Mohbad in the music video for "Peace."

Thank You For Your Light: A Tribute to Mohbad

Mohbad was at the very center of the street-pop wave in Nigeria.

It’s been less than 72 hours since the tragic death of Mohbad was confirmed by his family.

Calling himself Imole, the Yoruba word for light, the musician born Oladimeji Ilerioluwa Aloba, shone bright in the Nigerian music world. The public outpouring of grief in reaction to his passing speaks to the recognizable beam of light that the singer and rapper projected to the world during a memorable 27-year stint on earth, which was both vibrant and troubled at many turns.

For the last five years, street-pop, a sub-genre of Afropop defined by its existential lyricism and hard-knock tales of beating the odds has been on a propulsive rise. Mohbad was at the very center of that wave.

Thanks to a recognizable baritone-tinged voice, his raspy delivery style, and a stellar grasp of language, Mohbad was among a group of Ikorodu-born stars who constituted street-pop's second generation and brought the angst and insecurities of inner-city kids to the wider world via music.

What truly set Mohbad apart from his peers, even at the beginning was an utter conviction that he had a message to share with the world. In between dropping street hits like “Ronaldo” and “Mi O Foh” in 2019, he released “Imole,” a soul-tinged rap-sung declaration of intent that contained the line, “Imole ni mi/ mo de fe tan kari aye” which translates to “I’m the light and I want to shine all over the world.” A deal signed with Naira Marley’s Marlian Records later in 2019 was supposed to facilitate those global aspirations and set the stage for Mohbad’s light to touch the universe.

It's impossible to properly explain what it means for a man like Mohbad to place his implicit trust in music and believe that he could work his way out of poverty in Ikorodu through it. You might never understand the motivations for his actions and hustle if you’ve gone a day without a meal in your life or felt like you’re the last chance of your family to escape multi-dimensional poverty.

Mohbad took the Marlian Records platform with fiendish desire in his heart and went about setting himself out as a talent to watch. The first time I connected with Mohbad was in February 2021. He was in the middle of a blistering come-up after releasing his Light EP and offered an arresting answer when I asked about some of his rather profane lyrics on songs like “Once Debe” and the incendiary “Ponmo.”

“I think it is important to note that to be from and on the streets, it takes a lot,” Mohbad told me over the phone in between fits of laughter. “You have to be rugged with your words and aspects of your life sometimes.” Even if Mohbad was from the street and proud of his identity, he never let it stop his ambition and that is probably why “KPK” became what it became. His first major hit, the collaboration with Rexxie laid the framework for Nigerian pop subsuming the log drums and lush piano of amapiano into its core and littering wavy instrumentals with the faintest words and adlibs for potent effect. His winning streak clearly carried over into 2021 as he shined side by side with Terri and close friend Bella Shmurda on “Money” before minting a new pop anthem with his June 2021 release, “Feel Good.”

Another December heat rock, “Backside,” proved that he was a singer coming into his own with capabilities of enrapturing his audience. As is the predictable nature of life, these good things didn’t last long for long. By mid-2022, rumours were swirling that Mohbad was at odds with his record label for a variety of reasons ranging from poor promotion to opaque business practices. Without dwelling too long on these issues, I want to say that Mohbad operated in the dark corridors of the Nigerian music industry where recording contracts were mere suggestions and the rule of force could supersede the rule of law. Through it all, Mohbad was light and it was evident that all he sought in this new phase of his career was tranquillity as his last single on Marlian Records, “Peace,” repeatedly sought.

By the time he released “Tiff,” his first-release post-Marlian Records, he made pointed allegations of repeated threats against his life and his loved ones. Those threats often spilt into videos that made their way into the public arena, showing the incredible strain of the situation on an artist who was only trying to make his way through life with the gift he was blessed him. Too many times in late 2022, it felt like Mohbad was being pressed to the edge of his wits as he raised awareness and shared updates about being blackballed and discriminated against.

Not one to retreat, Mohbad always responded the only way he knew with music. 2023’s “Ask About Me” is one of the most confident releases made in the afropop arena this year. Boasting the supreme confidence, intuitive reflectivism, and swaggering lyricism that make Mohbad such an engaging listen, he was working his way back to the top one brick at a time. The release of his project, Blessed, only underscored a resolve to keep shining his light as best as he knew how to despite the bumps and obstacles on his road. Through it all, the people who loved him the most never let his words fall to the ground. At the Seyi Vibez Homecoming Concert held at Ikorodu in July, “Ask About Me” was electrifyingly sung word-for-word by the audience both inside and outside the Ikorodu Town Hall. And in the end, they could never dim our Ikorodu-born star’s light, try as they might.

So, I want to end this by praising Mohbad's wondrous voice, the fights he endured and the tears he never let us see. I want to say thank you to Mohbad for daring to dream that a boy from a remote area in Ikorodu could illuminate the world with his light. You did all of this and more and I hope he knew that his light was set on a hill and would never be extinguished. Mohbad is of people who believe in the power of the gospel and regularly referenced the redemptive grace of his Christian God in his music, so I pray that the heavens open up and visit us with a light so bright it illuminates our paths.

Till we meet again Imole, o ni wale!