M.I Abaga

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About M.I Abaga

An acclaimed Nigerian hip-hop artist, M.I. Abaga first entered the public arena with his 2008 debut Talk About It, an LP that showed off his sharp-tongued wordplay and confident attitude in equal measure. While attending college in the U.S., he had become heavily influenced by major American rappers like Jay-Z and DMX, and formed his own hard-hitting style that he would carry throughout his body of work. A contradiction of sunny, laid-back Afro-pop styles and gritty hip-hop, Abaga joined the prominent Chocolate City label and throughout the 2010s became a significant player in Nigerian popular music, winning numerous awards, branching out as a producer and collaborator, and releasing ambitious albums like 2018's A Study in Self-Worth: Yxng Dxnzl, as well as a series of mixtapes called Illegal Music. He returned in 2020 with the EP Judah and the impressive collaborative album, The Live Report, with fellow rapper A-Q. Born Jude Abag in the Jos, Plateau State, he first experimented with music in high school and later, while earning a business degree from Calvin College in Michigan, he became popular on campus playing local hip-hop shows, reading poetry, and even trying out comedy for a short time. Heading back to Nigeria in 2003, he eventually began collaborating with his friend Djinee and produced his first mixtape, PYERIBOY, which yielded the single "Safe." The song earned some national airplay and built momentum for Abaga's debut album, Talk About It, which was released at the end of 2008. The album was a critical success, winning a handful of awards and helping foster the career of peers like Wizkid and Ice Prince. Over the next few years, Abaga became a staple of the Chocolate City roster, releasing the first of his three Illegal Music mixtapes and his 2010 follow-up album, MI 2: The Movie, which won a Headie Award for Best Rap Album. Besides his own music, he became more involved in production, helming tracks for labelmates like Ice Prince and Ruby Gyang. With another high-profile release to his credit, 2014's The Chairman, Abaga had ascended to the upper ranks of Nigerian hip-hop and earned an international following as well. After wrapping up his Illegal Music mixtapes series with 2016's The Finale, he delivered a pair of ambitious releases beginning with 2018's Rendezvous, a highly collaborative playlist made up of what were essentially outtakes from his fourth album, A Study in Self-Worth: Yxng Dxnzl, which appeared shortly afterward. A sort of conceptual journal, Yxng Dxnzl dealt with themes of depression, mental health, and personal affirmation. In early 2020, after 13 years with the label, Abaga announced his departure from Chocolate City and issued his next project, Judah the EP. This was quickly followed by another project, this time a collaborative album with rapper A-Q called The Live Report. ~ Timothy Monger

Jos, Nigeria
4 October 1981

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