I was a brash teenager who could sometimes be a hothead. I was also always confident of my malformed opinions. On the other hand, this senior colleague was eons ahead of my Hip-Hop knowledge. He should never have even given my opinions the light of day – but for some reason, he always liked listening to me. Shout-out to him.

Back to our 808s and Heartbreaks discussion that day. This senior colleague then proceeded to ask me, “Tolani, which rappers would reasonably make your top five greatest rappers of all time?” My response was simple, “Nas, Eminem, Mos Def, Black Thought and DMX.” My senior colleague smiled in a non-condescending way and asked, “Why?”

I began to list albums. But mostly, my points came from how good these rappers were as MCees and what I liked about them. Again, my senior colleague laughed and said, “Do you know you’re confusing your personal top five with the GOAT 5? Listen bro, greatness has nothing to do with what you like or enjoy.”

I can’t remember the exact things I said, but knowing myself, I probably told him he was talking rubbish. A few months later, I read an article that broke down the concept of greatness as being of little relation to ability or one’s personal preference and it changed my views. About two years later, I was buying CDs at Oja Oba in Akure when I met that senior colleague of mine again.

The first thing I did was apologize for my outburst. In usual fashion, he laughed again and said, “I always knew you’d get it.” Well, I did get it and now I hope others will get it.

DaGrin vs. Olamide

For the longest, arguments have raged about the actual greatness of DaGrin. On the one part, DaGrin’s loyalists will tell you he’s the greatest Nigerian rapper ever – or at least, top 5. These people will also tell you that DaGrin‘s death is the only reason Olamide has a career. On the other hand, some other people would argue that DaGrin is not even close to being GOAT material.

These people are also likely to argue that Olamide would probably have had a career and thrived even if DaGrin was alive. They would also cite the co-existence of Wizkid and Davido or Tuface and D’Banj as examples. The argument has since grown to have numerous moving parts that complicate arguments.

First, what is ‘greatness’ in music?

While discussing ‘greatness’ in music, people tend to erroneously limit the word to being derivative of the word ‘great.’ In normal English language, ‘greatness’ is “the quality of being great; eminence or distinction.” To that end, DaGrin was a ‘great’ artist and he represents greatness. However, the problem would be when we start elevating DaGrin‘s greatness over some other people’s.

For that reason and in the context of achievement in music, greatness is the summation of achievements in a career over an extended period of time. To judge this type of ‘greatness,’ you must tick boxes of a solid discography, critical acclaim, commercial success, notoriety, impact and awards (as an added advantage).

Is DaGrin then greater than Olamide?

Based on these points, DaGrin is an unfortunate victim of death. If he were alive and with the way he was going, he would probably have ticked all these boxes. While a few of rappers had excelled at rapping in their native languages before DaGrin, he took things to another level. DaGrin was a rapper that made the average agbero on the street interested in Nigerian rap.

In a pop-obsessed space like Nigeria, rap is best consumed in forms which its major detractors don’t realize is rap. For that reason, DaGrin impacted the Nigerian soundscape incredibly. At his height, his biggest song, ‘Pon Pon‘ was a core Hip-Hop track and he excelled at it. He even made English-speaking rappers start contemplating their next moves.

Despite the fact that he was rapping in Yoruba, he made non-Yoruba speaking rap lovers love his music. For that reason, he is great and what he achieved, he did with “eminence or distinction.” But again, the problem is when we try to elevate that “eminence or distinction” over that which some other rappers have achieved.

Case in point, Olamide. It’s amazing because DaGrin and Olamide are tied by the proximity of time. In 2009 and alongside Kayefi and Seriki, Olamide was one of the first three acts signed to Coded Tunes after ID Cabasa, 2Phat and their other partners made Coded Tunes a business. Around this time, DaGrin was gaining ground with verse after verse.

It was also in 2009 that he released his sophomore album, C.E.O. On April 22, 2010, DaGrin sadly passed away after a car crash. On November 15, 2010, Olamide released ‘Eni Duro,’ his first single under Coded Tunes. For both rappers who hail from the slums of Lagos and then rap in Yoruba, the comparisons were inevitable.

The comparison is a result of the human tendency to position his preference as sine qua non fact and the subtle, understandable pain of core DaGrin fans at seeing Olamide succeed on a throne they feel would have belonged to DaGrin. But then, Olamide and DaGrin are subtly different – Reminisce is closer to DaGrin than Olamide is.

But for better or worse, Olamide and DaGrin will forever be compared. It’s how the world works. However, since DaGrin died, Olamide has eclipsed him in every area you might think of – asides the raw, natural ability to rap. But even on that raw ability, Olamide‘s ability to actual bar is almost foolishly underrated by detractors and his fans alike.

