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Lyricism for Nigerian male pop stars, sexism for women?

Lyricism for Nigerian male pop stars, sexism for women?

By: Esther Omoye

While Nigerian pop music may have an approachable, upbeat sound, those accessible rhythms dominating the airwaves actually contain just as much violence and misogyny in their lyrics as hip-hop and rap music.

Many popular Nigerian songs have lyrics that degrade or demean women by portraying them as submissive or sexually objectified. Sometimes, when we are too busy dancing to a catchy beat, we tend to lose sight of what is actually being said. And, more times, this is socially acceptable in Nigeria than those lyrics, which might actually be holding some pretty misogynistic messages — from artists where it may be expected or maybe not so much.

It shouldn’t still be possible to listen to music with misogynistic messages without being worried about the kind of messages they could possibly be putting out there, especially as stories have feet that travel farther than a Nigerian politician’s thirst for a second tenure.

Misogyny has always been an issue in the media. The over-sexualisation of women is appalling and degrading. This problem also often slips because we have become desensitised to it by simply applying the popular Nigerian factor: “it is just a song.”

If you listen to Nigerian pop songs, you can easily pick apart that women are nonchalantly objectified, demeaned and exploited in several ways, like bone away from agidi jollof. Misogyny in music is a huge problem that can perpetuate rape culture, stereotypes, objectification, and exploitation towards women everywhere.

But what actually makes a song misogynistic? Well, it is not the Nigerian green white green flag or the fact that Burna Boy has a hit anthem for our city boy, but it could be a number of things. It could just be how a few of the lyrics are worded, the overall topic that the song is focused on, or even the song’s title. And here are just a few Nigerian pop songs that hold not-so-hidden misogynistic messages —whether these artists actually knew that’s what their lyrics were hinting at or not:

“Opotoyi” by Naira Marley

Naira Marley can be considered the contemporary pioneer of the genre, Songs-That-Hate-Women-and-the-People-that-Love-Them. In 2019, Naira Marley dominated the airwaves with his hit song “Opotoyi”. One of Marley’s finest throwaway pop songs is packed with his precision and power for such representation of women.  But before then, his previous songs were littered with thirst traps for men with an unvanquishable desire for his lewd lyrics.  

In Opotoyi, Naira Marley applied so much bravado, I am sure that all the egbon adugbos at Oshodi underbridge questioned their sense of power in bridling harassment towards female passer-by. He had everyone on a hook and spurted the Marlian movement like a long-awaited messiah across Nigeria.

However, as fun as the song was to dance to for his fans, Opotoyi had lyrics such as: “She’s looking at me like she wants to fuck me o”, “ She wants to suck, baby girl can you suck big”, “ Big boobs, just like tiger pussy, sexy girl, let me put my head on your boobs”, “ What do you wanna drink, she requested for Coke, Coker! I called my dealer, he sniff am with my weed Ganja!”, “Quick and fast just like sugar, I wanna release, pussy sweet just like sugar”, and “So it’s big like this, You used clothes to cover it.”

While Naira Marley never responds to the claims about his songs, his endorsement of such lyrics to a degree reflects the broader societal opportunities for affirming hegemonic masculinity —allusions to sexual acts or male domination, where the blatant abuse of women is uncommon or fairly subtle.

The acceptance of his songs draws more attention to the subtext of censorship rather than the misogyny and exploitative ravaging of women in them. There are no questions for him, just an understanding that undermines and condones the interpretation of his lyrics.

“Cast” by Shalipopi, ODUMODUBLVCK

When Shalipopi released his debut hit single Elon Musk, half of the country was ready to jump into a spaceship to Pluto with the Pluto Presido. The other half was caught in between his cartoonish lyrics in his later releases and the later appreciation for his audacity in creating a new platform for Southern Nigerian artists.

But what some of his listeners didn’t expect was how quickly he picked a nasty dialect rich with the imagery of sex and the degradation of women. Although some listeners claimed it was expected and attributed it to the Ghetto-Benin-Hustler syndrome, saying the artiste had to pimp for himself a localised form of cultural expression that promoted his roots. I am quick to question if the degradation of women in music is somewhat attributable to ethnographic aesthetics. If Patoranking was singing about consent in 2016, “if she no give me, I no go take o”, why is it any different for the young crooner and his Siamese twin ODUMODUBLVCK in their recent feature, Cast?

