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Blaqbonez Taking Nigerian Hip-Hop To New Heights 

When I arrive at Blank Box studio in East London, the faint sounds of Afrobeats echo in the hallways. As I approach and enter the room, the set is filled with a flurry of people all on hand to shoot the one and only Blaqbonez. The energy and vibe on set at the right settings to capture the Nigerian rapper who is very much giving high-end fashion model.

Blaqbonez, whose birth name is Emeka Akumefule, is an international superstar on the rise who has been making waves across the Nigerian hip-hop scene ever since he was a young teen. “My cousin challenged me; I always criticised Nigerian rappers, and she was like, all you do is criticise Nigerian rappers, and you're not doing anything about it. So, I told her I would go upstairs and record a verse, and that's how I started. I liked it, so I kept going.”". Since that moment, he has gone on to be one of the freshest voices in the Nigerian rap scene. As Hip-Hop celebrates 50 years, he performed at the GRAMMY's 2023 Salute To 50 Years of Hip-Hop event in the US and was featured amongst Hip-hop's finest on Rolling Stone's rap innovators list. With three albums under his belt and several EPs, he has shown himself to be one of the most creative and exciting rappers of the moment.

Looking at all he has achieved this year, there is no doubt that everything he has been through in his journey has led him to this moment. His openness and ability to evolve and switch up his sound,  have made him somebody that fans are always excited to hear from. People familiar with him will know that various alter egos have played a part in that evolution. “Each Alter Ego has a different sound. Whenever I feel I need to become something else, I look for a different sound. I always experiment with sounds until I find something, and the names happen to come by themselves.”". Fans will be familiar with bad boy Blaq, good boy Blaq, humble Blaq and Mr Bombastic. However, as one listens to Emeka, you get a lighter Blaqbonez. The album doesn't carry the same intensity as his previous offering, Young Preacher, but instead, it is more about his current position in life and being able to express that. “I'm in a stage where I can have more control. I'm more in control of my life, which shows with the sound, music, and what I'm talking about.”

Anybody who has experienced Blaqbonez in any capacity of his career will know that anytime he steps to the mic, he comes with a specific energy that sets him apart from his counterparts. Ever since he arrived on the scene doing underground rap battles, featuring on mixtapes, and participating in cyphers, he has never put himself in a box of what Hhip-hop is and what it should be. “I don't think about any labels or lanes people try to put me in. I make what I feel makes me happy.” Honesty has always been at the centre of his music, and he has never been one to shy away from anything, and that is something that he has always carried from the very start. “I've always had a mind of my own and have done whatever I feel like I wanted.”

On this album alone, his singles ‘Like Ice Spice,’ ‘Bad Till Eternity’  and ‘Cinderella Girl (Where You Day)’ have seen Bonez weaving through a variety of sounds, including Afrobeats, hip-hop, Drill, R&B, Alté, pushing the boundaries of his musical palate. If each of his previous eras can stand on their own sonically and stylistically, it feels like Emeka is a marriage of bringing all those together. It feels like the piece of the puzzle is coming together, with each era representing a part of the overall picture, and Bonez has seen how each has contributed to his journey so far. “The way I see it, Sex over Love was my breakout. Young Preacher was the one that just showed that I'm not going anywhere, I'm somebody to listen to because I was talking a lot on Young Preacher. And ‘Emeka Must Shine’ is my fun album because these songs will be playing at the party, and people will be playing the outside enjoying themselves.” Wherever he goes from here, it is apparent that he has already set the benchmark high for what he can achieve and what he plans to achieve, and I'm sure in the landscape of things, this is only just the cusp of what we will be seeing from him.

Through Blaqbonez's successes and continuous evolution, one factor has remained constant. His fans. And in recognition of this, he never cheats the ‘BlaqForce’ with his energy as encapsulated by the remarkable execution of the first two editions of Breaking the Yolk of Love. The third iteration of the concert series will be hosted in collaboration with Africa's biggest youth festival, the BlockParty. Billed to hold in Lagos and Abuja on February 24 and March 1 respectively, BTYOL3 promises to showcase the stirring brilliance and creativity that has made Emeka such a force in recent years.

