It’s 2019. Zlatan Ibile, a green-haired lyricist from the slums of Agege, is the hottest rapper in Nigeria. He’s everything you didn’t know you needed. Like if someone found a way to make amala and catfish pepper-soup work as a combo.
Zlatan is a certified pop star now. There’s no arguing that. To be honest, no-one can say how and why he came this far, so quickly. He’s not the first Nigerian rapper to bring the music of the streets to the mainstream. He’s not the first to have such frequent brushes with controversy either.
One moment, he was one of
Zlatan kicked off the year in 2018, ironically. Like watch-night services and prayer sessions in the years before the economy swallowed our faith in God, “Killin Dem” was the song that ushered many Nigerians into the new year. Since then, Zlatan has refused to let go of our necks.
He’s managed to achieve all his success without losing what makes him distinct: his energy. The defining feature of Zlatan and his work is its capacity to move you, even when he’s trying to be serious. It comes from an energy that’s contagious. It’s peer pressure at its finest. And by god, it’s beautiful to listen to and watch in action.
Think about “Am I A Yahoo Boy” for instance. It’s supposed to address claims that the two are internet fraudsters. On any day, that’s a serious allegation. But as soon as the beat comes on, your home training evaporates and your legs start to fight for freedom. Like it or not, you soon find yourself dancing to a song that packs 30 years of counterculture into three minutes.
If you’ve (refused to succumb to your problems and) partied in 2019, you’ll know what happens when a Zlatan Ibile song comes on the speakers. It’s like someone sprinkled hard drugs in the air. Only this time, it’s a rare form of cocaine that compels people to jump and stab their feet in the air.
The only other person who has this capacity is his friend, Naira Marley. Unlike him, Zlatan can combine his energy and affinity for street culture with being a rare likeability. He’s like the neighbourhood delinquent who worms his way into your family until he earns the right to show up for Sunday dinner unannounced.
The best example is probably not any of his songs, even though each one sounds like a war chant and a celebration of unexpected dollars rolled into one. It’s those videos of him laying his adlibs over newly recorded tracks. Even without an accompanying beat, they sound like you’re expected to do something. You get the same feeling as when your father opens the door to your room and stands at the entrance, silently staring into your eyes. You don’t know what you’ve done wrong but you just want to fix up your life and make up for your mistakes.
It’s that energy, coupled with Rexxie’s beats that
It’s why I think we should go further and make it an informal rule at least; it should be illegal to party without Zlatan’s music.
I know this sounds like a joke. In a sense, that’s what it started as, but since I started writing this, I’ve gotten more reasons why this is necessary.
The Morality prefect inside you is probably asking, “Segun, wazz all this?” Get over yourself and your Sunday school lessons. This is bigger than us all. This is about love, a shared identity and most importantly, social equality. This is about passion.
You see, Zlatan is a kind of cross-cultural, inter-class mixologist. Think of him as a member of Major Lazer. Only, instead of generic Carribean vibes, his forte is making music that forces you to lose your self-control, whether you’re a 12-year-old selling gala in traffic or a billionaire looking to reconnect with the simpler days of his youth. Zlatan’s voice attacks the legs, which makes sense because the Zanku is also known as ‘legwork’.
Anyone with the ability to get people dancing across generations and social classes has to use his ability for something more than Eko Hotel shows and Instagram likes. That’s why we need to weaponize his music to do what Buhari, 30+ years of NYSC and Jollof rice have struggled to achieve.
It’s difficult to harbour resentment towards anyone for being richer than you when you’ve danced “Zanku” together at an owambe, with bottles of beer raised to the high heavens as a sign of togetherness.
Making Zlatan’s music a compulsory part of our lives will bridge tribal & social prejudice. The broke Yoruba transporter from Oshodi will see his wealthy Igbo brother from Port Harcourt and as they both ‘gbe body’ to Shotan, they’ll find that they have so much more in common than they know.
It’s only a short distance from there to world peace.