A heated public debate is not required to confirm that ODUMODUBLVCK has a great ascendancy of misogynistic content in his songs, and the rapper takes no keenness in accepting such criticism against his songs. As he continues to be marketed as the new face of alte music in Nigeria, our IT’S-NOT-HARD-TO-BE-A-MISOGYNST-OUT-HERE pioneer further prides himself in the normalisation of his lyrics disregarding the complaints of violation of gender etiquettes in them.

As much as a handful of the reactions from men on Nigerian Twitter towards his lyrics are more impressionistic than systematic, it perfectly puts the bigger picture together — that currently, the most honoured way of being a man requires the acceptance of attitudes that objectify women, practices that subordinate them, and derogation of men who adopt a different orientation. This requires all other men to position themselves in relation to it.

In Cast, after Shalipopi does some Queen Premier warm up with his trademark word  “say-say-say” he continues with lyrics such as: “Presido with the big machine. Your girlfriend friend wanna suck my thing”, “Put your girl on phone, 12 o’ clock for night”, “She located my location, Pluto, are you feeling the vibration?” Then our sensational wannabe-abobi transitions with lyrics such as: “Willy-Willy practitioner”, “Big kala need your bunda bam bam”, “If she no fuck o if she no suck”, “Who go pay for her wig and handbag?”

Although the mainstreaming of pimp chic has become a fascinating cultural trend, it is pervasive to attribute women to prostitution. Nigerian male pop stars take pride in singing about women being drilled, wrecked and otherwise roughened up that Cast doesn’t disappoint with its now very popular catchphrase: “if she no fuck o if she no suck” “who go pay for her wig and handbag?” A bend-down-select variety where it remains uncommon for the female persona to be considered intelligent, independent, or equal to men.

In recent times, it is even more like cosplaying the street heroic and accessorising misogyny as conventional. The sexual objectification of women is adjacent to the hypersexuality and gratification of men, and this plays to the larger archetype of women being regarded as gratuitous.

“Heartbreaker” by Blaqbonez

Blaqbonez can be allowed all the accolades he receives for his PR stunts and his creativity in music videos, but one thing that will always linger behind is how the rapper further objectifies women in a culture that already objectifies them over time. Emeka must shine, indeed.

Much of the rapper’s personality might be perched between his days in OAU, humor, and shock value on Twitter, but his music output shouldn’t be treated with such forgetability and engagement.

In his single, Heartbreaker, featuring Nigerian favourite-darling, SA rapper Nasty C, Blaqbonez effectively creates an example of how insidious rap songs can be with C caressing his verse with that false prima-donna praise around words like “pussy and hoe”.

Heartbreaker opens with Blaqbonez rapping melodically to lyrics like: “This hoe tell me she like me”, “Hope this dick is enough for ya”, “Saw my old crush and I f-ck her”, “Like I missed her but the pussy average”, “Only fucked you because you stunted on me”, “Five bad bitches, fuck a lockdown.”

Then our distant cousin from Johannesburg takes over with lyrics such as: “I’m a savage”, “She knew it when I banged her”, “I got manners though, I still banked her”, “Gave her five stars, I ranked her”, “ I got wood, she a wood chipper”, “Eat me up like good dinner, I beat it up like Suge”, “Pussy caught a L, on hell”, “Dick hard like a stale”, “Would you still wanna come ride me?”

Most of Blaq’s songs sing like a queasy-not-too-filthy ode to femininity, like the way Lagos mobile toilet rentals litter the city, promising a better treat than public loos only to still forcefully pinch your nose into disappointment from its not-so-different stench. Throughout Heartbreaker, Blaqbonez and Nasty C fixate on the power they hold over women sexually—and the power they can hold over them financially.

Hip-hop music has struggled to comfortably fit with other genres in Nigerian mainstream music for years. But the versatility of most Nigerian rappers continues to piggyback sexism from Shitta to Ojuelegba. And this bias is further fostered and recapitulated into the kind of rap music that gets the greatest airplay on radio stations across Nigeria.