The globalisation of music and the cross-section will continue to travel beyond borders, crossing countries and continents alike. Blaqbonez's name will be a part of that conversation in the history of things to come. Having already collaborated with Ludacris and cemented himself as “the best rapper in Africa,”, people have labelled him a continued testament to his power. Not to mention his cross-section between his other creative expressions, whether through his fashion and style, he is always somebody who is not afraid to be daring and bold in how he chooses to present himself. There's also his openness when it comes to opinions of the world and how he thinks about certain things that may not necessarily be in agreement with how society feels about certain things.

A topic that comes to mind is his very open views and opinions that he has expressed about how he views love and relationships today. This is a point of discussion we briefly touched on before we started speaking and is something that he shared openly in his music, especially on Sex over Love, where he shared many of his ideas on love and relationships. “I think humans are like, we're clearly… like evolving, whatever rules society set forth 20 years ago, 30 years ago, it can't stand; I feel like everything is changing. So, my views are changing… I believe that the concept of marriage and how people believe it is the goal of life. That's what it was many years ago, but I think it's just something you could choose to do and not do. You don't have to let it define your whole life.” It's not the most outlandish opinion on things, and I feel much of it marries the ideas he has followed throughout his career because he has never done things in the traditional way that people have expected from him. How he has addressed and talked about certain things in his music has never been something conscious to him. “People weren't ready to talk about some of the things I was talking about in my music. But I didn't care and just talked about them anyway.”

Growth has dramatically influenced how Blaq has expressed himself freely over the years. I'm sure you understand that he doesn't care much about the outside voices and what they have to say about him and his career. It's more about him, what he is doing, and what he is saying and thinking; everybody else doesn't matter. “I've grown enough and seen and processed things differently. I don't think I've always been able to express and share my things because the world wasn't open to it.” It's true that the world is in a different place than where it was and that one's ability to speak on things freely and openly has become more acceptable. For someone like Blaqbonez, that has never stopped him, whether through his social media skits, his music videos and, of course, his music. One thing about him is that he is always going to be himself, and he is always going to show himself.

This all centres back to Emeka, the young boy you see on the album cover of his latest offering, and everything that he has done since that moment was captured. Growing up in Nigeria and achieving the things he has done, the message of this album to that young boy is simple: “The album says congratulations to him. You made it.” At the age of 27, it's clear that he is on the cusp of the next evolution of his journey. As the nature of his creativity and his journey keeps evolving, the possibilities are endless, and just seeing him in the position he is in, everything about him is evidence of that. As he has already achieved so much in the time since his career began in 2011 and has been growing over the past decade, it has been one that requires a lot, as many people don't understand what it takes to get to this point. “The journey teaches you perseverance, dedication, and consistency. You have to just keep going regardless of whatever, you know, keep going at it. And eventually, what you're looking for will come to you.”

There is a lot to be taken in at this point and being present at this moment and in this time as things shift in the way that they are. Mainly as one reflects on the year that has taken place and takes stock of where we are in the current state of the world and the current state of music. There is much to be taken in Emeka's era of being free. Regarding what the album says about where he is right now, “The album says I'm enjoying my life.” And no doubt is that a word of the truth; you can see it when you see him, hear it on the album, and feel light in his energy. “Making this album, I felt like someone that has been working at something, and he has gotten to a point where he mastered it, and this took me to a different level of my artistry.”

This is something to remember and hold onto regarding looking to the future. Everything right now feels like stepping into the unknown; however, one thing I know to be true is that the future is very bright for Blaqbonez.

Culture Unwrapped Issue, December/January


Creative Director and Photographer: Zekaria Al-Bostani - (@zek.snaps)

Gaffer/Assistant Director: Garry Carbon - (@becauseimgarry)

Stylist: Nikolina Tomic - (@quinicki_)

Styling Assistant: Layila nalwang - (@layila.n)

Assistant: Nadine Scarlet - (@nadinescarlett_)

BTS: Oulayma - (@ikuollie)

Video: Deebo - (@deebounknwn_)

Photographer for Blaqbonez: - Rags - (@passthelens_)

Writer Seneo Mwamba - (@seneomwamba)

Publicist: Mikey Corrighan - (@murraychalmerspr)

Special thanks to @blankboxstudio for the space.