Is Dagrin really deserving of his legendary status? – Joy Dennis

The year was 2017; I was 16, fresh out of high school, just sleeping and waking as I tried to figure out what to do with my life. Some hip guys had just moved into the flat downstairs. I did not relate with them, though. I was very Christian, and they smoked. 

Then, one Friday, in August, I heard – “sometimes when I sleep and I’m dreaming…,” bang, from their stereo. The bass Sossick fixed in that joint was so hard, I could feel the building vibrate. I couldn’t resist. Later that day, I went to them and requested for that Dagrin CD. 

It wasn’t the first time I’d heard the album. But just like the first, the third and the fifth, hearing Dagrin rap on those hippie instrumentals always left me more inspired than I was, before pushing play. Or in this case, before my smoker neighbors did. 

I always thought the reason was simple, and that it was because Dagrin’s music is ‘real-life’. With his storytelling skills, he deified the hustle spirit, shedding his ambitious persona on every line he spats. It is such that his music resonates with everyone who listens and inspires them to, maybe, do more. Hustle more, make more money, and inevitably listen to Dagrin even more. 

By 2008, when MI Abaga made his gallant entry into the scene with his debut, “Talk About It”, hip-hop was barely in the mainstream. The ‘new’ contemporary afro-pop music was thriving, but somehow rap music remained on the sidelines. Dagrin, born Olaitan Olaonipekun, who was in his early 20s, came of musical age as at that time. 

Not that there were no indigenous Yoruba hip-hop artists before Dagrin, no. Lord of Ajasa had successfully done the Yoruba rap thing, making a big commercial hit with “Le Fenu So”, a track which featured 9ice. Guys like Reminisce, who were still on the up, were just around the corner. So, ’Grin wasn’t really alone. 

However, he was able to crack the scene like no one has ever done before. He released a commercially successful and critically acclaimed album, CEO (Chief Executive Omo-Ita), without having to sing-rap or fuse heavy afro sounds with his ‘strict’ hip-hop music. MI Abaga might have got airplay with his “Talk About It” LP, but that would have been nothing, compared to the waves the tracks from Dagrin’s “CEO” album made, in and around 2010, when it was released. 

With big hits like “Ghetto Dream”, “Pon Pon Pon”, “Thank God”, “Everyday” and “Kondo” banging on the streets, he rose to become the hottest rapper around. He also became the most sought-after rapper in the country at the time. If you had a song you needed to fix with a quick rap verse, it just had to be Dagrin.

He had a shortlived but successful career, and at the time of his death in 2010, he wasn’t only loved; he was revered by all and sundry. 

The word on the street is that he’s got a legacy; he made many others want to rap in Yoruba, and that he paved the way for many especially, Olamide. And that’s why every year, we mourn the death of a ‘legend’ who would’ve done more than just pave the way, if not for the grim reaper. 

While what he’d done with the music was a bit unprecedented and very inspiring, it is clear that we do a lot of over-hyping when we talk of his music and his supposed legacy, today. 

Even though we don’t have Neilsen Soundscan to tell us how those albums performed in the market, there is no doubt that many that came after him have sold more records than he’ll ever be able to sell (may his soul rest in peace.) They haven’t only surpassed him in streaming numbers (or album sales), some guys have even out-rapped him, and explored more styles, with even more proficiency than he had. 

What about consistency? Guys have been out here, rapping their hearts out for a decade and even longer, without getting the accolades they deserve. But Dagrin, made one successful album, a couple of hits, and we somehow think he’s on the level of 2Pac? We don’t even have a single posthumous project to back up those claims of “he is to Nigeria what Tupac Shakur is to America.” 

So when Lord of Ajasa, himself a pioneer of the indigenous rap music, said he believes Dagrin should be more celebrated than he is because he died at an early age, you wonder what more he wants people to do. Perhaps replace the statue of liberty with Dagrin’s sculpture? It just shows to what extent we, as human beings, fear and sometimes unwittingly, respect death as a phenomenon. 

I’ve heard upcoming rappers say stuff like “Dagrin died for the rap game”, but that’s just another myth, another lie. He’s not Jesus, and he died after an auto crash, just like any human could have. 

Dagrin doesn’t deserve our respect because he died. He deserves to be respected because he rapped and represented the streets; something that we all appreciate to this day. And something we’ve continued to appreciate in the works of guys like Olamide, Reminisce and Seriki. 

We love him but unfortunately, this is an industry where Olamide is often being left out of the hip-hop G.O.A.T conversations, just because he did some pop stuff along the way. This is an industry where we often scrutinize people’s catalogs and then give the verdict that they’re not relevant anymore because they’ve not been consistent. It is an industry, where you still have to think twice before saying out loud that Modenine is the greatest rapper of all time, even after all his years of being on top of his game. I don’t think Dagrin should be mentioned in these G.O.A.T convos. That would be conferring too much on one album, because of an unfortunate demise. 

God bless the dead! 

(Joy Dennis is a savvy teenage writer and a Philosophy undergrad at the University of Lagos.)

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