M.I Abaga recently sat with Ebuka Obi-Uchendu for an interview in which he discussed his role at Chocolate City as an executive and artist. Abaga discussed his now defunct label Loopy Records, his view of the Nigerian music industry, which he believes has been inflated, NotJustOK’s rap list, expansion into South Africa and other African artists, among other things.
However, what jumped at me was his response when Ebuka asked him about his inability to break into the American music market. He said he had lost interest in that attempt and added, “for you to be successful in America, you need to be American. Their culture is so closed and complete. Nobody will listen to you talk about Las gidi and J-town in America.”
I completely disagree with his statement. It’s an easy cop out and I would not bother addressing it but for such statement potentially dampening the spirit of young artist hopefuls who look up to him and view his interview.
Artists, especially young African artists, you do not need to be an American in America to be successful in the music business. You just have to stop trying to be American, especially where hip-hop is concerned, fully and PROUDLY own your African identity and serve it up in a way that does not compromise who you are. Why?
Whether in America or Africa, music follows the money. This is a fact and the bottom line.
M.I Abaga has served the continent and the African diaspora American music for years now with his style of hip-hop, lyrics and delivery. While there have been some exceptions, the majority of his songs heavily mimic the style of American hip-hop artists. So, again, M.I is welcome to focus on the continent, as he should. I think it is where the money is and that there is a heavy western invasion ahead. But, he shouldn’t try to be a killjoy for those who want to conquer America.
The music business is not embracing the likes of Ayo Jay, Wizkid or Davido because they are American. On the contrary, these young men are very Nigerian, complete with easily identifiable Nigerian identities (diction, accent, mannerisms etc). Nevertheless, the music business is embracing these talents for one reason and one reason alone. They have shown (through hard data) that they can make money for the labels here, period.
I think M.I has a responsibility to not kill other people’s optimism even if his no longer exists. I say this as one who was trailblazing, creating and distributing content and predicting, before anybody believed, that one day contemporary Nigerian music and artists would be mainstream in America, and in the west at large. Today, we’ve got two Nigerian artists on America’s billboard charts, our artists in general are making inroads across the globe, and some of the biggest western music brands are now re-strategizing their marketing strategy to focus on the African market.
Watch M.I Abaga’s interview. The third clip is where he makes his assertion.