A look at the juxtaposing views of two African hip-hop legends, Stogie T and M.I Abaga, in their new releases.
On their respective projects, two of Africa's elite MCs, Nigeria's M.I Abaga and South Africa's Stogie T reach a fork in the road. Though they're on opposite ends of the continent, their musical journeys have resulted in legacy more than status forming a large part of the conversations around them.
Both M.I and Stogie have extensive catalogues and serve as label heads, at Chocolate City and Motif Records respectively. These shared facets are brought to their new music; conceptual works which merit analysis. M.I's A Study On Self Worth: Yxng Dxnzl and Stogie's Honey and Pain address the human condition from opposing perspectives. One extols listeners to appreciate their worth, while the other examines the complexities of life.
Incidentally, both artists have literally taken on roles to do this, making these projects performative in many senses. M.I's embodiment of a young Denzel Washington is as significant as Tumi's evolutionary incarnation as Stogie T. These are two different reactions to growth in an artistic and personal sense.
Where M.I looks inward to grapple with existential questions, Stogie examines social issues outwardly. You can either "Take Some Time And Meditate On You" or see the world through "God's Eye." These songs are emblematic of the functions each project seeks to fulfill. The palpably vulnerable Yxng Dxnzl embraces introspection while Honey and Pain surveys the lives of others.
Stogie T – God's Eye www.youtube.com
Love, Deceit, Romance, Lust
Where interpersonal relationships are concerned, there's a hopefulness in M.I that seems absent from Stogie's lens. Love is a solution to strife on Yxng Dnzl while Honey and Pain treats emotions quizzically. T's Lucille Slade-assisted "Reckless" for instance, tackles a man's infidelity with regretful lyrics ("Wrecked a home and built it back with all these Ls, like Tetris"). That dysfunction is mirrored on "Side Chick" which sees rapper Rouge and singer Ayanda Jiya voice the "other woman."
In contrast, nourishment-personified greets us as Tay Iwar croons on M.I's "Love Never Fails But Where There Are Prophecies Love Will Cease To Remain." That hopeful tone continues on "Last Night I Had A Dream About a Hummingbird" where M.I poetically advises us to spread our wings and "ignore all these Mockingbirds sitting and gossiping about you ." M.I is as empathetic as therapist Caryn Solomon, who he confides in throughout the album. This puts the listener at ease, a privilege Stogie actively denies us. Instead, he highlights the uncomfortably grey areas, eschewing neatly packaged resolutions. Resultantly how we view lust, love and romance depends on our vantage points.
The idea of perspective is fleshed out on "Numbers Game," which explores the plight of gangsterism in Cape Town; the home of YoungstaCPT, who Stogie features on the track. The veteran rapper contends with witnessing violence while simultaneously feeling admiration towards its perpetrators when he raps, "They don't follow Tutu, this ain't Noah's Arc/ There's animals here that shoot you and pour a cup/ but it's also love, they share their last plate of snoek with you over lunch."
Similarly, the precariousness of "Johazardousburg" is addressed with the line, "We seen the replay over and over/ Something 'bout Johannesburg that breaks moral codes up." The pursuit, and even attainment, of success can ultimately end in pain in this cautionary song, where Stogie locates the threats outside of our person. M.I's "+-," in juxtaposition, zeroes in on inner peace as Odunsi sings, "Why you dey hate like Antichrist o?/ Wicked person dey kiss the bible, too. Say you gotta know what's real."
Assisted by Lady Donli's declaration of "positive vibes," M.I explores the attainment of inner serenity by practising self-care and discernment. The track closes with M.I revealing his professional frustrations and dealing with jibes from over-confident critics. These lamentations may be a result of heated conversations, crystallised in a 2017 spat with Pulse Nigeria Editor-In-Chief Osagie Alonge.