When so casually overlooked, sexist lyrics reflect the rooted misogyny in our society. It also hinders the societal perception of women and their progress in modern society.

“Madu” by Kizz Daniel

I like to think of Kizz Daniel as the star boy of profitable misogyny. One of the biggest moments of misogynistic lyricism that placed the pop star in the spotlight was the adlib in his hit single Yeba, where a girl can be heard saying “Uncle stop touching,” with the reply “sorry madam.”

In 2017, the multiple hitmaker faced a lot of criticism for disregarding consent from women, and he responded in a PR haul, describing it as rather his support for women’s consent and silencing victims of abuse.

This wasn’t the first time too that our Cassava Boy has travelled through this territory. There is this veiled but pervasive theme of male ownership and satisfaction over women’s bodies that colours his output. Take his 2019 hit, Madu: “Look at me baby, call me Zaddy”, “Come to my bedroom, cassava dey for you”, “Are you okay, are you okay?”, “ I want to use my, to shift your womb permit me”.

Perhaps you could write this off as posturing machismo, or Kizz Daniel simply continuing a tradition of misogynistic lyrics in music. Maybe even more politely: “separate the art from the artist”.

This casual misogyny shouldn’t exist in a blaise of artistic expression, especially with the rise of the “manosphere” online and their constant subjugation of women.

What does this have to do with Kizz Daniel? Obviously, the singer’s lyrics aren’t analogous to outright violence. However, they do contribute to and align with a worrying normalisation of misogyny within mainstream culture. The ant that eats up a vegetable lives in the vegetable itself. His continued production of such songs is another tributary that feeds into a thirst that not only celebrates the objectification towards women but rewards it, too. Male narcissists have been shown to have hostility towards women due to them being “sexual gatekeepers,” it is also unsurprising that they display a sense of sexual entitlement.

Kizz Daniel might not be offering you the red pill, but he can probably tell you how to get one. I don’t know if he has similarly been radicalised, but he has honed in on this same type of song for years. He’s mostly refrained from the type of a-word, b-word, and h-word slanging that has permeated mainstream Nigerian music, but his soft-boy-gimmick aids and abets the misogyny it puts together.

“Igbeyawo” by Oritsefemi

When Igbeyawo was released, the whole of Lagos danced in their expensive dry lace and aso oke every Saturday. And half the others probably thought we had a proper, well-seasoned Yoruba rendition of Bruno Mars’s “Marry You.” You know, the type with the bata, sekere, agogo, omelette and the percussion of Oritsefemi vocals to carry it into wedding parties bump to bump.

But Igbeyawo opens with what I would better describe as paint-in-water misogynistic lyrics: “What God has joined together, Let no man put asunder, Shey ori iwo iyawo, Gbo ti oko eh (Eh o), Ounje lasiko, Pon’omi lasiko, (Oya) Fo’aso lasiko, Fun ni tibi yen lasiko, Tori oun ti a gbesile oun ni omo eran gbey, Oruko taba so’omo ni’omo aje, Eyi tio bimo ah bimo, Gbogbowa lashi ma gbе omo jo, Eh se jeje, Sе jeje.”

which translates to: “You, wife, listen to your husband. Cook on time. Fetch water on time. Wash in time. Give him sex on time. What we leave is what the goat takes (what we don’t value, someone who values it takes it.) The name we give a son is what he bears. Those who do not have a child will give birth. We will all carry our child. Take care.”

Given that the music we get is mainly dominated by male artists and caters to dance floors, it is no surprise that many songs by Nigerian artists scavenge for loot around lust and the domestication of women, which is also aided by our society’s deeply valued patriarchal system.

It has become the norm for women to serve as objects for affection, function, and desire, more or less reinforcing the unideal ways men have been conditioned to view and communicate with women. You most likely would have danced to Igbeyawo, praising Oritsefemi for such an over-the-top gbedu.

But while Bruno Mars was busy making us question the depth of romance in our lives, Oritsefemi was giving us bite-size chunks, which seem valuable but, to an extent, require a necessary negation to self-impose.

