On 'Judah,' MI Abaga uses biblical references to redefine martyrdom [EP Review]
Due to his responsibility and his innate traits as 'The Lion' and 'The Trinity,' he realizes that though he might die, he must never remain dead.
At one point, it felt like Judah EP would never drop. The first time we caught whiff of the words, 'Judah' or 'Tribe of Judah' was in the heat of MI Abaga's legendary beef with longtime nemesis, Vector tha Viper. As 'The Viper,' his viral reply to Vector opened, Abaga's producer tag - a coin falling on bare floor- coincided with the word, 'Judah' as an unknown narrator recited Psalms 1.
As the beef ran strong and MI Abaga debuted the viral #NoSnakes, an EP was mooted from the Chocolate City camp. The title was related to 'Judah.' Then, MI Abaga went on his #NoSnakes tour and word was the EP would drop after MI Abaga returned from the tour. In between all this, Abaga released 'The Warrior' featuring Kauna and again, it carried 'Judah.'
A while later, MI Abaga also started using #TribeofJudah in his tweets. In October 2019, Blaqbonez tweeted the track list for a 4-track EP titled, Judah The EP. Nonetheless, the EP never dropped. But in January 2020, MI Abaga went on a trail of controversy which intimated the release of something - as artists always do.
Just as it looked like Judah EP looked like another Detox, MI Abaga teased a track list on January 30, 2020. Just over a month later, the EP is here. Like a long-awaited newborn in an African home, it is beautiful. With it, MI Abaga continued his 'no bad album' reputation. With eight tracks, the 'Short Black Boy' continued the 'adult contemporary Hip-Hop (ACHH)' trend he started on Illegal Music 3.
First, what is 'adult contemporary Hip-Hop'?
In a 2010 article, The Grio defined adult contemporary Hip-Hop as, "Rap infused with content relevant to rap’s “mature” listening audience. The ACHH rap movement isn’t so much about age as it is about satisfying the evolving tastes of rap fans of all ages."
Examples of albums with this drive are 4:44 by Jay Z, Mona Lisa by Pusha T, Illosophy by iLLBliss, Illy Bomaye by iLLBliss, Illegal Music III by MI Abaga, Yxng Dxnzl by MI Abaga, The Wake by Ex'O and now, Judah EP by MI Abaga. Atypically, ACHH moves away from wholly volatile vanity into the realm of substance and relatable content, laced with introspect.
Back to MI Abaga
In a ridiculous career run, the legend has no average project and almost everything that a 'Hip-Hop head' would call 'a moment in Nigerian Hip-Hop' has been associated with him. As great a rapper as MI Abaga is, he is an even better - executive - producer. In this Nigeria, he is a genius at this music thing and I cannot overemphasize that.
With every song on Judah EP, anybody who knows what music is would literally see the work and thought that went into everything he did. From production to content and technique, MI Abaga has commendably improved as he gets close to 40. Circa 2018, MI Abaga even worked on his technique and delivery while he cut out the corny lines. The man should be saluted for the artiste he is.
Judah The EP is an 8-part docu-series-esque approach to the ideals that make up MI Abaga as a rapper, as a man and as a human being. He touched on everything from describing his grown self to family, to his fans and more.
Here is a breakdown;
Track 1: The Parable
Subgenre: Spoken Word
Purpose: MI Abaga's idea of how people perceive him.
Breakdown: In 2019, MI Abaga had a public beef with Vector tha Viper. In 2018, he had a legendary spat with the Loose Talk gang and shortly after, he released the momentous rap song, 'You Rappers Should Fix Up Your Lives.' Those moments painted him in different lights to neutrals, onlookers and his peers.
One of his features, Alpha Ojini addresses one of those moments later on this EP. Delivered in the voice of a child - which could represent ignorance of a people, MI Abaga describes how his benevolence gets taken for weakness; how his knowledge of the big picture gets taken for softness. In the grand scheme, it represents the doubt with which he's sometimes perceived.
This is exemplified in The Lion's benevolence and mercy on the mouse - the mouse could be a representation of the entire industry or Vector. Nonetheless,'The Parable' is MI Abaga in 2017, 2018 on Yxng Dxnzl and 2019 in his beef with Vector - presumably.
'The Parable' is also the contrast on which Judah The EP is built - barring 'The Lion' and 'The Sacrifice.' The EP is basically built to refute this perception of weaknesses one track at a time.
Track 2: The Lion
Subgenre: Alternative Hip-Hop
Purpose: Finding power and remembering responsibility through vulnerability. It's also a tale of defiance.