Industry, Loose Talk, Legacy, The Culture
M I Abaga, Loose Kaynon, Osagie Alonge u0026 AOT2 on the Greatest LooseTalkPodcast Ever Episode 8 www.youtube.com
Stogie T and M.I have both had storied careers, and a smidgen of disillusionment may be inevitable as the values of the game change. Stogie addresses this on the Anita Baker-sampling "Rapture" featuring Jay Claude. "Sometimes you be walking through the scene. Just feeling like; I'm not even sure if I belong out here anymore... I can't even recognize the game," he says towards the end of the song. Continuing this theme on the delightfully titled "Big Boy Raps," he spits, "Not playing if there's no deposits/ Rap game just a soap opera, pocket change and a broken promise."
He explores this more conceptually on "Pretty Flowers," which features rappers from distinct generations in J Molley, Kwesta and Maggz. The track serves as a reminder of Stogie's influence and contributions to South African hip-hop in a general sense. M.I expresses a similar sentiment on the soulful record "Another Thing! Do Not Be A Groupie," calling out trend-hoppers by stating, "I'm sticking with the family till the day I die." That rebuke is coupled with what serves as an ode to Chocolate City's role in Nigerian hip-hop. Proudly listing the label's successes since 2008, he's drawing attention to his achievements as a label head that he feels are too lightly dismissed. This is more than just M.I flexing; it's a preoccupation with legacy and being unseated from the throne.
Stogie T Ft. Kwesta - Pretty Flowers (feat. Kwesta, Maggz, J Molley) www.youtube.com
It's something the Motion Billy-directed "Pretty Flowers" video touches on; where the self appointed Leader of The New Wave kills the other rappers. This is a symbolic representation of how a new generation of artists treats the OGs that paved the way for them. It also brings to mind Caryn Solomon's words on "+-" when she says:
"The people who are most likely to shoot you down are often your protégés. Once they've sat at the feet of the father they need to shoot the father down, or the mother. And that's what happens. It's not really personal; it's a way of empowering themselves. Just expect it, get yourself ready."
Lines, Words, Bars, Lyrics
Again, the parallels between the artists' approaches are highlighted in their attitudes towards industry backlash. Stogie surveys the game holistically whereas M.I lists the accomplishments of Chocolate City. Where these two rappers might diverge topically though, they converge where lyricism is concerned.
By and large, the essence of the lyrics is inline with each artist's respective subject matter. M.I is concerned with the I, in relation to the we Stogie prioritizes. The rappers also reveal the duality of their personas, interspersing witty lines between contemplative lyrics. On "+-," M.I is both playful and braggadocious ("If I'm in Cali then I'm killing Cali/ Till typically, even Cali critics will be feeling M.I critically") as opposed to the more heartfelt lyrics that occur on "You Are Like Melody, My Heart Skips A Beat" with a profound grouping of words:
"Letting you into places only homies allowed/ I've been lonely alone, I've been lonely in crowds/ And real love is proven it's hardly announced."
At his most visceral, Stogie does his share of bragging on "Big Boy Raps" spitting, "Bring the cakes, nigga I got the icing/ Follow back, cause she swallow that/ Yeah… shawty sippin' on high tea (T)." Turning it up a notch, he proves his pedigree on "Honey and Pain" with a stanza that encapsulates his entire project. The sheer weight of these lines is enough to appease the staunchest of critics:
"Life ain't fair, you can kiss the ground and the ring/ Think it's a breeze? That's only 'cause the pendulum swing/ This is honey and pain, both struggle and gain/ Gold mining in vain, if you can't shine with a chain."
As is evident, the more contemplative moments on both these projects address the sociopolitical and personal in skillful ways. The divergent standpoints the artists start from produce music of a differing texture, but equally remarkable. Where they differ in approach, these juggernauts of African hip-hop are aligned in achieving longevity, perhaps because both came to their fork in the road and went straight.
The journeys of Stogie T and M.I Abaga now continue, and as withering as these may seem; it's reassuring that there's always a dollop of honey for Yxng Dxnzl's pain.