Before you sink your juicy teeth into the flesh of this article, you must know one irrefutable and indelible fact about me: I am the biggest MI fan you will ever meet and I make no apologies for that. To know me is to know this. With that said, I have tried my possible best to be as objective as I can with my words and with my stance. And so help me…
In the early hours of today on twitter, a follower of mine alerted me to the existence of an article written by Joey Akan, a controversial writer that feeds off controversy in a way reminiscent of a newborn desperately suckling the nipples of its mother. A think-piece on MI, my Twitter friend termed it. My ears and whole body do usually stand to attention whenever MI is involved but I snickered immediately I was tagged to the article and I saw the caption. The writing space and internet are saturated with articles of this kind and if you have read one, you have read them all. I dismissed the article and declared my intention to ignore it. My declaration, though, carried as much weight as promises made by Nigerian politicians during campaigns.
Being the weak-willed person that I am concerning matters relating to MI, I opened the article and tried to keep an open mind. By the end of the article though, I was drowning in the ocean of irritation. My first thought was to issue a riposte on twitter through a well-written thread but as I began, I realized I had more to say than I originally thought and figured a counter article might be the best course of action and I am sure my followers are quite sick of my threads. And so, here we are on medium.
As a long-term fan of MI Abaga, the rapper and Jude Abaga, the man, I have been an unwilling spectator in a lot of controversies surrounding and involving both the rapper and the man. I have also made peace with the fact that due to his gargantuan standing (figuratively please), he is a target for vitriols and cheap shots, warranted or not. Do not get me wrong, MI isn’t a saint. He does not make it easy for his fans sometimes and he has received his fair share of criticism and will continue to do so. It will also be dishonest of every single music fan out there to deny that he has been the victim of unmerited and unfounded attacks as well. The latest being this sham of an article written by Joey Akan. Joey might try to dress this article up in the beautiful garment of ‘think-piece’ or even a more royal and endearing attire such as ‘cry from a huge fan’ but carefully strip this article of all flowery languages and you will see it for what it is, unnecessary and with no leg to stand on. You might have fooled others but certainly not me, Joey.
When MI Abaga burst unto the scenes, Nigerians were taken aback by the uniqueness of the short, black boy. He was like a fresh of breath air from Jos. He gave the rap industry a much-needed shakeup and showed that it can definitely be a profitable venture. A miracle! As a result, his place amongst the pantheons of Nigerian Hip Hop was sealed. Some would say, why are you looking at me, he sits firmly atop the throne. MI’s music was always HipHop but it was the kind fans outside of the revered genre could relate and vibe to. This won him a lot of fans across Nigeria and made him a household name. MI knew he had to make his music more radio-friendly if he was to make his mark on the Nigerian music scenes in general and this was a sacrifice he made grudgingly. He wasn’t going to let that stop him from practicing his first love though and that was dishing hot, piping rap in its purest form and thus began the duality of MI Abaga.
MI sacrificed so much of his actual artistry in his albums that he had to start a mixtape series where he could actually make the rap music he wanted and simultaneously put on underground rappers and artists. The Illegal Music mixtapes spanned 3 outstanding bodies of work and are some of the best ever rap projects out of the African continent. They were strenuous and taxing to make and MI didn’t make a single dime from them. Why then did he go through such lengths to make projects he wouldn’t make money from you ask? Because every rapper wants to do one thing at the end of the day. Actually rap. MI fans then knew they had two kinds of MI on their hands…MI, the radio-friendly and pop-conscious artist on his albums and MI, the hardcore and hard-hitting rapper on his mixtapes. The albums won him fans across the country, the mixtape retained the hardcore fans that were in love with the Hip-Hop rapper. It was a symbiotic relationship.
I remember when MI released The Chairman album in 2014 and he was roundly criticized for being too commercial. Fans felt he was selling out and rapidly losing his rapping identity. The album was inundated with guest artists on every track along with bland and elementary rap lines. Critics felt it was/is his worst project. Fast forward to 2020 and he is now being criticized for actually making rap songs that sound too much like rap songs. The irony bites us firmly on our butts…ouch! The truth most artists have to contend with is you will never satisfy every single fan. You make an album that’s pop conscious and self-acclaimed Hip-Hop heads will turn their noses up at it and denigrate it with brutal condescension. You decide to make a hard-hitting, mind-blowing, rap oriented project and you have people like Joey Akan throwing their toys out the pram and rolling on the floor in a laughable show of entitlement and hypocrisy.
MI Abaga is 38 years old. He has sold records, performed at sold-out shows, won numerous awards, toured nations and headed up a label. The face-slapping truth is that he has nothing to prove to any of us anymore. He has conquered this music thing. E don finish work. The legend is allowed to get to that stage where he is content with making the kind of music he wants…dominance be damned. He has dominated and he won’t dominate forever. No one will. What would be more shocking is if 13 years in the game, we didn’t notice any kind of evolution in the man’s music. It is almost as if we should vilify Jay Z for not regaling us with banging tracks like ‘Excuse me’, ‘Big pimpin’, ‘Dirt off your shoulder’ anymore instead of serving us more mundane and introspective projects like 4:44 and A Written Testimony. His stupendous verse on Meek Mill’s What’s Free was as thought-provoking to me as MI’s very recent entry for Stogie T’s Freestyle Friday series. HipHop is riddled with similar examples of such transformations. Rappers mature, they evolve and they simply get to that point where their artistry and musical desires trump need for commercial acceptance or financial gains.
MI has given his all to Nigerian music. He gave us Illegal Music mixtapes for free when he really didn’t have to. We shouldn’t be writing articles in 2020 flogging him for not making popular music anymore. We should be watching him with reverence and lapping up these critically acclaimed gems he keeps dropping. He won’t be here to drop them forever. He has paid his dues. Let the man create in peace. He has become such an easy target for unwarranted noise making. I mean, even CDQ made a diss track directed at him for no particular reason. Although the lack of any proper attention to the track slapped harder than any reply MI could have given. You would think a seasoned writer and follower of Nigerian music like Joey Akan should have this down to a T. Unfortunately, we were served a big bowl of cry me a river in the form of an article.
MI tweeted recently that he intends on singing even more on tracks this year. It is a predilection of his in recent times and I had to tone down my consternation because I am above all things, a supporter. MI might be rapping his way out of the heart of millions of fans but best believe, he has been elevated even more amongst followers of core Hip-Hop and his loyal followers will forever remain. He didn’t have to revert to popular songs before The Tribe of Judah movement started with passionate ferocity and he certainly didn’t have to before #MIAbagaOnceSaid trended organically on Twitter. He will be fine.
My advice to MI is this: Continue to evolve and give us the music of your heart. For a long time, you gave us the music we wanted. I’d rather an MI album of him singing than no album at all. What is for certain though is no matter what he releases, it won’t please everybody because damn if he does and damn if he doesn’t.
Written by Abidoye Adedeji