Nigerian Hip Hop can be said to have many kings. There’s no undisputed one person whose influence can be said to be so overwhelming that his metaphorical throne is perpetually unchallenged.
It is a Game of Thrones-like saga, and there are some actors in the race for the Iron Throne. Among the active players, these could be considered kings in a style (or movement) of Hip Hop in Nigeria they championed: Mode9, for all his traditional views and similarly patterned content; Olamide, for his street credibility and consistency; A-Q, for his consistent punching at the mainstream, embodying the talent and the doggedness which marks many acts who have been sidelined and tagged ‘underground’; MI Abaga, for bridging contemporary Nigerian sounds and worldviews to the previously exclusive lifestyle and sound of Hip Hop.
This list of top tier emcees, however, wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Show Dem Camp. The duo of Tec (Wale Davies) and Ghost (Olumide Ayeni) have, over the years, risen to be Africa’s premier rap duo. This isn’t a position to be taken lightly. In a genre as endangered as Hip Hop in Nigeria, the duo have found a way to remain relevant in their over-a-decade-long career.
We examine how they’ve managed to achieve this; how they have, through diverse aspects of their art, have come to occupy a unique space in African Hip Hop, one nobody else occupies.
The duo’s rapping styles
This is quite storied – the variety Show Dem Camp brings to every record. With Ghost’s voice coming off as haughty, he delivers excellent verse after verse, with the limitation of his lyricism yet unfound. Over slower beats (like ’10, 000 Hours’), his baritone settles into the fabric of minimal production, giving the other half a chance to come in guns blazing.
Tec sounds better on maximalist production yet Show Dem Camp barely have those in their catalogue. Spax, who usually handles their production knows just the beat to lay down and, Show Dem Camp, like the veteran emcees that they are, know how best to approach a song. On some days, the song flies from the vantage point of Ghost’s strength as a brick by brick wordsmith, a rapper whose bars are as intricately placed as his mind. Sometimes, Tec does the trick. As an acclaimed king of one-liners, he’s popularized a style which leans heavily on introspection and relatable metaphors. This has maintained a sort of child-like anticipation amongst listeners whenever clicking play on a Show Dem Camp song: to know who takes home the cherry, to know who best runs with the topic.
But there are very few cases where any of the two rappers deliver sub-par quality. They recognize the impact of their styles and seemingly just write to it, letting the song pick its frontrunner. Many a critic and listener have claimed that the Clone Wars series favour the wordiness of Ghost, his fearful persona and complex way of telling stories; Tec, on the other hand, is best reserved to display the local quality and prudence of his lyricism in the Palm Wine series which is a melodious affair, their attempt at mass creating the Juls-produced ‘Feel Alright’, an Highlife-influenced sound that at its best, settles into a cadence suitable for Hip Hop.
How ironic it is then that his (Tec) first words on Clone Wars 4 were the lines: “Since clone wars 3 I’ve been impatient/ too much palm wine will cause intoxication”.
On many songs off the album, the duo share hook and chorus duties even as they deliver impeccable verses in turn, taking strength from their versatility (which now seems at its zenith) to creating a singular opinion in the listener, one that they’ve maintained since their first project: these guys are the perfect pair.
The genius of the Palm Wine and Clone Wars series
In 2013, Ghanaian producer Juls, who has previously worked with Show Dem Camp frequent collaborator Ladipoe, produced ‘Feel Alright’ for Show Dem Camp.
On-hook duties, alternative act BOJ was featured and the aforementioned rapper Ladipoe (now signed to Mavin Records) turned in a verse. Across the continent, the song turned out to be a massive success and four years later, that sound would have to be mass produced as Palm Wine music, a kind of song whose exotic nature is light and makes for an evening out, filled with the guys, ladies, laughter, and palm wine.
Instead of their street tales and takes into the dark and twisty world of politics and the social mechanics of the Nigerian and his environment, Palm Wine songs took on less dense themes and therefore in 2017, re-introduced them to listeners who must have asked for more from ‘Feel Alright’. These themes aren’t just paperweight however, both rappers still manage to tell some serious stories (‘The Garden’, for example, off the Palm Wine music Vol. 2) above the backdrop of rolling drum synths and flutes.
Clone Wars, however, presents the truest selves of the rappers, the skin they’ve worn the longest. Typically, these projects are built on the foundation of society, with SDC infusing elements of pop culture to add grit to the music they make. They’ve used comic skits, popular Nigerian phrases, and interviews to buttress their point. Put together with the verses from the duo and feature rappers, the hooks and choruses, the Clone Wars series gets the fans hyped up.
