'I don't really understand the words in the song
but I'm really really feeling the song'
- Sarkodie (Oleku Remix)
Most of the time, I come across a number of hip-hop reviews in papers and magazines, some of the time I muster the courage and patience to actually go through them. It is somewhat exasperating and surprising how some critics approach the discourse of hip-hop. Most writers clearly show from their rhetoric that they know absolutely nothing about what Hip hop is all about, not to talk of rap. It's therefore often useless trying to read some 'hip-hop/rap' articles as nothing of deep intellectual value can be nipped off them. Most of these writers cannot reel off the names of five rappers from each continent, some only listen to Nigerian rap or a bunch of the surface crap in the USA that are a waste of airtime when it comes to juxtaposing them with what hip-hop is really all about. I am writing this because of an article I read a few months ago. This article, written by Oris Agbjebovolor and published in the rapidly improving SSR importuned me to say something, at least for once. This article is one of the few articles that have addressed the idea of hip hop from an almost justified view. I feel it is an article partially in contrast to the scalar lot that actually deserves to be reacted to. However I believe it falls flat in its aim to achieve a completely reasonable thesis.
The issue here is not some grave one that might define or redefine the course of Nigerian Hip-hop as we know it, the issue here is the dissection of a claim by a rap artist, that everybody loves him. It is also an artistic evaluation of a young man's art, his way of expression, and his job...in précis. It is a bit tasking to talk about this issue without submitting to the ever present importunity to actually describe the style and art of the rapper in question. In a bid to do justice to both parts, there seems to be this furtive extemporaneity for this piece to run into a 'booklet' or worse, a chapter of an unplanned book.
Ice Prince Zamani, as he likes to call himself is a rapper; I think most critics and reviewers will not have much problem with this claim. There are a number of people who 'rap' in the Nigerian Music industry, but they are not rappers. Rap is one of the five tiers of hip-hop (i.e. rap, 'DJ-ing', break-dance, graffiti, and knowledge). Rap has a strong simultaneous underlying and overlying culture that comes with all of its five manifestations, any one manifestation of hip-hop has the underlying tone of the four inherent in it. When real rap, for instance, takes place one senses the extemporaneous 'skip and jerky' feel of a flow or a point of view, as a rapper may talk about a hundred different things in just sixteen bars. One also senses the extremely acrobatic movements and gesticulations of words, punctuations and rhymes -- a basic character of the break-dance. The daring and colourful presentation of the verbal poetry is an allusion of graffiti, and of course, real rap has to be backed up with a display of knowledge that actually ties all the aspects of manifestation together. Real rap must show that the rapper has an interesting scope of knowledge of a particular issue or thing or thought no matter how weird or ridiculous it may be. Now what is good rap? There is a big difference between real rap and good rap, all the footballers registered in the English premier league are real players, but only a handful can be described as being good at what they do, there are even a smaller number that can be described as spectacular.
Now Oris Agbjebovolor primarily talked about Panshak Zamani's recent debut album, it is apparent that he has a bit of a problem with the title Panshak gave it or perhaps the motive behind the title of the album. The contention here is the question of everybody really 'loving' Ice Prince. What Oris needs to understand is that the skill of an artist is not a function of his social integrity. The fact that someone has or lacks a special skill, does not automatically mean that everyone will or will not show a sort of affection towards the person's work in which that skill predominantly manifests or is found wanting, Oris has been quite convincing but his criticism seems too 'literary'. It is out of place to talk about a Hip-hop album like it is a book; this is what Oris' critique sounds like. Almost throughout the critique, he treats the tracks of the albums like chapters of a book. In a few occasions, he quoted a few bars in the album, utterly expressing a personal disgust for them (which is okay by the way), but without talking more of the whole track and trying to explain the demonstrated motive. Finally, towards the end of his argument, he comes clean, implying that he does not totally hate the album; he just has a lot of issues with most of its parts. This is actually the primary problem with his perspective; he approached the review form a rather parochial point of view instead of being critical and holistic. This is no way to review any work of art, let alone a Rap album. It's like trying to explain a painting while covering half of it with a blanket. When reviewing a work of hip-hop, be it graffiti, a DJ's string or a break-dance routine, it is imperative for the reviewer to be, one: absolutely holistic about the work, two: precise but not too detailed, three: Serious but not overly pedantic and four: corrective but never totally nice about it...after all it is Hip-hop. One more thing about Oris' approach is his problem with the word 'everybody' in the title of the album. He also has to know that words in hip-hop often don't have the same meaning in plain English, as a matter of fact; there is a fine line between hip-hop-English and English. Hip-hop has a way of metamorphosing any language and making it totally Hip-hop by simply influencing it. Oris takes the meaning of 'everybody' too literal, even though Ice Prince himself rhetorically states that he doesn't mean 'every' 'body' (as in every last person on earth!) in his album, right from the concluding bars of the intro-track of the album called 'remember', straight into track 2, 6 and down through the rest of the album, there is this strong underlying message stating that some people still hate Ice Prince, but generally, everybody loves him. Towards the ending of the track 'remember' (after paying homage to an oeuvre of hip-hop artists and general singers) he concludes by saying:
"Welcome to the album: 'Everybody Loves Ice Prince -Eli'!
