Yoruba language, like virtually all the languages from the Niger-Congo, is a tonal language. Spoken mainly in West Africa and some parts of North America and Europe, there is an estimated sixty-five (65) million speakers of the language in the world today. Yoruba is such a rich language with certain stylistic features, figurative expressions, idioms and metaphors that excellent speakers of the language love to engage with in their rhetoric.
The trajectory of Yoruba music has evolved with time, adapting to the shape of each period. In the 1970s and 1980s, Juju and Fuji music dominated the scene of Yoruba music with prominent musicians like King Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey, Sikiru Ayinde Barrister, among others. Their music tugged at the socio-cultural and political concerns of the Yoruba people in a way that could only be delivered with Yoruba expressions and metaphors. Over the years, these musicians have inspired a new generation of artistes from different genres, especially Yoruba Rap.
Yoruba rap is an adaptation of the American hip-hop(rap), a cold-mix of English and Pidgin English, peppered with the lush enclave of Yoruba figurative expressions and street slang. It began as a renaissance voice for the lower class, who over time, had been dismissed while living in the Lagos slums of Bariga, Agege, Ajegunle, Mushin, Makoko e.t.c. Most of these rappers grew up in the slums and their musical efforts have been to redefine and bridge the gap between the streets and city societal class stratification. Undoubtedly, one of the achievements of Yoruba rap is the portrayal of the plights of the poor; similar to Compton N.W.A hip-hop group that comprised of Eazy-E, Dr Dre, Ice Cube, Arabian Prince, etc., who through their rap, voiced out the oppression of African-Americans living in the US.
The genre gained much traction when Dagrin plunged into prominence with the release of his second album, CEO (Chief Executive Omoita) in 2010, though the likes of Lord of Ajasa and AY of Kennis Music had been in the industry longer. Dagrin’s CEO was widely accepted in Lagos and major parts of South-West Nigeria because people could identify with the gospel of his rap and it gave an avenue for lovers of rap to enjoy the music in Yoruba in the same classic finesse as English rap music. In ‘Democracy’, one of the tracks on CEO, Dagrin addresses pockets of experiences that varied from the truancy of ‘area boys’, the prerogative flaunts by Police Officers, impoverished lives of the poor, unemployment, bribery and corruption, to the ineptness and nonchalance of the Government all at its central core.
‘Nigeria, gbogbowa la n fi orif’aya.
Baba, mama, peluawonomomefa ma sun siinuyaraeyokan,
Bawoni won o senilalakala?’
‘Nigeria, we all are suffering
Both young and old, and husband and wife,
Father, mother, and six children all sleep in a room,
Why won’t they have nightmare?’
The tragic death of Dagrin in 2010 left a gaping hole in the musical genre, which was later filled with the likes of Olamide, Reminisce A.K.A AlagaIbile, CDQ and Seriki. Their rap differed slightly, bringing the genre into mainstream media with songs expressing love, loss and gain, rivalry, women, extravagance, romanticising the streets, gangster lyrics and self-aggrandizement, which is majorly associated with hip-hop. Olamide and Reminisce are one of famous rappers known for their dynamic and consistent music and notably as songwriters and record label owners. Both artistes are of the opinion that Yoruba is the only language with which they can best express their art, thus labeling themselves as ‘local rappers’. However novel, anyone who understands the Yoruba language can appreciate the lyrical messages.
Reminisce makes use of street slang that can only be decoded by such kindred spirits. In the excerpt below, he uses street slang that are inherently innuendoes with end rhymes, all becoming a fabric of colors running into each other, giving the song such beautiful musicality.
Olamide lets us into the energy driving his inspiration in ‘Anifowose’ and ‘1999’. He expresses that while it was a struggle for survival in the streets, the same streets endorsed him as an artist:
Omoerud’oba, igborode’mil’ade = (A slave child becomes King, the street crowns me).
The increasing list of new and young rappers which include Lil Kesh, Ola Dips and Chinko Ekun, have all proven themselves worthy of ingenuity in their sublime lyrics. The deviance, naughtiness, and salaciousness of Lil Kesh’s lyrics make him stand out and loved by many. On the other hand, Chinko Ekun imbues his rap with philosophy, witticism and paradox while Ola Dips, who hardly cold-mixes his rap with English, relays a lyrical depth beyond the underlying meaning, differentiating him from the rest.
Yoruba rap is a powerful tool that will continue in its own right to preserve the Yoruba language and break barriers in the music industry. Most Yoruba rappers have been able to carve a niche for themselves in mainstream entertainment which has bought fame, money and legacy. Their achievements and thus celebrity status serve as inspiration for kids in the street and aspiring musicians who look to them as role models.