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[BOOK REVIEW] Onyeka Nwelue’s Hip Hop Is Only For Children, By Ephraim Adiele

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Hip Hop Is Only For Children By Onyeka Nwelue

Published by Hattus in arrangement with Blues & Hills Consultancy,
25 Avenue Perimeter, 75011, Paris, France. 2015. 272 pages. ISBN 978-979-1993284.

Hip Hop is Only for Children is an expository book about the modern day Hip-Hop culture, especially in the form it was imported into Nigeria. The book is a critical assessment of the Nigerian music industry from the point of view of a music enthusiast in a monotonous environment. The author, Onyeka Nwelue is a writer, lecturer and music record label entrepreneur who has spent a large chunk of his time in the company of a wide range Nigerian music artistes.

Hip Hop is Only for Children? (yes, whatever you are thinking, I have thought of the very same thing). As a music enthusiast with deep love for rap music, I was taken aback and somewhat offended that the genre of music I hold dear to my heart was described as something “only” meant for minors.

But then I remembered reading a few excerpts of the book I had read on the author’s Facebook page, where he bares his mind in unapologetic fashion and then I said to myself, maybe this book will be worth the wait, and indeed, it proved to be.

Months down the line and the book is here and I can boldly join the author in saying “yes, Hip Hop (in the context of the book) is Only for Children”

The author, Onyeka Nwelue poses with the book, Hip Hop is Only for Children
The author, Onyeka Nwelue poses with the book, Hip Hop is Only for Children

The book, Hip Hop is Only for Children is a non-fictional work which shows the author’s personal perspective on the Hip Hop culture, especially as it is portrayed in Nigeria and her music, written from the point of view of a critical insider who has lived his life listening to and appreciating a vast blend of music genres ranging from the fore-bearers of Nigeria’s music industry – Celestine Ukwu, Onyeka Onwenu, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Sugar Hill Gang, Kris Okotie (yes, the “swagged-out” hair perming clergy), Junior and Pretty, Dizzy K, Oby Onyioha, Christie Essien-Igbokwe to mention a few – to the more recent pioneers like Davido, Wizkid, Flavour, Asa, Nneka, Orliam e.t.c, and even relatively unknown artistes like Kid M.A.R.L.E.Y, Boogie, Aduke, e.t.c – a further testimony of the great attention paid to detail and the author’s true zeal and interest in the Nigerian hip hop/music industry.

As a result of the title of the book, a lot of hip hop apologists may chide the author for seemingly disregarding the huge role Hip Hop plays in the modern world,but a peep into the book reveals that in contrast, the author has put a lot of issues and fact into consideration and in fact, knows his hip hop as he takes the reader to the origins of hip hop, the American evolution of the art form until its influence permeated other cultures and continents, before its blending with Nigerian indigenous music to give the brand of hip hop which is recognised in the country.

The book, Hip Hop is Only for Children is a literary work which if consumed whole, could spark be the genesis of an argument/discussion that could spark a renaissance in the Nigerian hip hop scene, and by large the Nigerian music industry as a whole.

As a topical book, the author takes the reader into his critical mind, bringing his vast experiences and travels into play. Although the book is meant to be an unapologetic criticism of the of the Nigerian music industry – and rightly so too – the author nevertheless shows that he can appreciate good music, in whatever form it is presented, be it the soul/jazz of Asa, or the rap prowess of Mode 9, the author pens it down as he sees it, sorry as he hears it.

As regards language, the author keeps it simple, relaying his thoughts – observations, criticism, praise, anger, humour – in the simplest of languages, making the reader understand every emotion that was put into every word, phrase and sentence.

Another plus side of the book is the laudable idea of infusing the thoughts of other young music enthusiasts whose write-ups, poems, articles and blog posts make the book an assemblage of several thoughts, thereby negating the normal trend of claiming a monopoly of knowledge, as is the case in the literary world in general.

The reader of Hip Hop is Only for Children would at the end find himself attesting to the notion that Hip Hop is Only for Children as the artiste, the listener and the music truly have a lot of growing up to do. The author develops his ideas using examples, analogies, pictorial illustrations and most importantly, pictures of the author with a host of music practitioners, a testament that the author is not just a random writer making wild claims from the comfort of his living room but shows that he is fully involved in the business of Nigeria music and has decided to put his pen where his mouth and money is, if ever there was a saying like that.

