Most times when teenagers tell the story of Nigerian hip hop, they do so according to how they met it. It’s always more about trap and indigenous pop rap than anything else. But there was an era of lyricism before this time.
It was a time when Nigerian rappers could rival their American counterparts in terms of skill. Records have been sold and the history must be told. This is a peek into the Nigerian hip hop sounds of the 90’s.
The sad truth is that Nigeria’s great emcees of the past are very easily forgotten. No thanks to the largely sanguine music followership in Nigeria. But we have made it a duty at hip hop head pay tribute to the veterans who gave us hits and stayed true to the game. We are melancholic about this, we love the art.
This article covers artistes who were able to penetrate the predominantly ragae/Afro beat music industry within the years 1996 and 2002. Its about the early age of Nigerian hip hop music and will cover this limited timeline.
1. SWAT ROOTS
Any hip hop head in Nigeria will tell you that the swat roots were probably the most complete rap group to ever exist in Nigeria. You know all these names and that’s no coincidence, you probably just didn’t know they were all in the same group. Pure cold dopeness.
Moulded together in Kaduna, this 90’s clique had flair in six foot plus, wordplay in Terry the Rapman, depth in Overdose and lyricism in Mode Nine.
However they never made it together as a group in the budding pop factory of the early 2000s. Their music was niche and its the reason why we remember them today. After the split, some members of the group went on to achieve some levels of success independently.
Overdose dropped a monster hit “don’t hate” in 2006. It was so good he had to do a remix, Mode 9 and Eldot didn’t waste any time to jump on it. But he couldn’t replicate that form, his brainy intellectual hip hop wasn’t getting any attention from the mainstream anymore. This guy could rap.
Rule clean isn’t even a name you can remember anymore. But he gave us one hit we can never forget
Six foot plus was very hot in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. He was a lot different from his crew members. He didn’t employ an improvised accent Like the others so his songs were either very funny and the average person could relate. Everybody loved his anwuli you chop my money go song. He was as Nigerian as possible and was the first member of the crew to attain celebrity status all over the country.
Terry the rap man, now stylized as TR is more of an entrepreneur now. He owns a line of designer headphones, which is still struggling to gain ground in the crowded gadget market. However his BANS (boys are not smiling) brand is a significant success.The last time he made the headlines was when rapper Ikechukwu called him out for sleeping with Sarah Ofili, his girlfriend.
Mode 9, he’s widely believed to be the the king of Nigerian underground hiphop. He’s dropped enough classics to last us years. He’s the standard of lyrical dexterity for a long time, everybody compares themselves with Modo.
However he isn’t grabbing the headlines anymore probably because he is making it a habit to stay away from petty controversy. The old Modo could have pounced on rapper Muna during the “pass the mic” incident, but I guess he’s too mature for that now. Muna later apologised in a series of tweets.
He goes down in history as the man who slaughtered the cocky Rugged man on Death blow while delivering the most influential diss track Nigerian hip hop will witness in about a hundred years. He’s also the only reason why Nigeria’s BET cypher doesn’t suck major. He’s had international collaborations with Jigga, Canibus and Rick Ross.
Cry by mode 9 is the second track on 2007 album E’ Pluribus Unum released under Question mark Entertainment. It’s arguably the rappers most successful single yet. “Cry” which features the soulful vocals of songstress Nnenna, received major critical acclaim, topped charts Africa and bagged the hip hop titan awards left, right and center but sadly Modenine has struggled to create another single that stand the success of Cry.
Maintain was a hip hop group that started making music in the late 90s. This group Maintain was not as lyrically or socially equipped as the Swatroots but the had their own ways.
They relied on their abilities to create slangs and catch phrases in Nigerian pidgin.
The pidgin in the language of the streets. Most people only know Olu Maintain because of his runaway hit single “Yahooze”. They did the remix for Ludacris’ “area codes” that went something like “I catch cold, kpele”. I was in Jss 2 at the time and it was hawwwt!
