Friday, May 14, 2021

This Is Nigeria – How Falz truly became the BAHD guy


Jaafar Jaafar
Jaafar Jaafar is a graduate of Mass Communication from Bayero University, Kano. He was a reporter at Daily Trust, an assistant editor at Premium Times and now the editor-in-chief of Daily Nigerian.
tiamin rice

Falz’s ‘BAHD’ guy moniker has strong negative connotations, but according to the rapper, it’s actually an acronym for “Brilliant And Highly Distinct” – and in the past couple of days, we’ve witnessed the fulfillment of this double-prophecy. Yesterday marked the 2nd week anniversary of Falz’ “This Is Nigeria”.

The provocative video has received rave reviews for its artistic brilliance, but the feedback hasn’t all been positive.

The Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), a self-styled ‘protector’ of Muslim rights, recently served the rapper a laughable 7-day notice to take the video down or face a lawsuit.

Blowback has also come from music critics, many of whom acknowledge the socially redeeming value of the record but have slammed it for its unoriginality and lack of nuance. Some have gone a step further to raise issues around potential copyright infringement.

Falz has also received significant heat from the general public — “This Is Nigeria” may have racked up 4.3 million-plus YouTube views and become the rapper’s second most popular video, but with almost 6,000 thumbs downs, it’s also his most ‘disliked’ effort by a long way.

To put things in perspective, no other music video from Falz has been disliked up to 1,000 times. This level of animosity is new territory for the “Soft Work” rapper, who has now gone from a nearly universally-loved funnyman to a contentious national figure.

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But it’s not hard to see why Falz’ new video has been so polarizing. “This Is Nigeria” is an adaptation of Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” that borrows the music, the aesthetics and the artistic soapbox from the original but not enough of its high-context or laser focus.

Gambino approached TIA from the point of view of a black man living in America, Falz, on the other hand, approached his version more broadly as a Nigerian.

In attempting to piece together the pain points of such a diverse group of people, the rapper and his video director, Iyobosa ‘Geezy’ Rohoboth, needed to do a better job of studying their divisions and sensibilities.

If the outspoken MC could have received pushback last year when he spoke against an issue as black and white as Yahoo-Yahoo culture, he ought to have known that it would only get messier with issues that exist in shades of gray.

On TIA, Gambino picked a handful of hot-button issues – race, gun violence and police brutality – and made a concise socio-political statement. In contrast, on TIN, Falz cast his topical net wide enough to include as many current events as possible.

But unfortunately, he ran out of either time or creative space, both on wax and in the video, to expound on all of them. The result is hijabis dancing shaku shaku, but with no greater artistic purpose that could make the backlash from such cultural gaslighting worth it.

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The result is all Fulani herdsmen seemingly being tarred with the same killer brush. The result is every Nigerian seemingly being indicted for aiding and abetting crime.

In addition to presenting dangerous ideas in incomplete form, the video also doesn’t leave a lot of room for interpretation.

In the original, Gambino added layers of abstraction that allowed for multiple conclusions.

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This is evident in the way the video teases the viewer into realizing their own tendency to be easily distracted. But Falz’ approach was more literal and direct.

Using symbols like the “Big Sister” reality show, he dramatizes the distraction in front of the viewer instead.

This directness peels away any subtlety and leaves the rapper wide open to equally direct criticism.

This criticism is further sharpened by the uncharacteristic seriousness with which Falz approached the TIN moment.

“This Is America” might have been launched on Saturday Night Live by an artist who counts comedy as one of his many gifts, but the topics the song addresses are definitely nothing to be made light of.

Falz too takes his message serious. The satirical MC has a history of hiding his sociopolitical medicine inside comedic candy.

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This is evident on previous songs like “Senator” and “Wehdone sir”, and in making the fight against fake lovers and runs girls his life’s work.

But despite the seriousness of the moment, Falz chose to still employ comedic tools on TIN, such as hyperbole and over-generalization, to treat issues that are more sensitive than his usual subject matter.

Those tools just don’t work as well in a sober setting where the stakes are significantly higher.

Up until this point, Falz’s genius has largely been disguised in comedy.

That’s perhaps the main reason why, in spite of his achievements and obvious talents, he isn’t taken seriously as an elite-level MC. But TIN could be a turning point.

Because even though the backlash against him has been fierce, Falz has gotten far more applause and standing ovations for his courage and creativity than he has gotten heckles for his missteps.

But even more important than accolades, with all the debates that have followed its release, Falz is achieving his goal to spark “a heightened level” of political and social consciousness.

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And that way, he’s distinguishing his brilliance from the rest of his largely socially-unconscious peers in Nigerian music.

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