Yahaya Maikori. 10 years has he been at the helm, working his ass off, making power moves, discovering new talents, and propelling them to stardom. In doing so, he and his partners had made a financial killing, profiting from the firm, as much as Nigerian music has profited from their works.
M.I Abaga, Ice Prince, Jesse Jagz , and
Brymo , are some of the biggest names that have originated from the conveyor belt of such a house. Magnificent in their personalities, powerful in their influence, and potent in their music, they formed the bedrock for all other work from the label, and to this day, they are regarded as the best era of Chocolate City. That era, when they had a hand on the windpipe of Nigerian pop culture, bending it to their will with each new release.
But that is no more. 10 years can make a man grow weary from pressure, with the need for growth and new adventure far surpassing his will to stay, Audu made the step from CEO of Chocolate City to President, Chocolate City Group. And in path a vacuum was left behind. Chocolate City needed a new leader, a man to take on the mantle and steer the music and the business to the right haven. That man must be able to possess sufficient experience, a good knowledge of the music, and a keenness to succeed that only experience can provide.
“It’s been 10 years of working with an incredible team to build arguably one of the most successful music labels in Africa, and want to say thank you to each and very staff and artist we have worked with in that period.” The final message from Audu Maikori ran.
Jude Abaga aka M.I was chosen. » A man for many seasons, the rap star on paper, was the ideal candidate. He had the music knowledge as proven by his success in the African music industry. He also has experience leading, after founding Loopy Music. His career trajectory has been one of will and talent, showing off perseverance and growth at every turn. It also mattered much that he was in-house, and had served as a Vice President to the project for a considerable period.
“The new president of Chocolate City Musicis…Jude Lemfani Abaga.” Audu announced on Twitter.
The streets went crazy. On the internet, M.I Abaga was hailed. Opinions flew in from all angles. Could he do it? Was he the right fit for the position? How did this come to be? How will he be guided?
In reality, the handwriting was on the wall. In the days leading to the event, a flurry of activities had happened. Jesse Jagz, formerly on a self-enforced exile, had returned to the fold, and Loopy Music had become acquired by Chocolate City, together with all her acts and artistes. Only the blind would have failed to read the writings on the wall.
It’s one year on, and we have gained hindsight and seen the workings of M.I Abaga. How has he fared?
Pulse will analyze M.I’s reign so far using a number of criteria.
Chocolate City under M.I Abaga has released 1 album, two mixtapes and an EP. The house at one point boasted of a roster which included 13 acts – M.I, Ice Prince, Jesse Jagz, Pryse, Nosa, Koker, Milli, Dice Ailes, DJ Lambo, DJ Caise, Kahli Abdu & VHS Safari, Victoria Kimani, Ruby Gyang – once called this label home. On the management front, Femi Kuti was a client.
“The Indestructible Choc Boi Nation” (TICBN) is the only album released under M.I’s leadership. The project, a fantastic body of work reflecting the strengths of all the signed acts, was a success among critics. Mixtapes had Loose Kaynon finally releasing “The Gemini Project”, and M.I Abaga wrapped up his “Illegal Music” series with the third volume. Ruby Gyang has also seen some action, releasing her “This Is Love EP” and a video ‘Shakara’ to match.
The label has planned to release a minimum of seven projects in 2016. The new projects will consist of a minimum of 5 Mixtapes and EPs, 1 solo album, and 1 compilation album. All of these do not contain Ice Prince’s album which is scheduled to drop this year.
The label has also promised to drop 20 music videos this year, with the visuals expected to go round the talents.
When analysed for its worth, four projects in a year is not bad for a record label. They arguably have released more projects than any other record label in Nigeria within the year in review.
Artistes Signed VS Artistes Leaving
M.I Abaga has not been the best CEO in terms of recruitment and managing exits. After inheriting a large house from the merger with Loopy, M.I Abaga still found a way to bring in Kahli Abdu and VHS Safari. That relationship was doomed to fail from the start. The entire process appeared as a poorly-thought choice, with very little thrown in by way of publicity. There was an announcement, stylish photo sessions, and a song. But something was missing – the reason for such a move.
Kahli Abdu was the first to pack his bags and scream goodbye. This he did on Twitter, in the most unceremonious fashion ever. VHS Safari, the other half of the group, left without a whimper.
