Artist Focus: M.I. Abaga, The Undisputed Champion!

M.I. Abaga

M.I. Abaga is a lyricist on the prowl!

Real name: Jude Lemfani Abaga
Stage name: M.I.
Date of birth: October 4, 1981
State of Origin: Taraba
Nationality: Nigerian
Genre: Hip Hop

As a proficient hip hop artist, producer, lyricist, songwriter, and instrumentalist, M.I.  Abaga has been described as the future of African hip hop, with many Nigerian hip hop fans having hailed him as the country’s “Hip Hop Messiah” and we couldn’t agree more!

As one of Nigeria’s pacesetting music stars, M.I. has changed the hip hop landscape and brought more competition to the rap game. His rise to superstardom is a tale that would make even his contemporaries green with envy.

M.I. Abaga was born in the city of Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria. His parents are Pastor and Mrs. Abaga, both of Jukun-Nigerian descent. He has two brothers; Jesse Jagz (also a hip hop musician in Nigeria) and Jason Abaga.

He attended Baptist High School, Jos and his mother’s purchase of basic musical notations and a 7-key mini piano influenced his decision to venture into music.

As a teenager, M.I. listened to tracks from Lauryn Hill, , Sarah Maclachlan, Pablo Neruda, Jay-Z, and . His sampling of the musical works of and Lauryn Hill in 1998 was the beginning of his musical journey.

After his education at Calvin College, Michigan, US, he went into poetry and performed frequently in the school’s major hip hop shows and concerts. His attempt at becoming a comedian was met with scorn as people laughed at him and he decided to stick to music instead.

M.I.’s attitude and impressive rap flow earned him a third-place finish at the college show called HipHopera in 2003.

His career in the Nigerian music industry started when he returned to the country in 2003 and he earned recognition in the rap genre when contemporaries like Modenine, , and Eedris Abdulkareem held the reins.

His return saw him commence production of mixtapes with his friend, singer Djinee. Their collaborated work led to the single Safe, a critically acclaimed track that got lots of airplay in Nigeria and African radio and music video stations (including MTV Vibe). The song was a parody of popular Nigerian songs at the time and it got him awards at the Nigerian Music Awards, City People, N.E.A. and others.

The buzz around Safe gave his first studio album Talk About It critical reception and it got a 8.5/10 rating by Oye Akideinde of 360nobs.

Talk About It album won M.I. the following awards: Musician of the Year Award (Modeman Awards in 2008) and the Best Hip Hop Artist (City People Awards).

Nigerians already enticed by his lyrical versatility and impressive punch lines started to believe that hip hop in the country was undergoing an evolution. But the ‘Short black boy’ was just getting started.

M.I. demonstrated his lyrical prowess in the sample mixtape Illegal Music in 2009. It was followed by Illegal Music II in 2012. Back in Jos, he teamed up with his brother Jesse Jagz, , Ruby, Threadstone, Lindsay, Moses and E Kelly to form Loopy Music.

He was later signed to Chocolate City, a renowned music label in Nigeria. The deal paved the way for the beginning of his successful career in the music industry and his talent led to further international recognition in South Africa via Channel O Music Award, MTV Base Awards, and the American BET Awards.

M.I. stares at his award

M.I. produced and featured on the works of , Threadstone (Nigeria’s first rock band), Kel, Djinee, Shifi of Styl Plus, Jesse Jagz, , Ruby, Lindsey, Leony, , and others. He runs a production company, Rytchus Era productions with his brother Jesse Jagz.

He was made a Glo Mobile brand ambassador in 2013 with Omawumi and Burna Boy and was a judge in Glo X-Factor in 2013.

M.I. became the CEO of Chocolate City on June 2015 and his third mixtape Illegal Music 3 – The Finale was released in February 2016 and got over 400,000 downloads in 3 days.

M.I. Abaga performing

On February 9, 2018, he released his seventh studio project Rendezvous. It was a playlist that was different from his earlier works. This was followed by the release of another album titled Yxng Dxnzl (pronounced Yung Denzl) on August 24, 2018. It included the single You Rappers Should Fix Up Your Lives.

Rendezvous was a part of a collection of Nigerian rap albums called LAMB August, which was aimed at resurrecting rap music in Nigeria. The three albums were executively produced by M.I.

M.I.’s rapping style has drawn comparisons to world-renowned rappers Kanye West, Lil Wayne, and Jay-Z. Tripol of Blaze-A-Mic describes his flow as “easy going but packed full of punches”. His influence in the music industry is undeniable as he is responsible for pushing various upcoming artists into the limelight. Artists who have been a part of this include Wizkid, Vypa, Jesse Jagz, Pype, Ice Prince, Brymo and KhaliGraph Jones.

He has produced albums and songs for his label mates, most notably in 2011, with two songs in ’s Everybody Loves album and Ruby Gyang’s This Is Love EP.

As a genre that deals with self-appraisal and occasional jabs at fellow rappers, the hip hop game has made M.I. engage in rivalries with Kelly Hansome and most recently, Vector.

M.I.’s achievements speak volumes for him and the fact that he is set to drop a new album soon shows that he is far from done in his road to becoming a hip hop legend.

As a one-man wrecking crew, M.I. unleashes bars that are as infectious as they are deadly. His songs often treat societal ills and his lyrics are poetic and mind-boggling. It wouldn’t be too much to say that his dominance in the industry is a long way from seeing its end. Long live the Hip Hop Messiah!

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