For rap music in Nigeria, as much as it has become a huge topic of fan arguments ranging from if it’s heading in the right direction, to if artists considered top rappers are still ‘rapping’, to an outright if it’s even still a thing, one thing the beloved genre has never missed a beat on is the influx of talent it produces, and the amount of gifted young people who dream to make fame by their gift for poetry and “wordsmithery”.
But the crux is that these talents, as heavy as the gift they might carry, never face the real test of viability till they’re introduced to the music industry, its glitz, rigor, demands, politics and intrigue. Essentially, while winning a talent show denotes a defining moment for an artist, the wave of events that gets (or don’t get) unfolded thereafter is exactly what an artist should prioritize, especially when you bag the winner’s trophy on a platform as notable as the annual Hennessy Artistry VS CLASS.
Originating from Delta State and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, Matosan Nelson, the lanky, fresh-faced youngster preceded by a crown of lush hair very reminiscent Prince Nelson and Michael Jackson, blazed his way through a slew of skilled, mic-toting contestants at the 2020 edition of Hennessy Artistry VS Class VII, and emerged winner. We sat down with him to discuss the taste of victory, his life and dreams, and, taking from the confidence he comes with, the impact he intends to make in the Nigerian rap music scene.
AT WHAT AGE DID MUSIC/RAP START FOR YOU?
I started music since I was 5, because my mom used to sing for the church and I just joined in.
When I was 11, I saw a friend of mine doing this rap thing, he could freestyle with anything, and I’m like how does this guy manage to do this. Like can I ever be this person. So I kept trying and trying, with time I became better than him.
A competition came up in school and was put against each other and I killed him.
HAS IT ALWAYS BEEN ABOUT HIP HOP & RAP?
Well, it was not always about hip-hop and rap; I started with listening to Michael Jackson first of all. Then when I entered secondary school I started listening to Lil Wayne a lot. So, that’s what started the whole thing. Lil Wayne is my favorite rapper.
DO YOU STYLE YOURSELF AFTER MICHAEL JACKSON?
Well, I do not like Michael Jackson’s hair, that’s the funny thing. I’m not doing this because of Michael Jackson, I’m doing it because I don’t care about how my hair comes up, I have nappy hair and it just keeps coming up, so I just, let it be my style.
YOU HAVE GREAT RESEMBLANCE AND STYLE WITH PRINCE, HOW MUCH OF AN INFLUENCE DID HE HAVE ON YOU?
No the funny thing is I don’t really pay attention to Prince. People tell me “you look like this guy”, so I go online and check, but I have never listened to him.
DID YOU GROW UP IN DELTA? HOW DID THAT MOULD YOUR STYLE?
I did not grow up in Delta. I grew up in Lagos, and I’ve been to Delta once in my whole life and I spent 3 days there, so I don’t know anything about the Delta stuff. It’s just in me, Warri boy – hat kind of thing.
WHAT WAS THE HENNESY VS RAP BATTLE EXPERIENCE LIKE FOR YOU?
Hmm… first of all, when they brought the list of guys I was to go against, it was nothing to me, it felt like child’s play because I knew that these guys are not my level.
DID YOU EXPECT TO WIN?
I always knew I was going to win from the get-go.
IF YOU WERE TO PICK A LANGUAGE FOR RAP, WHAT WILL IT BE?
English is my comfort zone for rap but I like to explore lyrically.
WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR SWITCH TO PIDGIN IN THE FINALS OF THE HENNESSY VS RAP BATTLE?
I tried to relate to others watching so they can understand what I was trying to say.
WAS SCHOOLING YOUR OPPONENT A FACTOR IN THE SWITCH TO PIDGIN?
I wanted him to understand, like I said, they’re not that advanced so I had to break it down for them to be able to understand.
WHAT DID WINNING THE HENNESY VS RAP BATTLE FEEL LIKE FOR YOU?
Well, I don’t feel like the winner yet. Its weird, but it’s a nice feeling. I’ve been winning competitions, I won the MTN Music Pulse Competition, I won the Quest Naija, Deedems Park Battle, I’ve been winning since I was little, so yeah, I’m used to the feeling.
WHAT DOES THE HENNESY VS RAP BATTLE VICTORY ADD TO YOU AS AN ARTISTE?
