understanding of the need to collaborate though.
In 2018, he collaborated with fellow 100 Crowns exec, Loose Kaynon to create, Crown - one of the best Nigerian Hip-Hop projects of the past 10 years. It was a worthy comeback for Loose Kaynon and the great announcement for AQ. The project also gave AQ his first Lyricist On The Roll win at the 2019 Headies.
Speaking on Lyricist on The Roll, the legend for whom AQ used to state his life intent on 'NEPA' has also been busy. On 'NEPA,' AQ rapped, "Lyricist on the roll, but I don't want to end up like Mode..." That was speaking of...
In 2019, Modenine released two projects, The Monument and Esoteric Mellow. The former was a collaborative project with producer, Stormatique while the latter was a collaborative project with TeckZilla. During a chat with Modenine, the rapper revealed to this writer that both projects were meant to be one album.
Paybac and Boogey
In 2016, a year after Olamide and Phyno collaborated for 2Kings, two kings of the Nigerian underground collaborated for their maiden project as The Lost and Found. The project was titled, Face Off. Three years later, they collaborated on Alternate Ending, which Pulse Nigeria named fourth best Nigerian album of 2019.
It was a project that showed that in the Nigerian underground, the need for collaboration is also being embraced. But then, deeper into the underground, the niche markets are also getting it
Apex Village, Veen and Kiienka
In 2017, Abuja rappers, Psycho YP and Kuddi Is Dead collaborated as This Is What You Wanted for the first of their self-titled projects. The second was released in 2018. This then morphed into a full body project from the Abuja trap underground. They launched as Apex Village and their project, Welcome To The Ville was released in 2019.
In Port Harcourt, Veen and Kiienka released their collaborative EP, Star. This is not exactly sizeable or even tangible, but it's something. It shows that Nigerian Hip-Hop from top to bottom is harnessing its power of collaboration and co-ownership.
Vector tha Viper
The seeds are being planted across board even as veteran, Vector tha Viper holds the annual, Hennessy Cyphers. Everyone has a role to play. For Hennessy Cyphers, Vector tha Viper holds a VS Class event that calls on the knowledge of his fellow rappers to be judges. This brings us to the next point...
Collaboration for Hip-Hop structures
While speaking with iLLBliss on March 27, 2020, he broke into how Nigeria needs Hip-Hop structures that only collaboration can build. Remember, he had used the example of the Nigerian alte demography in 2018.
But this time, he mentioned how he witnessed UK Hip-Hop build its structures from the ground up. iLLBliss described the power of platforms like BBC 1Xtra shows, Fire In The Booth and Tim Westwood TV contributed. He was familiar with that during his four-year stay in the UK during the mid-2000s.
iLLBliss said, "Before B elect died, We started the NaiRap Radio on Metro FM. This was his biggest concern - he wanted us to do more, to stop complaining and do more. We are soon migrating to Max FM. I don’t know how else to communicate (this). If we created more platforms, that could help shape the culture."
We need Hip-Hop shows, freestyle platforms, events, special segments and more. Shout-out to Raezy Winston, MI Abaga, AQ, Loose Kaynon, iLLBliss, Vector for their respective works in getting Hip-Hop freestyles and shows off the ground. Raezy Winston holds Rap Kulture events and recently released the Rap Kulture Cypher.
AQ and Loose Kaynon held the last Coronation to an impressive turn-out at CCx Lounge, Victoria Island, Lagos.Vector tha Viper is the convener of the Hennessy Cyphers and VS Class events. iLLBliss hosts the NairaP show and more people are starting platforms. Soon, Pulse Nigeria will open its freestyle platform.
We are not there yet, but we are doing the groundwork. Now, is when the work starts - we need to have roots. But when all is said and done, we need another collaborative effort that will shake Nigeria Hip-Hop and that is MI Abaga and iLLBliss on a project.