This article was written on Saturday, 22nd March 2014.
– Gist Editor
I woke up this Saturday morning with only one plan on my mind – to purchase ‘No Guts No Glory’ – the debut album of one of Nigeria’s premier indigenous artists – Phyno. Now, I pride myself as the kind of person to discover a prospect as soon as he or she bursts onto the stage, but for Phyno, it was very different. I first came across his music unwittingly in early 2009 back in my school days. It was a remix of Okpomekwe(A very ‘igbotic’ though highly didactic track) which was a hit back in the east. Big Phyno(his moniker back then) was completely outshined on the track by Slow Dog and Desperate Chicks and barely registered in my memory. In the same year, the name Phyno popped up again in my consciousness as I discovered that he produced the beat for ‘Life Anagaga'(one of my top Nigerian songs in 2009). Months later, I heard Phyno’s ‘Multiply’ featuring some of Nigeria’s musical heavyweights(Flavour, Timaya, M.I etc) and once more Phyno was comfortably outclassed. I really couldn’t see what he had going for him other than the fact that he seemed to be pretty good at musical production. I couldn’t have been more off the mark.
It wasn’t too long after, and while camped in the remote Nsit Atai, that I first heard ‘Anamachikwanu’ – the first song I felt showed a new side to a rapper who would soon become a nationwide phenomenon. At this time, Phyno was barely known in the east or pretty much anywhere outside Enugu. But the moment ‘Anamachikwanu’ dropped – he blew up all over the east and most parts of the South-South region of the nation. He didn’t drop a single line apart from the chorus but the unique edge he brought to the song was clear for everyone to see and I sat up and took notice. After the ‘Anamachikwanu’ buzz died down a bit, he released a few more admirable singles – ‘Shutdown’ and ‘Can’t you see’ to name a few. He also featured on many others gradually outshining fellow features and on a few occasions, the actual track owners. By December 2012, Phyno went national with one of the biggest hits Nigeria has seen in a long while – ‘Ghost Mode’ featuring Olamide (another indigenous great). The track had everything . . . there was rhythm, wordplay, punchlines, witty back and forths, exceptional delivery and bite. Both artists brought their A-game and neither was outshined.
All of a sudden, you were just as likely to hear a Phyno track being played in a bar somewhere in Onitsha as you were to hear it played at an ‘Owambe’ somewhere in Ibadan. Refusing to rest on his laurels, he released ‘Man of the Year’ – a sensational Igbo rap roller coaster which you couldn’t help shaking your head to (in appreciation) regardless of your level of understanding of the language. The track eventually won him ‘The Headies Best Rap Single’ Award and firmly ensured this ‘east coast n*gga was now firmly banging in the west’. The Igbo word ‘Obago’ means ‘he has entered’ and Phyno had well and truly entered the elite of Nigerian rap, and mainstream music for that matter, now ‘making commercial money without a dance track’.
Phyno truly ensured he remained 2013’s ‘Man of the Year’ by releasing a series of killer singles and videos which shot him into 3rd place in Nigeria’s top 10 Most Gifted Rappers list by Notjustok.com-Nigeria’s premier music website. The numerous number of tracks and albums he featured on in 2013 went further to cement his place among Nigeria’s top musicians. Olamide, Yung6ix, Dr SID and Phenom are just a few of the rappers who had no choice but to put him on their projects and as expected, Phyno delivered to perfection. His rise and improvement have been almost astronomic and he showed exactly how a transition from mediocrity to excellence could be achieved, to a degree rarely ever seen in the Nigerian music industry. His creativity is the one thing that sets him apart from the rest of the crowd and if he keeps up his level of ambition he could be the first Nigerian export to go truly global with indigenous rap.
Phyno has shown no signs of stopping, no signs of slacking, no signs of letting up or even cutting back on his improvement levels. As I head out to purchase my most anticipated album of 2014, I expect nothing less than brilliance from ‘Phynofino’ – ‘the playmaker’, the self acclaimed ‘man of the year’ who keeps assuring us that ‘Onwe be di ihe i fu'(You haven’t seen anything yet). If it is true that we haven’t seen the half of this man’s talent, then Nigerian music is in for a period of utter dominance by Phyno and tracks like Splash’s ‘Onye Ije’ where the young upstart was torn to shreds by Phyno in less than a quarter of the track will become more common but with bigger more accomplished rappers.
Phyno(Azubuike Chibuzo Nelson) has taken indigenous rap(and Igbo rap in particular) to the next level. I look forward to hearing a lot more from Phyno in the coming years and I believe the vast majority of music-loving Nigerians look forward to the same too. He’s a good singer, a better producer and one of the best rappers in the country. Hopefully he doesn’t lose the fire or get sidetracked like the once great M.I. did so spectacularly. If he doesn’t, ‘No Guts No Glory’ will merely be a launch pad for a truly ‘phyno’menal rapper and an even better musician ‘representing the best albinos'(according to Slow Dog).
By I.V Okata . . . A lover of good music
Follow him on Twitter @IzutaDGaffer