It gives me the confidence I need to make music. The whole thing is I don’t like to be known as a battle rapper, because I’m a musician, I make music, I also sing, so this whole thing is just a push for me, more connect and everything.
WHEN YOU SING, DO YOU DO HIP HOP OR AFROBEATS?
Afrobeats in general.
WHAT OTHER FORM OF ART DO YOU DO?
I also paint. I started painting about 15 years ago. My dad is an artist; growing up with him he taught me how to paint. It is my hobby.
IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE SINGER AND PAINTER?
Not really because I’m a deep thinker. I try to bring my imagination to life anytime I paint and I try to make money from it. I paint because I love it and I want to make money from it to put in my music. So music is the main thing.
DO YOU THINK RAP WILL EVER BE THE TOP THING IN THE NIGERIAN MUSIC SCENE?
Yes, it is very possible. As long as we keep putting out good content, yeah I think people will be able to relate and before you know its back again.
WHICH RAP ARTISTE DO YOU THINK IS STILL TOP OF HIS GAME IN THE NIGERIAN MUSIC SCENE?
Magneto, MI, Vector, those guys are still popping and doing things.
M.I. ABAGA OR VECTOR THA VIPER?
First of all, I know Vector Tha Viper ; I’ve been with Vector for a while. I don’t really know MI Abaga, I have seen him just twice and we haven’t really talked like that, so it’s going to be Vector.
WHAT ATTRIBUTE OF VECTOR DO YOU ADMIRE THE MOST?
It’s the way he thinks.
DO YOU THINK CROSS OVER FROM RAP TO SINGING IS A THING THAT WORKS IN NIGERIA?
Surely. Its music so surely.
HOW DOES THE ECONOMIC HARDSHIP IN NIGERIA AFFECT YOU AS AN ARTISTE?
First of all the government slows down this whole music thing, fucks up the music business and everything, but we just keep moving, I don’t know how we manage to get out of this whole situation with the government, we just keep moving. Trying to break through the whole barriers set for us.
IF YOU WERE PRESIDENT FOR 24 HOURS, WHAT WILL YOU DIFFERENTLY IN MUSIC AND ENTERTAINMENT?
I will try to bring more youths into government, try to put the right things in the right place because the government isn’t doing shit; we’re alone in the country, so I’m just trying to change everything.
ARE YOU WORKING ON ANY PROJECT?
Yeah, I’m working on my EP. I’m almost done with it even, its just one song left, so you have to watch out for it.
ANY SNEAK PEEK INTO THE EP?
I feel like a star is going to be featured on one of its songs. So just keep lock.
WHAT IS THE NAME OF YOUR EP?
I don’t know, I’ve not gotten a name for it yet.
PREFER NOT TO SAY?
Nah, the name is not out yet. I’m still contemplating on what to give it.
HOW DID THE PANDEMIC/LOCKDOWN AFFECT YOU AS AN ARTISTE?
It made me sit down and reflect on how to go about this whole music thing and how to connect to the industry more. Last year was bad for most people but it was the best year for me, there’s some stuffs I cant say on camera but so many things happened last year, good things. So yeah it was good for me.
WHO DO YOU THINK ARE THE TOP 5 ARTISTES IN THE INDUSTRY?
Wizkid, Davido, Burna Boy, Magneto, Tekno
DO YOU HAVE A SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP WITH MAGNETO?
He’s a nice guy. He likes to go out of his way to help people, so yeah definitely. He’s really bring some new artistes out there in your faces, so yeah he’s has to be one of the people changing stuff around here.
BEST BATTLE RAP ARTISTE IN THE COUNTRY?
I don’t think there’s anything like rap battle in the country. I feel like it has to be MI Abaga and Vector because at least we’ve seen the diss, we know what’s going on so it has to be MI and Vector.
WHICH IS YOUR PREFERENCE, RECORD LABEL PROJECT OR INDIVIDUAL PROJECT?
It is the record label thinking, straight up. Well, I have tried to do it by myself and it didn’t work so, it has to be the label right now. That’s what I’m trying to push. If it comes, if it doesn’t I will still try to push it myself. Nothing changes.
