Hip hop is changing, from the snappy melodic rap of Cheque’s 2020 hit ‘Zoom’ to the rap-pop-assisted hooks that took Ladipoe to the top of the charts in 2021, there has been a constant evolution to take the genre that once ruled airwaves around the country back to mainstream success. While experimentation is playing a significant role in the push for mainstream, the work of building the hip hop community and platforming underground artists is being done underground.
It is easier for pop singers in Nigeria’s Afropop-dominated music scene and much harder for hip hop acts to get funding/backing from record labels and talent management companies. Without the support of major labels or funding, new school acts have found new ways to push themselves and provide the support they need through groups and collectives. Behind the new school acts putting in the work lies collaborative efforts powered by collectives.
Collectives are not new to hip hop. From the influence of groups like WuTangClan to the more recent TDE and OddFuture, groups and collectives have shaped hip hop’s path. In Nigeria, The Remedies, Plantashun Boiz and Trybesmen trailblazed and were the birthing place of stars that defined not just Hip Hop but Afrobeats. And like many renaissances, its rebirth is coming straight from the underground.
Unlike labels and typical hip hop groups, members of a collective are like-minded artists who collaborate with each other, even outside features. It’s a family with the good parts of a label made up of people who want to see each other win.
From collectives like Apex Village, which revitalized trap in Nigeria and put Abuja on the map, to Chop Life Crew showing the power of collaborations in putting the spotlight on the drill, to Bad Influence coming together through the internet and leveraging on it in starting a movement that spreads beyond social media to create a community around their music, Hip Hop groups and collectives are back and shaping the new school hip hop culture.
Apex Village 2017 – Present.
Members: Psycho YP, Zilla Oaks, Kuddi is Dead, Azanti, Ayuu, Marv, Thrillmax, FallofMicheal, Bidemi, Cindy, Joey Oputa, Iyare.
“You can’t really build on something if there isn’t a solid structure. So yeah, I take structure very seriously when it comes to big things and things I’m serious about. If you’re looking for the Afrobeat, the original Nigerian Afrobeat, it’s in Apex, international it’s in Apex, you really can’t just say no to Apex.”Psycho YP
Apex’s success as a collective has seen them take Trap to the forefront of hip hop, put their city on the map and find mainstream and underground acceptance across the country. Formerly called ‘Them’ when they were still a loose collection of creatives, and mockingly called ‘Gwarimpa Boys’ due to the neighborhood that formed them, Apex Village became the premier hip hop collective in Nigeria within two years of its founding. Their collaborative efforts saw them grow as a camp of creatives, made up of not just music artists but curators, managers, graphic designers, photographers, videographers, editors, and producers. Apex Village’s ability to find whatever they need in-house helped them find success. Within the five years of their founding, they’ve released a discography spanning over ten projects, including a compilation project.
“I feel like in Nigeria, we’d be amongst the people to change that to make people feel excited about hip hop. We need people to make hip hop look exciting and feel mad! That’s what Apex is doing right now, we’re just trying to push hip hop in Nigeria.”— Zilla Oaks
44db 2019 – Present.
Members: Tochi Bedford, Trill Xoe, Jonson IP, KD, Malik Bawa, Veen, Tobi Fads, Dëra, Haris, Lex Jnr, Woodpile, Saint Austiin, Coby
Unlike other collectives, 44db is made up of producers, an often overlooked group that bears the brunt of the work of making music. Formed by Tochi Bedford at a time when producers received very little support and recognition, Tochi aimed to create a mutually beneficial ecosystem where producers could learn and grow off one another.
“Everyone in the group basically controls a certain niche, even as upcoming guys. So we’re basically together to prove ‘strength in numbers’. Over time, we’ve learned so much from each other and shared a lot with each other,”Tochi Bedford
Coming together first as a loose group of six friends before deciding to become an official collective and increase their membership, 44db has managed to create an avenue for shared opportunities among its members. They’ve slowly built their name as individuals and as a whole, rising to the top of production in hip-hop, and even Afrobeats, having production credits that span Odunsi‘s “Everything You Heard Is True,” Psycho YP‘s “YPSZN2,” and their own individual projects.
Bad Influence 2020 – Present.
Members: Samvsthekids, D.S.6 (Droxx & Slimsyxx) Mo’Gunz, Big C, VRSD, Runjozi, Drillo, Xandre, and Reddrum.
“I believe in everyone here, we are one of the most original, authentic artists in the country that mainstream has never heard of. Nothing is forced. We tell our own stories. We carry our Africaness and West African rhymes in our music. And our music is our life, what we do everyday. It’s what we live. Just like Hip-Hop.”VRSD
With its members still unknown to mainstream hip hop audiences, Bad Influence is unarguably one of the biggest underground influences behind Nigeria’s growing drill scene. While its early members (Droxx, Samvsthekids, Syxx, VRSDand Big C) knew each other from the University of Ilorin, it wasn’t until 2020 that they started working on ‘All Hail The Internet‘ that they decided to become a collective. Made up of a mix of rappers – who make music outside of drill – and producers, the collective grew out of mutual respect for each other’s craft on the internet.
Spread across different cities, Bad Influence has learned to build on the internet to create not just music but bonds that provide support and expose them to each other’s fanbases. Driving them is the understanding that for hip hop to gain relevance again, collaborations, authenticity, and consistency is important.
This year they’re set to release the follow-up to ‘All Hail The Internet‘ and their individual projects.
“We’re on a mission to revive a culture that has almost lost its grip on the industry and pave ways for the ones like us that love this art. Ultimately, we aim to start a religion”Big C
Members: Straffitti, Jaiye, and Kxngwuap, gcl3f, hotboii, jxses and retrro5
Thirsty Worldwide’s non-conformist and experimental approach to music and fashion are based on the knowledge that music and artist discovery has shifted from traditional channels and their thirst for not just success but self-expression. Founded by Starffitti in 2015, Thirsty Worldwide started making music, clothes, and throwing shows, Thirsty Worldwide
“We make totally anything & everything, it’s a whole vibe here at thirsty as we would never be bounded by a genre, but keep ties with our Hip-Hop/Rap/Trap background.”Straffitti
Every time something significant happens in the hip-hop space on the continent, Nigerian rappers constantly have to deal with criticisms and unsolicited advice on what they are doing wrong. While hip hop is still a far way from commercial success in Nigeria, the new generation of rappers are making significant inroads without much backing from older heads and acts. Across the country, collectives are springing up and doing the work pushing their craft and defining what hip hop culture in Nigeria means.