By Osagie Alonge
It’s 2014 and musician Naeto C is at a place where he’d rather not be –- musically stunted, bereft of ideas and creativity, and without a team.
FLASHBACK: I remember the first conversation I ever had with female rapper Yetunde ‘Sasha’ Alabi like it was yesterday. It was 2006 and we were in Ilorin, Kwara State. Sasha and her record label Storm Records had visited the city for a one-night concert with the Big Brother Nigeria Housemates.
Sasha’s cousin was a friend of mine and it was a very BIG opportunity to stand next to her (especially if you were a rookie rapper at the time). While my other friends asked about her music career, I asked, ‘Is Storm signing any other rappers?‘ Sasha, who was one of the two rappers signed to the label at the time, replied, ‘I can’t say for now but there’s a new guy, his name is Naeto C and he’s the next big thing in Nigerian hip-hop.’
Sasha wasn’t lying. Several months later Naeto C debuted his first single, the US Southern-influenced ‘Sitting on top’ produced by a little known Tee-Y Mix at the time. Thus began Naeto C’s journey to stardom and dominance in the entertainment industry. It wasn’t easy though; nobody gave the young ‘oyibo’ rapper a chance. Hip-hop enthusiasts dubbed him a carbon copy of US rapper T.I and claimed he was not original. Others called him a mama’s boy who had a lot of cash to play around with (Naeto is the son of two-time Nigerian Minister Kema Chikwe). Naeto didn’t help matters, further releasing materials like ‘You know my P’, in which he rapped about ‘flossing’. It seemed like his subject matter was narrowed to materialism. We were wrong.
Time flew by and this fair-skinned Igbo boy gained a followership. With the help of record label execs Obi Asika, Tola Odunsi and OAP Olisa Adibua, Storm pushed the Naeto brand in our faces with increased radio play and big budget videos. It was the period when the label was at their strongest form. Naeto dropped his debut album ‘You Know my P’, with the chart topping, club banging smash hit single ‘Kini big deal’, and won our hearts. The phrase ‘Kini big deal’ became an urban slang and ‘P’ became the most popular letter of the alphabet in Nigeria and South Africa.
‘My hustle is transparent, my watch is transparent; that’s because I use my brain without relying on my parents… Yes the youths are misguided and need some orientation/I’m from the two per cent but still identify with the 98/What you gonna tell me about my platform I built with two hands, a couple raps on these beats that I rap on,’ Naeto C in ‘Lagos City Hustler‘ (2008), in response to critics labelling him a ‘trust fund’ kid.
Naeto’s album was successful (it produced six singles) and immediately placed him above the existing rap acts (except Modenine), leaving him to contend with another debutant rapper M.I. The album is one of the best produced albums in the history of Nigerian hip-hop; largely because the production was top notch, thanks to Tee-Y Mix and VC Perez. Also, Storm Records was careful enough not to make the same mistakes they did with Ikechukwu’s debut album ‘Son of the Soil’ (released in 2006). Marketing approach was changed; they delved into a bit of merchandising etc. Naeto C, however, lost the ‘Rap Album of the Year’ to M.I’s ‘Talk About it’ at The Headies in 2009, but won ‘Best Rap Single’ for ‘Kini big deal’.
‘I get the chills like Malaria, king of my area, you talk shit then Imma bury ya/face front, all the haters in my derriere/big dog, who gives a shit about a terrier (Terry ya)?‘ Naeto C in ‘Ako mi ti poju‘ (2010), in response to Terry tha Rapman who rapped about him jacking T.I’s swag
Satisfied for the moment, Naeto went back to school in Dublin to get his Master’s Degree in Energy Economics from the University of Dundee, Scotland, and returned in 2011 with a new LP ‘Super C Season’, claiming the title ‘the only MC with an MSc’. It was met with mixed reactions –- the album had him catering to the mass market but in return looked like a desperate attempt at going commercial. It, however, worked for him. The 16-track album had too many lacklustre tracks which, in turn, affected the selection of singles. Songs like ‘Skimpololo’ feat Terry G, ‘Carry your shoulder’, ‘C me finish’ and ‘Ride’ dampened the powerful effect songs like ‘Ako mi ti poju’, ‘Ten over ten’, and ‘Share my blessings’ feat Asa had.
Another problem was the album’s track arrangement and poor AnRing. Too many cooks spoil the broth: Naeto and his team could not channel the production of the album to fit the theme, so the tracks sounded displaced. Naeto shifted major work from Tee-Y Mix and worked with Sarz, Sossick and Dr Frabz. He had also parted ways with Ikechukwu and the World Famous Akademy. WFA’s absence was felt on the album. Naeto was all alone…
Nevertheless, Naeto moved on, pushing the singles, carving a niche for himself, creating the urban Hausa cap-northern swag (no diss to Ice Prince) and performing at top shows. Safe to say, he still had it.
2012 was a busy year for the rapper. With no new album in sight, Naeto promoted singles from the Super C Season album, got married to his fiancé, model Nicole, and co-headlined Hennessy Artistry with M.I. In the midst of the busy year, he released the banger ‘Tony Montana (remix)’ featuring an outshining verse from D’banj and produced by usual suspect Tee-Y Mix.
Then Naeto C’s music career began its descent. He hooked up with producer E-Kelly and released their first effort ‘Can you do it?‘ in December. It was a lazy attempt to make a commercial song; it tanked immediately. Naeto kicked off 2013 by leaving his label Storm Records, setting up his own WKG (White Kaftan Gang) label, with E-Kelly as the chief producer. By the time he was leaving for another course in Energy Economics at the Oxford University in mid-2013, Naeto C had lost the buzz, with rappers like Ice Prince, Olamide, Phyno and Reminisce holding down the hip-hop market.
‘I never had to drop a song to step on anybody’s toes but you’re a fake and you’re a fraud and everybody knows,’ Naeto C rapped in ‘Owu no dey touch‘ (2012), in response to Trybe Records’ Rukus, who said he wasn’t justified to be on any top ten rap list.
In September 2013, Nigerian music blog NotjustOK, released a ‘10 Most Gifted Rappers in Nigeria’ list which included Naeto C at number nine. A number of rappers were not pleased with the list and didn’t mind airing their thoughts. Rukus picked on Naeto C and a few others, releasing a diss track that whitewashed the WKG boss.
‘Naeto wouldn’t be gifted even if all the clouds shifted and a thousand presents dropped from the sky on the eve of Christmas/landed on his tree while he ate at the dinner table. Where do you rank when Yung6ix is the best rapper on your label?,’ Rukus rapped.
Naeto C’s response didn’t do the diss justice. With the gravity of insult Rukus spat at him, Naeto’s reply ‘Owu no dey touch’ fell short of a comeback strike. What worsened it was that Naeto looked desperate calling for help from an unfamiliar friend Reminisce, who seized the opportunity and out-rapped him on the song. Naeto lost his street credibility, something he had spent years fighting to build.
And to worsen matters, a few weeks after, Naeto went on to release another lacklustre song ‘Finish work’ and shot a video for it. The response from fans was not positive.
‘I don’t think Naeto C is interested in doing rap songs anymore,’ Obinna ‘Fazillion’ Ifechi-Fred, hip-hop enthusiast and blogger at NigerianSounds.com says. ‘Funny thing is that he’s better at making rap songs, that’s what blew him up and not trying to sound like Flavour.’
Naeto C recently released another single, ‘Limited edition’. You can guess how it sounded – subpar.
Naeto needs to hit the reset button; get a creative team to work with, return to Tee-Y Mix and hit the gym. The P can still be heavy.
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