50 Years of Hip Hop: Rappers Who Shaped Africa in the Past Five Decades (Part 1)

Shina Peters and Junior&Pretty

You can almost guess that this is an ambitious docu-story but you can be sure that it’s going to be in series, so you won’t be bored. Don’t be surprised if anyone tells you that hip-hop originated from New York, USA. In traditional Africa, it is arguable that the raw materials of hip-hop exist in our oral tradition: be it incantatory poetry or chants some ages past.


Rap (also known as hip-hop) has always been classified as rhythmically applied poetry that is rich in metaphor, alliteration, simile, hyperbole and everything else that your literature class may have failed to impart.


But instead of being recognised for its beauty, rap has gained notoriety for promoting self-adulation, gangsterism, sexual immorality, racism, sexism and everything else in between.

Blame it on the era that shaped gangster rap which in itself is an embodiment of irony. The same legends who raised the stakes in hip-hop contributed largely to a lasting damaging image of the music genre.

It is quite probable too that some peeps may argue that this should be the true nature of hip-hop since it originated from petty rivalry or something like that. Anyway, the understanding of rap should transcend one window view. Consider how a rapper like Eminem evolved over the years from very dark lyricism to the motivational. Yes, you read right: motivational. You can listen to ‘Stan’ and ‘Not Afraid’ and see the wide margin. You can educate your children with Lauren Hill’s Doo Wop (Dat Thing). Not all rap songs are lethal; some are thought-provoking.

Let me bring this back to Africa. The mainstream hip-hop in the black continent came from a place of creating an African equivalent not just an experiment in copycatism. Well, there were those who ventured into the scene and went off the radar after failing to strike a chord with a large chunk of music fans, OAPs and show promoters. There were those who fought to be relevant and even broke the barriers to win music awards. There are those who have become motivational speakers and people know them more for their public speaking skills than their command of the microphone or ‘how many mics they could rip on a daily.’


In a way to celebrate their contribution to the growth of hip-hop and African music, I will drop some names that resonate with history in no particular order – just to avoid another hip-hop war on who is the greatest.



Let us start with the earlier artists in Nigeria. Do you know Emphasis? Lol. I laugh in Greek. If you had the good fortune of a black and white television in the late 80s and early 90s, you’d know how this group whose works had been hard to find on the internet.


Rap group Emphasis’ released a song in pidgin English titled “Which One You Dey” in 1991. Although this song enjoyed some airplay on Lagos Weekend Television, it was not a commercial success. But it registered indigenous rap on the hip-hop map and remained indelible in our minds because of the way it blends Afrobeat with rap. There is no record of what became of the duo and we really should be asking ‘Where are they now?’



The first to gain mainstream success in Nigeria after Emphasis was Junior&Pretty. Also taking a cue from Emphasis, pidgin English was their choice of language. ‘Monika’ and ‘Bolanle’ were dropped in 1991 with the former telling a comical story about a cheating girlfriend. The song won an award at the Nigerian Music Awards (NMA), pushing rap into the limelight in the music scene.


Although Junior died in an accident, Pretty runs a production outfit which caters to many live shows. He is also the President, Performing Music Artists of Nigeria (PMAN) and one of the most approachable persons in the music industry.


Sir Shina Peters

Although known as a juju musician, Sir Shina Peters contributed to Yoruba rap with his experimental verses in tracks like “Omoge loke loke” and “Otu tu o bami lara mu” where he dropped some punchlines styled after the 80s rap intonation. SSP would speak largely about this in his interviews to restate his place in the evolution of indigenous rap in Nigeria.

-Written by Yinka Olatunbosun, a culture journalist

(To be continued)

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