PICK A RECORD LABEL OF YOUR CHOICE.
I will pick Mavin. I don’t really know labels but I will pick Mavin because Mavin is popular and I feel like they know how to push their artistes.
FAN OF DON JAZZY?
Yeah I am a fan of Don Jazzy.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF HIS MANAGEMENT, ESPECIALLY IN RELATION TO RAPPERS IN HIS LABEL?
Well, I don’t really know Don Jazzy, but from what I can see, he seems like a good person. I mean he’s artistes are doing well, all of them, even the rappers like Ladi Poe. So, yeah Don Jazzy.
GIVE US A VIEW INTO YOUR CHILDHOOD.
It was fun and not fun at the same time because I used to fall sick a lot, so yeah sometimes I will be in the hospital, my mum will be with me there, sometimes I come back home play fall sick again.
Yeah and I was a stubborn child in school, I didn’t like to go to school, I remember, I just wanted to do music with my friends, performing in front of the children in the compound and everyone going “yo yo yo”.
DID YOU GROW UP IN LAGOS?
WHAT PART OF LAGOS?
I actually grew up in Ajegunle, yeah in the streets of Ajegunle. We were like the different family, we were just different. The way I was raised, different school, different kind of thing but it was Ajegunle, in the streets, very terrible.
WHAT IS SPECIAL ABOUT AJEGUNLE?
Ajegunle is like the struggle men, nobody wants to be there, and it is not a place to be, so everybody wants to get out there. Just that mentality of hustling and going to get what you want. That’s just the drive, I mean everybody there should have that drive if you’re living there, that place is hell, like hell, trust me. I’ve been through lot things there, so you just have to get out men, so you do anything it takes.
DID AJEGUNLE INFLUENCE YOUR MUSIC?
Yeah it did, to an extent yeah it did.
DO YOU HAVE RELATIONSHIPS WITH ARTISTES IN/FROM AJEGUNLE?
No I don’t have artistes there but I have friends though that I do talk to.
WHAT IS YOUR THOUGHT ON FAN WARS ON SOCIAL MEDIA, WIZKID FC, OUTSIDERS, 30BG?
I feel like it makes no sense, to me personally, I mean the music in Nigeria we’re still struggling so there’s no need for competition, we should be trying to forge ahead, trying to get better recognition, trying to spread Nigeria to the world instead of trying to better than this your guy, that kind of thing.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF BURNABOY’S GRAMMY WIN?
Yeah Grammy or no Grammy we’ll always be great, that’s just the thing, were different from any other culture or any other country with their music.
Everybody fucks with Nigerian music. I feel like Burna Boy winning the Grammy is just like a push to more opportunities for Nigerian artistes outside the country.
DO YOU THINK NIGERIAN RAP/HIP HOP CAN DO AS WELL AS ITS AFROBEATS?
Well, rap is rap. It can never be like Afro or any other music. Rap is just different so I feel like we have more people listening to music, the youths and everybody they are focused on music right now, I think this is the right time for rap to come up, you know, there are more educated people, the kind of rap I do you have to be educated to a level to understand what I’m saying or what I’m trying to say, so I feel like there’s more educated people out there to push out rap to and they’ll connect to it. So it’s just time that is everything.
WHAT ATTRIBUTES CHARACTERIZE YOUR RAP, FLOW, PUNCHLINE AND WORD PLAY?
For me I think it’s the flow and the punch line.
BACK TO THE HENNESSY VS RAP BATTLE, WHAT WAS YOUR PRIZE AS THE WINNER?
I don’t know yet, I think they have a plan but I don’t know yet. Everything is kind of hush for now.
WHAT MESSAGE DO YOU HAVE FOR FANS OUT THERE?
Do I have fans yet, but anybody watching, if you’re a musician and you’re trying to be out in people’s face, just keep pushing and pushing, pray, go out, always go out, try to meet new people everyday, try to network, try to make good music and get your shit out there regardless.
Words: Collins Dada
Interview: Edun Adedamola
Production Assist: Anuoluwapo Dada & Adebayo Adetola
Creative Director, Photography and Design: Rayo Kasali
Watch Now: Interview with the “Hennessy Artistry VS Class VII Winner”; Matosan Nelson