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This Nigerian MC Is The Queen Of Freestyles

Budding Texas-based rapper, Nezi Momodu discusses her Nigerian, Muslim upbringing, musical influences, and more in an interview.

"Hardest rapper in the cypher and I own a purse," rhymes 23-year-old Nigerian MC Nezi Momodu during her memorable verse at 2015's Texas Tech Cypher, a yearly freestyle circle at the Lubbock-based university. Somehow, we didn't even have to watch the rest of the video to believe Nezi's claim. The one-and-a-half minute snippet of Nezi spitting her noteworthy freestyle garnered quite a response and had the internet wanting to know more about the young female rapper who killed her competition with clever rhymes, undeniable skill and sheer assertiveness. We recently came across some more of Nezi's material – all equally dope — and were just as curious to learn more about the Texas-based rapper. We spoke to Nezi via email and in the process, we learned of the Naija-born rapper and fine artist's extensive musical influences and compelling backstory. She's the furthest thing from an archetypal rapper, and we couldn't be more delighted. Her presence as a Nigerian, Muslim woman in the notoriously male-dominated rap game is utterly refreshing. Read on for our interview with Nezi Momodu, and check out her cypher verse as well as other tracks from the budding artist below.


Were you born in Nigeria? Why did you move to the US?

I was born in Nigeria in Lagos. I'm an Edo girl technically from Agbede but my mom was raised in Surulere, we had a house in Ikeja too. I moved to the U.S. because my father passed away and my mom won the lottery and was able to bring 3 of the 5 of us. My mom really struggled and we were all finally able to see each other about 8 years ago.

What music did you grow up listening to?

Fela Kuti, Sade, Sunny Ade , Shina Peters was my dad's favorite to play constantly. Then a lot of reggae and hip-hop ranging from A Tribe Called Quest to 2pac. Abba, MJ, Madonna, Earth Wind & Fire, even old folk music, we listened to it all.

When did you first start rapping?

This question is always a loaded question. If you mean when I first started rapping to myself, then since as long as I can remember. I would write lyrics and freestyle with my brother and friends. However, I didn't work up the courage to start rapping in front of mass groups of people until early last year after my friend encouraged me to follow my dreams.

You describe yourself as a "Nigerian Muslim artist stuck in Lubbock for school," how do these different parts of your identity influence your music?

I think because of the extreme amount of pressure that Nigerians put on their children, it's given me so much to prove. You go into things with the idea that you're essentially considered a failure, and you have to make everyone eat their words. Then to be a Muslim woman and rapping is almost a middle finger to every stereotype that exists in this country. You place all this hunger and passion in a small place and say "create." It leaves nothing but opportunity to explore and utilize all the various influences I've had growing up.

Were you at all surprised by the overwhelmingly positive reaction to your Texas Tech Cypher freestyle?

I wasn't necessarily surprised by the reaction as I was surprised by how far the reaction spread. You know when you sit down and dissect it, to me, it wasn't my best work. I think that when people see a woman actually rapping, they tend to swoon even if its average. I truly believe the video was successful because I came into it like, "Hey I'm the only woman here and I refused to be lost." I didn't have money to shoot a fancy video, nor time. It was my only shot to potentially build a platform for people to see me in a different light and I channeled that all into that one thing.

Have your parents heard your music? What do they think of it?

My mom and I finally talked about it last week. I didn't tell any of my family members. My sister and my brother-in-law are actually in Nigeria so when they found out they whatsapped me. My brother found out and my mom apparently has known but has been waiting for me to tell her. She's proud. Which is a big thing for a Nigerian parent to say especially considering the level of profanity in the video lol.

Do people ever tell you that you remind them of any other MCs?

Do they! Every female rapper that isn't talking about something dirty will be compared to Lauryn Hill always. Then on more provocative verses I get called Lil' Kim. I've heard Missy Elliot and Biggie but I just honestly think people don't even study flows. I am honored by the comparison to Lauryn Hill because she is one of my favorite artists and I am deeply inspired by her, but also I feel it's almost insulting to get to say I remind them of her. I'm still technically a novice and I don't think it's fair to me or the actual legend, to be compared to one another.

You've freestyled over classics like "Ready or Not" and "One More Chance." We get a throwback East Coast hip-hop feel when listening to your raps. How influential has 90s-era hip-hop been to you? Do you have any non-hip-hop influences?

Red Hot Chili Peppers, Architecture In Helsinki, Janelle Monáe, Curtis Mayfield , Grace Jones, Regina Spektor, The Youngbloods, Aerosmith, Marvin Gaye, Brandy, Buju Banton. I have influences from so many different styles of music, but I don't necessarily have the resources to fully showcase that all at once, nor would I want to. I enter everything as if I'm presenting a collection with a theme. I'm a 90s baby so of course the golden era shaped everything that was going on in my life. I was split from my family, I was experiencing and learning so many ugly truths that 90s or real hip-hop in general will help you define. You get a throwback East Coast vibe? That's dope because a lot of people say that but I'm not trying to be placed in a box so early. To me, that's not the only thing I want to be.

