Pulse Explainer: How Internet fraud has taken over Nigerian music

The relationship between Nigerian music and Internet fraud is complex and the latest union of crime and entertainment.

Nigerian singer Naira Marley has faced a lot of backlash for supporting Internet fraud (trenchtrenchtrench)

The club is packed and the DJ is killing it.

Tucked in the heart of Anywhere, Lagos, Nigeria, this nightclub has been pumping out the hottest of Nigerian jams for the last 3 hours.

Can it get any hotter? Yes, it can. The DJ slams Small Doctor's 'Penalty' and everyone goes mad.

This ghetto-pop smash is what is hot on the streets right now. Over an enchanting yet simplistic beat produced by 2T Boiz, Small Doctor does his thing complete with his signature 'ain ain' catchphrase.

New money and celebration of life are the themes of the song- common tropes of Nigerian pop music. Tucked in between the smash Small Doctor begins to call out some names. Who are they?

To the uninitiated, Small Doctor is shouting out his guys but to those who know Small Doctor is hailing men of the underworld...or so they say.

Who are these men? They are known as G Boys, notoriously known as Yahoo Boys. In clear and direct language they are Internet fraudsters.

Small Doctor's praise singing of the 'Wire Wire' gang is nothing new. As a matter of fact if you want a hit in 2017, just give a shout out to Internet fraudsters.

After years of toiling in almost music purgatory, singer 9ice has scored his first legitimate hit in years with the track 'Living Things'. Just like Small Doctor, 9ice reels off the names of certain individuals alleged to be Internet fraudsters.

The Yahoo tribute doesn't stop there. On Junior Boy's 'Irapada 2.0' featuring 9ice, certain names are called again.

All these songs mentioned are jams on their own but the name calling of certain individuals have made some Nigerians raise eyebrows over the public musical display of affection for the crime.

One of such people is Nigerian rapper Falz. The brilliant rapper who has used his humorous persona to create a profitable career is not a fan of Nigerian artistes praise singing fraudsters.

The squeaky clean rap act got into his first turbulence yesterday when he criticised a singer (most likely 9ice) for promoting Yahoo culture in his revivalist hit single.

Although 9ice has dismissed this claim, an argument has ensued on the Internet. Falz has been bashed by many for being out of touch with reality. His upper-class upbringing has been brandished as evidence of him not knowing what's it's like to grow up in below the middle class where poverty is rife.

Others have said he lacks respect for (almost) calling out 9ice who is not only older than him but is vastly more experienced than him in the music business.

This back and forth online about Nigerian music and Internet fraud has put a spotlight on the relationship between both worlds. If you are naive, please know this now, Internet fraud and Nigerian music are closely tied.

For over a decade now Yahoo boys have funded the careers of countless artists. If this was 14th century Italy, yahoo boys are what the Medici family were to artists, grand patrons who pay for their works of art.

Yahoo boys have financially backed singers and rappers, paid for expensive music videos and dropped the cash for promotion rounds. Many have floated music labels and some are singers themselves.

A certain fresh-faced singer is said to be backed by an alleged yahoo boy.

Just the same way the Colombian football league crashed when drug barons (Pablo Escobar and co) had legal troubles, the Nigerian music industry might just crash if Internet fraudsters pull out from our music business.

The entertainment business is a deceptive industry anywhere in the world but in Nigeria, it is more deceptive.

Don't let the red carpet events and mega Eko Hotel concerts deceive you, the Nigerian music industry is small and there is little money to go around.

The contemporary artists who are declaring profits annually are not more than 10 and this is an optimistic estimate.

For upcoming acts, the music business is expensive. With no financial backing from a label, how do you expect an upcoming act to pay for studio time, mixing, printing of CDs etc?

Factoring payola (both on Nigerian radio and TV) and a high budget 'Clarence Peters' video, an unknown Nigerian singer needs at least N10m to make an impression in the crowded music scene.

Where do you expect a poor upcoming singer to get this kind of money from? To successfully break an artist in Nigeria you need between N30m-N50m to do so. Look around you, where are the music labels?

There is no financial support system for the Nigerian artist. In the dire search for money, he will have to turn to the closest person he knows who has that kind of money in his area.

Here enters the neighbourhood yahoo boy, the modern-day Robin Hood who steals money abroad and lives like a king. The only twist is that his act of robbery does not have a noble cause. He uses the stolen money to enrich himself and his posse.

Your #MCM prostrates in front of him, begging for funds. The yahoo boy is benevolent and gives him the required money. The singer goes into the studio, records a killer track and sprinkles his benefactor's name all over it.

The first record of an Internet fraud inspired song is D'banj's 2004 single 'Mobolowowon', a supposedly personal tale of how he escaped from the police of London when he tried to pull a credit card scam.

The first authentic Yahoo inspired single was Olu Maintain's 2007 classic hit single 'Yahoozee', a wild and rowdy delicate description of the over-the-top lifestyle of g boys. The impact of that song is unrivalled as former Secretary of State Colin Powell danced to that song on stage with Olu Maintain.

Who would have thought that such a song would find its way to the upper echelons of American politics? It is more than likely Colin Powell's name has been used in some scam e-mails from a dingy cyber café in Nigeria.

Kelly Hansome scored a hit in 2008 with the song 'Maga Don Pay'. Maga is the name given to a victim of Internet fraud.

Singer Tupengo in 2011 released a song called 'I dey block my IP' a blatant yahoo-yahoo track.