Marriage is ultimately whatever the people in it decide it is, but the hitmaker has such plainness to his lyrics that a listener might easily miss him subjugating woman into a typical subservient position, just the way Nigerian politicians easily preach the gospel of choice of candidacy freedom, but enslave the electorate with its existing statesmanship.

The “Flog Politician” hitmaker sings with such precision, cutting through sex role specialisation, the way an Obioma will expertly cut through the extra garment in the outfit for your next parte after parte: Women overcoming role inflexibility in marriages can be very hard. As marriage and gender are both societal constructs specific to locations and cultures, variations are expected, especially across social groups.

The last thing we need is yet another song that tidies up such stiff mentality in today’s society.

“Story For The Gods” by Olamide

A pioneer of indigenous and reality rap, Olamide’s musings about street life, its brutality and its survival system date back to his award-winning debut album, “Rapsodi”.

Baddo Sneh is known for the glorious storytelling in his songs, and sometimes, it is not hard to read into his lyrics. However, it is this same incredible lyricism that makes it nearly impossible to go through his 2014 hit “Story For The Gods”.

In a genre that hasn’t skipped on the degradation of women, the rapper stands out for his alarmingly disturbing lyrics sometimes, and it is questionable to an extent because he could put out a new album about just anything, and people will still vibe to it.

Nonetheless, the evidence of our culture’s unwillingness to address the reality and ubiquity of men’s violence against women is not merely contained in Olamide’s Story of the Gods lyrics: “O ti mu dogoyaro, Like monkey tail Caro, Ba mi wey Claro, I want to do sina today, She say she cannot wait o, She say its getting late o, She say she wants to faint oo, Haaaa Story for the gods, Now she say Mo ro go, O ti kan mi lapa oo, O ti kan mi leyin o, Story for the gods, The gods oh.” It is also contained in the unsophisticated understanding of the social functions of art. And it takes no great leap of logic to see that sexism works that way.

The imagery in these lyrics is so cringe, advocating for the use of substances to cross boundaries. The whole song is about blaming these actions on booze, and it brings up so many issues in victim-blaming. It’s one thing for rappers to brag about getting sex, but it’s another thing to think the sex is owed. And it’s another thing to demand it and not take no for an answer because of it.

Unquestionably, Olamide typically centred on the initial rise of his notoriety and now to the heights of Nigerian pop cultural fame. Olamide’s fans can argue that his lyrics aren’t meant to be taken seriously. “Just because we listen to his music doesn’t mean we are going to go out and harass, rape and murder women. We know it’s just a song. These Twitter women are doing too much these days.” But then, the fact remains that the local rapper was singing melodiously to lyrics that suggested rape.

Rather, one of the most damaging aspects of the rapper’s virulent misogynistic lyrics is how normal and matter-of-fact this violence comes to seem as if one is just casually saving oneself from falling off the crooked seats in a molue.

Rapping about rape has the effect of desensitising people to the real pain suffered by victims. Also, the process of desensitisation to violence through repeated exposure has been studied for decades. Excessive amounts of fictionalised portrayals of men’s violence against women in mainstream media could likely lead to real-life violence.

“Philo” by Bella Shmurda, Omah Lay

Bella Shmurda had warmed the hearts of so many Nigerian listeners with his 2019 hit, “Vision 2020,” telling the typical Nigerian cash-cow story of “grass to grace.”

The Ikorodu singer went on to release other hits like “Cash App” and “Rush” the following year, and in 2022, he released his hit single, Philo, off the album “Hypertension”, featuring Afro-Depression crooner Omah Lay.

Omah Lay might have an album that feels like couch therapy, soothing your angst and heartache all year long, but one thing the singer effortlessly flaunts aside his mastery in crafting timeless ballads is his appreciation for lyrics that sometimes brandish women.

The “Bad Influence” hitmaker can literally start a cult named The Heartbreak Society, and half of the country wouldn’t mind being a part of it. His lyrics have this potent force of shaping even the simplest of experiences into the extraordinary. It’s like the emotional regulation you never realised you needed until you hear one of his songs.

Omah Lay’s songs are time capsules of failed relationships that were never our fault, and sometimes declaration of our love, that even wata pia pia cannot kill.

