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The first hip-hop record to achieve widespread popularity in Nigeria was “Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugarhill Gang, in 1979. Thirty years later, hip-hop is the premier pop music of Nigeria, dominating radio play as well as the sales charts, feted in megabudget videos, glossy magazines and glitzy award shows. When the average Nigerian kid decides to get into the music biz, the first impulse is not to grab a guitar or a talking drum, but to pick up a microphone.
It was a long way from there to here, though. For years, the earliest attempts at homegrown rap were ridiculed, resisted or downright reviled by the mainstream. And in some cases, perhaps, rightfully so: they were often awkward, overly imitative, fatuous. But they also laid the foundation for the 2Faces, the 9ices, the D’Banjes, Ruggedmans, Modenines and the rest of today’s Naija hip-hop superstars. So here’s our salute to some of the groundbreakers in the first decade of Nigerian hip-hop.
Here is a list of the earliest rappers-
1. Ronnie – “The Way I Feel Rap” (1981)
“Ronnie” was Ron Ekundayo, a highly popular Lagos nightclub DJ, television presenter and on-air personality on the very hip 97.6 Radio Nigeria 2. Inspired by the success of music superstar Kris Okotie, Ekundayo decided to add “recording artist” to his burgeoning resume in 1981. The album The Way I Feel featured mostly Okotie-esque pop and dance tunes, but the title track was a bold and unprecedented stab at the new disco rappin’ trend. Ronnie never recorded a follow-up to The Way I Feel, but his place in history is secure as the man who made the first rap record in Nigeria (and, very possibly, in Africa).
2. Dizzy K. – “Saturday Night Raps” (1982)
Teenaged “Dizzy” Kunle Falola was regarded as little more than another Michael Jackson imitator when he first arrived on the scene in 1982, but over the course of the 80s he would release some of the most ingeniously funky records ever to come out of Nigeria. He was also an early adopter in the rap race, with this disco-ready offering from his debut LP Excuse Me Baby.
3. Dili I. Jukson – “Rapp and Checkout Music” (c. 1985)
Like most of the early Nigerian rappers, Dili I. Jukson’s rhyme style prioritizes cadence over content but his laidback flow is enough to set the party off on this Beat Street-influenced joint.
4. Mams & Hart – “Pump” (1982)
Gloria Hart was an American singer who lived and worked in Nigeria in the early 80s, touring with Nigerian pop star Onyeka Onwenu and coaching other artists on vocal techniques. Mambo Kristo was a session drummer who played on several Nigerian records during the same period. In 1982, they got together to record an album of glossy disco numbers, with Gloria kicking a few rapid-fire party rhymes on “Pump.” Not exactly a rap record, but a pointer of things to come…
5. Oby Onyioha – “Break It” (1984)
In 1981, canary-voiced singer Oby Onyioha sent shockwaves through the Nigerian music industry with I Want To Feel Your Love—a glossy pop and disco LP helmed by producer Lemmy Jackson. When Onyioha and Jackson reteamed three years later for Break It, the album didn’t fare too well with the mainstream audience but the emerging hip-hop community embraced the title track and its music video, which tipped its hat to breakdancing and sneaker culture.
6. Rapmaster Lexy Mella – “On The Air Rap” (1985)
Lexy Mella confidently anointed himself “Rapmaster” on the cover of his debut LP even though he didn’t rap very much (or very well) on the record. He did, however, sport a pretty convincing “hip-hop” image, complete with jheri curl and JPS gear (as in “John Player Special”— the John Player cigarette brand became synonymous with hip-hop during the era due to the company’s sponsorship of an annual, national breakdance competition).