“For You to be Successful in America, You Need to be American” – M.I Abaga

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.

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Credited for several firsts in the fashion and entertainment industry, Uduak Oduok (Ms. Uduak) is a fashion and entertainment lawyer, speaker, visionary, gamechanger, trailblazer, and recognized thought leader, for her work on Africa’s emerging global fashion and entertainment markets, and the niche practice of fashion law in the United States. She is also the founder of ‘Africa Music Law,’ an industry go-to music business and law blog and podcast show empowering African artists. Her work in the creative and legal industries has earned her numerous awards and recognitions, including an award from the American University Washington College of Law for her “legal impact in the field of intellectual property in Africa." She has also taught as an Adjunct Professor at several institutions in the United States. For more information, visit her at

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1 Comment

  1. Winston Balagare says:

    It’s so difficult to listen to M.I. speak. He’s so delusional. All this talk about “industry”, and all his comparisons to American rap imprints from the 1990s and early 2000s, none of it makes sense.

    First, there is no Nigerian music industry. To call what we have an “industry” would imply that it is fully functional and profitable. What we actually have in Nigeria and throughout the diaspora is a growing music scene. Most of what we hear, we hear for free. There are very few Nigerian musicians who are successful at selling music.

    Second, why would he even dare to compare his own music club with an imprint like Roc-a-fella Records? Roc-a-fella was a subsidiary of a major label that was owned and operated by some rich and influential people in America and Europe. The success of that imprint can’t be the standard he sets for himself and his so-called artists; they could never compete with or even match what that company did. Plus, Roc-a-fella did that durign a time when people actually bought albums because they had no choice if they wanted to hear the music.

    This way of thinking is exactly why Chocolate City is a failed venture. This is why M.I. rants on social media about being underrated and underappreciated. This is why Koker, despite having one of the biggest records in the diaspora in spring of 2015, has not capitalized off that momentum as we near 2017.

    Small boys do small things.

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