“I don’t care,” he tells me, “as long as I get paid for my beats.” Henry (actual name withheld) is a Lagos-based music producer who gets his sustenance from making instrumentals for mostly upcoming hip-hop artists. His fingers are combing through his thick beard and there’s a determined yet nonchalant expression on his face, as he gets slightly agitated discussing the overwhelming surge of internet fraudsters in Nigerian music. 

Henry has a keen understanding of how the Nigerian music industry works.  “Most of these big artistes are pickers (middle men for fraudsters),” he explains.” How could X (A-list Nigerian artist, name withheld so we don’t get sued) afford the RR (Rolls Royce) he bought recently? All these niggas are in on it to be honest with you.”

Most ordinary people were unaware of a creeping wave of internet fraudsters and internet fraud messaging that was set to submerge the music industry until Zlatan Ibile made explicit references in Chinko Ekun’s hit single ‘Able God’, where he talks about getting a laptop and obtaining money from the internet. In the same song, the get-fast-money message of the song is buttressed by Lil Kesh’s verse. Zlatan Ibile was later asked by an interviewer about the song’s message, he replied that he was suggesting that young people get involved in “graphic design”. Soon enough after that interview, Zlatan and some of his associates including Naira Marley, Rahman Jago and others were arrested by operatives of the EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) under the suspicion that they were internet fraudsters. Despite the media storm that followed at the time, just like every other high profile case in Nigeria, the case was never resolved. It was merely silenced.

Naira Marley (centre), Zlatan Ibile (centre-right) and associates pose for a group mugshot after their arrest for alleged fraud.

The Nigerian music industry is more complex than most people would like to believe. It has many invisible moving parts and one of the moving parts is the influence of money on the industry, particularly in an economy that has increasingly worsened , with soaring inflation, widespread poverty, and a culture in which money offers both social status and power, which both come in handy in the mass effort to survive the various traps of death and oppression that the country offers. Music offers an escape from the harsh realities of life. Money offers status and security, and some have found that if you mix dirty money with music, you can pull strings, secure the necessary connections, skip the queue of talent and go right to the top. 

In a 2019 article published in The Guardian Nigeria, the writer Chiagoziem Onyekwena details the history of the origins and gradual proliferation of internet fraud in Nigerian Nigerian music and culture. He finds that the crisis is deepened by the fact that “receipts from the illicit trade fund a significant part of the Nigerian music industry with Yahoo boys becoming label owners, sponsors, show promoters and even artists, in a bid to either launder their money or use music as a strategic decoy for their activities.”

The inability to fund their careers seems to be the main reason most young upcoming artistes go into the business of scamming…

If you notice an artist suddenly shoot to stardom, it would be a good idea to ignore whatever talent is on display (of which there is increasingly less) and instead follow the trail of money. Without the money, music careers in Nigeria are bound to not take off. 

In fact, the inability to fund their careers seems to be the main reason most young upcoming artistes go into the business of scamming people of their saving and livelihood. Most young artists who indulge in this criminal act would justify it as a means to an end, especially for independent artists who are yet to be signed up by record labels. They claim that they need the money to pay for their expenses like studio time, beats, studio engineer who mixes and masters the songs, publicity, clothes and accessory that would make them look like superstars. They need to fake it until they make it. 

I spoke to a young, vibrant producer who explained that “money is very important when you are trying to get to the top. You need to have a good PR team, which is not cheating. Do you know how much it costs to get Tunde Ednut (a popular social influencer) to post your song on his IG page? You don’t have to be exceptional to “blow”, just have decent song, good publicity and you are on your way to success.”

Like M.I Abaga said “this music business is a funny business.” 

A lot of this can be explained by growing economic inequality. In the aforementioned article, Chiagoziem explains how impoverished young Nigerians from the Lagos ghettos in the early 2000s exchanged their struggles in pursuit of their singing and dancing dreams, for the new “hustle” that took place in the cybercafés. When they came out with money laden pockets and returned to the industry that had once shut the door on their ambitions, the industry old guard simply could not compete. Many of these stalwarts quickly found themselves swearing allegiance to the new industry rulebearers, like the singer 9ice who, by the end of the decade had almost become an advocate for the fraudsters, singing the praises of prominent internet fraudsters and validating their lifestyle in his song “Living Things”. 

It should be a matter of great interest when the ticket to a show is 1 million naira or more. Those fees are not for an average Nigerian that wants to see his/her favorite artist. It is for people who are looking for extravagant ways to spend their money. It is for people that have unlimited access to the artists. It is for people who are celebrities to your favorite celebrity. And it is for people whose source of income and wealth is suspicious, indefinite, virtually untraceable or replicable.

With the influx of new and vibrant young artists, the dominance of fraudsters in the music industry has become more evident and undeniable with artists like Bella Shmurda in his 2020 hit song “CashApp” which was basically a shout out to internet fraudsters, using their terminologies brazenly. Previously in 2017, Qdot in his song “Apala New Skool” acknowledges scamming as the quickest and easiest way to acquire wealth.

Artist Bella Shmurda released the song “CashApp”, widely understood to be a shout-out to internet fraudsters

The process of growing wealth is a long and testing one. Resolving to fraudulent activities as the foundation for any career is not sustainable and bound to implode after a while. Perhaps Nigeria’s internet fraud gods who are directing the affairs of the music industry will meet their end when the nation faces the socio-political reckoning that is knocking at the nation’s door, and soon may it enter.

Written by Sam Oluropo.

Edited by Pelumi Okelade


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