I’ll never forget the moment I actually fell in love with hip-hop. It was that fateful day when I was home from school, watching Yo! MTV Raps on our newly installed ABG cable box in Jos, and Warren G & Nate Dogg’s ‘Regulate‘ came on. It was the first hip-hop song I would absolutely love, and the tune that will lead me into a lifetime of being a hip-hop fan. It was the first rap song I completely memorized, word for word. It didn’t matter that I had no idea where the ‘east side of the LBC‘ was, or what it meant for ‘213 to regulate‘, heck I couldn’t even tell you what the eastside motel was, but I sang and rapped every lyric of that song like I wrote it for Warren G and Nate Dogg.
Now that wasn’t the first rap song I heard. Prior to that, Dre Day, Nothing But A G Thing, MC Lyte’s Ruff Neck, Salt n Pepa’s Push It, Ice Ice Baby (bleh) and a few others were on cable TV all the time, but none hit me quite like Regulate. It was the absolute catalyst in transitioning my music catalog from the Prince, MJ, MC Hammer, and Bobby Brown tunes to begging my older cousin to buy me Snoop’s Doggy Style album. Most Nigerians in my age bracket have a similar story as to their introduction to hip-hop.
Hip-Hop to me as Nigerian was a completely new style of music. I remember at the time, the hottest songs in Nigeria then belonged to pop/reggae artists. Onyeka Onwenu, Mike Okri, Ras Kimono, Eva Edna were the ones ruling the airwaves. The closest thing to any rap you would here from a Nigerian was Alex O’s “It takes some time to bubble and shuffle” and we all know that’s not really anything to talk about. So to me, Nigerian hip-hop was non existent.
History tells us that at about that time, there already was a Nigerian hip-hop group by the name of Emphasis. However you’ll be forgiven if you never heard of them before. While they didn’t necessarily make hip-hop go mainstream, they were the first ones to really have what we call Nigerian Hip-Hop. But for me, my first encounter with Nigerian Hip-Hop was Junior & Pretty’s Monika. As far as Nigerian songs go, it’s pretty crude and rugged, but for me at the time, it was the Nigerian version of my love for Regulate. It was a captivating 6 mins and 52 secs of story telling about a girl we could all relate to. This time, I understood exactly everything that they were saying. I understood the lingo, I knew a Monika, I knew where Unilag, Unical and even Unipetrol was. It was perfect for me. I didn’t have to pretend to know where LBC was, or South Bronx.
It’s that combination that took my love for hip-hop through the years of 2pac, Biggie, Nas, Jay Z, Lil Kim, 50, J Cole, Drake, K.Dot, and in a parallel line, Remedies, Trybesmen, Ruff, Rugged & Raw, Mode, MI, Blaise, Naeto, Olamide, Falz etc. It’s the way hip-hop as a culture, and genre has grown in Nigeria. A borrowed culture and genre that we’ve remodeled to our ears.
It’s why when I see some hip-hop fans in Nigeria play down acts like Olamide, Reminsce, or Phyno, I shake my head. Hip-hop in Nigeria is a blend of everything we’ve been influenced by as a country. We speak “proper english” but also, pidgin, Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo and more. While Modo, SDC and co might take their bit to the more lyrically deep aspects of Hip-Hop, Olamide, Phyno and others have taken to the fun part of it. As a hip-hop fan I have moods for both types, and it’s all from the way I fell in love with. Sometimes I want to listen, other times I just want to turn up and blast the music loud. Sometimes I watch the history channel, and other times Family Guy.
It’s the beauty of Hip-Hop in Nigeria. It’s now wide enough that Nigerian hip-hop can’t be pigeonholed into a box anymore. If Biggie can sign Playa Hater, and Drake sing Hotline Bling, then what’s wrong with Phyno’s Connect or Olamide’s Melo Melo. Nigerian Hip-hop is not always about breaking out a dictionary or thersarus, neither is it always about rhyming ABC to a hot beat. It’s everything, and more. It’s why we fell in love it. It’s why we love it. It’s why for the first time in it’s history, Nigerian hip-hop is fully significant both critically and commercially.