This month, Nigerian Hip-Hop music will be paid several August visits by no less than three wise men bearing gifts. And this is not a prophesy; it is a mission statement from the stables of Chocolate City Music.
Jude Abaga has been vocal about the pathetic state of Hip-Hop in Nigeria and in a style similar to Kanye West’s three album releases in June, M.I has promised an intervention for August. Hence the acronym L.A.M.B which doubly works as the sacrificial lamb to rescue Hip-Hop as per Abraham and Isaac or as an acronym for the three wise men and a plus one: L for Loose Kaynon, A for A-Q, M for M.I and B is for Blaqbonez.
On the 17th of August, the first gift called Crown was released. A joint album by Loose Kaynon, an old hand at Chocolate City and revered wordsmith and A-Q, an indie rapper who recently joined the label.
A-Q, 32, is one year younger than Loose. Both rappers have different rap patterns, cadences and concerns. However, they seem to be in agreement that Nigerian Hip-Hop needs shock therapy.
In 10 tracks (skits inclusive) and 33 minutes, they stage a beautiful outing rife with nostalgia and knowledge, something niche for Hip-Hop heads especially those who came of age during the gangster rap boom.
The premise of the album title is the possibilities of many crowns and the logic that two crowns are better than one. Easily, Crown is metonymy for King and there is the history of a collaborative album by two local rappers called Two Kings, but hold that thought.
Debbie Romeo midwives the hook on ‘Out of this World’; the first song announcing the album while the two rappers trade punchlines on the subject of their awesomeness. While Loose Kaynon has got great timbre and an incredible facility for word play as well as radiant humour, A-Q has got cadence and a rap flow technique that would make Jay-Z jealous, plus he is prolific.
There is a lot of help from vocalists with the melodious hooks on this record and the skits seem interconnected, snapshots of phone conversations between two heterosexual acquaintances featuring a robust range of emotions.
Most songs theme around self-praise. Bar for bar, both rappers try to out-rhyme each other bringing to the fore their skills in word play, breath control, metaphor deployment and, to a lesser extent, storytelling. Moments of vulnerability are few (except on the ChiGurl-assisted Hustlers Prayer) while moments of hubris and self-adulation are abundant. They shout for a love song on ‘By Your Side’ but instead achieve a booty call ditty thriving on thinly disguised objectification.
On ‘Gang Gang’, Torna invokes an Igbo hook while both rappers tear the song apart with braggadocio. They recruit the Show Dem Camp rapper duo on a cypher-like eponymous ‘Crown’. Ghost comes through as exceptional, but doesn’t easily take the cake because A-Q brings his excellent cadence to bear, breaking his verse with mercurial genius while critiquing the music scene. Loose, though on his A game, contradicts when he says, “Hello Paper sounds way better than Hello Hater”.
Crown is an album that comes from a place of conceit masquerading as critique.
The critique is that the rap game has been hijacked by cats who do not care about Hip-Hop but this is not accurate. What has been hijacked is the mainstream centre-stage, not Hip-Hop.
The music that currently reigns branches off from Hip-Hop and is not entirely comfortable with that Hip-Hop label.
Interestingly, this tendency is not peculiar to Nigeria; America from where Hip-Hop originated has seemingly made peace with the ascent of Mumble Rap and Trap music. In Nigeria, the local rappers have side-lined the brief reign of articulate and conscious “International rappers”.
That said, the Crown album is a breath of fresh air. It is a retrospective project riding on nostalgia and good vibes but which also manages to be dated, with more American references than contemporary Naija-speak.
Crown is a tribute to a time that may have passed.