Music Business

OPINION: Has M.I Abaga Become too Lazy to Make Good Music? – Article by Obinna Agwu

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About 2weeks ago, I caught a tweet by my good friend and Chocolate City (Records) Executive, Lanre “Elbama” Onipede, replying a blogger who is purported to have said that M.I had a bad year (2013). It is apparent that the said blogger’s assertion didn’t go down well with Lanre, as he promptly gave evidence to the contrary. Lanre’s tweet reads, “if by getting 2 endorsement deals running into millions, a new house, 2 new posh cars, a state appointment is bad, then M.I had a BAD year.”

I found Lanre’s reply particularly discomforting because I felt it didn’t take into account the possibility that the said blogger behind the ‘abominable remark’ might have been an M.I fan; and I think he/she is. I also want to believe that the fellow was equally aware of every one of those “grand achievements” carefully detailed by Lanre in his reply. But the fellow’s comment was clearly not about all that; It was about the music, but (Lanre) chose to not see that. I’m also under the impression that the said blogger wasn’t out to malign anyone, but merely to express an opinion; one I happen to share. Only a concerned follower (believer), would know and care enough to make such a frank statement.

M.I started getting endorsements through making music and not the other way round, so it’s not out of place to assess his year based on that factor (the music).

At this juncture, you must permit me this jaunt down memory lane to recall the first time I heard M.I’s Crowd Mentality on radio; I was in awe of it. I was so sure the rapper was of American descent. Alas, I was wrong, the rapper was M.I. The beat was audacious and irreverent at the time, and still is; the arrangement and QUALITY OF THOUGHT was, and still is, UNTOUCHABLE. Crowd Mentality literally haunted me in my sleep for several nights. I had to meet this guy; and by some divine orchestration, I did meet M.I a few weeks after. Let it be said here, that I worked with M.I for purely selfish reasons.

The M.I I met in 2007 was eventually going to be signed onto one of the big hip-hop labels and become ‘proper’ contemporaries with Jay-Z (Jigga) and Kanye, and I wanted to be in such company as well. I was so sure M.I was going to sell out huge venues in a proper world tour, perform at Coachella among other globally renowned music festivals, sell millions and millions of records, net global endorsement deals, and in fact, bring us a Grammy. And no, those weren’t fantastic dreams, not to me at the time; they were targets, attainable targets. M.I was going to tear down the barriers and be our representative in the global music mainstream. He was going to live out the true definition of doing it BIG and further open our eyes to that possibility. M.I was the chosen one.

The thing about true greatness is, no matter how obscure its repose, wise men will always seek it out. Little wonder that once M.I started residing in Palm Grove (Djinee’s place), it inevitably became a Mecca of sorts to all manner of industry players. Bear in mind that M.I had no ‘posh car’ at that time (ok feel free to read this sentence again without the ‘posh’). Why did they come? Your guess is as good as mine. Although not all the wise men made it to Palm Grove, they ALL acknowledged that a king was born. I particularly recall this occasion when M.I and I bumped into the legendary Efe Omoregbe, talent manager par excellence, at a media house where M.I had just concluded an interview.

After a brief exchange of pleasantries, Mr. Omoregbe promptly produced one thousand naira from his pocket and handed it to M.I, clearly stating that the money was advance payment for the very first copy of M.I’s yet to be released debut album.

If you’re wondering, what’s the big deal? The joke’s on you. M.I isn’t merely an outstanding rapper, he is also an exceptionally gifted musician. I mean his gift was several cuts above the rest, and the REST knew it! It therefore cannot be too hard for anyone to see why British Council would pick a largely unknown M.I to be part of its BRING THE NOISE project back in 2007.

In case you’re one of those hardy folk who absolutely must see to believe, then check out this clip  of M.I performing (not miming/lip syncing) ‘Short Black Boy’ over a very basic instrumental at the 2008 Future Awards ceremony at the Muson Centre. Bear in mind that at least 95 per cent of the crowd had never heard that song before and probably never heard of M.I too. Greatness spoke, and the people rallied!

Today, that greatness has been so greatly undermined to the point that someone somewhere could imagine and hatch the abominable idea of lumping Lynxxx and Naeto C in a mass endorsement jamboree that also includes Mr f*cking Incredible? Incredible! The M.I I saw should have been big enough to command the combined signing fee of all of those artistes on GLO’s bloated roster, to be the sole ambassador of the brand. But the “Chairman” appears to be quite at home in that company. After all, the money’s too good.

