In this article, I will be ranking top 10 outstanding Nigerian rap albums of the past 2 decades (2001-2020).
But first, what is rap music?
Hip hop or rap is a genre of popular music or pop music. It combines the elements of rhythm, poetry, and cadence delivered over a beat or a capella. It uses a form of rhythmic spoken words to convey a message on a particular subject.
A bit about the history of rap music
Rap music originated in Africa, where the griots of West Africa were delivering stories rhythmically, over drums and instrumentation. In the early 80s, rap became a new form of expression in the United States of America.
The movement was spearheaded by exceptional rhymers like chuck D, Big daddy Kane, KRS One and Rakim. This new genre of music made its way back home to Africa, Nigeria to be precise in the 1980s through Ibrahim Salim Omari of the sugar hill gang with the release of his rap single ‘’I am African’’.
Over the past twenty years a lot of rappers have emerged who have monumentally shaped and influence hip-hop culture in Nigeria. Dropping albums that have set the standard of rap music in Nigeria in terms of sales, lyricism, and influence on rap culture.
My criteria for ranking of of the outstanding Nigerian rap albums include:
- Critical acclaim
- Commercial acceptance
- Impact on the Nigerian rap culture
Below are top 10 outstanding Nigerian rap albums of the past 2 decades (2001-2020):
10. Iceprince– Everybody Loves Ice prince
In the year 2011, the chocolate city signed rapper released his debut album Everybody loves ice prince(ELI) too much critical acclaim. The album came after ice prince had previously taken over the rap scene with two of the hottest rap singles of the year. The album’s lead single ‘’Oleku’’ which featured label mate Brymo was already a big hit and is still considered one of the best Nigerian rap songs till date.
It took over radio waves and catapulted both ice price and Brymo into the limelight, it became a household anthem loved by both the young and the old. The album’s second single ‘’Superstar’’ was released months and like its predecessor was a massive success.
Merging both hip-hop and afro-pop, it was loved by all media houses and was a club banger. These two singles created great anticipation for the album and when it was eventually launched, it was welcomed with a sold out album concert.
In my opinion, E.L.I was not a lyrically strong album, it was one of the first albums to heavily fuse hip-hop sounds and other sub-genres. It contained several excellent songs with catchy hooks that could be easily sung along to and club favorites. What it lacked in lyrical depth, it made up for in commercialism. The album went on to win the best rap album at the 2012 Headies award.
No guts no glory is the debut album of Nigerian rapper Phyno, a music producer turned rapper who effortlessly raps in English and Igbo language. Released in 2014, it features industry heavy weights like Flavor, Omawumi, M.I, Olamide, Timaya amongst others. No Guts No Glory was supported by four singles: “Ghost Mode”, “Man of the Year”, “Parcel” and “O Set”.
The album was a critical and commercial success which heavily fused hip-hop, pop and afro-beats sounds, a merger of hardcore rap songs like ‘’Ghost mode’’ which featured Olamide, ‘’Alobam’’, groovy highlife songs like ‘’Authe’’ featuring Flavour and club bangers like ‘’o set’’ featuring P-square.
Phyno captivated the hearts of both the hip-hop community and the public with this album by being the first to successfully merge the indigenous Igbo language into a rap album, though rappers like Mr. Raw and 2shots pioneered the Igbo rap movement, Phyno was the first to do it on a nationally acceptable scale, selling out shows in both Igbo-speaking regions and non-Igbo speaking parts of the country.
He received praise for his indigenous style of rap, complex flows, lyrical depth and widening the landscape of Nigerian hip hop which was previously dominated by Yoruba-speaking rappers. No Guts No Glory was nominated for Rap Album of the Year at the 2014 City People Entertainment Awards It was also nominated for Best Rap Album and Album of the Year at The Headies 2014.
8. Naeto C- Super C Season
On February 7, 2011, Naeto C dropped his sophomore album ‘’Super C season. The album like its predecessor was released too much commercial and critical success. With chart topping singles like ‘’Ako mi ti poju” featuring Dagrin, “Ten over ten”, “5&6” and the classic “share my blessings’’ featuring Asa.
The album was a beautiful blend of cool rap and popular music, switching from up-tempo catchy songs to soulful and retrospective music. Naeto c proved that he was still the best in the industry when it came to mainstream rap, the album bagged two nominations at the 2012 Headies awards.
7. Olamide — Y.B.N.L
The album was Olamide’s sophomore album after releasing his debut album Rapsodi and taking a few months break from the music scene. Olamide not only launched a new album, he also birthed a new experimental style of rap and his own record label. Majority of the album was produced by Olamide’s new discovery Pheelz who was 18 years old at the time. Together they created hit songs that would top the Nigerian music charts for months, their musical chemistry could only be likened to that of Dr. Dre and Eminem.
The album contained main stream hits like ‘’first of all”, ‘’Stupid love” and ‘’Owo tabua”. However, the hardcore rap songs “Voice of the street” and ‘’Ilefo Illuminatti’’ are considered Olamide’s best lyrical performances of the album.
The album was well-received by the public and music critics, with many praising him for sticking to his Yoruba style of rap. The album was nominated for best rap album and album of the year awards at the Headies, it won both categories.
6. Rooftop MCs — The minority report
The gospel rap duo Rooftop MCs made their debut into the Nigerian music industry with their first album ‘’Shock therapy’’ in 2003 but would not gain major success until the release of their hit single ‘’Lagimo” in 2007. The Cobhams Asuquo assisted single would become one of the first gospel songs to breach the boundary between mainstream secular music and gospel music. Following the success of the single was the release of their equally successful album ‘’The minority report’’ in 2008.