Breakdown: On a beat that seems cut from Kanye West's 808's and Heartbreaks, MI Abaga bares his heart on the pressure and responsibility that makes MI Abaga. This pressure and responsibility comes from being an apex rapper, a label head and the king of a dedicated fan base. All these silos he represents are The Tribe.
From the hook, MI Abaga is a human who isn't afraid to admit the eerie nature of loneliness. He sings, "Child of the fire, don't you ever bleed. King of the the jungle, are you ever weak? For the whole world has turned its back on you..." He starts his rap with, "Lion of the tribe my 9-5..." While MI Abaga is frustrated, he's also bullish - he refuses to back down and claims he's hated for being the best.
He addresses the dislike from even his colleagues and calls Vector a "clout-chasing n***a." This track is a manifesto for the rest of the album - a worthy tone setter from which the other articles on Judah The EP conforms. Everything MI touches on this track gets a bigger spotlight on the other tracks.
This track deserves an entire article, but lets's sum it up as a poem of MI Abaga's formation as a vulnerable sanctuary under attack. But instead of crumbling, he stands and fights back because to him, a lot of people (silos) depend on it - on him.
Track 3: The Trinity
Subgenre: Hip-Hop, Boom Bap
Purpose: The assertion on power. Reply to Vector's 'Judas The Rat'?
Breakdown: Here is where MI Abaga announces his power as judge, jury and executioner. With the help of frequent collaborator, AQ, MI Abaga goes on a bar-fest that will be an award-season favourite. Instead of simply staying as 'The Lion of The Tribe of Judah' and one part of 'The Trinity,' Abaga assumes the role of 'The Trinity.'
MI Abaga barks back at his detractors and even appears to finally reply Vector on verse three. He huffs, puffs and promises to reply Vector and other "haters" next time. With the power of 'The Trinity,' Abaga admits his role as a king on the Nigerian Hip-Hop streets.
The parts where he raps, "Incompetent labels and managers that cover them all..." and continues, "Now that you left me..." are meant for MILLI.
In the same breath, Abaga also refutes the perception that 'The Parable' represents weakness.
Track 4: The Blood
Subgenre: Cloud rap
Purpose: MI's loyalty to family
Breakdown: While the beat has been used by SamvsTheKids on his amazing body of work. To The Top, MI Abaga finds his own path. As explained earlier, MI Abaga understands his responsibility as a king of many silos. 'The Blood' is the reaffirmation of his loyalty to his family or his 'Blood.' In all these moments, 'The Lion' finds strength.
In equal measure, one line is particularly interesting. It reads, "Plotting directions through forces and Vectors..." You might remember that Vector fires shots at Abaga's claims as a man of family on 'Judas The Rat.'
He claimed MI Abaga sent his brother out of his house and puts people on to benefit from them. This is Abaga's reply and a reaffirmation of his family values to blood ties. In the same breathe, it is also a moment that helps 'The Lion' rise up and remember what's important. One of them is responsibility to family. If he accepts death, the family suffers.
Thus, due to these responsibilities - one of which is to family, MI Abaga refuses to simply die as a martyr. This track is reminiscent of 'Head of The Family.' The first track on which MI Abaga addresses his responsibility.
Track 5: The Commandment
Purpose: Contrary to the perception on, 'The Parable,' The Lion (MI Abaga) didn't simply let 'The Mouse (F**kboys)' go.
Breakdown: In the wake of the storm that Vector caused with 'Judas The Rat,' a lot of things were confirmed. One of them; a lot of people in Nigerian music don't like MI Abaga. While things might have looked funny as he chose not to address them (remember 'The Parable'), he is addressing them now.
Remember, MI Abaga assumed the role of 'The Trinity' and called himself 'The Father.' Just as God gave Moses 'The Commandment,' Abaga has read out his 4-rule commandment. At the centre of it all, 'Avoid the F***ckboys..." The Commandment is meant help 'The Tribe' flourish in life - MI Abaga uses himself as a lesson.
Track 6: The Sacrifice
Subgenre: Cloud Rap
Purpose: On 'Judas The Rat,' Vector rapped, "Your girl broke up with you, we thought she'd be your wife. You were the b***h in the relationship, the stories are right..." Is this a reply?
Breakdown: This track reinforces this writer's theory that Judah The EP might be an entire conceptual reply to Vector that finds a higher purpose. The reason is simple; in the grand scheme of the manifesto on 'The Lion' and 'The Parable,' this tracks sticks out. If anything, one would think 'The Sacrifice' could be about what Abaga has done for the industry.
But instead, 'The Sacrifice' is a tale of heartbreak. With the epilogue done by an unknown female, MI Abaga tries to bring it back into the context of sacrifice as it relates to what he does for the industry - tying into 'The Lion' - but it feels forced.
