The Chairman marks the long awaited return of M.I Abaga, Nigeria’s foremost rapper. Since he’s been gone, the rap game has changed immeasurably. Hip-Hop acts can headline shows now. Rap has been brought home, for the want of a better term.
Nigerian rappers are genuine A-list celebrities now. This wasn’t always the case and Jude Abaga can take some credit for that. But he was never really off the scene as such; that is not how Jude Abaga works. He’s been here whilst not releasing an official album, entertaining criticisms of his prolonged silence, batting away pressure to say something on almost every social issue. He’s not the average artist; his work is very much rooted on what’s around him, he guards his influence judiciously but remains unafraid to speak up when the cause is befitting. Peep the stunning Ashes, a song dedicated to the #Aluu4. He’s been on features, released a warmly received mixtape, Illegal Music 2 and the highly forgettable Chairman single. He’s not really been gone.
Jude Abaga is a songwriter of the highest order. His oeuvre attests to why he’s attained the heights very few do in Naija pop culture. Many still remember how he grabbed the industry by the scruff of its neck and forced accessible lyricism on it. Accessible because dude was not on some “rap rapper rappest” tip, like the erstwhile lyrical king of Naija rap, Modenine. He came on the scene as an everyman; a “short, black boy” who for whatever he thought he lacked physically, he more than made up for with his lyrical prowess and they loved him for it.
The tracklist is set out in a way in which each joint is an obverse of another; a nice touch that shows that the artist has made an album as opposed to a collection of singles. The Chairman opens with The Beginning/Nobody a skit that would have been mildly amusing had it not been length of a song. It’s not a track that lends itself to replaying.
The album has a 27 guest stars. M.I does not appear on appear on a track by himself. Considering that he’s returning from a self imposed (four year) hiatus, this is a lot of guests. We’re treated to verses from an array of already ever present stars thereby giving the album a mixtape-like feel. On the Sarz produced Shekpe feat. Reminisce, M.I is almost like the third wheel to a duo who enjoy a Guru-and-Premier-like chemistry. It works in the end, as with the other baller, baby boy influenced joints on the album. M.I holds his own, though it never stops feeling like a sparring session; he’s playful with it, delivering his lines with a smile in his voice, like he knows he doesn’t have to do more than necessary. On Bullion Van, one of the standouts on the project, he quips, ‘Baby you should get used to this, there are levels to this, these small boys tryna rock you, they are pebbles to this’. It’s almost like he’s talking to his audience as opposed to an easily impressed love interest. Runtown and Storm Rex – whose turn was too short – really did God’s work on this song, drenching it in that South-Eastern new money flavour; gorgeous stuff!
There is no One Naira like classic joint on The Chairman but M.I the loverman makes a couple of appearances, Mine feat Wizkid, it’s cliched but it’s fun, he smiles through it again, like he knows you don’t quite believe him and Always Love feat. Seyi Shay, a more serious love song, it’s sticky sweet, not spectacular but it’ll do.
You get introspection, as displayed on the Jay Z – Heart of The City influenced Brother feat. Milli and Nosa his heartfelt ode to his Choc Boys, to his brother, Jesse Jagz and Ice Prince. This is what he does best, pulling out tales such as these from within himself. The audience is familiar with the story, as such the joint resonates easily, as is also the case on Yours feat Milli & Debbie.
On The Middle feat. Olamide, he lets the audience into his mind state; he gives you the biggest insight into where he is now: ‘Who the best rapper? Omo, it all depends, I’m not the one to ask, ask number 2 to 10.’ He’s got nothing else to prove, he’s paid his dues, and whilst fans might have been expecting him to release something more groundbreaking, he’s keen to let you know where he is now. This M.I is not the same as the hungry, fresh off the bus rapper dude that brought you Talk About it, nor the acclaimed, slightly tentative dude on MI2. He’s made it! His resume is impressive be it from music or endorsements, his struggles are not the same. The expectations of him are addressed on what is perhaps the standout track on the album, Human Being feat. Tuface and Sound Sultan. ‘Sometimes you might see me looking dope, but there’s nothing in the bank account, the boy is broke, tryna meet demands, it’s hard to cope’. This is immediately relatable. Sound Sultan and especially Tuface put in great shift on the track, understanding the mood and delivering the message as one would imagine dude envisaged.
The album has its low points; Enemies feat. Patoranking is one of such. The song is blessed with a dope hook delivered in the first person but the raps are delivered in the second person. It could have been so much better. Then there’s Bad Belle feat. Moti Cakes, Beg feat. Morell and Loose Kaynon, and the especially terrible Wheelbarrow feat. Emmy Ace and Beenie Man; an attempt at Dance-Hall that falls rather short of the mark.
Overall, this is a good album. There’s something on there for everyone and even though his core fans would no doubt wish dude were a bit more introspective, that he sounded as special as they know he is, it’s largely unnecessary. He’s made two good albums and a classic. He’s earned the right to be just a good rapper now, and he remains that. In many ways, he’s watered it down but it never comes across as sub par. Rather, it seems just enough. The album features four of the artists that’ll be listed with him were one to make a list of Nigeria’s top five mainstream rappers; he can more than hang with them, with some change left too! The Chairman of the board, Nigerian Rappers Association; yes, he has earned it!