You cannot discuss the contemporary Nigerian musical scene without mentoning Mr. Jude Abaga. M.I which stands for Mister Incredible simply arrived and went straight to the front row. His lyrics set him apart and his style is a product of many hours of hard work and dedication.
He is in very high demand and no first class show holds in Nigeria without him. He was able to spare us a few moments and in that time Notes and Tones was able to probe into the deepest parts of his mind and dishes them out here to you…
Peter Okoye once told me that Jos is the cradle of Nigerian hip-hop. You are one of the numerous contemporary artistes to come out of Jos. What is your opinion of that statement?
Jos has an emphasis on creativity. And not only on creativity, it has also produced a lot of goods. While I was in Jos, I was never paid for any show but you would see us happily performing at every other show. Not just me, but most of the musicians in Jos have never been paid for a show. Performing at all those shows helped us. Asrtistes like P.Square, used to dance Michael Jackson at shows in those days, say like 1996, and they were very good at it. So, they didn’t find it difficult to transit from only dancing to full blown music.
We also had people like Jeremiah Gyang, 2Face Idibia, Asa, D’Banj, who schooled in Jos for some time, Sound Sultan and Terry Da Rapman. Even in the movies people like Saint Obi, Jim Iyke, Desmond Elliot and so many others. Pulling the game first before the money contributed a lot in bringing out all these acts I have mentioned.
But you are not originally from Jos?
No, but I was born in Jos. I am from Takum LGA in Taraba State. My parents are presently in Abuja.
So, what took your family to Jos?
My dad is a minister of God. He grew up in Jos, got married in Jos and started a family in Jos. My dad is the founder of Global Revival Ministries and he is still ministering now.
Does your music have any church roots?
Yes of course. Almost everybody singing now has one root or the other in the church. My mum was the one that taught me Do re mi fa so la ti doh. She made me understand that every song or musical conception has those tones inside. The level of spirituality around me guided me a lot to where I am today. I am a Christian and even though my music may not be Christian in the very conservative sense of it. I have not forgotten my roots. My parents have a big part to play in who I am today and I really thank God for that
When did you leave the country?
I left the country on August 26, 1999. At that time, I had already one year in the university. I left to go and continue my schooling in the U.S. I went to a college in Michigan. Before then I was already becoming a little bit popular in Jos, everybody knew one short black boy that used to rap but I didn’t have a song or album then. In the states, I learnt a lot more about music, but I was really more into business because I had to also fend for myself.
When did you come back to Nigeria?
2003. In that time I have recorded one album, one mix tape and have finished work on another one that is about to come out. I started music professionally in 2006. For the period preceding that, in between my return from the states and 2006, I was just trying to lay low in Jos and see I could go back to school, but it didn’t work out. I was during that fallow period that I seriously considered going into music. It was in 2006 that I got signed on to Chocolate City and we put out Crowd Mentality. The rest is history.
Did you finish your course in the U.S?
No, I was one semester away from finishing when I had to leave. First my visa expired and I came back home and then the school had a lot of Nigerians and we have always given them problems and we have fees and I was one of the scapegoats. I am technically still a student of the school but when I couldn’t raise enough money to go back I had to find something else to do so my life won’t be destroyed. I still want to go back to school.
I want to get a law degree and hopefully an MBA. While I was at home, I opened a studio with my brother and we started making music and here we are today. In the past two to three months, I have made more than five, six times what it would have been possible to make in the U.S if I had even gradated and started working there. So, I thank God, it is really all about God. God has been very good to me.
Apart from your brother, Jesse, who are your other siblings?
(Takes his time to think) Right now we are three boys. Why did that take me long to say? We also have two cousins who stay with us and we are very close. I am the first and my youngest brother also has musical inclinations but he is very shy. He is a writer. I will try to bring him into the music business anyway I can but it is me and Jesse who are the major musicians of the family.
In your own estimation, who is the better of the two?
In all honesty, I believe Jesse is better. He is a fantastic musician. He is so creative and innovative. I like it that way because he keeps me on my toes. He keeps me working hard because I know if I close one eye, he will overtake me and I won’t like that.
You guys don’t seem to do a lot of collaborations.
