December 9, 2018, the same night that Simi held her second headline concert at the Hard Rock Cafe, an event that witnessed in attendance dignitaries and the crop of Island kids of wealthy families who had just returned to the country for the holiday seasons with the singer having to apologize following her appearance on stage five hours after the advertised time.
I was at an alternate world on the other side of town, watching keenly as over 10,000 young people from all forms of lives thronged at the Agege Township Stadium as early as 12noon, gathering under the sun, suffocating as sweat mixed heavily in the air with the pungent odor of marijuana or whatever else they smoked and observing the different colors formed from mixed drinks with no clue as to when the event will actually begin.
They had gathered in their thousands for Small Doctor, weeks after his much-publicized police debacle and when the ‘Mosquito killer’ eventually stepped on stage later in the evening, there were no apologies offered, no one requested.
He was just excited to be back home, the place it all started for him and the crowd were pleased to see one of theirs acknowledging his roots and when he called in his trademark ‘Agege Wa’, the energetic response rocked the arena as they danced till the early hours of the morning.
The mainland was having a party and the result was a definite vision of what makes an artist a true great.
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While there is no empirical confirmation to back this up, it can be said that the Afropop movement that has now transformed into a global movement, partly called Afrobeats, started on the Mainland.
From the mid-90s where zones like Festac were the breeding ground for the best talents to its central shift into Surulere, where the sound had a more refined aftertaste with attention paid to image and sales and its spread into the more inner axis of Ajegunle, Okokomaiko and Agege, it all started in the mainland. Youths who turned to music for an escape at a time when a career in the arts was a catalyst for moral revulsion from parents.
The mainland is a sacred place for talents with their music shaped by their experiences and events within their bubble; channeling their pains, lack, lifestyle, and escapades into their stories, and delivered in a simple language understood by their listeners.
The culture of catchy slang, dance revolution, party anthems, and raw undiluted sound that has made the industry a success - the mainland was where it all began. Sexual escapades, loss, drugs, inner-city clashes, anti-police rhetorics, unfulfillment, financial hassles, are themes synonymous with the mainland and its youths.
And even though the majority have succeeded in taking not just their music, but their fanbase and house address across the length of the Third Mainland Bridge; Wizkid, 2baba, Banky W — they all owe their success to this magical place.
Music in Nigeria is said to have reached the mass market or gone ‘Mainstream’ when it hits the streets. When the regular bus conductor or market trader knows the lyrics to your song, that is when you are said to have scored a hit record. And while a rapper like Falz talks about his classy taste in ‘Chardonnay Music’, the mainland resonates louder with lyrics about ‘Alomo’, ‘Dongoyaro’ and ‘Monkey Tail’, local drinks that bring to fore the mirror image in the lives of the people.
In recent years, the industry has witnessed a major focal switch as more talents in the diaspora returned home and some of the biggest names today like Tiwa Savage, Davido and Seyi Shay associate with the shiny and fewer pot-holes sighted axis of the Island added to the rise of the Alte genre, arguably an exclusive gathering of well-to-do kids. For fans of the culture, the mainland remains the place to turn to when in need of that relatable inspiration and while the popular names shy away from holding a concert on the mainland, every one of them still seeks acceptance from the fans on the ‘streets.’
‘’Don’t come to the mainland’’ is one popular phrase that captures division and territorial allegiance and as the scene expanded, there have been many who have laid claim to the title of ‘King’, but very few have been deserving. A few moments in the history of Nigerian music have held the pulse of the entire country like the emergence of rapper Da Grin with the release of his sophomore project, C.E.O and then the unfortunate accident that eventually led to his death in 2010.
As captured by journalist Ayomide Tayo, who was on the ground at the time, ‘’hundreds of people were rushing to LUTH. It seemed the whole of Lagos had heard. People drove their cars blasting ‘Pon Pon Pon.’’ This image was replicated not just in Lagos but across the country in the days ahead.
The Mainland had lost a thoroughbred son and it was one that hurt. He was immortalized at death and symbolically got portrayed as King.
What does it take to sit on the mainland throne? Easy, just be one of them, be original. The difficult part is staying long on the throne with the abundance of talents emerging daily with a fanbase of friends and even rivals now singing their praise.
In 2015, ‘Streets ti takeover’, a line from Reminisce’s hit single ‘Local Rappers’ predicted yet another prophetic shift that has since come to manifestation. We have seen acts like Olamide, who was also featured on the track cast a stranglehold on the mainland throne.
That Olamide’s influence is huge has never been in doubt, it is the extent to which it weighs that many have failed to realize.
