When a random new kid began to trend on Twitter for an amapiano tune infused with Benin street slangs, glorifying internet fraud and juju in April, everyone thought he’s just another one-hit kid who’ll fade off the scenes in a few weeks. But the kid is turning out to be one of the creatively purposeful musicians reshaping the diversity of Afrobeats and the incorporation of rich cultural elements like language and history into the trendy wave of contemporary music genres like amapiano.
With a song currently on the Apple Naija Top 10, the music chart that has grown to be the official rating for trendy music in Nigeria, Shallipopi, born Crown Uzama, is no longer a random kid. Within a space of four months, he’s taken over the airwaves and has strongly contested attention in an industry currently being led by hot new cats like Asake and Seyi Vibez.
In a pace that is reminiscent of Asake and Seyi Vibe’s music release frequency, Shallipopi immediately followed his successful debut, Elon Musk, with singles like Sharpiru and Ex Convict, which debuted #2 on the Apple Music Chart, and a remix of Elon Musk featuring Fireboy and Zlatan. Earlier this week, he released a 6-track album called Planet Pluto. The album immediately inspired important conversations around African traditional monarchy, British colonialism, and lack of accurately representative language diversity in the Nigerian music industry.
The album’s lead single, Obapiano, is especially the discussion starter. Sampling a classic Benin number by Osemwegie Ebohon Theatre International Troupe, the song pays a tribute to the last independent king of the ancient Benin Kingdom, who resisted the British colonial invasion and was exiled to Calabar in 1897. The song is a fusion of amapiano afrobeat, highlife and hip hop, with Shallipopi delivering his signature catchy hooks, rendered in Benin language, and witty bars over a groovy beat.
Obapiano is arguably a slight contrast to Shallipopi’s previous hit, Elon Musk, which was named after the billionaire entrepreneur and celebrated internet fraud as a way of getting rich, with various references to parlance common among fraudsters. The song sparked controversy and criticism for its strong affirmative reference to the growing pandemic of internet fraud among Nigerian youths. However, it also gained popularity and acclaim for its catchy melody, danceable rhythm, and uniqueness in infusing Benin language into contemporary Afrobeats.
While Obapiano is a more thoughtful work, paying tribute to the legendary Oba and to Benin history, it still shares similarities with his earlier tracks like Elon Musk in its use of Benin language and its reference to the money-flaunting common among, but not exclusive to, internet fraudsters. “Small boy with big money,” he sang repeatedly throughout the track. The highlight of the song might be his reference of himself as Oba of Pluto, a play with word that echoes the importance of the position of the legendary Oba in Benin kingdom.
Who Was Oba Ovonramwen Nogbaisi
Ovonramwen Nogbaisi was the Oba of the Kingdom of Benin from 1888 to 1897. He was the son of Oba Adolo and he took the name Ovonramwen, meaning “The Rising Sun”, at his coronation.
Ovonramwen Nogbaisi faced the British colonial invasion of his kingdom in 1897, which was triggered by the killing of a British delegation that tried to visit him without his permission. The British launched a punitive expedition that sacked and burned Benin City, looted the royal treasures, and destroyed the city’s fortifications.
Ovonramwen Nogbaisi escaped into the forest, but later surrendered to the British on August 5, 1897. He was tried by a military court and sentenced to exile in Calabar, where he spent the rest of his life until his death in January 1914.
Ovonramwen Nogbaisi is remembered as the last independent Oba of Benin and a symbol of resistance against colonialism. His son and successor, Eweka II, was restored to the throne in 1914 by the British, but with limited powers.
The Renaissance of Afrobeats
The past 10 years has seen a massive growth in Afrobeats both within and outside the shores of Nigeria and Africa. A major element of this growth, however, is the creative diversity in the industry’s outputs. With new acts infusing a unique touch to the prevailing framework–for example, Asake and Seyi Vibez manning one of such infusions, OdumoduBlvck and Monaky manning another–the future is much brighter.
Ultimately, we won’t totally overlook the depraved glorification of internet fraud in Shallipopi’s music, but we’ll also be unable to not affirm his daringness in making a kind of music that’s putting a spotlight on underrepresented cultural voices in Afrobeats.