The Guy

M.I Abaga

The Guy

On his twelfth project, Nigerian rapper, producer and entrepreneur M.I Abaga infuses hip-hop with elements of Afropop, amapiano and highlife whilst addressing themes such as legacy, mental health, masculinity and romance. “I think I was recording this album before it had purpose,” he tells Apple Music. “I was doing another project, and then it sort of crystallised around what I was going through in my life.” With the global pandemic providing an opportunity for introspection, the veteran rapper ruminated on facets of life, love and society. “Coming out of COVID, I think it was a time for self-discovery for a lot of people. As I looked inward, I became really aware of how the world can sometimes rip away our confidence and take our essence away.” Largely underpinned by slick bars and melodic soundbeds, The Guy is a clarion call to keep our collective spirits intact. “The album is a statement that no matter what’s happening around you, you’re making it through, conquering and achieving great things,” he says. “I think this phase is about trying to do impossible things with sheer audacity. It’s that ease with yourself—that freedom to just be and express yourself freely. That’s the energy.” Here, he talks us through the album, track by track. “The Guy” “You know how sound seeps into your subconscious? This record started with me listening to drill. It’s such a cool pocket for rappers, and it’s something I’m going to respectfully try from time to time. When I was younger I would actually sit on my phone and write, but now I just absorb the music and go. The last part of my career has been a different way of writing, where I’ll capture the essence of what I wanna say and just sit in front of the mic in four-bar spells. I was already on that energy, and as soon as I heard this beat, it came pouring out of me. It’s a conversation; it’s the perfect drive in from where we were, to us going forward.” “The Hate” “I think I speak without a filter sometimes, and [people] come after me! My opinion is, however, just that. There’s just so much toxicity and hate, and it can be replaced by curiosity and respect. That’s what this song is about. If you think that when I say something, you can weigh the experience of The Guy, this record is for you. I really like this no chorus, no hook—it just starts and goes till it's done.” “Bigger” (feat. Olamide & Nas) “What a moment man! I’ve been trying to work with the god MC for a long time and finally he sent through this verse. I hit up [Olamide] Baddo immediately ‘cause he was just on a run of killing choruses. To have him on a song like this with a classic hook is such a moment. I think the hip-hop community in Africa wants to see us standing shoulder to shoulder with our colleagues globally. The music is beautiful, and Nas drops an incredible verse. He’s so knowledgeable, and I’d ask everyone to go research some of the things he’s talking about. This verse really crystallises where my mind is at, it’s the thesis for The Guy: ‘This is for the kid within, listening/People who have talent have discipline/My vision gets bigger with time/So if I ever rest, sh*t I gave you mountains to climb’.” “Soft Life Tony” (feat. Lord Vino) “People talk about the soft life all the time, but soft life happens because you grind. You gotta move, gotta work and go make money. This is about Tony O. Elumelu, who’s a Nigerian billionaire and just the softest guy ever—he just lives life, man. I was in Jos finishing up the album and heard the hook by Vino. I really like the logdrum sound from amapiano, so we decided to use it in a new way. It’s something I’ve been doing since my first album—taking instruments or themes from highlife or something and trying to fuse it into hip-hop. It’s in the genre’s DNA.” “The Front Door” (feat. Duncan Mighty) “We recorded this four years ago and Duncan recorded it in one take! How many years later and it sounds like we just made it? At the time I was not even close to being married. I was out in the streets boy—I was the dude! I love this genre—that Port Harcourt, fusion/highlife sound —‘cause it’s timeless. It gives the album that spark of life. This sounds evergreen and it’s such a blessing to have Duncan Mighty on a song like this.” “Crazy” (feat. Ossi Grace) “I would say this is a two-part conversation that starts with “Crazy” and ends with “Soldier”. When I got this from the amazing Ossi Grace I remember sitting back and thinking about what I’m going to say on this, ‘cause she was talking about this toxic love. There was a Twitter ban in Nigeria, and when I came back, I remember glancing at the feed and being like, ‘Yo, this place is so toxic. People say the craziest things to each other.’ That was my lightbulb moment ‘cause our crazy, toxic love is with social media, and being validated through it. I had this moment in my career where I was in Joburg, sitting for an interview. I didn’t know who everyone was, but this guy called my name like ‘Yo, you M.I?’. I finished the interview, and he and I stood outside just talking about hip-hop for a couple of hours. That was Riky Rick. I’ll always cherish that moment, because there was so much love. In a world where people are going through it, we have to be kinder.” “The Love Song” (feat. Wande Coal) “I’ve never really released a record that was written about the person I was in love with at the time. ‘The Love Song’ is [about an emerging] moment of love, when it’s about to truly blossom. I know that this is my person and this is my path. There’s something beautiful about being at home with someone.” “The Inside” (feat. Phyno & The Cavemen.) “This is another song where I played with the idea of being the one—being the keeper and being the goal. I like that space. Like most of the album, it just flowed out of me and I just spoke from my heart. I would say this is the wedding song; we’re fully in Naija wedding mode here. What I like is that you hear all our generations up until now—where we’re coming from and where we’re going. With the highlife accents we’re infusing our cultures and experiences. It’s our music in all its colours.” “Daddy” (feat. Chillz) “If you live in Africa you see beautiful people all the time. One of the things I really like about African music is how it celebrates our contexts, cultures and shapes where previously these things were, at times, discriminated against globally. It’s time for our silhouettes to dominate because they are the source code. There’s so much beauty on the continent, and this song is an ode to that.” “Soldier” (feat. Tomi Owó) “It almost feels as if two things are true at the same time. Most of the world still has some vestige of patriarchy where men are still in control, but no one listens to men. When I say ‘listen’, I’m not talking about authority. On an emotional level when I’m hurting, scared or afraid, no one pays attention. It’s like, ‘Hey bro, you got this’. It’s not easy, and it’s starting to show up in the stats with the suicide numbers and who it affects. At the same time, when we start having conversations about mental health, we also have to take accountability for our role in the way the world is. I think it captures my thinking about trying to learn, unlearn and make change.” “Oil” (feat. BNXN fka Buju) “I think a lot of religions [consider] oil something special, across cultures. It’s the idea of being anointed and blessed. Whatever people’s beliefs are, and even those with no beliefs in a religious sense—I think we can all acknowledge the feeling of being blessed; walking in purpose and the universe conspiring to make a way for you. That’s the energy I hope people listening to this album close on.” “More Life” (feat. Ice Prince & Jesse Jagz) “I really like this song because Ice Prince is so on—but he doesn’t rap or do a verse. He was like, ‘I wanna jump on this, but I just want to adlib’. It was just such a beautiful idea ‘cause he’s a melody god; and Jesse came through with a great verse. I didn’t rap on this; I just vibed through it. It was about the music and it’s who we are today. When people hear, it they’ll feel nostalgia and see it through that lens, but it’s about where we are now—three brothers who changed the landscape of music together. As we spread out and grow, we’re still united.”

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