Over the past week the main buzz in the Nigerian music industry has been about the BET Cypher. For those that aren’t familiar with Cypher it’s a “freestyle” video clip with various artists dropping rap lines in a hip-hop themed video. The true hip-hop heads appreciate it and so do lovers of good music.
This year Nigeria was selected to feature its rappers on the BET Cypher, and the video was shot and scheduled to air when the BET Hip-Hop awards airs.
About a week ago, the BET Hip-Hop awards aired in the US and to the surprise of many, there was no “Naija Cypher.” As expected there were a lot of pissed off Nigerians, and it was all BET did this, and BET did that. Eventually the Naija Cypher aired on BET International (UK and Africa only) and everyone was happy. Right?
2 burning issues bothered me over this whole Naija Cypher fiasco.
1. Hip-Hop is a borrowed music genre and so we (Africans) are fighting a losing battle trying to get recognized internationally.
Before anyone jumps on my neck, I appreciate African rappers. I love them. Anyone who knows me knows that. So I’m not getting at any rapper, but the fact is Hip-Hop is borrowed. It’s a borrowed genre and the true hip-hop lovers in Nigeria are in a minority.
The American public for the most part are not looking to recognize the fact that we have rappers that can compete with theirs (even though we do), and besides there are tons of upcoming acts in the North American continent alone fighting to break through.
Africa is not the only continent to have rappers with dope mic skills. Europe, The Carribeans, Asia all have their fair share hip-hop acts and not many have broken into American mainstream. The simple fact is that the American mainstream media is for Americans and they would always be first priority before what the other people in the world like.
A lot of us grew up listening to Hip-Hop in Nigeria, and so it’s understandable that we have a lot of rap acts now, but our Hip-Hop should be customized and repackaged for our mainstream and not the mainstream of Americans who probably don’t even know we have a hip-hop culture here.
It’s a borrowed culture that we grew to love, but we should never forget that it’s not originally african and will always be considered second grade hip-hop to the American mainstream media.
2. Why Do We Kill Ourselves For “Western” Approval or Recognition?
Eldee said on twitter a few days ago and I agree with his series of tweets “…why all the fuss about breaking naija music in America, is Nigeria not big enough to support our music?… whether they (western world) like our music or not, they will acknowledge it when we get our house in order and make sense of our numbers.”
He echoes my thoughts exactly. It seems like we as a continent feel like we’ve only arrived once we’re recognized by the western world… and this goes beyond music but we’ll stick with music for this post. International recognition is always great but will always come once we do “our” thing and not try to impress some outside authority of what’s good music or not. In the past 5-6 years there’s a been a huge music revolution in Africa and we’ve gone from making 2nd grade version of american songs to making music that we as a people appreciate. I don’t need to tell you what has resulted from that. You can see the results for yourselves if you have 2 eyes.
Reggaeton crept into the American mainstream by being unique with its sounds. Nothing else sounds like reggaeton, and nothing else sounds like Dance-Hall. Dance-Hall is just dance-hall and it came from a group of people making music for themselves and with that came the international appreciation.
We make music for ourselves to enjoy and it’ll speak volumes to anyone looking from the outside in. We have our background and culture and with that we have music that’ll appeal to us, made by people that understand us.
The other day Zara tweeted something about Terry G, Timaya on “Akpako” Cypher and even though I thought it was funny I couldn’t help but think.. “Hey… But that’s original Naija music sha. Why don’t we showcase that instead?”
Fela is probably the most internationally recognized African Artist and he didn’t try to imitate anything else, instead he created his own genre of music based on our culture and the influences around him. Bob Marley did the same in Jamaica. Sunny Ade, Oliver de Coque and co were all original in their day.
There’s no doubt that we’ve been heavily influenced by western culture, but that doesn’t mean we can’t continue recreate the perfect blend of music based on us as a people.
If we continue to do that without caring too much about if XYZ in ABC place likes it, then it’ll be natural appreciation coming from the outside. Before you know what’s happening there’ll be a whole generation of people who can’t even point Nigeria on the map but will Dance alanta like they were there when it was invented… and if it doesn’t happen? So what? We made the music for ourselves anyways 🙂
But if we decide we have to get approval from the western media or do things that’ll appeal to the western masses then we’ll continue to fight a losing battle.