Nigeria’s rap scene is currently a wellspring of emerging acts. Even without the backing of record labels, social media and streaming platforms are intersecting to give them a lick of visibility. 22-year-old Jason Nkanga, based in Brighton, England, is one of such discoveries.
His debut project Beyond My Imagination released in 2016 is curiously textured and introspective, whether it’s Efe Oraka’s lilting RnB vocals on The World Is Yours about perseverance or the space-aged bliss of Glory Nights featuring Zahra, IMTJ and Slick, or the sneaky electric guitar on Remember You featuring Wa’ti, a song about Jason rapping about remaining the same to the people who stuck with him when fame comes.
Jason had not dropped anything in so long following his debut single Go Dumb in 2014. He explains, ”People kept telling me to drop something and so I did. It was an opener to my career. I didn’t have anything going on at that time, so it wasn’t time-consuming. The project was inspired by G Eazy’s ‘When Its Dark Out”. I listened to his album almost every day before I made the tape. I remember listening to “Me, Myself, and I” and thinking about what I can create similar to this and that was when I decided to create “Remember You”. My love for music inspired this.”
Harvesting some exposure from Beyond My Imagination, Jason released his sophomore project The Calm Before The Storm in 2018, a project that conveys an evolution in his thoughts and headspace. ”I put in extra hard work in exchange for wealth,” is a rewind-worthy line from the chorus of Wealth, articulating the condition of capitalism even as an artiste while Who Dat and Pray For Me convey the boom-bap nostalgia of hip hop’s golden age in the 90’s and 00’s.
Jason is from a family of five, the second to the last child. Born in Lewisham, England, he finished his Masters in International Education and Development at the University of Sussex, and now looking to do his Ph.d. Jason comes from a rap family. His brother Charles Nkanga is a rapper while his other brother Lance Nkanga was previously into rap.
”Living with people doing rap played a major role in my career,” Jason admits. Sadly, Jason’s father passed away in December, leaving behind his mother and siblings. ”My father was always supporting my music in the way he could, he gave me ideas that I still use today. I remember how happy he was when my music video got played on TV, it just showed me how bad he wanted me to blow up.”
In 2018 as well, Jason released his third project TAOR (The Art of Rap) in collaboration with Ghanaian rapper Juls Delø, with tracks like Book of Legends harking back to the kung fu and hip hop crossover sound popularised by 90’s rap group Wu Tang Clan. With his first single of the year Forever featuring Dekar Justus released in April, YNaija’s Next Rated caught up with Jason about his music journey, living in Brighton, his last project Redemption, his career as an independent artiste and what he’s currently working on.
At what point did you decide you were going to be a rapper?
Well, I found myself always rapping wherever and whenever. It was something I enjoyed doing so at that point I just knew I would become a rapper. It was a hobby before, I didn’t realize it would get so serious till people started telling me to take it seriously. I would randomly perform songs to my friends and I always enjoyed doing it.
Back in school, during break time, I would always sit in class and randomly start writing raps then I would call my friend, he would drum on the table and I would rap. I would always forget the beat afterward, but I would do it anyway because I loved doing it. I had a whole book filled with raps I had written. That was the point of my life, I knew I would either become a rapper or a ghostwriter.
What artistes/albums did you listen to growing up?
Thinking about it, I listened to quite a lot of artists growing up. I remember listening to Michael Jackson, Lil Wayne, T Pain, 50 Cent, Chris Brown, Beyonce, Sean Paul, Jay Z, Eminem, Akon, and quite a lot I probably can’t remember. G-Eazy was one of the many rappers that shaped my gravitation towards rap, I started listening to him so much that it made me want to rap. His album “When It’s Dark Out” was all I ever listened to.
J Cole was another artist that pulled me towards rap, I listened, and I still listen to a lot of his songs, he shaped my way of rapping a lot. He’s a great artist and a great person. He’s a role model to me. I find myself rapping to his beats every time. I use his beats in most of my freestyles on Instagram. So many rappers could go on this list.
Your last project Redemption was released in 2019. What was your state of mind?
My mind was everywhere! I remember creating it and thinking who do I put on a song? What do I do on a song? but it was really fun creating except for the times I had to re-record things, I know some artists find this frustrating too. It was a bit tough for me because I was doing so many things, I had limited time on my hands, but it was all worth it. Also, I was excited about all the features that I had, from the US to Nigeria.
What is it like living in Brighton and how has the city influenced your music?
Brighton is a great place to live. It’s small and easy to get around. There’s a place in Brighton for everyone; you have the lively places where you see people turning up, and then you have the quiet places where it’s so silent you can hear a pin drop. But overall, it’s a place where you’d find so many creatives so it’s a great place for me and there are so many nice people there, I would recommend it for anyone.
Living in Brighton has influenced my music, I’ve heard great sounds from there that have been helpful to my music. There are so many artists in Brighton, some artists I’ve already worked with and some artists I would love to work with.
What do you have to say about the state of hip hop in Nigeria?
It’s good but we still have a lot to work on. We haven’t reached the level we are supposed to be in. We have so much potential to have the biggest hip-hop scene in Africa but so many people shy away from it. I would love to see it happen. There are so many good Hip Hop artists we have in Nigeria, even some we hardly hear about. I would love to see Nigeria get called the home of Hip Hop (In Africa), it’ll be so dope.
Sadly, we don’t hear much about hip hop in Nigeria. I’ll love to see more Cyphers and more Hip-Hop songs. Chocolate City has played a huge part in pushing Hip Hop in the country, the first Nigerian cypher I watched was from Chocolate City.
Are there Nigerian artistes you would love to collaborate with it and why?
Yeah, there are quite a lot of Nigerian artists I would love to collaborate with. One artist being MI. I’ve always wanted to work with him. I’ve been listening to MI since 2008. Lyrically he is on another level. I’d want to hear what we both can create. Two lyrical artists on one track? That’ll be fire. Another artist I would love to collaborate with would be Nonso Amadi, it’ll be great mixing my sound with his, he’s got that soothing sound, we can create something special.
Tems is another artist I would love to collaborate with, she makes dope music, it’ll be great. Oxlade too, I would love to collaborate with him, he’s another dope artist. He makes good music. I’d love to see what I can create with artists like FireboyDML, Rema, Tay, Wizkid, and YCEE.
What is it like being an independent artiste?
It’s been a mixture of feelings for me, I’m happy because I’m not under anybody so I don’t have to submit my work or anything to anyone or sign contracts that stop me from releasing anything, but it can be tough cause you’re all alone doing everything. It’s just me so everything falls on me. I would love to be under a label though.
Are you working on a new project? If so, how much can you say?
Yes, I’m working on a new project. I’m excited to drop it. I just dropped the first single from it titled “Forever” (feat. Dekar Justus), it’s out on all platforms now. I’m working with Hannise to create something special. It’s different from all other projects, stay connected.
When Bernard Dayo isn’t writing about pop culture, he’s watching horror movies and reading comics and trying to pretend his addiction to Netflix isn’t a serious condition.