MI Abaga came out on top with 2 awards for Best New Act and Best Hip-Hop Act, at the recent MAMAs in Kenya. It was only fitting to follow up with an interview from ‘Mr. Incredible’ himself.
NEN: You have had a fantastic year so far. But did you know you were gonna be picking up two plaques at the MAMAs and that soon?
MI: Well, for the people that are reading, first you have to understand the pedigree of the MTV Awards. Unlike the Hip-Hop World Awards this year, where I already knew (sort of) that I was going to get something, it was anti-climactic cuz as they would say my name as one of the nominees, people go like ‘Oh MI MI’. But The MAMAs was completely different. Everybody is high quality, and they are really doing their thing. If you look at the other people that won: 2Face, D’banj, HHP are serious people you know what I mean? So when they called the first one (Best New Artiste) I was shocked, I was like “Yo I can’t believe this is happening”. Then I went up for Hip-Hop, with that one I was just lost. It was a really powerful moment and, after the ceremony, almost all the Nigerians went backstage to my locker-room and it was really nice. There was a lot of talking and giving speeches. It was actually pretty gay [laughs] but also quite an inspiring moment.
NEN: With Wyclef and Akon in the same hotel as you and all, did you try to spit rhymes on a light note?
MI: I did rap with Wyclef. Props have to go to D’banj for this cuz he organized everybody to have a little time with Wyclef in his room jus freestylin’ listening to different people’s albums. It was really cool. Wyclef is truly an African mehn. He’s not just doing it to be cool. That is really who he is. He is just very humble and down-to-earth. I don’t know any musician that has had more influence on Nigerian Music, or even African music as a whole, than Wyclef. That being said, we did kick it. And Akon walked by and said hi to me.
NEN: [Sarcastic looks] Alright…. [laughter all around]…In the next few weeks [maybe, maybe not] you will be in Monaco for the World Music Awards, what’s your speech for that award?
MI: I don’t even know if I am nominated. But uhh, I don’t have any speech. I never have any speech. For the MAMAs I just thought it was important for everybody to put their one finger up and say Africa is one. So that was my whole speech, so it was not Nigeria winning, I won on behalf of new musicians, I won on behalf of Hip-Hop across Africa. If I do win something, I’ll just let it be spontaneous.
NEN: A Nigerian artiste won Artiste of the Year, Best New Act and Best Hip-Hop, Best R&B and Best Group. As an artiste yourself, and someone who in recent times has become highly influential in what we Nigerians call our music; what do you have to say about the growth of Nigerian Music?
MI: Well, [clears throat] it’s growing. It’s a stunted growth at times but it truly is growing. If you think about the mix down 2Face did on his first album and then the work he did on his last album, I mean he worked with Chaka Demus & Pliers you know what I mean? We are definitely moving forward. Being technical now, people are using Pro Tools, Logic which is world class standard. I remember when 2Face first came out and his album was mastered in the States which was like the biggest deal at that time and now it’s no longer such a big deal. Even here in Ikeja you can get Foster to do world-class mastering for you. That being said, we are making as much money as a lot of international artistes per show. At the same time, there’s a lot to be done. Our music needs to be more socially-conscious. It needs to have a more lasting quality about it. On the whole though, we’re doing very well and the truth is that we are inspiring the rest of Africa. People are doing videos because we do videos. They are doing movies because we do movies.
NEN: At some point you were supposed to release a record, One, which was supposed to come out before MI2 and then IM2 – Illegal Music 2 and so on. Where are you recording wise?
MI: [chuckles] To be honest, I bit off a lil’ more than I could chew. I was just talking, saying I’m gonna release my album this year. It’s not been easy to come up with new songs, partly because I am just so busy. I had a lot of time on my hands before Talk About It but this time it’s a lil’ more difficult. But I always set goals for myself and I want MI2 to be a really big record. With the One album, I am about to get into talks with some directors to shoot a video. The issue [with One] has always been that I didn’t want to release it on a strictly Naija platform. I think it’s world class music and I wanna treat it thus. But it’s ready. It’s been ready for a long time. And then, Illegal Music is like I pick Bumper to Bumper and rap on it, Ako Mi Ti Poju, you know, like stuff that I am feeling right now. And just resample it and rap on it. That stuff comes easier than making an album. But a lot of the weight of making MI2 is off my shoulders cuz I am working with Don Jazzy, Dr Frabz, Sossick hopefully, Frenzy and ofcourse Jesse Jagz so its gonna be great. I am happy with where I am songwriting-wise. But I still have a lot of trouble with getting those collabos in.
NEN: Where are you in your production life, seeing that you obviously don’t have time for even yourself? There’s Rytus Era which is you and Jesse. Does that still work for you right now especially with your schedule?