The book begins with the author x-raying the beginning of Hip Hop from South Bronx, New York, USA in the 1970’s with DJ Clive”Kool Herc” Campbell building on the already existing Jamaican traditional toasting, boastful poetry and speech over music; tracing the trend till when it became emceeing – spoken words and rhymes delivered over a beat – until it became an outlet for black youths to let out their displeasure at the suffering and societal injustice there were experiencing at the time.

The author traces the history down to the 1980’s, when Hip Hop began gaining nationwide , following in the US with the emergence of Hip Hop greats like Rakim, KRS One, LL Cool J, Nas, Run DMC, N.W.A, Public Enemy and others of that generation forming what is later to be known as the Golden Age of Hip Hop.

As the 1990’s approached, Hip Hop began embracing other forms – not just the conscious music – the the coming of Bone Thugs and Harmony, Wu Tang Clan, Diddy, Notorious B.I.G, Tupac Shakur, Snoop Dogg and the like who infused divergent traits into the blossoming art form.

The genealogy of American Hip Hop culture before it was “brought” to Nigeria is chronicled, revealing the aspects of Hip Hop which influentially found its way to Nigeria: Gang violence, rape-rap, drugs, excessive bragging, flaunting of supposed wealth, “beef” and rivalry, the Hip Hop dress sense, among others. And like the author writes: Hip Hop “was never the same again.”

The author, Onyeka Nwelue and singer Asa pose with a copy of the book, Hip Hop is Only for Children in Paris, France
The author, Onyeka Nwelue and singer Asa pose with a copy of the book, Hip Hop is Only for Children in Paris, France

Against this backdrop, the author introduces the Hip Hop culture as represented in the Nigerian setting.
Nigerian Hip Hop or Trash Hop like the author tagged it and pointed out, has nothing to do with the “orthodox”concept of rapping, emceeing and word-play – as very few Hip Hop artistes abound in the country – as almost every artiste in the country portrays the Hip Hop culture, regardless of their genre of music.
Hip Hop is Only for Children can be said to be a complete compendium of the Nigerian music scene: No aspect is left out. Barely any artiste is left out. None. The author and his contributors bluntly point out the good, the bad, and the ugly of the industry.

Remaining true to the concept of the book as a perspective on the Hip Hop culture, the contributors pen down laudable aspects of the Nigerian music environment, with the following noteworthy contributions:
– Dami Ajayi’s peep into aspects of the careers of artistes like M.I, Wande Coal, 9ice, the late Dagrin, Dorobucci and the Mavins, Jesse Jagz, Wizkid and Caro, Olamide and so on.

– Toni Kan’s frank exposure of the flaws of Nigerian music artiste managers or damagers like he put it.

– Ephraim Adiele’s critical look into the female side of the industry in relation to the late “Lady of Songs,” Christie Essien Igbokwe

– The influence of Onyeka Onwenu by Onyeka George Mgbako

– Ifeanyi Mojekwu’s “Wondrous story about the Hawk” which pays glowing tribute to the genius that is the songstress, Asa.

– Eromo Egbejule (who in my opinion deserves an award) and two of his articles – one on the fake lives led by Nigerian artistes and the other on the issue of contracts, artistes and record label owners.

– Mars Ezechukwu for his many poems, especially the poem: Hip Hop is for Children.

Singer Asa reading a copy of Hip Hop is Only for Children in Paris, France

The author himself makes reference to his personal experiences with artistes like MC Galaxy, Terry G, Davido, Nneka, Seun Kuti, artiste manager Asa Asika, the legendary Angelique Kidjo.

In Hip Hop is Only for Children, Onyeka Nwelue takes the non-Nigerian reader into the chaotic world of Nigerian music, and knocks on the door of reasoning of the Nigerian reader/music enthusiast, leaving nothing to the imagination.

His reeling out of the lyrics of D’Prince’s “Goody Bag”, Waje’s “Na The Way” and Burna Boy’s “Tonight” depicts the author showing his love for good music with lyrics to match. In the same vein, he expresses his feelings after seeing performances by Angelique Kido, Asa, Nneka and Seun Kuti. Indeed Onyeka Nwelue know’s his music.

In conclusion, Hip Hop is Only for Children is a book that must be read by all Nigerians, label owners, industry practitioners, music enthusiasts and the artistes themselves as it has the potential to redirect a seemingly lost generation of musicians who are on the verge of exterminating all iota of meaning still left in music in the country. Putting it plainly, Onyeka Nwelue wrote down my thoughts on the Nigerian music industry and like he rightly titled his book, Hip Hop (Trash Hop) is Only for Children.

Ephraim Adiele is the Associate Editor of The Trent. He writes from Lagos.

Opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

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