Hip-hop / Rap has influenced and inspired millions of people around the world. It is a core part of black culture and has not receded ever since its rise in the 70s. Its reach spread to Nigeria in the late 70s, and it has been interesting to see how it merged with a country that has diverse cultures and languages. In this article, I will give a brief history of hip-hop in Nigeria, touching on some songs from some of the greats as I trace the evolution of hip-hop music in Nigeria from the late 1970s to the early 1990s.
The Early Influences
The hip-hop scene in Nigeria began in the late 1970s and early 1980s when American rap music started to gain popularity among the youth. The song Rapper’s Delight by the Sugar Hill Gang was a huge hit in Nigeria, and a lot of people wanted to do what they did. It was kind of difficult for hip-hop rappers to be taken seriously in Nigeria.
At the time, it was highlife and fuji music that reigned and the general thought was that “hip hop is not music” and that “it didn’t make sense for people to be talking all through a record.” A record was supposed to be sung. There was also the feeling that the early rappers were trying to copy the rappers in the United States, and yet they were not Americans – an ongoing issue in the industry today.
One of the first Nigerian rappers to emerge was Ibrahim Salim Omari, a member of the American rap group the Sugar Hill Gang, who came to Nigeria in exile in 1980. While in the country, Omari released the first rap single in Nigeria titled I am an African. He also collaborated with Nigerian musicians like Fela Kuti and King Sunny Ade. Though his song did not take root, it laid seeds for what was to come.
Another pioneer of Nigerian rap was Ron Ekundayo, a presenter on Radio Nigeria 2 in Lagos who also entered the hip-hop scene with his effort Ronnie – The Way I Feel in 1981. He also hosted rap shows and competitions on his radio program.
Dizzy K was better known as a pop star, and he had a hit with Baby Kilode, but he also rapped on his song Saturday Night Raps in 1982. He was one of the first Nigerian rappers to rap in English.
Nigerian Hip Hop in the late 1980s
The late 1980s and early 1990s saw the emergence of more Nigerian rappers who started to gain recognition and acceptance both locally and internationally. Some of them were based abroad and some were based in Nigeria. They also experimented with different languages, styles and influences.
One of the most successful Nigerian rappers of this era was Dr Alban, who moved to Sweden to study dentistry. He became a DJ to finance his studies and later a rapper who had several worldwide hits in the 1990s. His first hit was Hello Afrika in 1990, which was shot in Lagos and Sweden. The song reached number one in Austria, two in Germany, Greece and Portugal, three in Switzerland, and seven in Spain and Sweden. It was a massive hit across Africa, Europe and around the world.
He also had another hit with It’s My Life in 1992, which reached number two on the UK charts, number one in several European countries and number three on the Billboard Hot Dance Music chart in the US.
Another influential group was Sound On Sound, which comprised Nigerians Mr. Kool, Ebony Laoye and Monica Omorodion, and Americans Jedi and Scratch. Scratch had previously worked with the Sugarhill Gang. Unlike previous Nigerian rap songs, their song I’m African in 1988 had heavy airplay on NTA2 Channel 5 and Radio Nigeria 2. It was probably the first rap song by a Nigerian that was accepted by Nigerians.
Rap group Emphasis’ released a song in our pidgin titled Which One You Dey in 1991. It was more relatable and appealing to Nigerians. It also had a funny storyline and a catchy chorus.
The first rap song by Nigerians in Nigeria to become a mainstream hit was Junior & Pretty’s Monika in 1991. The song was also in Pidgin English and had a hilarious story about a cheating girlfriend. The song won an award at the Nigerian Music Awards (NMA), and from then, people started seeing that rap could become something.
Pretty, the surviving member of the duo is the president of the Performing Music Artists of Nigeria (PMAN) – corporate office at Lekki, Lagos.