For Milli, his shared tale on his ordeal in the hands of M.I » might have come across as emotional, but it did provide a window into the manner of leadership that M.I operates. This is one of manipulation and very little belief in his signed acts. Milli’s exit could have been avoided, with mutual gain to both Chocolate City and the artiste. But that option was not explored with potential business gain overshadowed by untamed personal emotions.
There has also been the case of Ice Prince’s departure. The rapper, who officially held the title of Vice President, had left the label two years prior to his admission this year. Stories of his exit has been rife in the media, with the label, a leaking house of information. There is hardly ever a secret in Chocolate City. The house is too large to control the narrative.
But they have tried to do that. Jesse Jagz and Ice Prince were quickly given the freedom to run their imprints » as part of the ‘Choc City expansion’. There was a press conference, with shiny quotes and moving pictures served to the media.
But questions still remain as to the feasibility of such a project. The parent house appears to be shaky, and to expand is to fund more projects, putting considerable strain on the financing. Only time will tell.
DJ Caise , according to growing rumours, is no longer a member of Chocolate City.
Regardless of the new projects, there is a collective feeling that Chocolate City has not fully utilized the potential in their hands. The core concern, it appears, is promotion and branding.In these departments, there is hardly consistent activity, perhaps due to a lack of manpower, and (or) funding. The career of Gospel singer Nosa is in hiatus. Pryse was on a comeback with her Pryseless Freestyle series, but consistency was not maintained, and she has slipped back to ground zero. Ruby Gyang’s EP appears to have been forgotten, and Loose Kaynon is hanging by a thread in the public eye.
After the departure of Milli, Koker has been the brightest light, keeping the label in pop music circles with ‘Kolewerk ’, and a video. There’s a remix just recently released, and hopefully, a video too. Dice Ailes is still consistent with his releases. ‘Machinery’, a single which clicked the reset button on his music, is still on rotation. Only here has true joy found M.I Abaga.
Chocolate City Unsigned
On January 28, 2016, Chocolate City and EbonyLife TV announced a partnership for an exciting new project.
This was a strategic partnership called ‘Chocolate City Unsigned’, » a genuine homegrown reality TV show created to search for the next Africa’s biggest music star.
The show was to be spearheaded by Chocolate City, one of Africa’s biggest indigenous record labels, and EbonyLife TV, Africa’s first Global Black Entertainment and Lifestyle network and production powerhouse.
The project was announced at a press conference held at The Wheatbaker Hotel, Lagos on January 28, 2016, which had in attendance the Executive Chairman and CEO of EbonyLife TV, Mo Abudu ; President of Chocolate City Group, Audu Makori; CEO of Chocolate City, Jude Abaga (M.I), as well as
Victoria Kimani , and other key Chocolate City talents.
Chocolate City Unsigned was set to be the first ever indigenous pan-African talent hunt show created with the sole aim of discovering, developing and supporting fresh artistes, giving them a platform to showcase their skills and launching them into a professional career of instant music sensation, stardom and celebrity status.
But all of these was in the past. Chocolate City Unsigned has grown cold. A portal for registration was made public, with a website collecting data still live. But that has grown cold, with very little by way of activity on the project. There is no definite date on the commencement of it all. Nigeria awaits.
M.I Abaga took a huge bite when he accepted the role to be CEO. His first year, has been one filled with learning, and some achievement. A house with so many talents was bound to be fragmented, as the funding required to run various projects on all the acts isn’t available. While it is commendable that more projects have been released at the turn of 2016, M.I is still learning the basic skills to properly run an efficient music organization and achieve lasting results.
His practice round at Loopy Music did not provide ample empowerment for the CEO. His Chocolate City learning process has been public, painful and very much entertaining. The entire outlook of the house he inherited still appears without a united front, with the music not impacting enough on the culture to keep them at the top of the pile. The label still retains the leading position as a corporate entity, with a professional structure to do business. That has always been their pride.
But long spells of inactivity has hurt the label, and the acts that still ride under its banner. Perhaps, the pockets of positivity will continue to grow, and M.I Abaga will make a fine executive yet. Or perhaps, as many have suggested, he will relegate active running of the label to a new senior level recruit, and focus on his music career. Either way, the jury is still out on his reign.