By the start of the 2010s, contemporary Nigerian pop music was already a few years into its rebirth with figures like 2baba, Dbanj, M.I Abaga, Psquare, Eedris Abdulkareem and Timaya beating down a path for younger and emerging voices — Wizkid, Davido, Burna Boy, Tiwa Savage, amongst others — to walk.
In a little under two decades, this musical wave has enraptured the hearts of millions across the world to become a global phenomenon and acquiring a place among other world music. But the curious thing about Nigerian pop music is how it functions without a recognisable organisational structure – to say nothing about policy and laws.
American and Korean pop, for instance, became the outsized global sensation that they are now partly through the efforts of gigantic, juggernaut and capitalistic record labels who find and make pop superstars out of random talents.
However, in Nigeria, it is clearly different how the music industry functions. There are no large music labels to speak of. In fact, it appears that every Nigerian artiste with a few hits or a good music year will start his own record label, look to sign new acts who will eventually leave to start their own label (and it is, almost always, a ‘he’).
Despite this proliferation of half-chewed, directionless record labels that disappear as fast as they appear, Chocolate City has had a strong staying power, somehow managing to weather Nigeria’s terrible business environment and the vagaries of a fickle pop music scene.
Alongside the defunct Mo’ Hits Record, Square Records and Kennis Music, Chocolate City was the face of the growing music business, fielding talents that everyone wanted to be.
In over a decade, Chocolate City has somehow stayed nimble, signed a bunch of talents, produced a handful of stars who then leave the record label and/or fade away. Even more instructive is how the label has undergone structural changes over the years, forming new, genre-specific imprints and naming new chief executives all under Chocolate City Group in an ambitious effort to run smoothly, better and differently from their contemporaries.
There is little doubt that the record label is probably the most structurally organised music outfit in Nigeria today.
Sadly, in the current discussion of Afropop/Afrobeats and as the genre transcends into a global movement, Chocolate City has little or no part to play in the general equation; its artistes struggling to find their place in the conversation or lost in the humdrum of it all.
Headed since 2015 by rapper, M.I. Abaga (who released two well-timed albums in 2018 that failed to take off), Chocolate City has found itself marking time while the entire industry is swept by an international wave that have also seeped into the alternative, once underground, scene, bringing acts like Johnny Drille, Adekunle Gold, Simi and Odunsi strongly into our consciousness.
Surely, it is not that the record label has a shortage of talents. It doesn’t. After all, it is home to the likes of Dice Ailes, DJ Lambo, Ckay, and Yung L, Loose Kanyon, AQ and Blaqbonez.
Perhaps it is something more unseen and less tangible or measurable. Poor marketing, perhaps. Or could it be that pure hip hop is truly dead in Nigeria?
Whatever it is, now is the time for Chocolate City to reconsider its music business strategy or risk becoming another Kennis Music: alive but dead.
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