Eedris Abdulkareem is probably the most influential Nigerian of the past 20 years. And many of today’s kids have probably never even heard of him.
Alongside names like Tony Tetuila, Eddy Remedy, Eldee, 2face Idibia, 2Shotz, Azadus and Sound Sultan, Eedris successfully fused the popular sound of American hip hop with indigenous African rhythms to create what became the original precursor to the ubiquitous Afropop and Naij Hip-Hop sound of today. The music also served as a catalyst for the wider creative sector, giving birth to an African cultural behemoth that now comprises Nigerian music, fashion, writing and art alongside its twin behemoth, Nollywood.
At a time when Nigerian music was still trying to make a comeback after the IMF devastation of the late 80s and early 90s, Eedris was not afraid to risk his financial and even personal security by using his music to speak reality. When Nigerian artistes were still treated as poor cousins of their foreign colleagues, Eedris famously hijacked the occasion of a 50 Cent concert in 2003 to make his point.
Due to the furore, 50 Cent eventually did not perform and the controversy the incident generated forced the entertainment industry to take a long, hard look at itself and start demanding for what it deserved in terms of compensation and treatment from sponsors, partners and patrons. The reason the likes of Davido and Wizkid exist as wealthy artistes today is because of the risk Eedris took, putting his career on the line for Nigerian artistry.
Incidentally, not a single one of his contemporaries stood up for him or supported him as he was subsequently blackballed by event promoters and concert organisers. From making do with a few pennies, Nigerian artistes began to be paid enough to buy cars, build houses and take foreign trips as a result of the risk he took, but he was not allowed to benefit from any of this. He was labelled a troublemaker. Persona non grata.
He was eventually run out of the country by the Obasanjo government in the mid-Noughties, after he released “Jagga Jagga“, a popular street anthem that excoriated the government. By the time he came back a few years later, his career as a top of the line pop artiste was basically over.
A new breed of acts like Psquare, MI, Dagrin, D’banj and Banky W had taken over and the landscape had changed considerably. Nigerian artistes were now bona fide superstars across Africa and even the world, commanding five figure dollar fees per appearance and scoring endorsements with brands like Ciroc, Pepsi, MTN, Samsung and Guinness.
His lifetime project of promoting Nigerian music had achieved success beyond his own imagination, but he would not get to partake in the top wave of that success. He would continue making socially conscious music, but by this time, the audience no longer cared about the street soldier and his campaign to raise their consciousness with his music. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
They now wanted the shiny, diamond-encrusted, Clarence Peters-directed video lifestyles of Flavour and Orezi. No one wanted to hear about the reality of Nigeria around them any longer. They now wanted uptempo dance-and-bling music produced by Masterkraft with music videos shot in Johannesburg and Cape Town. “Who be Eedris? Abeg make e go siddon one side! Old man!”
Eedris decided that selling out was not his thing, and he decided to lay low and continue working in the background of the industry. One of Nigeria’s most important modern cultural pioneers was thus condemned to literally hiding from the world he helped create because it did not recognise him as the pioneer he was.
If a few of us with more than a passing interest in history and cultural evolution do not tell his story, the world will never even hear about it.
So here’s to Eedris Abdulkareem! A pioneer. An innovator. A trouble maker. A street soldier. A social crusader. A legend.
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