Recent years have seen an explosion in the production and consumption of hip hop music in Nigeria. From the MTV Africa Music Awards to the BET Awards, Nigerian hip hop heads have continued to push the boundaries of their music on the international front, linking it, in the process, to a sort of global Hip Wide Web. Yet, despite these breakthroughs, the general perception of the discursive landscape of this music is not altogether positive in Nigeria itself. In particular, the message(s) of the music’s lyrics has been severally described as a venture that has no meaning beyond its noisy character. This is especially the case when the music is being evaluated by older generations of Nigerian critics who do not share in, and are almost averse to, the hip hop culture that has newly ascended as the dominant youth culture. Problematizing these evaluations under five paradigms—crossing, multilingualism, and styling, repetition, inversion of order, meaninglessness, and pornography—this essay contends that what appears as meaninglessness in Nigerian hip hop music inscribes a masked matrix of meanings in the postmodern age. It argues that the elements of the lyrical gamut that are often perceived as meaningless are in fact meaningful and valuable resources that the artists, and by extension their audience members, harness to perform their generational ingroupness and multiplex postmodern identities.
See Uchenna Ikonné, “Nigerian Rap: The First Decade (1981–1991),”AfricanHipHop, http://www.africanhiphop.com/naija-nigerian-80s-rap-on-vinyl/ (accessed 22 December 2014), and Alex Amos, “History of Nigerian Hip Hop Music: A Tale of 3 Decades,” http://www.360nobs.com/2012/07/history-of-nigerian-hip-hop-a-tale-of-3-decades/ (accessed 22 December 2014).
H. Samy Alim, “Straight Outta Compton, Straight aus München: Global Linguistic Flows, Identities, and the Politics of Language in a Global Hip Hop Nation,” in Global Linguistic Flows: Hip Hop Cultures, Youth Identities, and the Politics of Language, ed. H. Samy Alim, A. Ibrahim & Alastair Pennycook (New York: Routledge: 2009): 3.
Ben Rampton, “Language Crossing and the Redefinition of Reality: Expanding the Agenda of Research on Code-Switching,” in Code-Switching in Conversation: Language, Interaction and Identity, ed. Peter Auer (London: Routledge, 1998): 304.
See J. Normann Jørgensen, “The Sociolinguistic Study of Youth Language and Youth Identities,” in Love Ya Hate Ya: The Sociolinguistic Study of Youth Language and Youth Identities, ed. J.N. Jørgensen (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2010): 3. See also Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (1983; London: Verso, 2006).
Alastair Pennycook, “Postmodernism in Language Policy,” in An Introduction to Language Policy: Theory and Method, ed. Thomas Ricento (Malden MA: Blackwell, 2006): 66–67. See also Rampton, “Styling the Other: Introduction,” 421.
James Braxton Peterson, The Hip-Hop Underground and African American Culture: Beneath the Surface (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014): 15. See also Abigail T. Derecho, “Illegitimate Media: Race, Gender and Censorship in Digital Remix Culture” (doctoral dissertation, Northwestern University, 2008): 22.
Jean Aitchinson, “ ‘Say, Say it Again Sam’: The Treatment of Repetition in Linguistics,” in Repetition, ed. Andreas Fischer (SPELL: Swiss Papers in English and Literature; Tübingen: Gunter Narr, 1994): 16.
S. Timothy Brown, “ ‘Keeping it Real’ in a Different ’Hood: (African)-Americanization and Hip Hop in Germany,” in The Vinyl Ain’t Final: Hip-Hop and Globalization of Black Popular Culture, ed. Dipannita Basu & Sidney Lemme (London: Pluto, 2006): 138.
Roberta Uno, “Theatres Crossing the Divide: A Baby Boomer’s Defense of Hip-Hop Aesthetics,” in Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip-Hop, ed. Jeff Chang (New York: Basic Civitas, 2006): 300. See also Kimberley Monteyne, Hip Hop on Film: Performance Culture, Urban Space, and Genre Transformation in the 1980s (Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 2013): 3.
Wilson Akpan, “And the Beat Goes On? Message Music, Political Repression and the Power of Hip-Hop in Nigeria,” in Popular Music Censorship in Africa, ed. Michael Drewett & Martin Cloonan (Aldershot & Burlington VT: Ashgate, 2006): 92.