Blaise; where is her place among the greats?

Blaise [Blaise]

I may be getting on in age but I don’t recall if there has ever been a time when our collective ability to stay indoors became a matter of life or death. But here we are.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic across the world may have disrupted the way we live our lives but it also inspired new ways of making sense of it.

With the internet as our virtual isolation center, we dived into TikTok and embraced IG Live. Then, artist battles and honest conversations became our center of attention and in the process, nostalgia was re-awakened as we longed for the memories of the past to help us deal with the emotions of the present.

One of those sessions was hosted by eLDee tha Don, Trybesmen founder, who rolled back the years. The session contained plenty of untold stories and connected former members of the Trybe family scattered across the world. One person who was conspicuously absent but received adulation was Blaise.

eLDee [Instagram/eLDee]

And that respect should come as no surprise.

If years after you rapped your last rhyme, the fans still drop your name when they debate the greatest Nigerian femcees of all time, then its testament to one or two things: The potency of the impact of your time on the scene or an unimpressive pool of contenders after you vanished. On some days the latter is true, but on other days, the former is also true.

It all started in 2001 when the legendary hip-hop group Trybesmen expanded into a collective called Da Trybe, a platform for young and talented artists to express themselves. Their first offering was the classic posse cut, ‘Oya’, a record that went on for over six minutes and featured 11 talented acts — 10 rappers and a singer called Myst.

While we were used to the Trybesmen trio and had an expected level of quality from any offerings from their stable, the song introduced us to other members of the collective. And nothing could have prepared us for what we were about to hear.

The opening verse: ‘‘Now when we coming, then you be running, cos we be gunning for something you never touching, Blaise scorch.’’ Those lines got everyone I knew to press the rewind button several times as the impact of the verse hit deep in our eardrums. It wasn’t just about the lyrics — to be honest, they were not that complex — there was something more.

That was our introduction to Funke Martin-Luther, popularly known as Blaise. With her crisp, speedy, and almost offbeat delivery, her raps had an allure that was impossible to neglect. That verse became a defining moment that would accompany her every step.

It was not only a showcase of Blaise’s superlative talent, but it glared down on every other rapper spitting next, raising the bar and setting a standard that some struggled to meet.

Fast-forward to 2020. And Sasha joined eLDee’s live session toward the end. She was the only other female rapper on ‘Oya’ and she took to Twitter to affirm that Blaise, whose career took a different path from hers, didn’t need a body of work to validate her supremacy.

‘’We often downplay rappers by limiting their catalog to gender-based arguments. Blaise will eat any rapper up…’’ She tweeted.

Sadly that’s not how things work. Not in real life where a recruiter will question gaps in your CV and certainly not in hip-hop, where a body of work is fundamental to whatever legacy you plan on leaving.

After her epic verse, Blaise would disappear only to return years after with another impactful verse on ‘Bragging Rights’ with Freestyle, an original Trybesmen.

She started the verse by boldly declaring, ‘‘This visitation means there is a change in administration,’’ before reeling out her manifesto to take over the game. While Freestyle’s verse created ripples because it contained shots at his former group members, Blaise did more than enough on the record to add to her reputation.

She would go on to contest the 2008 MTV Base /Zain Advance Warning which was won by Durella and also the 2009 Hennessy Nigerian Artistry Competition that went to Ice Prince.

But Blaise’s hunger and competitive streak were always apparent. She went head-on against her male contemporaries on songs like Evaezi’s ‘I Don’t Give a F**k’ which also featured Modenine, Suspect’s ‘I No Send You,’ and MI’s ‘Blaze’ which also had Jesse Jagz and Ice Prince in their prime.

I remember a friend likening the repetitive manner with which MI introduced her verse on ‘Blaze’ as a form of rolling the carpet for one who was supposed to be his female version.

Another display of her sheer brilliance was her verse on DJ Jimmy Jatt’s ‘Too Much,’ arguably her best individual verse. In an otherwise disappointing collaboration of female emcees at the BET Cypher, she was one of the few who came out with her reputation intact.

These stack of guest verses helped Blaise to build momentum. It also provided convenient anchors upon which her legacy hangs to this day. Blaise’s inconsistencies cloak her in mystery. And despite lacking a stand-out solo record or material to adequately rate the pedestal upon which she is placed, hip-hop fans have left her there anyway.

Blaise with iLLBliss, Ruggedman, and Ikechukwu at the Hennessy Cypher 2019 [Twitter]

In 2011, Blaise promised us an album. She even hinted at its proposed title, ‘Love and Power’. Unfortunately, that album never saw the light of day, and it would take another three years to hear Blaise rap again. She would do so on the Orlando Julius-assisted ‘Osika.’ Blaise also returned as a producer at some point, working with Modenine on ‘The Sound’, off his Insulin album (2016).

I understand and empathize with women; systematic gender inequality in the music industry creates a glass ceiling that complicates their career path. It’s not surprising that many female artists get discouraged and lose motivation, but some have managed to find a way around things. And to be the best or mentioned alongside them, you need to have done enough to distinguish yourself.

If I honestly had to put together a list of the greatest Nigerian femcees of all time, Blaise, despite her skill level, will struggle to make the top 3.

There is no way I would place her above Weird MC, who despite all the narratives surrounding hip-hop at the time was forward-thinking. She was a pioneer in her own right with ‘Allen Avenue’ in the mid-’90s. She became the first rapper to win a recognized hip-hop award at the AMEN awards in 1997. Almost a decade later, she returned with ‘Ijoya’ and enjoyed a sustained period of success and dominance.

How would you justify placing Blaise being above Sasha who scored one of the biggest singles in the country, found commercial success with her album, and paved the way for other women to consider a career in rap?

Then there is B.O.U.Q.U.I, despite being a gospel rapper and all the scrutiny that comes with that, still went on to release four albums and an E.P.

Also, it would be impossible to leave out Eva Alodiah, who, like Blaise, has a history with eLDee, signing with Trybe Records. But, unlike Blaise, she still managed to move on after the relationship ended. Eva delivered three mixtapes and one album and is arguably the most visible female emcee, even though she is more of an influencer these days.

Blaise’s longtime fans have built a special ‘can’t be touched’ category for her. But for the larger audience, reliving her music only got our taste buds yearning for more, yearning for that album, that EP, call it anything, that details her abilities not just in bits, but a totality of it.

In terms of appearance and technique, Blaise may have similarities with rappers like Da Brat or MC Lyte, but it is through the eyes of Lauryn Hill that many choose to see and rate her.

Similarly, Ms. Hill is an enigma whose legacy hangs mainly on one thing, a solo record. But at least ‘The Miseducation’ album is a gift that has stayed timeless since it left its wrap.

Sadly the same cannot be said of Blaise. At best, she left us with glimpses of her greatness but never enough to turn her meta gem moments into eventual rap superstardom.

Writer(Sports and Entertainment), Manchester United. Music lover. I believe you can speak things into existence...

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