There are many more of these tracks littered on many music websites in the country. In the Nigerian music industry scheme of things, Yahoo boys reign supreme.

Internet fraud crept into our cyber cafés circa 2002. As cyber cafés sprang up all over the country and the cost of browsing became cheaper, young Nigerians joined the world wide web.

On the surface, it would be easy to say that bored young Nigerians got on PCs and started scamming gullible white people. It, however, goes deeper than this.

In the 90s, the IBB and Abacha regimes wiped away the middle class in Nigeria. The advent of democracy in 1999 did little (until today) to improve the rate of unemployment among Nigeria's large population of young people.

Many young Nigerians had to fend for themselves and their families as well. Their parents were either underpaid or had no job at all. In the words of Jay-Z, they had to bring "somethin home to quiet the stomach rumblings."

With just N1,000 they could go on the web for an hour. Cyber cafés adapted to their new set of customers. Overnight browsing became popular in cyber cafés and young men tired of the bleak life they were facing logged online and became Yahoo boys. The business back then was called Yahoo-Yahoo named after the search engine Yahoo. Google wasn't popping back then.

Internet fraud is a manifestation of decades of bad policies, corruption, the educational system of neglect and military dictatorship.

G boys are however are not the first bastard sons of Nigeria's woeful anti-people policies. Internet Fraud is a direct descendant of advance fee fraud popularly known as 419. In the 80s and 90s, Nigeria made an ugly name for itself in the world of corruption with advance fee fraud schemes. By the turn of the millennium, the game switched to the Internet.

Criminal enterprises do not die, they turn into new hustles. "Asewo to re Mecca lo bi Asewo to re Dubai" which means the prostitute that went to Mecca is the mother of the prostitute who went to Dubai.

As a matter of fact, crime has been in Nigeria music for decades, Fuji music especially. In the 90s, the music scene was rife with stories (oops rumours) of Fuji singers smuggling cocaine abroad. Several of them were caught in the act and did time abroad...allegedly.

Back to Falz and the crux of the matter. The young rapper's moral code does not support Internet fraud and the glorification of it. The son of the popular Senior Advocate of Nigeria Femi Falana does have his supporters. Not everyone is cool with the glorification of crime in music.

I can bet though that these critics of glorification of crime in music shout "I think I am Big Meech, Larry Hoover, whipping work, hallelujah!" when Rick Ross' BMF comes on. Big Meech and Larry Hoover were big criminals in America. 

When Migos raps "Fuckin' on your bitch, she a thot, thot (thot) Cookin' up dope in the crockpot (pot)" we lose our minds. We dab and milly rock to the cocaine laced single.

Why the double standard? Why do we turn up to Future and his drug riddle raps on Saturday night and throw stones at 9ice and co on Sunday morning? You could say the average Nigerian is hypocritical but that's just a tiny part of a complex answer.

For one, American cocaine rap songs are not personal to us. They are more like movies that entertain us about a life of crime and drugs like the Netflix hit series Narcos. In Nigeria, the series about the life and times of Pablo Escobar was thrilling but for Mexicans who lost relatives thanks to Escobar's narco terrorism, Narcos was a reminder of a dark past.

It is not real to us. It has no space within our culture code, therefore, we don't know the bad side of the drug business and how it has killed many youths in America.

Secondly, Rick Ross and co have their fair share of critics. It is because of strong criminal elements in rap music that the Parental Advisory sticker on albums was created.

Thirdly and this is the most important aspect of the answer- drug culture in American rap music is a well layered and deep narrative of how crack cocaine found its way to ghettos in America in the 80s.

From 2Pac to 21 Savage, American rappers have brilliantly told the story of how drugs have affected black Americans. They weave personal and poetic tales and stories of drugs in their surroundings. They rap about drug lords and their exploits in their neighbourhood. It's not just glorification. It is a brutal, honest and raw commentary on the drug epidemic in America.

On his 2002 mixtape 'Guess Who's Back', 50 Cent mentioned the legendary drug dealers in  South Jamaica, Queens and broke down their personalities. This type of intricate penmanship about New York drug culture does not exist for Internet fraud.

Our singers and rappers are mindlessly glorifying criminals without giving us a proper and detailed context. I don't think I have heard any Nigerian song that has explained how fraud became a thing in the country except for Modenine's '419 State of Mind'. All we have is cheap praise singing, beggars pleading for gold coins from corrupt patrons.

Just like standard Nigerian pop music, Internet fraud influenced songs are shallow attempts at explaining why Nigerian youths are into scams. It is bigger than naming a few scammers. They are no brilliant narratives, back stories, rhymes, cadences and hooks. What we have is shameless name dropping. In summary, yahoo-yahoo songs are trash.

There are Nigerian acts who go the extra mile on the road to deception and perdition. They are singers by night and fraudsters by day. Internet fraud has blended with our music industry that sometimes it is hard to differentiate what's real and what is not.

That fancy car your favourite singer just posted on Instagram was most likely gotten from Yahoo-Yahoo. The so-called wealth these singers flaunt is fake. It is not a result of their hard work. The so-called success of the Nigerian music industry is a myth. If you believe in it, you are stuck in the Matrix.

People like Falz have unplugged themselves from the Matrix of deception and crime. His opinion and that of others won't stop the glorification of fraudsters.

Their emergence into the music scene is a combination of the downfall of the Nigerian society and the lack of organisation in the music industry, two factors that won't go away with a couple of woke tweets or Twitter outrage.

The hustle continues...awon boys chache lo.


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