Recently, he announced the signing of Namenj, an artist from the Northern part of Nigeria who sings in Hausa. Northern Nigeria remains a largely untapped part of our ecosystem. Yet, it is a rich terrain in terms of potential conversion and numbers. Of the 36 Nigerian states, 20 are in the North.
Of the estimated 200 million citizens in Nigeria, about 100 million are in the North. While the North also has a worrying trend of illiteracy, which makes them victims of political brainwashing, those numbers could also be used for incredible success in music – if the market can be properly tapped into.
When Boomplay wanted to tap into the Nigerian mainstream in 2019, it heavily focused on Northern states on its campus tours. In a conversation with Dele Kadiri, General Manager at Boomplay in 2019, he told Pulse Nigeria that their stop at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria proved to them that Nigerians could pay for music if they had proper information.
He also said that they received their highest number of sign-ups in the North. What Boomplay had to do was very simple; it gave the students free trial periods and abridged three-month plans at cheaper rates for users who purchased those platforms at a go.
The result was simple; Boomplay had more individual sign ups than family sign-ups and it proved a game-changer in increasing the platform’s user base.
In a chat with Pulse Nigeria earlier in 2020, Nigerian star, Ice Prince highlighted how the North is its own biggest problem in its bid for multifaceted advancement. He highlighted the infamous history of ethnic and religious divide as a major impediment to growth in the North.
He also bemoaned the inevitable need for Northern artists to come to Lagos before they could make it.
However, he still highlighted the power of the North and its potential. Back to Mr. Eazi, it will not be a small feat to actually tap into the power of Northern Nigeria as a healthy ground for conversion in music capitalism. In fact, it will be hard and it will require a great amount of patience.
The level of illiteracy in the North is high, but it has not stopped the high use of multimedia phones – especially from Transsion. In 2019, a Transsion product was one of the most desirable brands in Africa after the likes of MTN and Multichoice. Such penetration is not one that can be stopped by any level of illiteracy.
Aside from that, and according to Turntable Charts, Hamisu Breaker is one of the 10 most-streamed Nigerian artists of 2020 and he carries a strong Northern identity. He delivers music in Hausa and he has those numbers. You can be rest assured that a significant amount of his fans are definitely not Southerners.
Recently, Turntable Charts also provided stats that showcased that in terms of organic YouTube streams from Nigeria for Nigerian artists, Hamisu Breaker ranks in the top five. Again, most of those organic streams don’t come from the South.
Thus, if people are using multimedia phones and they willingly signed up for a streaming platform, it means they can be steered into actually getting behind one of theirs. Mr. Eazi doesn’t necessarily need to create a star like Dan Maraya – who was made for the North and was based in the North.
What he needs to do is create something like Audu Maikori, Paul Okeugo and MI Abaga did at Chocolate City. They signed unique Northern talent and made them stars in Lagos. But what Audu Maikori, Paul Okeugo and MI Abaga didn’t do was create stars with strong Northern identity.
And that was not their fault, the ‘mainstream’ Nigerian market of the late 2000s was not exactly ready for Northern artists with strong Northern identities. The cynicism would have been incredible – especially when you consider the strong Yoruba elitism with the use of words like ‘Aboki’ and ‘Molla’ [read Mallam]. One could argue that this was a great impediment for an act like the prodigiously talented Jeremiah Gyang.
Chocolate City did have Jeremiah Gyang and his initial success led Audu Maikori, then a Lawyer at Afe Babalola Chambers. Maikori would finance Chocolate City, the business he started as a lifestyle brand in the 90’s with his salary as a Lawyer. Gyang did find some success, but he was never even close to what MI Abaga, Jesse Jagz and Ice Prince achieved.
MI Abaga, Ice Prince and Jesse Jagz, who are the biggest successes from that Chocolate City phase made music like Southerners. They might have rapped in Hausa once in a while like MI Abaga did on Classiq‘s ‘Gudu,’ but like MI Abaga himself has admitted severally, when he raps in Hausa, people who can speak Hausa will know that he’s not exactly a first grade speaker.
By so doing, they sort of carried more of the Southern DNA than they did their Northern identity at their peak. Again, that was no fault of theirs – they had to pay the piper to succeed. And they all grew up in Jos, where ethno-religious crises were as commonplace as the morning sun. Pandering to Jos was not exactly an option.
They were still huge in the North, but they were viewed more from the Southern perspective. Let’s also face it; the North in the 2000s was not exactly something to hang your future on. Holding on to culture was unlikely to feed you, your dreams or your family.
