I used to rap.
My steady urging at stringing rhymes together was at the instance of a well, from which I fetched water on a daily basis. Between throwing the fetcher and drawing water, I found a rhythm to which I would freestyle like any teenager whose desire was to be seen as cool in school.
But my verses were a private endeavour. Only my siblings were privy to those silly rhymes, in retrospect. I was a closeted aspiring teen rapper in secondary school but things changed much.
Circa mid-2000s. I was 200 level undergrad studying Medicine at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.
Mode Nine had relocated to Lagos, he had released the single Elbow Room and his ‘commercial break’ E’ Pluribus Unum was ruling the airwaves.
It was sometime between the brief reign of Trybes Records and the ascent of Chocolate City—but first, rappers from all over the Nigeria had to emigrate to Lagos in order to blow.
I had moved to Fajuyi Hall from Angola Hall where freshmen resided. Assigned a room on the first floor of Block 5, I occupied the lower bunk. On top of me was a portly man with scraggly beard whose weight threatened my mortality every time he climbed up. Let’s call him M.
M was well-loved on Block 5. He was amongst many other things, a law student, a reformed man, a born-again Christian with the gift of the garb.
The most exciting thing about him, to me, was that he was a rapper. One morning, some guys came to the room to seek him out. Sitting on a borrowed bed, M borrowed a stereo player, slipped in a CD and an up-tempo beat filled the room. M began to nod. Becoming one with the beat, he dropped his first set of bars, “I was born and raised a hustler…”
I was enthralled by his abilities. His flow were on check; Rhymes in sync with the beat. His delivery was top-notch with a twang of that American accent he later told me he acquired in public school in the US. His father was a diplomat and even though he wasn’t rich, he travelled the world with his kids and gave them a solid worldview.
M got me thinking about rap. It made sense to be multi-disciplinary, after all, he was studying to become a lawyer. He was also a fervent Christian so his rhymes leaned heavily into biblical scriptures and stories that affirmed his faith and engendered moral values. I was weaned off gangster rap, so I fancied myself as some protégé of my rap heroes; My rhymes were about brags and self-adulation.
Our room in Block 5 Fajuyi Hall became the hub for rappers like the fair, slight and somewhat impatient White Mask, whose flows were flighty and his punchlines rapid like Eminem.
Then there was West Old Dog with a deep baritone voice and contemplative style. Cold Stone, who wasn’t quite an ice-cream confectionery—he shaved his bald head and had a remarkably thin voice and grabbed his crotch whenever he rapped.
I was not on an equal footing with these veterans who had demos and collaborations that were making headways in the underground rap circuit but it was good to be in their company.
M was the meeting point; somewhere between reformed reprobate and wise arbiter—we would hold court outside the room on Block 5, discussing life issues and rap legends from Nas to Talib Kwali to Lupe Fiasco and to the dominant gangster rap that popularised stories about the grim realities of violence on American streets.
We were ecstatic when M landed a deal with a torchlight-wielding rapper on a decline at the time. The prospect of his trajectory as a rapper under this label seemed shaky at the time, but good news was good news and we took his record deal as a long-time-coming sweet reward for his efforts in the game. Although M was to be a lawyer, it was important that music, his main calling, was getting that deserved attention. He appeared in a music video of his principal and we saw bigger things ahead of him.
Over the Harmattan holidays, M recorded a number of tracks in preparedness for his album which he played for us. The most memorable for me was a King Sunny Ade sample that took a line from a playful Ariya refrain that translates from Yoruba as follows: “don’t touch that sensitive place, just dance with me daddy. “
This line became M’s hook to which he built the scaffolding of a story about the abuse of women within a patriarchal context. This was way before the feminist rhetoric Fuck the Patriarchy became trendy on social media. This was before social media became a thing.
It was a rude shock when M returned from Lagos one weekend and said he had eased out of his record deal. His reason: his principal had been making false claims, bragging about a huge sign-on advance paid out to him, when, in reality, he got nothing.
15 years later, none of those rappers we used to do freestyle ciphers with blew. The last time I saw M, he was bootlegging his own CDs at a mall in Lagos. I purchased a copy at a price, in excess of the unit price, but I was disappointed that it was not an album like the track listing indicated—there was just one track and its instrumental.
M gave me my stage alias at the time: Buck (my biggest punch line: if this was a movie then it will be a Buck’s office hit!) and he used to hail me as Hip-Hop’s worse nightmare.
In retrospect, I was, more appropriately, Hip-Hop’s shortest nightmare.