I don't even know what that means...You're welcome"
Here, he skilfully and subtly employs the figure of speech called litotes, to indirectly drive home the fact that 'everybody' (most people) loves him. In track 2 : 'juju' (the best track in the album in my opinion) he further goes into a detail delineation of how and why 'some' people hate him. In the third and fourth bars of the first verse he raps:
'Whatever I do is search for the mistake -
Some of them say my album worse than a mix-tape.'
(Note that the use of 'is' here is Hip-hop) In these bars, it sounds as if Panshak was talking to Oris, and other people like him who evaluate albums from a slightly wrong stand point. No one (at least not me) is saying that it is bad to pick out the flops in an album, but I think they should be clearly stated, properly referenced and explained. This way everybody will know that the reviewer or critic actually listened to the entire album more than once and can at least recite about ten percent of the album without singing along. This will convince a sceptic reader that not all reviewers or critics are like Ikhide Ikheloa who implies that he can review books he has only read half-way.
Now the big question: Does everybody actually love Ice Prince? My answer will be yes because from what I see and hear around, only an insignificant few show utter disgust for him. Some may dislike him for a song or a feature act, but they generally love him. A question like this can actually only be answered by statistics, but I guess if every person who listens to him where to vote him on or off the music industry, I kind of think only a micro few will want to kick him off! It is really shallow to appreciate Ice Prince without understanding the actual way and manner in which he wields the mic, with this as a reason, I'll like to seize this opportunity to shed little light on the stylistic idiosyncrasy of Ice Prince, the oeuvre of speech figures that he employs and more importantly the method through which he employs them. Every rapper has a style. There are lots of styles when it comes to rap, in fact the act of most rappers 'copying' (not sampling this time around) the style of other rappers is also a style, one which I call penumbra-plagiarism, as it is only a semi-shade of verbatim plagiarism (Kanye West is a major victim in Nigeria). I think the style that Ice Prince professes is what primarily makes him special. Iceprince is a minimalist-cat when it comes to rhyme structure and metre construction. If he were a painter, he would probably paint like Piet Mondrian or Kasimir Malevich, if he were an architect, he would think like Sahel Al Hiyari or Alvaro Siza. His rap epitomizes the oldest style in the book: the 'ancient' default iambic pentameter scheme. A style that was born in November 12, 1974 in the Boogie Down at the Bronx, the exact same day Hip-hop was 'born'. So it is a fact to say that the iambic pentameter rhyme scheme is as old as Hip-hop. A great number of great rappers have used this style and almost exhausted its infinite possibilities of expressive propensities; Dead Prez, Immortal Technique, The Beast, Nas, Lauryn Hill, Common, Comrade, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Lupe Fiasco, Styles P, Janelle Monae, Labtekwon, A-Alikes, The Roots, and Run DMC, to mention a few. Ice Prince adopts this style and makes it his very own in a mystic way, you hear him rap and you say 'oh it's the usual old-school style' then you listen closely and you find out it's an interesting hybrid of it. The way he slides into pidgin and wafts out for instance is so flawless a careless listener might think he was speaking only English or Pidgin all the while. What makes his delivery more peculiar is that he is able to create a diverse array of poetic versatility that rises above the elementary stage of homonyms, and he does this within the confined parameters of a single simple style using jejune vocabulary in sophisticated ways. Anybody who knows Rap will know that this is very difficult to do.
