2

Sanmi Okele

December 11, 2018 will mark the 10th year anniversary of M.I’s first album, Talk About It. Back then, it was a landmark moment in the Nigerian music industry: the shock value of that a Nigerian rapper could hold his own as a proper MC, and still make accessible “9ja Rap” spurned a change in the average Nigerian music consumer’s perception of the genre. Those that tried before him either sounded too foreign (Mode 9, Terry tha Rapman), or unrefined (Eedris Abdulkareem, Ruggedman). By the stretch of any form of standards that album is both a Nigerian rap classic, and a classic Nigerian album, period. A decade later, and 2 more albums and 3 mix tapes later, M.I has somehow constantly reinvented himself to stay relevant in the Naija music scene, and Rendezvous is another exercise in him trying to continue exactly that, by selling himself to a younger generation of music listeners. It makes sense.

It is odd that despite all that M.I has done over the past 10 years, he still feels underrated. And no this isn’t an old rapper feeling bitter that the game has left him behind, he does truly get disrespect from people that don’t rate him at all, or those that say he isn’t like “the old M.I” anymore. The context of his staying power as an acceptable artiste – let alone as a rapper – in a music industry that is notorious for its short attention span towards its musicians has been an ...

December 11, 2018 will mark the 10th year anniversary of M.I’s first album, Talk About It. Back then, it was a landmark moment in the Nigerian music industry: the shock value of that a Nigerian rapper could hold his own as a proper MC, and still make accessible “9ja Rap” spurned a change in the average Nigerian music consumer’s perception of the genre. Those that tried before him either sounded too foreign (Mode 9, Terry tha Rapman), or unrefined (Eedris Abdulkareem, Ruggedman). By the stretch of any form of standards that album is both a Nigerian rap classic, and a classic Nigerian album, period. A decade later, and 2 more albums and 3 mix tapes later, M.I has somehow constantly reinvented himself to stay relevant in the Naija music scene, and Rendezvous is another exercise in him trying to continue exactly that, by selling himself to a younger generation of music listeners. It makes sense.

It is odd that despite all that M.I has done over the past 10 years, he still feels underrated. And no this isn’t an old rapper feeling bitter that the game has left him behind, he does truly get disrespect from people that don’t rate him at all, or those that say he isn’t like “the old M.I” anymore. The context of his staying power as an acceptable artiste – let alone as a rapper – in a music industry that is notorious for its short attention span towards its musicians has been analyzed by yours truly, but let’s take a look at a few examples. Rendezvous represents M.I’s 7th (Yung Denzl will make the 8th) body of work he’s released in 10 years, which adds up to an average of a project in almost every year and a half since then. They all went on to be big projects in the different years they were released, with Talk About It reportedly selling 30,000 copies in the first 30 minutes of its release, and Illegal Music 3 made available for free online, gathering over 400,000 downloads in just 3 days. This isn’t factoring that Illegal Music 2 is arguably the best rap mixtape ever released in Nigeria. And yet, he is still underrated.

But this isn’t an M.I that is sad or distraught he isn’t getting the props he quite frankly deserves. He did that already on IM3. Here, there is a subtle realization on his part of the fact that a quick analysis of the demography that make up majority of the young music audience right now shows that maybe – just maybe – they were too young to understand what he meant to the industry. After all, everyone born after ‘97 was just 10 when his first album dropped. They were still U-13 when M.I 2: The Movie came out. While some might have now gone back to appreciate the greatness, you can’t really blame those that don’t. It’s a reality. In any case, times change and so does the sound of the times. Rendezvous is M.I making a conscious effort at drawing the attention of these age of younger music listeners by showing that he can also produce this new age sounds as an artiste, and hang out comfortably with the ambassadors of the sound.

Some will call it M.I kowtowing to pressure to remain in the conversation, but that’ll be looking at it like a simpleton. An in-depth look will make them understand that M.I’s genius since he started making music lies in him being able to mesh his ideas with the acceptable sound of the time; whether he’s the one doing the honor of pioneering that (Talk About It changed how we thought a Nigerian rapper could only sound like), or enlisting people to do it with him (The Chairman was a testament to the power of collaboration, rather than it being a mess).

Rendezvous might not have the intricate cohesiveness of an album, but it works as the playlist M.I calls it: this is him “collecting sounds” from different artistes all unique in their own ways, and spicing them up with his own slant. He of course shines the spotlight – like he’s always done – on the young guys, but that doesn’t dim his own attempt to show he can kick it with them. The general idea here is that the songs represents the different phases of a night out – viewed from the lens of a guy and his girlfriend – that takes itself from the Lagos mainland, to the island, and back, where everyone meets up to chill after a stressful Friday. And while everyone cannot possibly like all the songs M.I’s “collected”, there are tracks on here we can all vibe to. “Sunrise” features Grenada-born Dancehall artiste Trigga Madtonic, and meta track “Playlist”, which features Nonso Amadi – arguably the poster boy of Nigeria’s new sound – are immediate standouts: both are romantic numbers shrouded in instrumentation. “Jungle” flows out of its preceding track and is a Soca-inspired delight that sees the best use of Santi’s, and Tomi Thomas’ talents. “One Way” offers the most unique bit of production on here as it sets early bombastic rap beats against electronic instrumentation, with British-Nigerian rising star Moelogo, taking full advantage of the chance to show his versatility.

There are a bit of bars here as well, and trust M.I to both bring the heat and be corny at the same time. “Sunset” is a calm opener on which he apologizes for not dropping Yung Denzl now (“Another classic album for you, sorry about the delay”) a la Lil Wayne’s Sorry For The Wait. When he wants to brag about his riches, he enlists the help of successful South African rappers Cassper Nyovest and AKA on “Soup” (“I’m a baller though//I get commas on commas like I never finish my sentences”), and “On Code” (“I just a Milli in the bank, and my accountant told me thanks//So I told him that when he’s filling in the blank put my name as G, ‘cos I swear I be feeling really grand”). “Popping” features both Odunsi, and Ghost of SDC, and both of the best rap verses on here. “Slow” featuring Straffitti and underground rapper Blaqbonez, completes the few appearances of primarily rap songs on the playlist, but you get the idea that’s not the point here.

Rendezvous isn’t a new M.I just for the sake of saying it. What it instead represents is a clear difference in his state of mind right now, and the melancholy mood of his last project. He’s moved on from the sadness on IM3 and he’s now thinking forward. And for one of Nigeria’s most talented artistes, it’s important that this is where he is; a place of innovation and reinvention. It’s not perfect yet, but it makes the prospect of what to expect on Yung Denzl all the more exciting.

Share this!