Nonetheless, the Cholocate City contingent did inspire a new range of artists with Northern affiliation to some success in Lagos. Acts like, Khali Abdu, Loose Kaynon, G.R.I.P Boyz [Endia, Yung L, Chopstix and Jmilla], Classiq did spring up after those acts. One way or the other, most of these acts also had some affiliation to MI Abaga, Ice Prince, Jesse Jagz and Chocolate City.
In the same vein, Excel Joab of Boombuzz Nigeria has severally stated he was heavily inspired by the success of Audu Maikori, MI Abaga, Ice Prince and Jesse Jagz.
As an Adamawa State indigene who grew up in Abia, Rivers and Lagos States, he looked to them for inspiration and channeled them in some way. He has also spoken that he grew up dreaming of working for Audu Maikori.
However, we could argue that the pinnacle of Northern success in what we might deem ‘mainstream Nigerian music’ was limited to the Choc Boiz era of MI Abaga, Jesse Jagz and Ice Prince. Yes, before those three, Zaki Adzay – the torchlight wielding maverick – and Eedris Abdulkareem had some success.
While Abdulkareem was always Yoruba, he grew up in Kano State and identifies with the North. After that set, we also had Terry Tha Rapman, Pherowshuz and Overdose [now known as actor Bobbi Zamani in Kannywood] just to name a few, but the heights MI Abaga, Jesse Jagz and Ice Prince reached was largely unprecedented.
If we are being honest, Classiq was the last Northern act with a strong Northern identity to truly attempt to break into the Nigerian mainstream. And that’s not due to a shortage of talent. A rapper like B.O.C Madaki is super-talented and has everything required to break free, but aside from being a rapper which already makes things hard, he also usually raps in Hausa.
While Isah, Headies-nominated rapper, Hotyce and talented singer, Lady Donli are also artists in the new generation with Northern affiliations, they do not really carry the Northern identity as much. They are more likely to blend in like MI Abaga, Ice Prince and Jesse Jagz did.
To her credit, Lady Donli did sing in Hausa while celebrating her Northern heritage on her critically-acclaimed album, Enjoy Your Life, but most of the album was delivered in Pidgin and English. Again, not her fault – Northern music is not exactly her brand. She is a different artist and she is really good at what she is.
Nonetheless, that is why it’s commendable and important that Mr. Eazi is investing in a Hausa-speaking artist. emPawa is already growing a reputation for itself as a label services and publishing company. Due to Mr. Eazi‘s exploits and savvy, the company also has high international visibility and is a super attraction for foreign investment.
The company is also linked to Eazi‘s label, Banku Music. One thing that label could guarantee you is incredible streaming-based presence and great numbers. The label is also versed in strategy – it understands the current reality of the world. Thus, it’s signing of Namenj is such a move in the right direction for itself and the ecosystem of Nigerian music.
Again, Eazi/Banku/emPawa doesn’t really have to make Namenj based in the North. The victory in this is that it even thought to sign a Northern artist with a strong Northern identity. It must also have done it with a strong business intelligence that is backed by the potential of a huge Northern market to get behind an artist they can relate to.
This signing could also alert other investors to the potential of Nothern Nigeria.
For the ecosystem, it could be another important step that ensures the North can stand on its own and create its own successes. This will improve on a blueprint already laid down by Zaki Adzay, Audu Maikori, MI Abaga, Ice Prince, Overdose, Terry tha Rapman, Pherowshuz, Jesse Jagz and so forth.
More importantly, Namenj doesn’t even have to be successful for this statement to carry weight. We need more moves like this from key industry players. We need to tap into the power of Nigerian Nigeria for better representation in Nigerian entertainment. These moves also make massive business sense.
This would also bode well for the super-impressive Gen Z-based trap movement in Abuja and across other Northern states.
With the continued streaming success of an act like Hamisu Breaker, it shows that Nigeria is seeing the rise of niche markets and in the future, it could mean that artists might not need to move to Lagos anymore to get great numbers.
This week, ‘Jaruma’ by Hamisu Breaker is in the top 10 hottest Nigerian songs on YouTube Music. Yoruba has had its shine and so has Igbo, we need something from that North with a strong Northern identity.
Equally, congrats to Mr. Eazi for having his new single, ‘Oh My Gawd’ featuring Nicki Minaj chart at No. 1 on the US iTunes Chart. Yet another strategic move has paid off. The song is also going strong on TikTok.