Listeners don’t go to the 26-year-old singer for emotional maturity and promises of true love; they know he has curated an image that simplifies the intricacies and shortcomings of human emotions. But this world of consistent heartbreak is cut short by the momentary bliss of his 2022 hit, with our most stylish Ikorodu-boi, Bella Shmurda.

Philo starts with lyrics: “Nothing wey I no go do for my Philo, Rest on me like pillow” sculpting emotive longing but the next verse of lyrics “Nothing wey I no go do for my Philo, My personal olosho” is honed into a sharper, petty edge.

Then, there are verses with lyrics that follow with machine-like precision and intent: Emi lo kan, Dangbana Vuvuzela, blow me zella Me, I no like wahala, I dey run from yawa, I just like your matter Sister Esther, off your pata”

“Nothin’ I no go do for my baby oku, We cause and then discuss and fuck oh, She no dey record oh”,  “Oh, when I hit her my hammer, my sledger, Arnold Schwarzenegger, she dey take am
Penpene, penpeneda, I can not play with her Arsène Wenger,” “Ah, put it in, Put it in, ah, make I put it in, Put it in, shey if I put it in, Put it in, shey you go leave it in?”

The hypersexualisation in Philo is shielded by the muscle fibre of Bella and Omah Lay’s romanticisation, and we are presented with a new question and narrative arc: how should having sexual relationships with women be talked about in songs; POV: sex is something a man needs to do to a woman.

Over the years, the lyrics of Philo remained sustained by the sheer force of internet savour and became a meme: “Sister Esther, off your pata.” However, it isn’t surprising that this phrase has somehow become a cheese trap online. It is supremely one of the many examples that explain that the chaos done to the identity of women isn’t a pit; it is a ladder.

There’s comfort in the realisation that the internet and listeners understand how awful these lyrics objectify women, but at the same time, how much longer are we going to wait for these pop stars to stop giving us a good portion of sexism?

“Sun Seyin” by CDQ

Exploring the effects of song lyrics should be a relevant undertaking in our society. It will come as no surprise that people listen to music daily. More often than not, lyrics get stuck in our heads.

Therefore, songs deemed especially popular might have a stronger hold on us with their lyrics. Indigenous rapper CDQ is best known for his single “Nowo E Soke”, and his catalogue has continued to grow significantly over the years.

Right from his early days, the rapper has never failed to include sex into his songs if he needed to. Well, sex sells better than a cold drink in Lagos traffic for most of these rappers. It’s continued to be a hot topic that often finds its way into rap lyrics. Due to the machismo that’s hawked with the genre, rappers are mostly renowned for bragging about all the gratuitous sex they have and how trophy-worthy they are.

Most rap songs about sex are brazen and dispersed like the stench that guards your nose jealously through Oshodi underbridge. In Sun Seyin, there are lyrics that screech similarly: “Swear say you no know say balloon no be condom, Bad girl she say i be like tom tom, Oni owun o mind lati fi kinimi fo’yin, She say make i knock on her door when i wan come, A jomape comment cava, Ojo ko’n pelu auntie nofi how far, Gbagbe pe mo wu’rugbon o mio kin se Alfa, Ti’n ba kolue wamo pe pound o se egbe cefa.”

At the surface level, these lyrics might seem without malice for some listeners, but they become extremely problematic in context, especially since they show a significant influence on male culture, and this reaches far beyond the music industry.

“Calm Down” by Rema

Rema might be our resident banger boy, our H-I-M, our DND Afrobeats rock star, but sometimes, one thing the pop star fails to do is to place aside his urges to add unpleasant lyrical descriptions to some of his hits, no matter how subtle they can be. And when he does fail, the 23-year-old singer wears this just beneath his belly button like a swaddle of real-time Benin wahala.

His songs swarm with references to women, heartbreak, transitions and sometimes bravado. Perhaps the most recent of his pseudo-chilling portrayal of sexism is his global hit, Calm Down.

Despite its gender-essentialist lyrics revolving around the singer’s inability to control his manly urges, Calm Down had and still has the world in a chokehold, and perhaps this just legitimises the idea that everyday misogyny is rife —often it catches you unawares in the form of toe-tapping, club-thumping hit singles.

