“Underground? me I no be underground, me I don tey”, rapper Abstraktt asserts in the middle of the first verse of his latest single Wahala. These are the words of a man looking to make an ascent in the music scene and backing his abilities to take him through, and if nothing else, the song on which they appear is ample evidence of his talent and drive. Wahala is cut from three different soundscapes—rap, trap and drill—but the man who holds them together provides enough finesse to make it work effortlessly.
He says “See me see wahala” in response to detractors and naysayers who seek faults in whatever you do. “I talk one and they say that I’m spazzing, I no talk and it’s me that they’re dragging”, he traps over slinky production provided by Bada$$ Beats, speaking of the overwhelming dilemma that comes with trying to please everyone. His response is to just do your thing and ignore the noise.
Directed by ace videographer, Jyde Ajala, (“Kpe Paso”, “Enjoyment”, “Soweto” [rewatch this video for a surprise]) Wahala’s video translates the track finely into visuals, and our blond protagonist is seen riding around inner city streets of Victoria Island, apparently without a worry in the world.
It is ‘Shakara Rap’ in its element, his self-styled take on the genre that sees rap music as more vibe and less beef—a viewpoint that rap does not need to be ‘hard’ to be enjoyable. Other scenes have him decked in a varsity jacket, penny loafers and bedazzled gloves for a nod to Michael Jackson, but his musical influences are cut from a different stock.
The FESTAC-born Isaac Ekheoveh had his exposure to music fairly early, having been raised in a Christian family where both parents, ministers of the church, encouraged him to take on roles like singing and preaching that were his first introduction to public performance.
Further influence in music was provided by elder brothers via Sony Walkmans, and he first cut his teeth in RnB, before icons like Diddy and 50 Cent inevitably pulled his interest towards rap. His secondary school tenure in boarding school sharpened his desire for performing music, with classmates granting him audience, so that he graduated high school with his eyes on an eventful career in rap.
But in Nigeria, creativity often takes long breaks for academics, the more secure endeavor. Abstraktt would spend the next 4 years at the University Of Lagos studying Geography, and even emerging with an impressive second class upper did nothing to divert his calling. He put out a string of singles between December 2018 and 2019, swinging between trap and hip-hop as he sought to grow his discography.
Every creative knows that periods spent observing the scene and refining your craft are every bit as important as the flurry of releases that comes after this research. Abstraktt had his own mini-retreat in the few years prior to “Wahala”‘s release. For 2019’s “Me And The Girls”, he drew from Afrobeats, leaning also into reggaeton to create a record that could enter undetected into contemporary Afropop circles without losing a hold on rap influences.
The following year, “Crash Course” saw him make a u-turn to hard hitting rap, and for this he recruited guests—Blaqbonez, Alpha Ojini and Payper Corleone—to take turns spitting lines singing with pomp as they talked down on the opposition.
The contrast between these efforts highlighted the range of Abstraktt’s creativity and his possession of the tools to execute a variety of themes, but even those did not show the complete extent of his diversity. For last year’s release, “Ogogoro Bop”, he paired with Street Pop act, Bella Shmurda, and any doubts of how these strange bedfellows would tackle the even stranger sonic realm of alternative music would turn out to be unnecessary. Once more Abstraktt’s fluidity comes through, allowing him contort his rap flow into the track’s palmwine music medley.
Having completed a spell experimenting with various sounds, Abstraktt is ready to coalesce his obvious talent and charisma into a focused career. “Wahala” is his first step forward, but there is even more to come from the rapper, as he puts finishing touches to a project he has spent the last half decade carefully curating. His discography shows a lot more depth than just rap, and his work over the last few years proves he can make the necessary concessions and fusions to the genre and sweeten the deal for Nigeria’s pop-loving audience.
Nigerian rap’s acceptance has seen a definite uptick over the last few years, but there remains some way to go before our audience can fully embrace it like it does Afropop. Until then, rappers who show the most dexterity will win mainstream appeal, and Abstraktt, with his vision of Shakara Rap, represents an interesting prospect worth keeping an eye out for. He has already promised a much richer volume of releases in 2023, so while we anticipate a debut project with a timetable set for this summer, we can bop our heads to the deliciously trippy “Wahala”