For years, Nigeria bumped to music from N.W.A, Tupac, Notorious B.I.G and many more great hip-hop artistes, and then a few brave souls who loved the genre and their country a tad more than the rest of us, gave us the gift that is Nigerian Hip-Hop.
The Remedies; Nigeria’s first hip-hop group of Eedris ‘Mr. Remedy’ Abdulkareem, Tony Tetuila and Eddy Remedy aka Eddy Montana formed in 1997 ran the scene with hits like ‘Shakomo’ and ‘Omoge’.
In 2002, the group split when Eedris decided he wanted to ride solo. All three members pursued solo careers under the biggest record label at the time; Kennis Music, run by Kenny ‘Keke’ Ogungbe and Dayo ‘D1’ Adeneye. The rapper of the trio, Eedris Abdulkareem was more about the gangsta narrative and heavy delivery, playing little or no attention to actual lyricism. Nevertheless, Nigerians listened and for four years; from 2000-2004, his career blossomed.
Hits like ‘Mr. Lecturer’ [which in the opinion of this writer was slapstick at best] and ‘Nigeria Jaga Jaga’ [which was banned from airplay] cemented his place as one of Nigerian hip-hop’s heaviest heavyweights in the same industry as acts like 6 Foot Plus [Nigeria’s first Hausa-speaking rapper, best known for his fire verse on the remix of Jeremiah Gyang’s ‘Nabaka’].
The move from Eedris’ brand of rap to rhythm and poetry came with The Trybesmen also known as Da Trybe in 2000. This group of young, vibrant, talented and hungry emcees gave Nigeria a brand of rap we could hear, decipher, bump our heads and sing along to. Founded by Lanre ‘ElDee’ Dabiri alongside Kaboom and Freestyle, they took Nigeria by storm with ‘Trybal Mark’. They expanded to include other emcees: Dr. Sid, 2Shotz, OlADELe and the first set of female fire-spitters: Sasha P, Kemistry and Blaze and with this sick lineup, they gifted us ‘Shake Bodi’. Their spilt broke hearts, but it produced a plethora of badass hip-hop artistes with different flows and heavy punch lines and amazing lyricism in crazy collaboration and healthy competition with each other.
This new wave of more poetic rap they started paved the way for other acts like Lexzy Doo & Jazzman Olofin [of the defunct X-Appeal] and Illbliss, Obiwon & Elajoe [of the defunct Da Thorobreds].
Through the end of the 90s and the beginning of the 2000s, rap music in Nigeria was grossly under-appreciated and lyrical content held little or no premium.
Couple this with the fact that although Kennis Music had created a viable environment for the first taste of New Age Nigerian music in the hip-hop scene to thrive, they had very largely monopolized the industry and anyone who was an artiste at the time was represented by them: Plantashun Boiz and later 2Face, Tony Tetuila, Eedris Abdulkareem, Azadus, Essence, Kenny St.Brown and a host of others. The atmosphere of the music industry was largely stifling and almost monotonous. This made it hard for upcoming emcees to break out into the industry and blow up and so we had emcees dropping one hit and fizzle out like Rule Clean. It was hard and this environment of decided uncertainty fueled the notion that rapping is for ne’er-do-wells. The salvation to this hip-hop decline came with the second generation lyricists including Mode 9, Ruggedman, Terry tha Rapman, Elajoe, Illbliss and a host of others and with the establishment platforms like Soundcity, Hip TV and Music Africa, it was easier for different artistes to put their material out, ending the Kennis Music monopoly.
Also, the establishment of the Hip-Hop World Awards by Hip TV and which became known as the ‘Nigerian Grammys’ and other awards alike, fueled competition between emcees. This generation of emcees successfully finessed the art of self-sustenance and relevance. There was a renaissance of hip-hop with their arrival and we loved it. With his first mixtape; ‘Malcolm IX’ in 2004, Mode 9 broke onto the scene. The lead single on the album ‘Elbowroom’ bagged him the Best Hip-Hop award at the AMEN Awards the same year. In 2006, he claimed the biggest victory of the night at the Channel O Music Awards [at the time called the Spirit of Africa Music Video Awards] winning all three categories he was nominated in: Best Hip-Hop Video, Best Director and Best Video of the Year. Mode 9 gave Nigeria a refresher course on lyricism and is the most decorated artiste of the Hip Hop World Awards [now known as The Headies] being a seven-time winner of their most coveted Lyricist on the Roll award and multiple time winner of the Best Hip-Hop Album and Best Hip-Hop Single awards. Ruggedman on the other hand had been around since 1999 with self produced and released singles, but he didn’t establish himself till 2003 when he won the Best New Artist, Best Solo Performance, Best Rap Video and Artist of the Year awards the Awards for Musical Excellence in Nigeria [AMEN] Awards. The next year, he dropped his debut album ‘Thy Album Come’ and from then on, it was a cruise. The girls [or girl as it was at the time] weren’t left out. First Lady of Nigerian Hip-Hop, Sasha P didn’t let the Trybesmen breakup slow her down.
She continued to release music, but didn’t drop a proper hit till 2003 when she released ‘Emi Le Gan’. Joining STORM Records, she released her debut album ‘First Lady’ in 2006 and her second hit ‘Adara’ in 2008. Sasha is the first Nigerian female artiste to perform at the World Music Awards  and to win the Best Female Award at the MTV Africa Music Awards [MAMA]. Sasha’s contribution to hip-hop paved the way for other female emcees like Muna, Eva Alordiah, B.O.U.Q.U.I etc.
Once again, the game of hip-hop and the genre of rap in Nigeria evolved and we grew into a generation not afraid to infuse traditional beats and languages into the genre.
Enter Lord of Ajasa and 2Phat; their style of rap incorporated mostly pidgin and Yoruba with little spritzes of English to create a sound that was unique. Sadly, these acts didn’t last, but thankfully the rap style was preserved through acts of different ethnicities like Da Grin, Nigga Raw [now Mr. Raw], Big Lo and now, we have Olamide, CDQ, Phyno, Kiss and others.
Nigerian rap has evolved in the space of ten years from incoherent mumbling to the greatness of the lyricism and flow of emcees like MI [who broke Mode 9’s Hip Hop World Award winning streak and whose greatness as Nigeria’s hip-hop Messiah cannot be overstated], Burna Boy, Poe, Mojeed and a whole lot more and the game is still changing. With millennial acts like Santi, BarelyAnyHook, Bawa, Bad Bridge, it is safe to say we’re in for a ride of iconic madness.