With its catchy rhythm, Calm Down arguably takes the spot for the most mainstream and mixed-up on this list. Lyrics include: “See this fine girl, for my party she wear yellow, Every other girl they dey do too much but this girl mellow, Naim, I dey find situation, I go use take tell am hello, Finally, I find way to talk to the girl but she no wan follow, Who you come dey form for?, Why you no wan’ conform?, Then I start to feel her bum-bum, But she dey gimme small, small.”

These lyrics run over the age-old problem of consent. It describes how the singer decides to start feeling up a lady after approaching her and she shows reluctance. While there have been defences on Twitter describing the act as a normal act in parties and clubs, groping is a huge problem in Nigeria. Women get grabbed in buses, traffic, markets, clubs, parties, and everywhere you can think about, and it is not a topic that should easily be brushed off as the norm.

Rema might be enamoured with this girl in yellow at his party, but it necessarily doesn’t translate into his decision to grab her without asking her first because he thinks she’s interested in him and just playing hard to get: “Who you come dey form for? Why you no wan’ conform?, Then I start to feel her bum-bum, But she dey gimme small, small.”

Consent is never implied; it is specific, enthusiastic and reversible. This doesn’t even need a textbook definition because it perpetuates the idea that women’s boundaries can be violated and their complaints and indifferences invalidated because they are found in certain environments.

You may have pushed your way through the crowd to get as close to the stage as possible and you might have even screamed “Calm Down” lyrics at the top of your lungs. I think I would have had a better time than you at this concert too, screaming louder than the trumpet playing from the church beside my house, though, if I wasn’t so observant and sceptical as if a whitlow will gradually grow to eat up my fingers for steadying my incredibly bad dance steps to this bop.

“Red Flags” by Ruger

Now, Ruger might be one of the most rising stars in Nigerian Pop, with an eye patch that could rival Jack Sparrow; his impact can be measured just by his 2.7 million monthly Spotify listeners and 2.2 million Instagram followers.

But the D’ Prince’s signee has a history of blatant misogyny and disrespect towards women, specifically during his concerts, and his songs are not shy of such attention.

Personally, I cannot hold my breath for a society that will always favour profit over the value of its people, but I always think to myself, sometimes, if the young star’s treatment of women during his concerts is yet another corporate marketing strategy, or simply a flex of his cis-ness?

“Red Flags” is nearly three minutes of incel rhetoric and objectification defined chiefly by Ruger’s open-and-shut mannerism with dealing with his partner. Ruger successfully delivers a musical equivalent of an incel anthem: Especially for men who can’t get women or the women they expect to attain, and when they get these women, they discard them as a validation of their own insecurities.

Performative, toxic masculinity has always been a major part of being a successful Nigerian pop star. Women bear the most significant consequences of these norms from allegedly destructive men like the lyrics of Red Flags suggests: “She said, RU, baby this ain’t you!”, “You’re not the sweet guy I was knew”, “Did I do anything wrong or you don’t love me anymore?”, “Why did you change so bad towards me?”

“You’re treating me like shit” and Mr Cuckuroockoo continues singing: “You saw the red flags baby, and you ignored the red flags”, “ See I can’t change, baby you better rest or you end this now”, “Time’s not on your side, Check the clock”, “I know you fell in love with my cock and glock”, “I’m a billion reasons why we can’t work o baby”.

While Ruger paints himself as a lost soul without any need for redemption in Red Flags, all he has to do is mature from his covert narcissism. He may have the vocal inflections, but his percussive trope in Red Flags still surrounds the maltreatment and disregard women face in Nigerian pop songs. Covertly manipulating women into fast-forwarding roles after creating a bond early on and later showing resentment and cold withdrawals to maintain the carousel isn’t a message that should be out there.

Esther Omoye is a graduate of the University of Benin. Her works have been previously published in Brittle Paper, Vanguard, Green Black Tales, Lickety Split, Pink Plastic Journal, My Woven Poetry, and others. She can be found on Twitter @OmoalukheOmoye.

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5 months ago

This is a very, very timely and important piece. Thank you for sharing, Esther!

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