The criteria for this selection are; commercial success, impact, critical acclaim, shelf life, hits and awards.
The 2010s have been interesting in global music. Music got more avant-garde and every genre was required to generate a ‘pop’ sub-genre lest they die.
The reason is simple; physical albums sales were in free-fall and Eurodance was slowing down. On the Nigerian front, 2010 saw a change of guard which ushered in Wizkid, Olamide, Davido and much more. Coincidentally, 2010 also represents the final year Nigerian hip-hop’s golden era.
The result was the greatest permeation of rap music in Nigerian music at the time. It culminated in the golden era of 2008 to 2010. But in the 2010s, indigenous rap became the flagship act of Nigerian hip-hop. Rappers became superstars and hip-hop made people money. More importantly, hip-hop gained more ground in the Nigerian mainstream.
For this purpose, Pulse Nigeria documents the top 10 rap albums of the decade. The criteria for this selection are; commercial success, impact, critical acclaim, shelf life, hits and awards.
Sidenote: Dagrin’s C.E.O misses out because it was released in November 2009.
iLLBliss – Powerful
Let’s get something clear; iLLBliss has one of the most impressive and impactful discographies in Nigerian hip-hop. If Compton rapper, The Game ever had a Nigerian equivalent, it would be iLLY – none of his albums score less than a 6/10.
Following his 2009 debut solo album, Dat Ibo Boy, the ThoroughBred released his weakest album, Oga Boss in 2012. What followed was an important moment aided by his balance of impressive cadence, attractive mainstream beats, great ‘boss’ branding and wonderful vision.
It was titled, #Powerful – his third album. On ‘Illy Bomaye,’ iLLBliss inadvertently claimed the album his ‘fourth,’ but to us, it’s the third.
Asides being home to some incredible rap anthems like ‘Bank Alert’ and ‘Chukwu Agozigo Gi,’ he also featured Olamide and Wizkid in 2015. The album was named Best Rap Album at the 2016 Headies. Shout-out to KezyKlef and Suspekt for their work on this album though. Consensus at Pulse Nigeria says #Powerful is iLLY’s best album.
Jesse Jagz is a polarizing character. For some, he is the multi-talented creative who threw it away with fancy sentiment. For others, he is the multi-talented creative who created by his own rules. Regardless of your state of mind, we must all agree that Jagga’s greatness is very doubtful.
That said, he does have a great album and can lay claim to some great moments in Nigerian music. In 2010, he released his commercially successful album. Jagz of all Trades. Jagz Nation Vol. 1: Thy Nation Come was his sophomore effort.
The album was a unique blend of ragga, dancehall and sung-rap deliveries and cadences. It resonated with the Nigerian audience and generated some hits. For the avant-garde Nigerian rapper scared of extreme experimentation for creative originality, this album was arguably a calling card.
Granted, there’s a chance that we are all swayed by the heavy Fela channeling, but quality is quality. Falz is not the first to sample Fela and many will continue to sample the great abami eda. Due respect to Kahli Abdu and illgod, but Falz did the best work at sampling Fela. For his efforts, Moral Instruction was named Album of the Year at the 2019 Headies.
More importantly, it was also a cultural moment that triggered rants, merch, hot takes, think pieces and more. We continue to ‘Talk.’
The same year, his smash hit rap single, ‘Sample’ was named Best Rap Single at The Headies – it was an upset. Nonetheless, the mainstream didn’t care about ‘hip-hop problems’ as it lapped up Boyz Are Not Smiling like a cat on milk.
‘Boyz Are Not Smiling’ and ‘B.A.N.S’ spilled over into a cultural moment and birthed merch. It’s interesting how talk of merch was how Terry ended his third verse. Another important moment on this album was the Mo’Cheddah madness on ‘Get Up.’
Let’s get one thing clear, this writer is neither a fan of Naeto C or his albums, but his impact cannot be denied. First, he was an English speaking Nigerian rapper who made mainstream hits. Second, he was the bougie rapper that the Nigerian mainstream liked – ordinarily, the Nigerian mainstream hates privilege.
Third, his corny one-liners, catchphrases and subtexts became cultural moments which birthed street lingo and merch. Before this album dropped, the question was whether Naeto C could recreate his 2008 moment. He didn’t only answer, he penetrated the mainstream with a drill and Dagrin. The song was titled, ‘Ako Mi Ti Poju.’
Asides that, he also had hits like ‘Ten Over Ten’ and ‘5 and 6’ and made this writer’s mother aware of him. He also had ‘C Me Finish’ and the album’s title track. Even if you don’t like something, you can admit that it was a success. Super C Season was an English-based rap album that traveled beyond western Nigeria.
Olamide – YBNL
Nonetheless, YBNL was still an incredible album where Olamide arguably did his best bits of rap. Sections of the media have even speculated that Olamide crafted the raps on the album so excellently to prove a point. Coincidentally, ‘Voice of the Street,’ Olamide’s best rap song is on YBNL.
Ice Prince – Everybody Loves Ice Prince
Like Ice Prince or hate him. Rate him or don’t, that’s your business. What you cannot deny is that Everybody Loves Ice Prince was great album that launched Ice Prince’s career. He went on to become Africa’s most popular act. Nigerian acts are now breaking UK doors at will, but that place once belonged to Ice Prince.
His raps were corny and sometimes, ever so slightly off beat, but practically every song on this album became a hit or a sleeper hit. At the 2012 Headies, Ice Prince won Best Rap Album for Everybody Loves Ice Prince. Shout-out to Samklef for ‘End of Story.’ No song defines Ice Prince’s prowess on dance tracks than that song.
MI Abaga – MI2: The Movie
This album came in the golden era of Nigerian Hip-Hop. On it, MI created a movie concept and told a story. With every song came a marriage of English rap and a commercial beat. Like him or hate him, MI Abaga is a genius and this album was a moment.
He was a cowboy in the ‘Wild West’ who ate ‘Beef’ for raw dinner. He bought ‘Craze’ for ‘One Naira’ and challenged ‘Anybody’ for his ‘Undisputed’ ‘Number One’ spot.
Phyno – No Guts, No Glory
Phyno was the producer-turned-swashbuckiling Igbo-speaking rapper with an avant-garde appearance. On ‘Obago’ he rapped, “East coast n**a banging in the west”and it was a fact. ‘Ghost Mode,’ ‘Obago,’ ‘Parcel’ and ‘Kush Music’ were mega-hits before his album dropped. When the album dropped, ‘Alobam’ became a cultural moment.
Phyno was the cool kid with the cool fashion sense. ‘Alobam’ birthed merchandize and street culture. If MI Abaga visibly merged rap with pop music, Phyno blurred the lines. This was a proper rap album with hits, critical acclaim and awards. ‘Parcel’ was rightly named Best Rap Single at the 2014 single.
The only reason this album didn’t win Album of the Year was probably because Baddest Guy Ever Liveth was in the same category.
Olamide – Baddest Guy Ever Liveth
He also became a musical scientist who experimented at will. He made rap the subject of mainstream appeal. ‘Esu Pofo’ is cut off Yoruba folk music and ‘Anifowose’interpolated a classic Kwam 1 hit. The smash hit, ‘Durosoke’ made grandmothers go up and down.
Even though Olamide was a phenom before the album, it helped him make first steps into ‘greatest’ conversations. At the 2014 Headies, it was the second of Olamide’s four Album of the Year wins. As if the mainstream hits were not enough, Olamide also had rap bangers like ‘Rayban Abacha,’ ‘Sitting On The Throne’and ‘Dope Money’ which united tribes.