We read that you're also a fine artist. What is the creative process like when you're drawing or painting vs. when you're writing rhymes? Do you prefer one to the other?

I prefer different forms of art on different days. Whether if its choreography, working on writing a book, cooking or painting; it depends on the mood and day. To me it's all the same. Painting is a more technical process so I do set a lot of things up for that. Writing, however, is a lot more laid back for me. I play beats in my car and freestyle a verse and memorize, or I just chill and write on my floor with the speakers blaring. Whatever I'm feeling.

I know every student hates this question, but what's next for you?

To take over the world, Insha Allah.

Follow Nezi Momodu on Soundcloud and Twitter.

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Artwork: Barthélémy Toguo Lockdown Selfportrait 10, 2020. Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co

1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair Goes to Paris in 2021

The longstanding celebration of African art will be hosted by Parisian hot spot Christie's for the first time ever.

In admittedly unideal circumstances, 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair will be touching French soil in 2021. The internationally celebrated art fair devoted to contemporary art from Africa and the African diaspora will be hosted in Paris, France from January 20 - 23. With COVID-19 still having its way around the globe, finding new ways to connect is what it's all about and 1-54 is certainly taking the innovative steps to keep African art alive and well.
In partnership with Christie's, the in-person exhibits will take place at the auction house's city HQ at Avenue Matignon, while 20 international exhibitors will be featured online at Christies.com. And the fun doesn't stop there as the collaboration has brought in new ways to admire the talent from participating galleries from across Africa and Europe. The fair's multi-disciplinary program of talks, screenings, performances, workshops, and readings are set to excite and entice revelers.

Artwork: Delphine Desane Deep Sorrow, 2020. Courtesy Luce Gallery


The tech dependant program, curated by Le 18, a multi-disciplinary art space in Marrakech medina, will see events take place during the Parisian run fair, followed by more throughout February.
This year's 1-54 online will be accessible to global visitors virtually, following the success of the 2019's fair in New York City and London in 2020. In the wake of COVID-19 related regulations and public guidelines, 1-54 in collaboration with Christie's Paris is in compliance with all national regulations, strict sanitary measures, and security.

Artwork: Cristiano Mongovo Murmurantes Acrilico Sobre Tela 190x200cm 2019


1-54 founding director Touria El Glaoui commented, "Whilst we're sad not to be able to go ahead with the fourth edition of 1-54 Marrakech in February as hoped, we are incredibly excited to have the opportunity to be in Paris this January with our first-ever fair on French soil thanks to our dedicated partners Christie's. 1-54's vision has always been to promote vibrant and dynamic contemporary art from a diverse set of African perspectives and bring it to new audiences, and what better way of doing so than to launch an edition somewhere completely new. Thanks to the special Season of African Culture in France, 2021 is already set to be a great year for African art in the country so we are excited to be playing our part and look forward, all being well, to welcoming our French friends to Christie's and many more from around the world to our online fair in January."

Julien Pradels, General Director of Christie's France, said, "Christie's is delighted to announce our second collaboration with 1-54, the Contemporary African Art Fair, following a successful edition in London this October. Paris, with its strong links to the continent, is a perfect place for such a project and the additional context of the delayed Saison Africa 2020 makes this partnership all the more special. We hope this collaboration will prove a meaningful platform for the vibrant African art scene and we are confident that collectors will be as enthusiastic to see the works presented, as we are."


Artwork: Kwesi Botchway Metamorphose in July, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Gallery 1957


Here's a list of participating galleries to be on the lookout for:

Galleries

31 PROJECT (Paris, France)
50 Golborne (London, United Kingdom)
Dominique Fiat (Paris, France)
Galerie 127 (Marrakech, Morocco)
Galerie Anne de Villepoix (Paris, France)
Galerie Cécile Fakhoury (Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire/ Dakar, Senegal)
Galerie Eric Dupont (Paris, France)
Galerie Lelong & Co. (Paris, France / New York, USA)
Galerie Nathalie Obadia (Paris, France / Brussels, Belgium)
Galleria Continua (Beijing, China / Havana, Cuba / Les Moulins, France / San Gimignano, Italy / Rome, Italy)
Gallery 1957 (Accra, Ghana / London, United Kingdom)
Loft Art Gallery (Casablanca, Morocco)

Luce Gallery (Turin, Italy)
MAGNIN-A (Paris, France)
Nil Gallery (Paris, France)
POLARTICS (Lagos, Nigeria)
SEPTIEME Gallery (Paris, France)
This is Not a White Cube (Luanda, Angola) THK Gallery (Cape Town, South Africa) Wilde (Geneva, Switzerland)

For more info visit 1-54

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