The gospel album addressed various issues the group was going through, problems like handling their new-found fame was addressed in “Lagimo’’, criticism they face for their genre of music was addressed in “silence’’, while “chop your mouth’’ addressed music fans who don’t know the lyrics to a song but still sing along.
Praised for its ingenuity and uniqueness, the minority report has stood the test of time as one of the best Nigerian rap albums off all time. Its lead single ‘’Lagimo” was nominated for best rap song at the Headies award.
5. Modenine- E pluribus unum
In 2007, Nigerian hip-hop pioneer Modenine released his third album titled ‘’e pluribus unum” (one amongst many) too much critical acclaim. He had previously released two projects which although were lyrical masterpieces, were not as successful as his third attempt. Known for his hardcore style of rap, complex lyricism and word play which were not so relatable to the average music listener.
Modenine in this project tried to create relatable music without dumbing-down his lyrics, the album’s lead single ‘’Cry’’ featuring Nnena addressed social issues like cultism, gun violence and tribalism. The music video for cry won 3 Channel O music video awards. Its second single “Nigerian girls’’ narrates his encounters with Nigerian women from different regions of the country.
Another song ‘’Lagos state of mind’’ talked about surviving in the city of Lagos, while in “contradiction’’ he exacts his dominance as the best in the game. Heralded as one of Nigeria’s greatest rap album of all time, the album picked up 3 awards at the Headies.
4. Olamide- Baddest guy ever liveth
Regarded as indigenous rapper Olamide’s magnum opus, baddest guy ever liveth is definitely a creative masterpiece. From its album cover art which had him dressed like Julius Ceaser while doing the gunman pose to different forms of experimental sounds on the album. The third album in the young rapper’s catalog of hit albums was released just a year after his critically acclaimed and commercially successful album ‘’YBNL’’.
Olamide teamed up with his in house producer Pheelz to produce commercial and hardcore hits like “anifowose” on which they sampled Fuji legend Kwam1, durosoke, sitting on the throne, dope money, elada mi, turn up, esu pofo and many more. Olamide with this album put himself in the conversation of Nigeria’s best rapper with this album.
A commercial and lyrical masterpiece, a perfect blend of hardcore rap and chart topping pop songs. The album won both best rap album and album of the year at the Headies awards and album of the year at the Nigerian entertainment awards.
3. M.I — M.I 2 (The movie)
Coming off the success of his monumental debut album “talk about it”, Mr incredible (M.I) with his sophomore album established himself as the greatest living Nigerian rapper of all time. The movie themed album was an instant success upon its release, it established the rapper as a pace setter by industry standards.
On the album’s lead single “Undisputed’’, M.I rapped about his accomplishments in the rap game and his impact on the Nigerian rap culture. The album’s second single ‘’Action film’’ featuring Brymo on the chorus combined impeccable lyricism over a commercial beat. The success of the single created massive anticipation for the album. Its follow-up single ‘’Africa rapper number 1’’ featuring Flavor was another instant classic, a perfect blend of hip-hop and high life.
On ‘’One naira” featuring Waje, the rapper showed a more vulnerable part of him over a soulful r&b beat. On the diss track ‘’Beef” M.I addressed rappers who use his name to get clout and clapped back at pop musician Kelly handsome.
The album received positive reviews from music critics ranking it as the best album of the year, it was a commercial and critical success. It addressed social, political, bad education, poverty, the Jos crisis amongst other issues. It won the best rap album award at the 2011 Headies awards.
Chief executive omota (CEO) is indisputably one of the most outstanding Nigerian rap albums of all time. CEO was the indigenous rapper Dagrin’s first major album, unfortunately it would also be his only album as the rapper died months after the release of the commercially and critically successful album.
Rapping in Yoruba, pidgin and the English language, Dagrin carved a niche for himself in the music industry by being the first rapper since Lord of Ajasa to successfully incorporate the Yoruba language into modern Hip-hop. The success of the album would go on to set the pace for future Yoruba indigenous rappers like Olamide and Lil kesh.
The album’s lead single ‘’pon pon pon’’ upon its release took the music industry by storm due to its uniqueness and lyricism. Dagrin delivered bars after bars over a hardcore hip-hop beat, the music video was also equally unique and brought a fresh perspective when compared to other music videos. The second single ‘’Kondo’’ saw the rapper switch to a more commercial sound with sultry lyrics, an immediate club favorite and chart topper.
The album enjoyed major commercial success and received positive reviews, demand for the album soared after the rapper’s death. It won best rap album at the hip-hop world awards and the rapper won the award for artiste of the year.
1 M.I — Talk about it
At number 1 of the top 10 outstanding Nigerian rap albums is ‘Talk about it’. This album can be regarded as a breath of fresh air into the Nigerian rap sector. Released in 2008, it was the debut album of the chocolate city signed rapper. The album took the country by storm, selling 30,000 copies barely 30 minutes after its release. It helped shaped the hip-hop culture in Nigeria and made the acceptance of rap music what it is now. A perfect balance of elite lyricism and mainstream hits, he showed rappers that it was possible to create both impeccable lyricism and commercial viability on one project.
The album’s lead single ‘’crowd mentality’’ was a conscious rap song addressing herd mentality in the Nigerian music industry. Its follow-up single ‘’safe” was a lyrical masterpiece that fused all the current pop hits in the country into one song. Its third single ‘’Anoti’’ saw him switching lanes, delivering with immaculate flow over a catchy hook and dance beat. The album also introduced a then unknown generation of pop icons like Wizkid, Ice prince, Jesse jags, General pype and YQ.
It won several awards including Best hip-hop artist at the City people awards, Headies revelation of the year and best rap album amongst others.