Track 7: The Tribe
Subgenre: Drum n' Bass
Purpose: A dedication to MI's fans, 'The Tribe of Judah.'
Breakdown: "Six more albums," we heard that MI Abaga - thank you. But more importantly, MI Abaga realigns the narrative with 'The Lion.' With a dedication to his fans, he features a fan who has become a collaborator. His name is Alpha Ojini who is an MI Abaga fan who became an MI Abaga critic. Now, he falls back in line to explains the pluses of MI Abaga.
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.
In the grand idea of Judah The EP, 'The Tribe' is one reason why 'The Lion' will never accept the death of martyrdom. While he accepts the sufferings of a martyr, he rises up for the things that matter. In this case, 'The Tribe.'
Track 8: The Warrior
Subgenre: Cloud Rap.
Purpose: Through the journey and detraction, MI Abaga realizes that he must fight.
Breakdown: It's particularly telling that 'The Warrior' was Abaga's first release after his beef with Vector. It's also the lead single for Judah The EP because it's most important track that ties all the narrative that started on 'The Parable' and 'The Lion' together.
The hook, as sung by Kauna basically underlines how MI Abaga refuses to back down despite all the challenges, hurdles and detraction. Through it all, he refuses to fight. It is the most important representation of MI Abaga's redefinition of martyrdom.
The hook reads, "Sometimes I fear, sometimes I die, Sometimes I knock down and count it out, But through it all somehow we dump them, I’m still incredible..." MI Abaga was close to dying and accepting death. But instead, he accepts his Ls in beef and life. He then rises from the death as 'The Warrior' and continues the fight.
Why does he fight back? He has to reply 'The Parable.' Due to his responsibility and his innate traits as 'The Lion' and 'The Trinity,' he realizes that though he might die, he must never remain dead. A lot is riding on him being alive. For that reason, MI Abaga lives and redefines martyrdom.
The concept of Judah The EP is biblical. Every song and its title has a biblical reference and equivalent. But instead of following the Bible and its chronology, MI Abaga creates his own reality where he starts as 'The Lion of the Tribe of Judah' before assuming the all-knowing and definitive power of 'The Trinity.'
This EP feels like the realization that comes with events of his beef with Vector - how events before the beef tie with the beef and what happened after the beef. With the focus on haters and events of Vector vs MI Abaga, this EP sometimes feels like a grand reply to Vector - albeit a quality and detailed one that equally addresses a higher purpose.
We got on some of these topics on Yxng Dxnzl. However, there's a difference is purpose, approach and context. While the tales of pressure and detraction on Yxng Dxnzl lead to depression, MI Abaga is bullish and defiant on Judah The EP. More so, he's even cocky. While many might say MI Abaga repeats themes from Yxng Dxnzl and will have a point, the ideas are different.
While MI Abaga was ill and worried on Yxng Dxnzl, Judah The EP is a realization of his responsibility. Instead of cowering, MI Abaga realizes a lot depends on him and returns fighting. He also realizes why he has not been pushing back all these years. As 'The Parable' suggests, he is merciful due to knowledge of important things in the grand scheme.
Thus, instead of always eating mice as a Lion - a creature from the cat family - he lets his detractors flourish. The detail is also in the title of both projects; while Abaga was studying his self-worth as 'Yxng (young)' Dxnzl on his previous project, he has since grown to become 'The Lion of The Tribe of Judah.'
He pushes back, but isn't ruthless to a level where he prevent the flourish of his peers. While he accepts the matyrdom they put him through sometimes, he doesn't back down. He fights for his tribe, his worth, his family, his food and even his peers as 'The Lion.'
In The Bible, 'The Lion of The Tribe (Jesus Christ)' - one part of 'The Trinity' - dies to save the world. But instead of dying or simply suffer as a martyr, MI Abaga rises up and becomes a warrior and chooses to excel.
He accepts his "9 to 5" as "Lion of the tribe" in all its glory, martyrdom, responsibility, power and wins. While MI Abaga was mostly lost on Yxng Dxnzl - barring are moments like 'I Believe In You, You Should Too, Believe In You,' - he finds himself and his veteran purpose on Judah The EP.
While the concept of Judah The EP is biblical, it's track list sometimes feels scatterbrained - if you want perfection like me. But if you want music, it's just fine.
• 0-1.9: Flop
• 2.0-3.9: Near fall
• 4.0-5.9: Average
• 6.0-7.9: Victory
• 8.0-10: Champion
Pulse Rating: /10
Content and Themes: 1.9/2
Enjoyability and Satisfaction: 1.8/2
8.5 - Champion
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