My first encounter with this new rapper was through his freestyle on the Ray-X produced ‘Zombie’ on Terry Tha Rapman’s World Domination mixtape released last year. That was one helluva first impression. Although I had a crazy bias for the dope instrumentals, Blaqbonez did just enough to conquer the menacing cadence of the beat with some apt punchlines. I learned soon after that the young rapper had been underground for a while and was with the privilege of hobnobbing with the lyrically acclaimed likes of Terry Tha Rapman, Pherowshuz and the veteran, Modenine. Consequently, spotting his mixtape HipHop in Blaq online had my expectation soar high and having listened to it a couple of times here’s what the tape feels like:
HipHop in Blaq reveals the influence of Lil Wayne, Drake, Kanye and to a large extent, Kendrick Lamar on Blaqbonez’s style. We are quick to get that right from the get-go with the instrumentals of Lamar’s ‘Swimming Pool’ carefully modified for Blaq to lace verses on; the lyrics and style sometimes sound too Kendickish, other times, too Wayneish. This is not to disregard Blaq’s unbelievable bravado to flow on a beat only beasts like Kendrick Lamar could tear apart. Similarly on ‘3rd Take’, one of the latter tracks on the tape, he furiously bites Lamar’s style but credit has to be given to him for biting it right. This sort of thing—biting— often criticised by sticklers for originality, is succinctly rationalized by Lil Wayne in ‘Dr. Cater’ as “re-reciting” or “recycling”, something that could be encouraged in rap as long as it “enlightens”. But then, Blaq openly confesses his awe for the Campton-born lyricist “I have a dream to be on the same track as Kendrick Lamar.” Unknowingly, this overt admiration as revealed through Hiphop in Blaq robs him of originality which, regardless of Wayne’s rationalization on Carter III or Nas’ ‘No idea is original’, is important for him as an up-and-coming rapper to be able to carve a big niche for himself in the enormous music industry.
The tape, containing sixteen tracks and two bonuses, is an expression of a common conflict faced by many skilled, on-the-rise rappers within the Nigerian context: The struggle between staying true to hip-hop and trimming down content to make a commercial success story.
On the one hand, Blaq makes a remarkably dope hip-hop track like ‘Respect ma Coglomerate’—a joint that almost had him out-rhymed by a cat who goes by the name Tek Raymond, tells a compelling personal story in ‘Situation Report’ and totally murdered the Kanye West-produced ‘A Star is Born’. Those, alongside a number of other tracks on the mixtape should adequately earn Blaq respect as a dope MC. On the other hand, he blatantly goes “…I don’t care if I end up singing do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do/as long as the shit be ending in dough” and makes tracks that are cleverly suited for mass appeal such as ‘Burn them’ and ‘We go Rise’— a song that has the acclaimed Suspect on the hook as well as Terry the Rapman on the last verse. Interestingly, the Outro perfectly merges these two extremes, presenting Blaq as a rapper in possession of that rare ability of maintaining a balance between commercial appeal and real hip-hop. Summary: Blaq could be the next best go-between Naija rapper to Sauce Kid and MI Abaga.
Clever use of metaphor is a significant feature that determines the level of respect you get in the game as a rapper. Blaq easily comes up with some badass punchlines with deft delivery on ‘Fire In The Booth’. Surprisingly on the same track, Blaq drops slack lines such as “I’m John Terry, see I’m a fucking baller”. Similarly, as tight as his flow on ‘Zombie’ is, rhymes like “they call me Jackman yea my dick is huge/when I’m winning eleven believe, no be PS 2” and “Omo Naija pull up in my Legedese/ and no be Naija rapper but I make you Reminisce”, might as well have been yanked off. This shows him to be fallible sometimes and sort of ridicules the motive behind his ‘Wack Song’—a lampoon of club bangers’ focus on good beats to the detriment of making sense even if it’s a little. As much as I recognise the message in the ‘Wack Song’, the portrayal is too deliberate so much that the effort put into creating it seems wack. Moreover, I personally believe that only rappers generally certified as veterans deserve a right to call anyone or song wack. In other words, since Blaq is a far cry from being a veteran, it would appear a wrong path to tow. Apart from that, we’ve seen hardcore MCs go critical on commercial cats they considered wack yesterday only to flip to that side too today. That sort of thing not only taints a potentially great MC’s credentials; it also presents him or her as an inconsistent, phoney if you like, human being.
Generally, Blaq’s talent is undeniable and one has no choice but to agree with him that he’s actually better than most rappers how there. Despite his experimentation with all sort of styles, spitting tight metaphors and rolling with some of Naija’s best MCs, there’s enough room for improvement. In short, a rewording and prolonging of Sauce Kid’s ‘E Don Dey Madt’, reiterates Blaq’s likelihood to “blow” commercially.
Rating: 3 Mics