M.I REVEALS WHY HE’S ON TOP OF HIS GAME
He calls himself the short black boy from Jos. But in the Nigerian music industry, he is popularly known as M.I. Jude Abaga (that is his real name) has been burning the charts, dominating the airwaves and pocketing all the awards that matter. The diminutive dynamite who is disarmingly humble and immensely talented spoke to YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine’s AZUH ARINZE in London on Sunday, August 26, 2012. Below is the outcome of that impromptu encounter…
What makes a good rap artiste?
It’s a combination of hard work. I firmly believe that the art of rap started in Nigeria. When I read Things Falls Apart and I hear how the Igbo people communicate; somebody will say Igbo Kwenu, everybody will answer. Before he starts talking, he must say a proverb and that proverb has described everything he wants to say. It’s like a metaphor and that’s what rap is supposed to be about. It’s supposed to be about positive black symbols, using metaphor, using language, using prose to communicate an idea and even though it’s sort of lost its way now, it’s become a tool for exaltation of sort or manner. I think that we as Nigerians and Africans can return it back to its roots, which is as per positive messages. Whether it’s about women relationships, anything and I think that for me is what I will define a good rap artiste as. Somebody that is able to use the tools of communication that we have, from our language, the metaphors, the proverbs, the rhythms to transmit positive messages to an audience.
What gave you the edge? You started out not long ago and now your name is all over the place…
To tell you the truth, I don’t know if I can answer that question. I think that when any successful person looks back in their life, they will realize that most of what took them there was not up to them and when I look back and I look at the appreciation I have from the fans and the sort of love I’ve gotten from the media and the support, the kind of friends who have helped me along the way, people I know, people that I don’t know that have done a few things for me here and there, I realize that this has not been about me. It’s about something else that is greater than me and all I can do is to try to work to make myself worthy of the responsibility and the opportunity I’ve been given. So, I can’t answer that question, I can’t say it’s me that did something.
The songs you write are usually very fecund, how do you come about them?
Yeah! I work very hard in the studio and I know a lot of artistes, but I don’t wanna make this a controversial statement: a lot of artistes use enhancers! I don’t do anything in the studio, I just work hard. It’s just hard work because I think that’s the only way to continue to replicate success in the studio. You work hard. Also Nigeria is a very interesting place and the stories around us everyday. If you listen to my songs, my hope is that when you listen to M.I’s songs, it’s almost as if you are somewhere in Nigeria saying something and that is what I try to do. If you hear One Naira, you can almost imagine a boy outside a girl’s house toasting her and so, when I open my eyes and look around me, the stories are everywhere and all I have to do is to tap into that and work in the studio to tell those stories.
What is the greatest thing that music has done for you?
Whaaooh! It’s just given me a voice. It’s given me my voice personally. It’s put food on my table, it’s also helped me to give value to a few other people and every once in a while I meet somebody…Today, I met a young lady who told me I’m her mentor and even though she might think she just said it – you know, I met a celebrity and I told him he is my mentor – it means so much to me for somebody to say that because this is somebody I’ve never met before. For somebody I’ve never met before to say you mentor me, I look up to you, that’s something that you can’t quantify. Music has given me that sort of opportunity to be able to impact people’s lives positively, I hope.
What hasn’t music done for you?
First of all, let me say I’m content. At every point in my career, I’ve always been happy to know that even if it stops now, I know I’ve done well. But at the same time, the second side of that coin is to remember that you have to keep dreaming bigger and so there are many things that are still to be done. There’s a new album coming out very soon that I’m working on. I wanna challenge the American artistes and to also challenge the U.K artistes. I want them to know that there’s good stuff coming out from Nigeria. I wanna sing more songs. You know I sang a song in my last album about the Jos crisis, I wanna sing a bigger song. I wanna sing a song that anybody that’s in government can hear and if God is inside them, they will think. There’s still more to be done and I think it’s not about what music can do for me, but what I can do with music for people.
What’s the most difficult thing about being a star?
You know me I don’t go out so much. I just appreciate the opportunity. But it’s hard when everywhere you go…I think being a star gives you access to see the state of poverty in Nigeria. Everywhere you go, people surround your car and it’s hard to see young men, able-bodied young men that can follow your car for a long distance, just chasing you to get N200. It just shows you that Nigeria can be better.
Who gave you the greatest encouragement when you were starting out?
Ha! Maybe my parents. Even up till today, they are my greatest encouragement and I have a great supportive team around me. From my manager to my friends and family. I’ve been around the same friends and family since I started, up till now. I have not really changed friends. I’ve been around the same people and I think that those people are my constant sources of encouragement.
You have a lot of popular songs, which of them do you like best and why?
(Laughs) – Whaaooh! This is a good question. Em…maybe African Rapper No 1. I will select that one for now because you know I’m from the North, so to study the highlife culture, to learn the music, to work with a great artiste like Flavour and to create a song like that was really a project, an undertaking for me. So, I think I appreciate that one the most because of the work.
What are you doing to sustain the success you have attained so far?
For me, my answer will be maybe funny, but I think that, that’s not too important. For me to remain there is not what’s important. I think what’s important is for you to do the best with the time you are given. Again, I say it’s not up to you. It’s up to the fans, it’s up to God. So, first of all, I try as much as possible to put other people on. By God’s grace, I’ve been able to introduce Nigerians to Jesse Jaggz, to Ice Prince, to Brymo and then more artistes are on the way. I’ve started a label, so that’s one way I can sort of grow the business. The second thing is just to continue to work hard.
In a very short while in the industry, the Lord has done a lot for you. What hasn’t He done for you or what more do you still want God to do for you?
I don’t know…I mean, God has done a lot. The fact that I’m alive, talking to you, I don’t take it lightly. One of my ogas (Ayeni Adekunle) said that you are his oga, so I feel humbled to have you interview me. I’m content. That’s the true answer to the question. I’m content. If today after I leave here, somebody says to me, M.I, you can’t sing any more, I think that God has been more than kind to me. He’s done too much and I think I’m okay, I’m happy.
NB: First published September 2012
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