MI: Well I’ve never been the producer that tooted his own horn. I never comment, except, like you know me personally and you know that I produce. I never go anywhere and tell people that I produce unless I really wanna work with you. So I am happy doing ten songs a year. This year I worked with the effervescent Lami – we did Know together and I’m doing something for Banky, I did something with Rooftop MCs earlier this year, I am doing one or two joints for 2Face, and probably one song for Darey. On the whole, I don’t really want to be a prolific producer. I leave that to Jesse Jagz and other people. There is music, definitely, in my soul and sometimes it’s not music that I can put out on my own.
NEN: So who for you is the number one producer, as far as MI is concerned? For obvious reasons you will say his technique so that it will show that it is not about hate it is just respect.
MI: The person I am gonna call is an easy choice. He is arguably the best Nigerian producer to ever hit the keys – Don Jazzy mehn. He came in with D’banj and they made a hit, another and another and another and yet still another till D’banj became one of the biggest names in Nigerian music. If you listen to the CV album, he goes from doing Pere, to doing Anaconda and then a song like Close to You. And he just switched across genres. To cap it all up, when we were freestyling with Wyclef, and we were listening to the new Mo’ Hits joints, he [Wyclef] kept going “Yo who made this beat?” He is at that level where Wyclef who is a beat maker himself is saying, “Who is this guy?” And then they played a new song of D’banj Endowed and then Wyclef is like, “this song is done, its bananas.”
NEN: When is MI2 dropping?
MI: Hopefully, it drops first quarter of next year. I would have liked to drop it December 1st. The reason I can’t do that anymore is cuz I really want to go the distance as per what you can do in promoting an album, creating other things around the album. There is a detailed way we want to release it, the hype we want to build around it. So I really want to take my time and do that. And to bring all these amazing people to the same table to work together is not gonna be easy. I’m about to put out a single very soon. “Somebody Wants To Die” came out, and people that know me, know that it was really more for the rap heads. Its gotten a lot of love but it was not meant to be the big single. I’m not even sure it will be on the album. But it did what it was meant to do when it came out. Very soon the single is going to come out and hopefully it will be a dancey tune. On MI2 I am really try to go the distance. I’m going to talk about the South-South. I’m working with this Indian kid who lives in Boston who is doing production work for me. The idea behind MI2 will be saying, ok you guys have accepted Talk About It, let’s expand our minds a bit more. If Nigerians could enjoy songs like Short Black Boy and Safe, then let’s take it a step further.
NEN: So who are those artistes that are on the same journey with you?
MI: Almost everybody, and when I say that I mean the ones I like to call the serious-minded People. Not every artiste is aware and focused. It is one thing to be aware and yet another to be focused. Mo’ Hits are the people that highlighted what Techno music was going to become with “Move Your Body”, even at a time when Techno was not being played in clubs anymore. 2Face also gets a mention. P-Square with their new song Danger – tried something different in songwriting than what they used to before. And of course people like Banky and Naeto C – who is one of the people I really appreciate in terms of being able to put himself out there musically and I am very excited about his album, he’s been doing work with Sway and Terry G. Shout out to Dagrin as well, even though he raps in Yoruba, he has been very futuristic in terms of his flow.
NEN: On a final note, how are you able to balance being COO with your already busy schedule AND how do you balance C-City and the Loopy Crew?
MI: Well, Loopy is a music brand. For example D’banj and Don Jazzy have Mo’ Hits – which is the music brand. Then they have the business arm which they work with a little bit with Cecil Hammond of Flytime Promotions. That is sort of the way it is with Chocolate City. Audu [Maikori] and I are now like brothers. We’ve been through a lot from the humble days right till now that we’re winning MTV Awards. We have loyalty which is the real key to any sort of success as a family. To the point that even if I wanna do something that is not Chocolate City, we discuss it across the board. So everybody is looking out for everybody’s best interest. As per being able to balance both things, the truth is with music, what keeps most of us going through hard times and otherwise is passion. With being the COO of Chocolate City, which is not a permanent position, all I am doing is holding the fort here in Lagos and bringing and executing ideas. By creating music products that the music inspires, from the video CDs to audio CDs to concerts.
We want to really change the game. We’ve come to realize that people have seen us (Chocolate City) as the new boys that have come to do new things and we want to be worthy of that God giving us the life and the health. And the key to that is just surrounding yourself with good people – from the people at Chocolate City to the ones that are just friends, and well-wishers. Shoutout to my friends and all the fans that voted for us for the MAMAs. Shout out to you Bayo. You’ve been a constant source of inspiration and friendship. I guess that’s it.
Interview by Bayo Omisore