SKALES, RAPPER TURNED TRAPPER AND THE SELLOUT
8PM or almost, two boys in shoddy shorts, big shirts, thin voices. Or no voice at all. My friends and I, we look at ourselves, laughter threatening to erupt. We know them, the boys. Days ago, we’d seen them across the street, Mama Jide’s light cast over them, little in our eyes from afar, their feet tapping, their hands clapping. Apparently, they were performers, had learnt to suffer through nights of pot bellied beer drinkers and their unbelievable eyes. Had learnt to suffer our gaze.
In about five minutes, they were done. They – clapping and rapping words that had no connection except that they rhymed somehow – opened little palms bent into a crook, these hands daring us to stuff them with money and know there’s more than meets the eye. These hands that rise to touch the mouth feebly; they had to eat.
So does Skales, as impossible as it must be imagining the now Beard Gang, heavy looking, tattooed and sunshade wearing pop artiste as once broke, once a young man like most of us, a man full of dreams.
Unfortunately at the time, his dreams led him to believe he was heading for a Grammy and his medium was rapping. He rapped so fiercely. Then he got signed to EME along the line, then he left and became Pop Star Skales and some people want to see him rap again, rap his ass off as he once did, convinced that it was the only way, his biggest chance at owning what many could only dream of. Along that line, Shake Body happened. According to the Kaduna born artiste, it changed his life. True, yet the fans who bought the initial dream of him as a rapper termed him a sellout. In an interview with Pulse, the man defended himself by saying “I’ve always wanted to sing and rap.” Yet, from an objective view how logical are these defamations, these accusations of him being solely motivated by the money?
Every artiste wants to make money. Scratch that, everybody. More so when it seems that you're the best chance at breaking a generation off poverty. Growing up and becoming a creator, a rapper, one of the queers, baggy jeans wearing youth must have been tough. You were betting a tested and trusted institution on your career, which you didn't even have then. Skales was, and he approached the mic with a tenacity usual in the young cats. However, the industry happened and he too, like every one would do, switched up and made money. Got himself a verified Twitter account. Yet, why are "Hip Hop heads" mad at him?
Hip Hop, before it became America's most popular genre was the infamous. It extolled – according to the older folks – certain vices and encouraged a certain lifestyle that was not fit for the ideal society. However, Hip Hop was "tolerated" for its Janus quality, its two facedness. While it depicted ghetto life and gave unsavory comments on it, it gave the government whose unwise and racist policies implemented the vices. Since its growth in the early eighties, Hip Hop has been claimed by the tough headed, the revolutionaries who didn't believe in ear candies. This fandom has led the fans to believe that if you wanted to rap, you had to rap. For life. You could put some singing on the side but rap had to be your main focus because you're like a mouthpiece for the ones who'll never make it out of the ghetto. You're the voice of the people.
Mode 9 will forever extolled as a legend in the game, and rightly so. He was, like the pioneer African rappers, heavily influenced by the Bronx culture, the pillars on which Hip Hop rested. Punchlines, metaphors, wordplay, storytelling. However, he stuck too fiercely to his style and later on, with tracks like "I “I See” ft Ice Prince and "Dobale" ft Gentle, he tried to appeal to a wider audience but it was lost on people. Mode 9 was hardcore, we were mainstream; those dumb people that like Wizkid and Davido. MI brought a change of perspective to the game with his discography. Off his Talk About It album, some serious subjects were tackled, but with a satiric approach, a mainstream friendly sound that many rappers have adopted many years later. He’s stuck to his business side on albums, and is strictly rapping in his mixtapes. A juxtaposition that the crowd enjoys, and the queer too, the Hip Hop heads.
However, it seems only MI has been able to convince the continent of the genius with which he wields this hybrid sword with which he took control of the game. Several other rappers have tried to do it all but failed, and I think we owe it to our inability to balance an industry that thrives on the large sounds that music is filtered through. Respectable media houses that play all kinds of music and not just having an hour for a Hip Hop show, thirty minutes for Soul or Reggae and so on. All genres – in an ideal industry – be treated as equals and publicity for consumption and ultimately the cake will be shared accordingly. Unfortunately, Nigeria loves the Afropop and nothing is taking it away. These rappers that started as Jay Z's become Young Thug along the line and we blame them?
It says a lot for where the genre that started at a little New York party that its biggest act is not American, or even an African, but a former TV star from Toronto. It also says a lot when this Canadian sings most of the time lately. However, his singing is put to good use as his dominance is also shine for the lesser known acts whom his umbrella also covers; the very large umbrella of Hip Hop. The greatest female rapper of all time (arguably) Lauryn Hill was also famous for her singing prowess and not too much of a fuss was made over it. Her legend status even soared on the wings of that fact.
Not in Nigeria, though, where labelling acts as “sellout” is a favorite past time. Rappers in fact, should be encouraged to sing more, as the artistry improves and the musical quality. Being a great rapper doesn’t mean you have to cram all your heavy book topics and philosophy and rants and punchlines into every sixteen.
The Sellout is a business man who waged his all against the industry. The industry, scruffy necked and stiff faced assured him that there was no place for him but The Sellout made his lemons out of lime. We should love The Sellout, like I and my friends learned that distant evening after the two boys had left – their content was poor and their execution poorer but we bought into the story, the one behind the shoddy shorts and big shirts. I’m not saying we should buy music because we want to help a poor man out but because some actually had their Shake Body, that single song that affirmed their art had different pathways to its definitive purpose.