Modenine, Nigerian MC extraordinaire (I would say top 10 in the English-speaking world for his stinging punchlines and prodigious wordplays) recently appeared on camera to inform the world that “a lot of people are rapping, but people are not hiphop.” To which most listeners - and all of kpop - would respond, “Uh…yeah.” Rap is now an art form that anyone can use for any purpose, appropriated out of hiphop culture to enhance everything from standard pop music to radio advertisements to memorization devices in schools. Modey has always been a strong advocate for the consciousness and artistry of rap within hiphop, especially through the “Boys Are Not Smiling” network of MCs in northern Nigeria, and he insists on the integrity of his music to the exclusion of “commercial” music, whose meaning is secondary (or tertiary) to catchiness and marketability. My favorite line: “People will make noise that, ‘Modenine, you don’t have too many followers,’ yeah, that’s because I keep on blocking people who talk out of turn,” that is, people who are not coming correct when they talk about rap, hiphop, and Mode’s work.
Although he comes across as elitist, Modenine is making an important criticism of rap’s lack of rigor and therefore lack of artistry that applies across the board, whether in Naija, the US, or Korea. It’s expounded on in the song Raplogic by Fecko, another Nigerian MC who teams up here with Kaduna’s best, Pherowshuz and Terry tha Rapman (a confederate of Modenine and co-leader of BANS): “What’s rap without logic? The answer is in the trash can: rubbish.” For Fecko and the Boys Are Not Smiling crew, rap requires the construction of an argument about the world and a positioning within the world - otherwise it isn’t really rap, and it may not even be worth listening to.
The conflict between speaking truth (Build, Respect, Represent) as the imperative of hiphop culture on the one hand and pulling a profit with catchy commercial tunes on the other is one that I heard MCs describe and lament repeatedly during my research in Nigeria. The BANS movement takes a clear stance on the conflict, and because of the reputations of its leaders, it can provide a space for up-and-coming rappers to develop their skills without sacrificing artistic integrity to the commercial impulse. Indeed, Modenine and Fecko argue that rap separated from its cultural roots cannot be considered rap at all - they and others have described such music as “watered down,” “dumbed down,” and “diluted.” With this critique, Boys Are Not Smiling has issued a challenge to Nigerian musicians who rap without living hiphop’s imperative: prove your skill in “raplogic,” or get out.
Source: Radio Palava