Who you epp: The value of a Co-sign in 2019 and is it worth bragging about?

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Olamide, Adekunle Gold, Viktoh and Adekunle Gold [Smade]

Sometime in 2015, I wrote this article making a case for ‘Cosigns in the Nigerian scene.’ However, a lot has changed since then. Donald Trump became the oldest first-term US president, Brexit has gone from a joke to a really bad joke and Afrobeats is now enjoying enormous popularity in places that looked impossible five years ago.

With the spread of the internet and the rising influence of social media, events have become reflective of the times we are in and the old outline of becoming successful in the music space fast becoming absurd with something previously as essential as a co-sign seemingly no longer having as much weight as it once used to.

With every passing day, industry gatekeepers have become redundant, record labels are only mentioned in notorious headlines and there no longer exists a wall between the artist getting his song to the audience or connecting to their fans. While every talent can still do with the backing of some big funds, D-I-Y influences have empowered artistes going from unknowns on streaming platforms like SoundCloud to the Grammy stage and inspired the meteoric rise of movements like the ‘Alte Culture,’ pointers that this may just be the path that will usher in the future.

However, co-signs, or ‘putting someone on’ has become a trending topic in recent conversations on Nigerian Twitter as a blowback from the ongoing feud between two rap heavyweights, Vector and MI Abaga.

At the root of this beef that has seen as much as four slugs dedicated with numerous subliminal is the ultimate question, ‘Who you epp?’

This is not the first time that phrase is gaining prominence. Olamide made it a hit song in 2016 while the following year, during an interview explaining his beef with Ikechukwu, veteran rapper Terry Tha Rapman asked the exact question in reference to Killz possibly not doing enough for his WFA artist Peter Clarke.

M.I fans would convince you that the J-Town Mc is the vocal endorser responsible for the success of at least half of the industry, a roll call that features superstar names like Wizkid and Waje to every rapper, [successful or not] that got featured on his Illegal Music 2 and Rendezvous project, while fans on the other side would want you to believe that Vector has also played his part as he claimed in his song ‘Judas The Rat,’ when he rhymed;

‘‘Who are the rappers that I put on?, many more plus two out of your three, and I didn’t sign anything, I did it all for free… How bout the guns we brought to help one become Rambo, the next one I did a feature with, trended years ago’’

So it begs a number of questions, do co-signs still play a major role in 2019? and is it really something worth bragging and fighting about?

Below is my conversation with two of my favorite Nigerian pop-culture writers; Urban Central editor, Kwame-Okpu Aghogho [@WordsbyAG], and The Native Magazine in-house writer, Dennis Ade Peter.

Ehis: What is a ‘Co-sign’ or ‘putting someone on’ in hip-hop and what examples readily comes to mind?

K.O: To me, a co-sign in hip-hop doesn’t stray far away from its connotation in contract law. Co-sign is a diminutive of ‘cosignatory’ which in contract law simply means someone who signs a document alongside another thereby endorsing that person and agreeing with the terms of the contract.

An example is found in lease and loan agreements where a guarantor is required, this guarantor would have to co-sign to state that “I am vouching for this person.” It is often the case that the person co-signing is required to be credible, and therefore a co-sign amounts to the co-signer saying “on my credibility this person is worth his/her onions.” This is basically what happens in hip-hop. I also believe that the meaning of a co-sign has metamorphosed in today’s context, a co-sign can be given to an already established -not necessarily more successful or less successful- act.

Simply put, “putting someone on” means giving that person information or knowledge he/she did not have. It also means exposing someone to an audience. In usage it is closely related to co-signing, however, I believe putting someone on requires more deliberate action. An example that readily comes to mind is Drake co-signing Kendrick Lamar and putting so many people on Kendrick Lamar through Buried Alive interlude on his Grammy-winning album Take Care.

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Drake and Kendrick [reddit]

Dennis: A co-sign for me is basically introducing someone or using your platform to introduce someone to your audience, a larger audience.

It can be anything from tweeting the person’s link to featuring the person. There are however different levels to it. There is a difference between somebody tweeting ‘this song is dope’ and you featuring the person and making him a focal point.

An example is M.I’s latest single, ‘The Warrior’, which features the singer Kauna, another one is Modenine putting D-Truce on his mixtape, ‘OTT.’

Ehis: With the unfolding of social media in recent years, are cosigns still that salient in 2019?

K.O: Cosigns are still important in 2019 because technology has created a curious situation. While stripping industry gatekeepers of some powers, this power wasn’t destroyed. Technology and social media simply placed that power in the hands of algorithms, and who controls the algorithms? Humans do.

Thanks to technology we all function in the role of “gatekeepers.” With every tweet, follow and every post, we are all co-signing artists, the difference-if any- is that we all have different social pulls and pedigree. Today what we have is a situation of formal and informal gatekeepers.

Dennis: At the end of the day, I think we tend to overplay the influence of social media especially in Nigeria where the internet is still sort of a problem.

Ehis: Do cosigns count only when the unknown artist being put on becomes a success or it’s irrespective of it?

K.O: This is similar to the philosophical thought experiment that asks “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”.

My answer to that experiment has always been a resounding yes and to this question, I’ll give the same answer simply because co-signing as an act exists independently of any other action that occurs, all that is needed is for the party doing the co-signing to have some form of “credibility” that enables him/her to say “this person is worth your time/next up”.

In no place is credibility more of a leverage than in hip-hop. Which is why a presumably smaller artist can co-sign a presumably bigger artist. For an example of this look no further than Drake getting a co-sign from Grime and Road Rap Veteran, Giggs. Also in hip-hop, a co-sign creates a symbiotic relationship that opens one artist to the fan base of the other and vice versa. This is why we can flip the parties in the Drake and Giggs example to reveal that Drake also co-signed Giggs.