Yes, the truth about it is that our music is so unique and different that we can actually stand on our own without living off or leaning on each other. My brother is very independent minded and wants to be respected on his own merit and not because of M.I. We work together a lot in the studio, we advise each other a lot. He sometimes borrows money from me and I also borrow from him. We are truly brothers, but two separate musicians. We have a great working relationship and with time we would be doing a lot of collaborations.
How ready is your next album?
Not ready yet. But I have one album ready now but it is not for the Nigerian market only. It is for the international market and we are taking our time to position ourselves on it. However in my next album, you will have one club song, one hip-song and one gospel song. I will first put them out as singles and let them blow up before releasing the full stuff.
Your album just came out last year and M.I is now a household name. What level of hard work did you put in to come out with a bang?
It was really tough. I had to work on my performance. I had to write songs, I had to spend very long hours in the studio. And that goes for everybody out there that’s thinking about doing music. You just have to work hard and if you are good, people would listen to you. Just look at the variety of music genres we have in Nigeria today. Everyone is good at what they do. It is not about the style of music anymore, Nigerians can listen to anything now. But it has to be good. If you are not good, you will disappear as fast as you came.
How many awards have you won so far with your album?
At the Hip Hop Awards, were you expecting to pip Mode 9 to the Lyricist on the Roll prize?
(Laughs) Mode 9 is such a great lyricist that every year he is a problem, so while everybody was saying M.I, I was saying Mode 9. For four years now, Mode 9 has been unquestionably the leader in lyrics, so next year we will try to work hard to push him off that peak. But I really respect Mode 9.
What is your reaction to Dr. Reuben Abati’s article on Nigerian music?
The question I want to ask Dr. Reuben Abati is this: How many young writers is he mentoring or has he directly mentored. Let him show us at least five young writers that he has been mentoring for the last three years, then he can start complaining about us. I think it is wrong for a generation before us to criticize us when they have not even done anything to mentor us or show us the way. Just imagine a father that has not been at home and then comes back suddenly to start flogging his children. What normal justification does he have to flog that child when he has never told his child what to do. Or one that just comes back and sees that his child has opened a shop ad starts scolding him for doing that. That’s just what that article is saying let nobody look down on us because we are happy with what we are doing.
On a more personal note now, how are you managing with the ladies?
(Laughs) Men, I will lie to you eh, if you know how fine Nigerian girls are and when you have some sort of celebrity status attached to you, you will understand what I am passing through. But in spite of this, you have to be really focused and make sure that you have the right people around – people that would drag you back when you are straying, people that will give you credible advice. Then you are headed in the right direction.
Do you have a girlfriend?
I am working on it.
What about all this rumour about you and Suzzy, the dancer?
Suzzy and I met recently and we were laughing about it. When you are in this business anything can come up. It is all in the entertainment spirit and you don’t have to take everything serious. People have also mentioned me and Kel and so many other people. If you are not popular, people won’t talk about you.
What were the goals you set out for yourself this year and have far have you gone with achieving them?
Last year I set out to be regarded as one of the best rappers in the land and I went about it judiciously and I believe if you go out there today, I would be mentioned among the best. This year I am taking it further, I want to be regarded as one of the top entertainers in the country. I want people to call me for all kinds of events from wedding to birthdays to the very big ones. I don’t just want to be a rap icon in Nigeria. I want to be an entertainment icon in both Nigeria and the wider world.
Where do you think Nigeria stands on the world music scene?
We are not yet tops, but we are getting there, we are on the right path. We would probably rate fifth or sixth right now along the line. You talk of American music, European music, Jamaican music, Latin music and you talk of world music before us. In fact, in some places, I still think that Soukous and music from the Congo are bit more highly rated than Nigerian music, but we are getting there.
What type of women appeal to you?
I like them slim with big something. I like beautiful and intelligent women. Forget I have seen a lot. Nigerian girls are very beautiful and all you need to do is to stick to the best of your abilities. I don’t like fake people.
How do you relax?
I love watching videos and I play football. I can play very well and if not for this music, I would have considered a serious career in football.
What are the experiences you will never forget in a hurry, starting from the negative?
I once traveled to Ethiopia without having anyone contact or any money. I got stranded at the airport. I went with the British Council and they were supported to come and pick from the airport, but nobody came. It was very bad on the positive side, whenever I have a good show. I am happy. I went to the ABTI American University, Yola recently and the student defied the rain and we had the show. It was an outdoor and we were singing and dancing in the rain.