At the Small Doctor concert, the only artist whose songs got more spins from the different DJs on the night was Olamide and for every single time he got played, there was an intensely loud reaction from the crowd. He long ago declared himself the ‘Voice of the streets’ and has held it on lock ever since.
From his debut album, ‘Rapsodi’ where his sound was raw, his energy, tangible and all he cared about was putting out gully records in his comfortable language, Olamide spotted a vacant throne and began positioning himself as a figurehead of everything the streets represented.
He has since grown to pursue a more commercial direction of not just having a crown on his head but helping to pass on the privilege to artists the likes of Lil Kesh and Picazo Rhap and becoming the first artist to hold his concert at the Teslim Balogun stadium in Surulere.
Badoo has a pull that has seen him notch up major wins, dropping hit songs after another and times when many have called for him to take a break or threatened by the rise of a new act, the mainland has always sided with Olamide, even in the face of controversies and that is what has kept him going.
Stripped to nothing but consistency, influence, fanbase and success [Artistically and commercially], it is hard to see any name that holds a strong legitimacy to the throne as Olamide.
Small Doctor is another one who at the start of his career started flooding the streets with his mixtapes and videos of his eccentric performances which always ended with him climbing atop the speakers while performing, and was rumored at some point to have broken his leg at a concert. He saturated the mainland with his singles, ‘Gbera’ and ‘Mosquito Killer’ building a strong momentum but it was ‘Penalty’ in 2016 that saw his music sweep beyond the Mainland Axis. Three years down the line, the appeal of ‘Penalty’ has ended with only strands of the once infectious beat left in the minds of listeners.
Oritshe Femi has demonstrated an uncanny ability to develop a movement behind his music and you only need to see the reaction to songs like ‘Double Wahala’ and ‘Igbeyawo’ to attest to this.
There have been many more who have come out of the city but while enjoying success has faded out in little time. From Legacy acts like 9ice and Reminisce to names like Klever Jay, Danny Young, Slimcase, Mr. Real, and there is an emerging crop with tremendous potential but still in search of that artistic prerequisite may be in form of a hit song or the perfect follow-up to a hit song necessary for the push they seek, the likes of Q-dot, Seriki, Terry Apala, Chinko Ekun and more.
More recently, another change of guard has occurred and very few could have predicted the meteoric rise of two new names, Zlatan and Naira Marley since their emergence at almost similar times.
Zlatan became the darling of the industry in 2018 with the emergence of the Zanku dance, and while many predicted that as popular dance moves in the past, the likes of Suo, Azonto, Alanta, Shaku Shaku, this one will also soon pass, this is late 2019 and Zlatan’s success story yet has many chapters to be read, even though that EP or an album is now long overdue to fully seal his status.
For Naira Marley, there is a method to his madness and a vision to his moves. It all started late in 2017 when the UK based act at the time released the single, ‘Issa Goal’ alongside Olamide and Lil Kesh, even though a few ears recognized the potentials of this sleeper hit, it was many months after during the 2018 Fifa World Cup that the song grew wings and became an anthem sung by everyone.
To consolidate on this success, he then followed up with ‘Japa’, a song that would again garner attention with the trend of Nigerians moving to Canada becoming a major topic online. Naira has since dipped himself in controversial waters, another trait that grants a celeb an access pass on the streets where a life of crime, arrests and short-changing your fellow man is the norm.
You may not like his music, or choose not to be associated with anything ‘Marlian’ as his fans are called, but it is hard to deny that his songs have become mainstays on playlists not just on the Mainland but nationwide.
Then, there is also a corner of the mainland that spends the night in the clubs on Fridays yet manage to make the church pews on a Sunday morning that pay homage to the likes of Tope Alabi, who should perhaps pay more attention to her incredible streaming numbers, with little or no push.
In this era of exploration and experimentation with sounds, with many more daring to lead their sounds in new directions, lines have become the more blurred and pop culture reset to accommodate all. Man of the hour, Burna Boy is another who has tapped into the streets and enjoyed its benefit with the smashing anthem, ‘Killin Dem’ while a Zlatan feature on a DJ Cuppy record tells an obvious story.
Street culture has been the fabric upon which the ecosystem of Nigerian music is weaved, as found heavily on other genres and even as boundaries have been moved and sounds altered to fit a global demand, the mainland will always play a role in the next iteration of Nigerian pop sound with the contributions of many making it a viable path. In the end, every artist is a king in their lane and the mainland is huge enough to accommodate all these talents and spur them unto success.