Dennis: They count even if the artist does something or not. If you get a feature on a big stage and you end up misusing it, that’s on you, not on the person that co-signs you. Like NoName and Chance The Rapper, the first time people noticed her was on Chance The Rapper’s mixtape and she’s been able to run with it. Today, nobody talks about Chance giving her a career, she basically built her career, but that was where many people first heard of her, even though they are both peers.

Ehis: Are cosigns that much of a big deal for the accomplished artist to brag about or to be used as some form of pride badge?

K.O: I’m sure we’ve all come across a version of the quote that says “how many people you bless is how you measure success.” A co-sign is a manner of rendering help and by extension blessing someone. If we are familiar with the human nature of any kind we know that anything can become the foundation for a boast.

Lyrics abound which contain such boasts and I think it’s down to the artist in question, to each his own but considering what we know about human nature, that it failed to find its way into rap lyrics does not mean the co-signer isn’t talking about it.

Dennis: I don’t know if I should call it a ‘badge of honor’, but they kind of add to your legacy, to an extent, especially in hip-hop circles where people are always looking for what is next. If you are the kind of person that helps people get to that next level, then it’s something worth being proud of.

Let’s take Show Dem Camp, SDC has like a bunch of people co-signed and that is part of their legacy not just that they have been able to build a great career but having that tribe like Poe that they feature and put on their stage has added to their legacy.

Ehis: At what point is it a cosign? For instance, there are some who argue that simply because he got featured on his debut album doesn’t translate to MI putting Wizkid on. Cos at that point, yeah M was getting attention with ‘Safe,’ but he was not exactly that influential M.I yet, and Wiz was also on the come up and pretty much paid his dues in industry circles.

K.O: A co-sign is a co-sign. I’m of the opinion that the person receiving the co-sign ought to be strategically placed to benefit from the co-sign. So with the Wiz example, if he wasn’t a studio rat who dabbled in Ragga, RnB, and hip-hop, he probably wouldn’t have the platform to benefit from the co-sign given by a man who had the whole country reciting the lyrics to ‘Safe.’

Kendrick already had Section 80 but his appearance on ‘Take Care’ is undoubtedly tied to his rise.

Dennis: In a way, M had an upper hand. If Wizkid was not on ‘Fast Money, Fast Cars,’ that record would probably not be what it is and it wasn’t really released as a single. I feel like if Wizkid wasn’t on the M.I song, he will still be as big as he is now but it just became an important piece of his career. Like if you go back, that is where you can trace his path as Wizkid.

Ehis: Let’s say one artist puts you on first, but you don’t get to ‘blow’ off his platform, then another artist cosigns you and suddenly wheels are put into motion, who gets the credit?

K.O: Everybody who co-signed that artist should get their credit although it can be argued that such credit should be proportionate because humans live a life governed by natural investment laws.

We all don’t have the same reach- or seed money- which is why identical tweets will fetch dissimilar levels of engagement. However here’s a poser, what if the first co-sign was the reason the artist got into the capacity to receive the second co-sign? Then surely that first co-sign is invariably tied to whatever exposure the artist gets from the second co-sign.

Dennis: I think it still counts as a co-sign irrespective of the platform you become successful. Like Blaqbonez, he has a bunch of cosigns, not just because he is now signed to 100 Crowns; from the Zombie competition he won with Terry Tha Rapman to Vector getting him on ciphers, those are a bunch of cosigns that build up. So even if he didn’t become this big then, they were a part of his journey.

Ehis: Talking about M.I, a lot of artists have benefitted from his stamp of approval, but some also make the argument that they have been well planned to make him look bigger than he actually is?

Dennis: I feel like power is power at the end of the day. We gave M.I too much power and we still do that today. If M.I comes tomorrow and does an album with a bunch of people, it will still get more buzz. It kinda helps that he did it and continues to do it and we will still mention the fact that he has worked with a lot of people who were not the most popular guys.

From his first album, not many people knew General Pype or YQ all the way to Rendezvous, it adds up to his legacy. It might be self-serving but it’s also self-preservation and that is what the game is about, lets’ not lie.

Ehis: Are you ever curious that the majority of these songs cosigning people don’t have visuals or are on mixtapes that can’t be streamed on viable platforms, in a way limiting the envisioned visibility of the acts?

Dennis: I always get mad when rappers say M.I did this or he did that to us. Like M.I did not like literally stop your bag or block any of your moves, he featured you on a song and did not deem it fit for a video, then that’s on him but it doesn’t limit your career.

I’ve heard people talk about how he kinda uses other people and hugs the spotlight, but this is what almost everyone at the top does. J Cole once hinted at some point like Jay Z wasn’t giving him the type of shine he felt his career deserved, but at the end of the day, he had to get up and do the work.

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Jay Z and J Cole [Billboard]

Jay Z gave him the platform but he had his part to play, which is the same thing with this M.I talk, he doesn’t owe you a video to help you further. It’s not as if you guys signed a contract that says he must shoot a video after featuring you, co-signs are a tricky thing really especially for the artist receiving it.

Ehis: Finally, should more successful rappers be judged by the number of people they put on?

Dennis: I do not think so. It still boils down to what your legacy is, your discography.

That is what I look at in a rapper’s career. Take this beef for example, and I’ve said in recent weeks, Vector might win this beef, but we all know his discography is average at best. M.I has an undeniable discography with at least two classics, facts, not opinion, every other thing is auxiliary. Rappers should be judged with what they have done with their music, has it shifted trend? has it made any impact? That is what matters really, questions about ‘who you epp’ is just an addition.

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