It is like Ehis Ohunyon of Pulse wrote, that the Clone Wars series possess lyrics that “are detailed in a way that they convey some of the most narrative descriptions with a controlled complexity of emotions that while on one hand you are wowed by their lyricism, on the other hand, they form an image in your head that takes you right into the studio and you find yourself standing outside the booth as they voice their verses, peeping through their notepads and connecting with where all the sharp rhymes and references are coming from.”
Being the owners of these classic series have proffered a cult-like reputation upon Show Dem Camp. Across generations and music fans of differing tastes, SDC has made a conscious attempt to appeal to as many who care to be wowed by the fluidity of their lyricism and the brilliance of the production which follows it, irrespective of whichever categories it falls into.
The Show Dem camp community
On a Loose talk show with Ladipoe, Osagie Alonge suggested that SDC’s name was in fact, following the long tradition of introducing a group of supporting creatives/ friends to the limelight after one must have gotten his or her big break.
Around the duo of Ghost and Tec, is a whole community. The likes of Ladipoe and Lucci got their first big appearances on a Show Dem Camp song. SDC has also managed to reach outside the rap community, forming strong producer-artiste relationships with Spax (who’ve produced the entirety of their last two projects) and Ikon, who alongside many others, is a part of supergroup The Collectiv3. They’ve also maintained a fruitful relationship with fellow rap king MI Abaga. Over the years, they have traded verses and shared platforms with the Jos-born pint-sized rapper.
With their listeners, they seek to bring closer to their person with the deliberate infusion of Nigerian lingo, peculiar to the Show Dem’s camp. Phrases and words like ‘chappie’, ‘bang bang’, ‘blamming’, ‘en cool, fam’ are all in their arsenal of colloquialisms. With these, they have a closely knit relationship with the listeners than most artistes have formed. This has gone a long way in fostering the organic buzz Show Dem Camp set for their brand through their music and festivals. Unlike many artistes of their generation, the duo of Ghost and Tec don’t seem like shiny stars from afar; they’re real humans, who share the same space and breathe the same air with the community for whom they create music for.
The consistency and timing of their projects
In nine years, Show Dem Camp has released seven projects; all of them I dare say, are critically acclaimed, with only a few falling short of the ‘classic’ tag.
Their music, undoubtedly, is made for the satisfaction of their community and this group of people more times than not, can hardly get enough. Fortunately, that’s one of the perks of being a group made of two thought leaders: ideas are easy to come by and they work these ideas into execution as a duo, with assistance from the musical fraction that makes up the community. It’s hard to imagine the making of an SDC record as a reclusive event – the duo, holed up someplace secret, making music.
One also needs to mention SDC’s tendency to go for the jugular with the timing of their releases. There’s a noticeable pattern with the following: Clone Wars 3 – considered by many to be their best project – was released on the last day of 2016; Clone Wars 4 was released on the first day of 2019; their first Palm Wine festival was held in the Muri Okunola park on the last day of 2017.
With the frenzy of the festivities that comes with these dates, Show Dem Camp also wishes to place their project in contention for the buzz. They know they have the fans and ultimately, there are moves that could swing either way: a dramatic loss, or a sweet win. It’s been the latter every time for SDC, with a critic remarking that they stole the title of ‘Best Rap Album’ on the last day of 2016.
Show Dem Camp as Alté fathers
With the transformation from OzzyB to Santi, there was a reawakening in the music coming out of Nigeria, heralded by select young Nigerian artistes. As early as Blackmagic’s ‘Based on Belief’ series, there have been a group of Nigerian creatives whose music sit outside the shores of the mainstream, whose videos are DIYs; who, given their limited resources, have learnt to make and distribute music organically among their listeners who are usually young people, geared for the next musical revolution.
Show Dem Camp’s music goes through a similar process. Their music, a fine mix of two domineering patterns, have drawn across ages and generations, different admirers. With their relatable raps and ingenious ways of telling them, they’ve inspired the aforementioned set of artistes. One step further then, as they themselves have attained continental acclaim without being signed to a major (or rather external) music label. This is the focal point of this article after all: Show Dem Camp has created a blueprint (as listed prior) in how to generate an organic buzz and fan base for the music. They seldom shoot videos for their songs but when they do, the sense of community and fun is portrayed through the moving lens, usually directed by Tec, who then goes by King Davies. There’s economic prudence to the props and setting and while this is undeniably due to a bigger purse, Show Dem Camp have turned it into meaning the often cheap and pristine quality of real-life fun.
Also, through their collaborations with the most exciting of Alté acts (Odunsi, The Engine, Nonso Amadi, Flash, Tomi Thomas, BOJ, etc.) they have marked, in various songs and projects, a kind of passing on the baton. Only here, the duo is going stronger, the prime of their powers yet to come.
Undeniably a cultural moment it was when the “Alté Jesus” Odunsi began his verse on ‘Popping’ with his appraisal of the longevity of Show Dem Camp, and their continuing influence.