The talented rapper, M.I, also known as the Microphone Magician and African Rapper No 1, is one of the biggest music talents to come out of Nigeria. Born in Jos, Plateau state, Jude Abaga discovered his love for music at an early age and developed his lyrical prowess with good poem writing skills.
He rose to prominence in 2006, when his song “Crowd Mentality” became popular in Jos and across Nigeria.
M.I – Mr Incredible is currently signed on to Chocolate City record label and floats his own record label called Loopy Music where he facilitates the growth of young, talented artistes.
He has received several awards for his hit tracks and successful albums including Best Rap Album 2009 – HipHop World Awards; Best International Act- BET Awards 2010 and more. His albums, Talk About It, M.I 2: The Movie and Illegal Music 2 have all been highly successful.
He speaks with Bellanaija’s Adeola Adeyemo about his music, Hennessey Artistry 2012 and more in this exclusive interview.
MI has garnered an impressive reputation as a humble and highly respected artiste. My chat with him left me in no doubt that his reputation was well earned. He struck me as someone with a very intelligent mind and was friendly and inspiring as well.
Hennessy Artistry 2012
You recently had an interesting collaboration with Naeto C on the track, Bartender for Hennessy Artistry. Tell me about the collaboration and how it came about?
For this one, all credit has to go to the Hennessy Artistry Project. They’ve been really professional and have taken this further than our wildest dreams. They came up with the idea and of course I loved it. I’ve worked with Naeto C once and this was a perfect second time for us. It has just been a great journey for us.
Who produced the song?
It was produced by TY Mix.
With you and Naeto C being two very busy artistes, how were you able to adjust your schedules?
It was tough for us to meet up with schedules. We recorded the song at about 1am. I had just come back from London at that time and Naeto C had just gotten married before we finally got to record it. The project manager, Tola Odunsi and everybody in the Hennesy Artistry team did a great job.
Music & Discovery
As an artiste, you’re associated with two record labels, Chocolate City and Loopy Music. Please explain your connection with these two record labels.
Chocolate City is my mother, Loopy Music is my daughter.
How was Loopy Music formed?
When I started Loopy Music, a lot of people thought there was beef between me and Chocolate City. There is no beef. It started because I felt there was a need for us to give back in the way that we best know how and that is to create a platform that can bring up other artistes even while Chocolate City continues to support us. We started small and we’re moving step by step.
I remember speaking with Chocolate City artiste, Brymo who told me that you sort of discovered him. You also have some interesting artistes signed on to Loopy Music. Tell me about some of the interesting talents you’ve discovered.
I won’t use the word ‘discover’, I’d just say I was able to facilitate their growth. At the time I met Brymo, he already had an album out and he was ready to be discovered. We also have Pryse now on Chocolate City and I was instrumental to her growth. She is the best female rapper I’ve heard, better than Nicki Minaj. And of course under Loopy Music, we have Threadstone – a rock band; Ruby who is a soul singer and Loose Kaynon, a rapper. They are just incredibly talented people. It’s a dream to go to work everyday and be able to work with them.
Using your words, you ‘facilitated the growth’ of these artistes. How about you? Who discovered you?
The people behind Chocolate City were very instrumental and that is Audu Maikori and Paul Okeugo. Paul was the first person that heard a song of mine and sent it to Audu. Then it took about a year before I got signed on. I also have to give credit to Jeremiah Gyang who was on Chocolate City at the time and who also encouraged them to sign me on. All this sort of added up.
Take me back to the beginning of the career. How did you start off as a rapper?
I came back from College in America and right before my final year, I had some visa issues and I had to stay back for a while. While I was doing that, a lot of my people in Jos started doing music. Jeremiah Gyang was about to put out his album and I was sort of like managing him. I was with him up until he got signed on to Chocolate City. When he got signed, he kept telling them about me. Another person I have to give credit to is Djinee. I met him in Enugu and he heard me rapping. He was impressed and invited me to Lagos to come and be part of his show and after that he gave me a place to stay, I was able to live with him until I took off on my own. I really appreciate him.
When was this?
Between 2007 and 2008.
I read somewhere that you had a foray into comedy. Did you ever nurse the dream of being a comedian?
Actually one day, I did standup comedy a long time ago. Somebody told me to hire a comedian for him and I said, “What is there? I can do it myself”. So I went and tried to tell some jokes. I started well and I ended up with malaria, full blown malaria. The people did not laugh at all.
How about poetry? When I read some lyrics to your songs, I get the impression that I’m reading a poem.
Rap is poetry. Sometimes the song starts with words, sometimes it starts with music but rap is really poetry. For me at the beginning, poetry compelled me.
Where do you get those intense thoughts, that brilliant pen for writing?
I think everybody has intense thoughts. Everybody has deep things that they think about. But I think developing the skills with which to express yourself poetically is another thing.
But as lovely as your lyrics are, there have been some controversies associated with them when you use it to get back at other artistes. For instance, the one where you replied Kelly Hansome….
At the end of the day, we are entertainers. I’d like to say that I’m a mature person, a logical person, but sometimes you can’t avoid the entertainment value of responding to a gauntlet thrown at you. When the Kelly Hansome thing started, he was picking on artistes here and there and he picked on us, once or twice and I looked at it and thought it would be entertaining. At no point was there real any malicious intent from me to him. It was just entertainment. At the same time, I was upset about the things he said. But both of us have long shaken hands over it and as far as I’m concerned it’s a dead issue. I wish him well in his career. But I’m not somebody that goes around trying to beef people and that was the point of the song Beef. Hip Hop is sort of like Boxing. You can’t be challenged and you’d turn and walk away.
You’ve had some unique album titles – M.I 2, Illegal Music 2… where do you come up with these names?