This group started in the late 90’s when four students namely Eldee the Don, Kaboom and Freestyle decided to start a boy band in the university of Lagos.
They went on to make experimental recordings. The Trybe would perform these songs at local shows on campus only be surprised at high level of acceptance the songs were getting.
They were crafty and were able to create music with mash ups of American English and local vernacular. The Lagos scene was theirs and songs like “shake body” soon took over the airwaves.
However they broke up, its a thing with rappers. We are too opinionated and just can’t stay together for too long. Kaboom’s career took a nosedive after the Trybe split. Freestyle dropped an independent album which did fairly After but he’s back to radio now.
Eldee is the only rapper to make it out as a commercial success after their split. He had always been the mogul type. His returned in the late 2000s re-branded as a pop artiste with club hits, most notably “Champion”.
Most teenagers will be surprised but Eldee the Don was a cat. He owns Trybe records, an influential record company in Nigeria and that should tell you he’s still relevant in the industry.
The group, consisting of notable hip hop artistes such as Elajoe, Obiwon, Illbliss and B-Elect, copped the award for the Best Hip Hop song by a group/duo at the 2006 maiden edition of Hip Hop World Awards for the massive radio hit “Streethop”. The group had a brief stint with storm records.
B-elect born Andrew bright igho, founded the crew along with Illbliss. He has been involved in hip hop since his days as a kid in the late eighties and early nineties, and in some ways has been involved in every aspect of the game as a scholar. The vet is undoubtedly one of the most versed individuals in Nigeria when it comes to rap and its culture.
He now writes for various hip hop magazines and has spoken at various hip hop forums. Belect presently works in advertising but still finds time to run his label and studio, Blightz recordz.
Last year they released their first artist, Protek with the album “Zion Republican” produced by Jonah the Monarch. His vocal style was pretty fresh with a semi monotone flow, similar to Guru of the roots.
Elajoe is remembered for his hot verse on Jimmy Jatt’s “Stylee” we have not heard much from him ever since. Obiora Obiwon is now born again and lives quietly in Lagos.
Illbliss is the most relevant member of the now defunct thoroughbreds. In 2008, Illbliss won his first major award as a solo artiste at the Sound City Music Video Awards (SMVA) for Best hip hop video, with his song “U Go Wound O!!” The award was presented by American hip hop veteran Nas.
Here is an interview illbliss had with OkayAfrica.com, he wanted to set the record straight.
“KD (Kaduna) and Jos built the soundscape of hip hop in Nigeria. It’s just that we don’t document our history. We don’t know the roots. Some people think today think hip hiphop in Nigeria started with Chocolate City, when they are clear cut descendants of Swat Roots”
He went on to narrate how the Thoroughbreds were the most respected hip hop group in Nigeria. The only other group to rival their lyrical prowess was Swat Roots from KD. Ilbliss continues
“It was always like, okay, you guys are holding down the north, we are holding down Lagos and some parts of the east. We were kind of bound together by the kind of music that influenced us.
We in the north, especially Kaduna, and I’m sure Jos, were snobbish towards the pop factory that was Lagos when Kennis Music gave us Tony Tetuila, Eedris Abdulkareem and later 2Face.
When Swat Roots parted ways, another group, KD World, took over. They were led by Dollar Sign and El Dot and their artists included Naydo, Pherowshuz & OD.
KD World had a very strong presence in Abuja, Kaduna and many areas in the north, but failed to make their presence felt in Lagos where there was already an active market for concerts, endorsements, and a larger pool of artists to collaborate with.”
He stresses that a lot of work had already been done in the industry and that was why it was relatively easy for rappers like MI and Ice prince to land with a strong footing. Swat Roots and the Thoroughbreds did not have a good PR.
There was hardly any followership for hip hop at the time, it was sort of micro niche. Those who loved it stuck together but couldn’t really make it sell in the market.
There was a point when Overdose was the rapper no one could mess around with. He was vicious with words, the guy could actually rap. This is not putting Mode nine into consideration of course, he has always been the best battle cat.