What went wrong? For me, this unfortunate turn of events started from M.I’s second album. Firstly, I was shocked to find out it wasn’t titled PYERI BOY (apparently, sticking to the plan wasn’t part of the plan anymore). MI2 marked the beginning of the implementation of the ‘transformation agenda’ – from standing out (Crowd Mentality), to blending in (African rapper no1).

Although MI2 still boasts of great songs like One Naira, Wild Wild West, and Nobody, the question remains, which of those songs has a video and which does M.I perform most at shows? M.I appears to have made it a point of duty to leave his best work out of TV, from TALK ABOUT IT to MI2. It’s a shame that great songs like One Naira, Fast money Fast cars, Short Black Boy, Wild Wild West (very important song), Forever, Nobody and many more records from his debut and sophomore albums still go without due visual expression. For MI2, he sold us the movie theme idea. it was brilliant, but we never got no movie. A “Chairman” should at least make videos. No?

M.I is clearly not trying to be Mr. Incredible anymore. That is clearly why he has pulled the plugs on great projects like the One Album, Pyeri Boy, Rap Songs About Love and many more. If only you knew what fantastic music the ‘Chairman’ is holding back from you. . .  M.I was born a KING; this is why I find it rather absurd to watch him struggle to be ‘Chairman.’ This is the classic case of Joseph ignoring the bigger lofty vision of being Prime Minister in Egypt to settle as the Chief slave in Potiphar’s house (madam’s boyfriend). This new ‘Chairman’ standard, in my opinion, is unacceptable, demeaning and unsustainable.

Did you know M.I’s Crowd Mentality was a reply to the Choc Bosses who wanted him to make a certain kind of music at the time? Oh yes it was, and I heard him tease Audu Maikori ( Co-Founder of Chocolate City Records) about it a couple of times too. Crowd Mentality was sarcasm at its finest; or so we thought. Hehe. . . turns out the joke was on us. Now look who’s making bad music just to rock in arenas. *sigh*

Finally, I make bold to submit that, when compared to M.I, the KING; this new M.I, your “Chairman,” with all his ‘posh cars,’ is a pauper.

However, If you still think this is just another poor hater hating on your CHAIRMAN; well, you’re a GENIUS!!! And to be sure, I haven’t eaten today. Hehe…

My take. Feel free to (share) yours here.
____________________________
Obinna AgwuObinna Agwu, a guest contributor to Africa Music Law™, is an avid music buff with years of experience in the burgeoning Nigerian Music industry. He has worked as an artiste manager and A&R in the past, for a number of Nigerian artistes including M.I, Eva Alordiah, Morell, and Rayce, amongst others. In 2012, he was appointed A&R Manager for Trybe Records.

He now works as an A&R executive with a music talent development company in Nigeria. You can follow him on twitter at @d_angrymob.

NOTE:The information and views set out in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of  Africa Music Law™ or its founder.

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AFRICA MUSIC LAW™ (AML) is a pioneering music business and entertainment law blog and podcast show by Fashion and Entertainment Lawyer Ms. Uduak Oduok empowering the African artist and Africa's rapidly evolving entertainment industry through brilliant music business and entertainment law commentary and analysis, industry news, and exclusive interviews.

Credited for several firsts in the fashion and entertainment industry, Ms. Uduak is also a Partner and Co-Founder of Ebitu Law Group, P.C. where she handles her law firm’s intellectual property law, media, business, fashion, and entertainment law practice areas. She has litigated a wide variety of cases in California courts and handled a variety of entertainment deals for clients in the USA, Africa, and Asia.

Her work and contributions to the creative industry have been recognized by numerous organizations including the National Bar Association, The American University School of Law and featured in prestigious legal publications in the USA including ABA Journal and The California Lawyer Magazine. She is also an Adjunct Professor at the prestigious Academy of Arts University in San Francisco.
For legal representation inquiries, please email (uduak@ebitulawgrp.com). For blog related inquiries i.e. advertising, licensing, or guest interview requests, please email (africamusiclaw@gmail.com). Thank you for visiting Africa Music Law™.

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5 Comments

  1. Hmmm @Obinna, this your article get as e be. I agree with your overall premise and underlying message that artists should generally focus on the music which is what gets them the endorsement deals, and the the diversification into other areas of the music business. However, I am not sure I agree with your examples that you use to support your premise. M.I 2 Album to me was awesome and you indeed acknowledge that with some of the tracks you list.

