By the morning of May 22, 2020, Twitter NG was in overdrive as hot takes clashed with stan culture. Some neutrals also decided to stay off things for the culture. In the end, the ruckus was about the excitement. That excitement is only a reality because of the legacy of both rappers. In the end, it was not ruckus, it was just anticipation. It was not even about the 9,000+ simultaneous audience that this event had garnered.
But inside that anticipation, a bigger story was – hidden in plain sight. It goes beyond the music that was going to be played at 8 pm on May 24, 2020. It goes beyond the momentary rush of nostalgia that this event would give the comment section of that IG Live session.
While we were to discover that the story is also one of mutual respect, camaraderie and love from two veterans, this was a story of time, culture and legacy.
Two versions of greatness
In 2008, MI Abaga became the phenomenon that is credited with taking Nigerian English-speaking rap back into the mainstream for an unprecedented run. Two years prior, he had released his single ‘Crowd Mentality’ to some buzz in the Nigerian underground.
In 2006, Naeto C came back to Nigeria with his WFA brothers. He was co-producing records and recording music for fun. A while later, he became a core part of the Storm Records family of stars that ran Nigerian music as a budding rapper with an MSC from a bourgeois background. He also lent vocals and his pen to creating First Lady, Sasha P’s critically acclaimed album for Storm 360.
In 2008, Naeto C released the smash hit, ‘Kini Big Deal.’ The song was one of the final songs recorded for his debut album, U Know My P. In fact, the album was already done when Obi Asika ordered for a single that would complete the album. When ‘Kini Big Deal’ was done, Asika commissioned a video that was shot in South Africa.
Upon release, the song became popular across different African terrains to a level where this writer’s mother knows the song’s hook – no joke. Around the same time, MI Abaga was tearing up the mainstream consciousness with a different mesh of Hip-Hop and pop music. His stardom was sealed and everyone looked to him. His smash hit, ‘Safe’ was tearing up radio and making rap allies of Nigerian women.
While MI Abaga seemed to speak the language of the lower middle class to the lower class and other classes, Naeto C sold a lifestyle of opulence and coolness straight from the middle-middle class to the upper 10%. He was like the aspiration Jay Z sold when he dumped the white tees for the jacket, flownTM Lewin Shirts and the Yankee hats.
In 2008, Naeto C carted home Channel O Music and MTV African Music Awards for ‘Kini Big Deal.’ In 2009, MI Abaga stole the show with two awards at the MTV African Music Awards. At the 2009 Headies, MI Abaga won the much-anticipated award for Best Hip-Hop album over Naeto C. Till this day, some Nigerian culture custodians feel Naeto C should have won.
That was in the thick of the golden era of Nigerian Hip-Hop. As that era drew to a close, MI Abaga evolved and released what is arguably the most-anticipated Nigerian album of the era in MI2: The Movie. It was also a veritable experiment in the art of merging Hip-Hop with Afro-pop and the result is a classic.
In 2011, Naeto C also released a more commercial project in Super C Season. With that project, he was still cool as the purveyor of exotic lifestyles, but he then owned the attraction of mainstream Nigerian streets with ‘10 Over 10’ and ‘5 and 6’ as produced by TY Mix.
While MI Abaga was making a run for obvious greatness and impact that transcended even his own artistry, Naeto C became a pop culture totem in fashion, lingo and merch. His fashion of wearing a traditional Northern cap over anything revamped Bondo Crazy’s style and it became a hit with Nigerian youth.
His saying, ‘Yes boss’ is still common across Nigeria – the rapper just missed a shot to become a lifestyle brand. As a rapper, only Olamide has influenced pop culture more than Naeto C did. As that era drew to a close, Naeto C had sealed a legacy and so had MI. Naeto slowed down, but MI kept going. While they were bound by time, time also separates them and that makes this match up perfectly poised.
When Tola Sarumi (AfroVII) floated this idea on May 20, 2020, she did not realize what she had done. Two days later, the challenge was accepted after MI and Naeto C agreed to have a go at things on Sunday, May 24, 2020.
When the event got underway, it was about the beauty of witnessing two veterans with sizable impact on Nigerian Hip-Hop and the larger Nigerian Hip-Hop chop have not just respect but genuine love for each other.
Through their conversation, it became clear that they had been friends from when Naeto C was a Youth Corper in Abuja, Nigeria. As a matter of fact, MI Abaga later reveals that one of the first things Naeto C said when he contacted Naeto was, “I’ve missed you, bro.” The positive vibes were in the air as both rappers scrolled through time in capsules and shades.
They also made it known that their moment was not one for clout. But instead, they hope it would lead to other battles involving Tubaba, D’Banj, P Square and so forth.
MI says, “On Thursday, we saw a platform that could do something and I wasn about it. There’s so much history, let’s ask some of our colleagues to just do it. There’s a rich heritage of Nigerian music that people are forgetting… This is the first 10vs10 but it won’t be the last.”
Naeto says, “We [MI and I] go way back. You’re a special guy – the kind that needs to be protected. I’m not as active as I used to be, but I know what’s going on. When you hit me up to know what the situation is… We’re not looking for clout. I’ve known you for an extremely long time. You have walked so other people can fly. For me, I felt I had to ride for you…”
Around the time, Naeto’s daddy instincts showed up while his beautiful wife, Nicole Chikwe offered some memorable times. Asa Asika made a cameo in Naeto’s shade while an elated DJ Lambo made a cameo in MI’s just as she made noise throughout. Ice Prince had to jokingly tell her to keep quiet from the comment section. Yet, she didn’t stop.
What was billed as a 10vs10 became a 15v15 as Naeto C kept bringing up ‘doing one for sallah’ while always combing through his ‘folders.’ As much as this was about music, it was also one of immense aesthetic pleasure. Here are the songs played;
Teaser [Naeto C talked about how he and MI were in South Africa when this song dropped. MI recorded this song while he was living with Djinee]
Safe [In the comment section, Co-Founder of Storm Records, Obi Asika talked about how Audu Maikori played ‘Safe’ for him before it dropped]
Overkilling It [Features]
Tony Montana [Naeto C says that the Cheetah the had was real and that they would have used a Lion but for D’Banj’s objection]
I Gentle O
Ako Mi Ti Poju
Back When [Features]
Kini Big Deal
Share My Blessings featuring Asa
Ten Over Ten
Ashawo featuring Wande Coal
U Know My P
What You Want featuring Ajebutter22 and BOJ
Bartender [Hennessy Artistry 2012]
Lagos Party Remix
Soft (Remix) featuring Burna Boy and Phyno [Naeto C talked about how Burna Boy did this song despite his reluctance to make a rap record at the time]
Sitting On Top
The culture. Humanity. Love. Mutual respect. This was bigger than competition between two human beings who didn’t even see it as competition. This is exemplified by how MI Abaga openly admitted that he could never top ‘Kini Big Deal’ or ‘Ten Over Ten.’
For his part, Naeto C proposed that he and MI play songs that they had high hopes for, but ended up being underwhelming. This was also not just about celebrating wins, it was also about celebrating each other’s wins while being secure enough to also laugh about the losses. Shout-out to these rappers.
If the event was big enough to attract celebrities and artists from different eras and stars, it must be worth its onions. It delivered, it excelled and we’re grateful.
Meanwhile, Globacom please pay MI Abaga and Naeto C. COVID is assside.
And oh, pay Lynxxx too. Thank you.