Because of M.I 2, people started calling the first one M.I 1, but it’s actually called Talk About It. I did Illegal Music because I thought it would be creative and funny, you know, M.I 2 and I.M 2. I think I’m done with the M.I names but I’m sure if I do M.I 3 it would sell because everybody would see the album and automatically recognize whose it is.
Still on your albums, in the week of the release of your second album in November 2010, M.I was the Number 7 trending topic globally on Twitter. That’s really impressive. How does that make you feel? That day, Kanye West dropped his album, Nicki Minaj dropped her album and they were not trending. Little M.I from Jos was trending all around the world. I really owe it to the power of Nigerian fans and how they’ve supported Nigerian music. I’m actually blessed to be as appreciated as I am so far.
You’re a successful artiste in Nigeria and across Africa. But tell me about your experience on the world stage. How has it been getting your music accepted especially by non-Nigerians across the world?
As a label, we’ve not really focused on that because there is a lot of work to be done here. Our focus now is on Nigeria and Africa. We are confident the rest of the world will come to us eventually. I lived in America and I spent so much time trying to be American. When I came back to Nigeria, all I wanted to be was Nigerian, and sing to Nigerians. Whenever I go into the world, that is my focus. As the message gets bigger, of course, the rest of the world would get involved.
Getting to Know M.I
Let’s talk a bit more personal. Where were you raised?
I was raised in Jos. I am actually from Taraba state but I sort of grew up with that Jos boy mentality so a lot of people would refer to me as a Jos boy.
What is your educational background?
I went to Baptist High School in Jos. After that, I went to Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University in Bauchi, then I went to Calvin College in Michigan. I started off with Engineering at Calvin College but I later switched to Business Management.
So you still plan on going back after all this while…
Yes, I think it’s important to get a degree.
I’ve interviewed a couple of artistes who told me that they left school to pursue their dreams in entertainment. And on your record label, Brymo and Ice Prince also did the same. Why does it seem like a lot of young people forfeit their education to pursue a career in entertainment?
It’s a problem indicative of the whole industry, not just entertainment. Wherever you find passionate Nigerian youth nowadays, you find that a lot of them have left school.
Is it so tough to combine your studies with your passion?
It’s not that, I just think that people become disillusioned with the educational system. If somebody is a dreamer, sometimes it’s tough. School is very, very important, don’t misunderstand me and I did not drop out. If I had the opportunity, I would have completed my studies but I didn’t have the opportunity at the time and hopefully very soon I will. But I think that in entertainment especially, you’re going to find more and more people forfeiting their education because it just feels like in the school system there is no place for them.
What has your education given you?
It has given me the ability to communicate at the highest level with people from all over the world; it has exposed me to different cultures and different ideologies. I’ve been blessed; I don’t have a degree that tells you I’ve finished school but I’m a thoroughly educated person. From sciences to the arts to social sciences, I’ve had the opportunity to learn under some of the best teachers in Nigeria and outside Nigeria and I think that education is absolutely important. I don’t think a degree is as important as an education, but you should educate yourself in whatever way you can. Never stop learning.
How many languages do you speak?
I speak one very well, English. If I speak Hausa with a very fluent speaker, they will laugh at me but will understand what I’m saying.
Are you in love?
Over the years, I’ve been very quiet about my personal, relationship life. The media is very good but can be very detrimental to one’s personal life so I’m asking Deola my friend to please not ask me questions about my relationship.
OK M.I my friend, I’d respect that. But there was a rumour of you being engaged some months ago to a model, Erica Okundaye. What sparked up the rumour?
What happened was after 2Face got engaged, I tweeted and said, “Me sef I can’t carry last o, let me get a ring”. I would say that the person that wrote the article did a lot of research and used a lot of things that are real to write a story that is not real.
I remember reading it in City People where it was mentioned that you two had been dating for four years and you practically live together. Are you saying there is no truth in it?
What I mean is that of course I know Erica. The person brought in things like the name of my church… there were a lot of real things, but the story itself is not real. When I read the story, I was impressed. The person really did research. But if the person really knew me, he would know that the story is not true.
Can you recall your most embarrassing moment with a girl?
Because I’m a very jovial person, I hardly get embarrassed. But there is one female celebrity who was so rude to me the other day in front of a club, it was a bit embarrassing. She knows who she is. I was trying to say hi to her and she was rude to me. That was not nice at all.
With all you’ve said, and your practically scandal-free reputation in the media, you sort of have this ‘good guy’ image. Do you have any vices at all?
Every human is susceptible to some vices. I’m a Christian and my Bible says, He who thinks he’s strong, let him be careful lest he fall. I definitely like women, let me not lie. That would be my vice. When I started blowing up, I was trying to be a sharp guy. Then two girls that I had something with at the same time met eachother and sat me down and told me, no, we are sharper than you. That experience taught me to be very smart about relationships and to respect what your influence on people can be. I’m not saying I’m too good but I try. When I wake up in the morning, I say to myself I want to try and be a good person. Anything can happen to anybody but for now, all I can say is that I’m trying.
I remember I met you for the very first time in your Church, and you’ve also spoken about your Christian belief a couple of times. Would you call yourself a religious person?
I’m not a very religious person. However, I do hold very strongly to my faith. Even down to my music, I think everything through. I think that if I were to die tomorrow after singing this song, would I be able to explain myself? That sort of defines who I am through everything I’ve done, at least I hope it has.
Looking ahead, what should we be expecting from M.I?
As God continues to provide more opportunities, I would put in more hardwork and more dedication to accomplish.
It was great chatting with M.I and from Bellanaija.com, we wish you the very best!
M.I & Naeto C – Bartender
M.I – Undisputed