Ice Prince is not a complex rapper, he, on the contrary is one of the most lucid rappers around. His end rhymes have a peculiar psychological phenomenon to them: they are awfully easy to cram. The brain seems to elastically respond to such rhyme scheme. Most often, people confuse the idea of a rapper being plain complex with the idea of a rapper having a complicated rhyme scheme. A rapper might be complex and still express his/her art via the empirical iambic pentameter rhyme scheme. The complexity of a rapper is often due to the level of sophistication of his/her metaphoricity (and other figures of speech), message plot, vocabulary and sometimes his/her speed of delivery (which really is not an issue for a thoroughbred Hip-hop listener). These are obvious manifestations of a complex rapper. Even though it is often confusing to describe a rapper by comparing his/her art with that of other rappers I feel a reluctant urge to juxtapose Iceprince with a few rappers who somewhat share the same style with him, only with drastic instances or aspects of deviations. When talking of complexity the rapper Mode 9 comes to mind, he is a rapper who is so drunk in the idea of complexity that he often boasts of the fact that only a small number of people really understand him (or are willing to make the effort anyway). However, I will confidently argue that the Nigerian rapper with the most complicated rhyme scheme remains Sauce Kid, no one comes even close, he is a rapper who can rhyme anything with anything, even words of different spellings with different sounds of different languages, he has this magical power to coordinate everything from meter, vowel sounds to onomatopoeia and diphthongs. In fact, at the peak of his power I have heard him 'rhyme' ideas. A single verse of Sauce kid can contain up to six different rhyme scheme styles with over thirty-two rhymed pairs none of which might be remotely related in terms of etymology and linguistic property. He seems to be the Eminem of the Nigerian hip-hop world. Ice Prince is the opposite of mode 9 in terms of complexity, he is also far from Sauce Kid in terms Rhyming skills, but he has half the skills of both rappers, this doesn't make him a hybrid of both rappers but only an allusion of the two.
Another big reason why I think 'everybody' loves Ice Prince is the fact that he can deliver monster hits. There are hits and there are hits, Jesse jags' 'pump it up' is a hit party rap song, but can it be compared to 'oleku'? I think it is the dream of every rapper to make a club song that will drive the 'whole' world crazy for a long time (even though a few rappers might deny it) but only a few rappers get to pull it off. The biggest rap party song ever made in Nigeria perhaps is 'baraje' by rugged man. With this track, 'Ruggedy-Baba' actually showed that it is possible to snatch the spot light from the R&B genre in the party hall. 'baraje' ruled all clubs and radio stations for over half a year. I will love to hear someone else's opinion, but I think 'Oleku' is the only hip-hop party track that can be placed in the same level with 'baraje', I will also argue that 'oleku' is the most successful song to ever come out of chocolate city. I see no other track from MI, Jesse Jags or Brymo (yes, even with his sick banging 'ara') generating even half the attention that 'oleku' got, even with the biased hype titled towards MI's creative songs dripping with Kanye west's feel and rhetoric. 'Oleku' is by far the most played and most popular song in the brief history of chocolate city, just as Brymo's video of 'ara' remains the best choc-city video to date. Even long after its release, the track still enjoys fairly constant air from Sokoto to Bayelsa. I have heard 17 versions of 'oleku' from rappers all across Africa and even underground cats in Nigeria, and if you think it was all about the hook (though the hook was incredible), skim through the last two paragraphs of this piece, then go back to listen to the song. Call me biased (Panshak isn't even my favourite Nigerian rapper) but I won't be talking a lot about Ice Prince's artistic flaws in 'Everybody loves Ice Prince', Oris Agbjebovolor did a good job on that, read his review. However I will like to mention that his idea of using a single producer for most of his work almost wrecked the compilation, very few producers can handle a whole compilation, Jesse is certainly not one of them. At some point in the tracks, the approach and creativity pattern of the beats began to sound bland and mundane. Jesse jags at some point ran out of ideas and he almost messed up Ice prince's duet with 2face - the most expensive track in the album. It was obvious he was trying too hard to be unique. Another area that needs to be mentioned is the fact that Brymo (the goose who lays golden eggs for choc-city) only did one song with Panshak, when it was obvious that their combination was magic. However I will understand if the management is saving the hits and playing on the anticipation of fans to see Ice and Brymo on the same track again, but I agree with Oris that if it is a ploy to keep MI on top of the pack and in front of the lime light, then the group is heading for doom. But who knows, MI might come up with even a bigger track with Brymo (but I doubt it, I hope he surprises me)
Anyway, I think it's a fact that almost everybody loves Ice Prince, which is what Ice Prince himself meant by saying 'Everybody loves Ice Prince'. The critics who think otherwise will have to discuss it in private...or in hush tones in public. He is the kind of rapper 'who is always on one's laptop like Beethoven' because 'any time he talk say he go rock, he goes all the way'!