“I think OD does voice overs for radio now. He uses his voice for other means. That’s how he earned his living all this time.
I clearly remember being at Federal University of Technology in Niger State, less than an hour from Abuja, where Illbliss worked as a banker and Mode 9 had a show on Rhythm FM. As it was Mode 9, there was every trust that he would only play what was dope.
Overdose never made it to the top in the industry. He didn’t achieve enough success to match the skills he had on the microphone. There are a lot of reasons why his music never reached its commercial potential. I think one reason was his refusal to evolve, he became obsolete”
Illbliss continues saying,
“everybody from my generation, they’re all gone. Either they are gone or they are near extinct.”
Illbliss’ continues by admitting that he had never gotten the recognition he deserved. Most people just think he’s just some Igbo rapper, they don’t know the history of the art nor do they know about the emcees of the past.
After so many years in the background, he came out with the club hit “Aye gon gon” in which he featured Terry G. This fetched him a lot of criticism from hiphop observers. He replied Frankly
“I wanted to make money and feed myself and my family”
5. RUFF RUGGED & RAW
Ruff Rugged & Raw crew teamed up with Tony Tetuila and afro R&B legend, 2face Idibia to cooke up one of the hottest joints of the mid 90’s. Omode Meta was one of the first beef songs to enter the Nigerian music scene. This song rocked the late 90’s.
The diss song was birthed from a falling out Tony Tetuila had with hot blooded rapper Eedris Abdulkareem and fine boy vocalist, Eddy Montana.
That aside, it reminds you of the humble beginnings of 2face Idibia whose high tenor cannot be missed out on the joint. Ruff Rugged & Raw rapped like MOP, I’m not sure of what they were saying.
6. THE REMEDIES
They were the first major rap group to ever get signed to a credible commercial record label in Nigeria. They comprised of Tony Tetuila, Eedris Abdul Kareem and Eddy Montana.
The remedies we’re the most successful hip hop group in Nigeria before the breakup. They could owe their commercial appeal to the marketing expertise of label bosses Dayo D1 and Kenny Ogungbe. The Ogungbes were partners with AIT (African Independent Television) at the time.
So they were getting adequate airplay on ray power and TV coverage on MBI and AIT. After their infamous split. Tony Tetuila created hits like “you don bash my car” and “I’m in love with two women” before going silent.
Eedris Abdul Kareem, the groups outspoken choleric was probably Nigeria’s most prized mainstream asset in the early 2000s. He dissed Plantshun Boiz and reigned as an untouchable Nigerian rap prince till Ruggedman knocked him upside the head.
Abdulkareem would later enjoy palatable levels of independent commercial success with hits like “Mr Lecturer” and “Igboro ti Daru” featuring Klever Jay. We will remember him for his audacity, he was the one who started a fight with 50 cent. He also hit controversy when he drew an angry reaction from president Olusegun Obasanjo with his “Nigeria jagajaga”.
7. WEIRD MC
Weird MC was born Adesola Adesimbo Idowu. The 47 year old Ogun native was born in the United Kingdom to conservative parents who did not encourage her to go into show business.
She had her secondary school education in Nigeria, where she made friends with four other girls with whom she formed the hip-hop group Weirdos .
Despite their popularity on the campus circuit, they failed to land a record deal, and soon disbanded, and Idowu gained admission into Ogun State University to study Law , but left after a year to focus on her music career.
In 1996 she released the album Simply Weird; a blend of American-style hip hop and Afrobeat and featured the self-produced video single “Allen Avenue”. This made her the first Nigerian female artiste to release a hip hop project.
8. DJ JIMMY JATT
This wouldn’t be complete without mentioning DJ Jimmy Jatt. The Nigerian version of DJ premier. He’s been as relevant as any DJ can be.
He established a place for himself in Nigeria hip hop history With the launching of his Jimmy’s jump off. Now rappers from all all over Africa dream of showing their skills on a live jump off freestyle session with Jimmy Jatt.
Did we miss any? Inform us in the comment box