    That he failed to produce music videos to accompany those tracks or the album, to me, has no bearing on the quality or success of the album. What is the goal of a music video? From a business standpoint, are artists expected to create videos just because it is what they do or should do? No, absolutely not. The point of a music video is to market and sell the artist. If the artist is already accomplishing that goal through other mediums, then I see no need, per se, to push for incurring the high costs of a music video that is hard to recoup just so we can say "we shot a music video." To the degree there is a video, 1 or 2 suffices.

    I also don't believe your arguments are persuasive, per se. Yes, it is night and day what M.I Abaga has produced in recent times from his freshman and sophomore albums versus the 'Chairman' track etc. But correct me if I am wrong, isn't 'Chairman' part of his mixtape releases?

    I think you do bring up interesting points that to me raises the need for artists to keep fans abreast of the direction they are taking, where applicable. M.I Abaga is no twenty something. He is a thirty four (34) year old man and his priorities must necessarily change from being an artist to a business man. You cite Jay and "Ye" as persons you thought M.I would ascribe to be or become with the same potency and clout. If you study the business careers of these men, especially Jay, they have expansive business portfolios and investments: real estate, clothing label, sports club (gave that up), club, sports agency, and the list goes on. Yes he recently closed out 2013 with the Samsung and Magna Carta Holy Grail album distribution deal, and a world tour, but that didn't happen all at once. He has had his time to step back, focus on other business ventures and then return to the music.

    M.I Abaga's moves parallel that of his Western counterparts. He is also now a record label owner, he is also an executive of some sorts with Chocolate City, he is a Judge onX-Factor Talent reality tv show, has several endorsement deals, some of which you cite, and many more business ventures. While they do not amount to making music for the fans, which is a VERY strong point you make, they keep him visible in the public eye (especially the X-Factor or reality shows), they allow him to plan for his future and that of his family and these ventures also allow him to take on and groom new artists.

    Artists must think about what happens to them and their families in future. I think where he is right now is exactly where he needs to be because he needs to stay focused and disciplined on planning for the future. He is doing all that while maintaining the necessary connection and relationship with his fans. In due time, I think he can release, hopefully, great songs like his prior albums (not the crappy mixtapes he puts out in my opinion).

    So, I don't think there is a complacency or laziness if you will as your article appears to suggest. I think priorities are different for a 34 year old man /artist and an artist who began his career, officially, at 27/28.

    My 50 kobo for all its worth. But, I really enjoyed reading your piece.

    Cheers,
    Uduak

  2. UCHEUGO says:

    Two long essay writing…. He he he let me go eat first before I reply.

    1. @Ucheugo- You know we don’t do lazy here. 🙂 So, do eat so you can have the much needed nutrition for your reply. 🙂

      Cheers,
      Uduak

  3. I totally agree with almost everything you said as regards the content of MI's music but music grows too.He has evolved into a better artiste/musician,that's positive growth.Artiste's like MI love to explore and express their depth of music knowledge by trying other things with the music,you dont expect him to be stuck in a time capsule do you? I also disagree strongly with the Naeto C and Lynxxx comparison;you apparently dont know Naeto's background in music,Forget all this kpangolo rap he's doing now,dude has been sick from day one.Done even go there.I understand that as a fan of music you have certain tastes and preferences,but dude you're just 1 out of 160 million Nigerians not to mention the rest of Africa and the world.Smart artistes make music for the public and not for themselves.Inyana is another good example of an artiste that wizened up.All in all its about making music that the masses can relate to.

  4. Methinks says:

    The point that actually gets me in Obinna Agwu's article is that the song crowd mentality now appears to have mimicked MI's career, even if not in terms of his business portfolio, then with regard to his musical output. I get that his mixtapes are just mixtapes, but when you give us mixtape after mixtape, which we know are alien to your original creative agenda, you can't blame those of us that have been MI followers from way back since 2004 for protesting. Like Obinna says, MI really is a creative genius- I've worked with him for years, and his apparent change of creative direction is not entirely his fault. It is a Nigerian phenomenon I have spent the last 4 years researching… whew. Anyhoo, for any artists who read this blog, all I'd say is, abeg, no matter the pressure to chop, try do you every once in a while. Attempt to release a couple of songs every so often that truly represent your own personal creative bent- not all these fufu flavour ish that you think will earn you more shows and endorsements. Abeg, ehn.

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