Back to the discussion at hand, Olamide ticks all the boxes of a solid discography, critical acclaim, commercial success, notoriety, impact and awards (as an added advantage). In fact, in the 2010s, the only reason Olamide was not artist of the decade is the behemoth called, Wizkid. Olamide has transcended the culture in every way you can imagine.

In DaGrin‘s absence, Olamide has released 10 albums and had hit after hit. He has also evolved at will. Anytime he wants to, he raps and he has even re-imagined the concept of a rapper in this country. Asides that, his label, YBNL has churned out one successful artist after another. DaGrin never even scratched the surface of what Olamide has achieved.

If Olamide is 100%, what DaGrin did before he died was about 10%. Olamide is not just a rapper anymore, he is now a cultural icon. At the level that Olamide has done it, only two other Nigerian rappers can lay claim. Their names are MI Abaga and Modenine. In fact, when we list a top 10 list of rappers of all-time, DaGrin will still not touch it.

So why do people keep saying DaGrin is greater than he actually is?

The reasons are simple;

  1. The sentiment of death.
  2. The sentiment of stan culture.
  3. Ignorance of what greatness truly means in relation to ability, preference and reality.

In music, when people die young in their prime, their achievements get exaggerated. One day in 2013, Segun Akande of MAVIN Records put it simply, “Death is a ready-made canvas for immortality. All you leave behind got no fault. Die young, live forever.” Death elevates legacy and fans buy into it for the longest.

When death elevates legacy, people treat it as irrefutable. Well, it ain’t. A few weeks ago, G Herbo still said Juice WRLD was the most influential artist of his generation – well, that’s absolute nonsense. If we allow that narrative to run, it will be the next ‘DaGrin is the greatest’ narrative in 10 years and we can’t have that because it’s a lie.

Back to DaGrin, he wasn’t even the best rapper of that era – that accolade belongs to MI Abaga. The sympathy we feel towards his death has clouded our judgement. In fact, a lot of people only started listening to and enjoying DaGrin‘s music after his death. That’s fair, but we should never let sentiment cloud reason because sentiment isn’t fact.

With DaGrin, he simply cannot be greater that rappers with five to 10 impactful albums or rappers whose music has crossed borders and tribal divides.

Yes, Biggie and Pac get mentioned in GOAT conversations. But what makes anybody think their death isn’t the reason why their legacy is exaggerated? In fact, theirs is worse. Both rappers died in the heat of the greatest beef in Hip-Hop history.

Reasonably, there’s no way in hell B.I.G and Pac are greater than Kanye West, Jay Z, Eminem and Drake – maybe even Kendrick Lamar. Death and time have a way of heightening sentiment and that’s what happened in the cases of DaGrin, Pac and B.I.G. The fact that you influenced a younger wave of rappers doesn’t mean you’re automatically greater than those younger rappers.

When the death of a young, thriving man with potential fuses with stan culture, it gets worse. To DaGrin‘s stans, there’s no one greater. Well, sorry to break it to you; your fave isn’t greater than a lot of people. In fact, the only people he’s greater than are people with limited impact on the Nigerian soundscape.

10 years is a long time. We can only judge on what’s before us, not what could have been. It’s sad that DaGrin never existed beyond where he is, but that’s life.

Finally, could Olamide have succeeded with DaGrin alive?

If DaGrin were alive, chances are he could have operated at the level Olamide is. Chances are also that he might not have. In 2010, Nigeria’s hottest artist was Wande Coal. Fast forward 10 years later, Wizkid who is probably an offspring of his style is far greater than Wande Coal. Thus, nothing is ever set in stone.

Olamide could have eclipsed DaGrin and he could have ended up playing catch-up to DaGrin throughout his career – nobody knows.

There is also a chance that could have both co-existed like Wizkid and Davido and thrived together. But one thing we shall not deny is that, DaGrin is Olamide‘s forerunner. When DaGrin died, the listener-scape was better prepared to accept a Yoruba-speaking rapper as a superstar than it was when Ajasa was popping.

DaGrin crashed doors open in the soundscape with his endearing ability and technique. Lord of Ajasa was a momentous occurrence in Nigerian music, but DaGrin took it further than Ajasa ever did. Apologies to Burna Boy, but DaGrin paved the way for Olamide.

Yes, DaGrin did things for himself, but while doing things for himself, he became a trailblazer who inspired many and made an entire country more willing to celebrate a Yoruba-speaking rapper. At least, DaGrin took over from where Ajasa left off. That’s not to say DaGrin didn’t also benefit from time – he did.

Everyone in the history has benefited from the element of timing for their greatness. Even Jay Z only really took off as a mainstream superstar after The Blueprint was released. You cannot undermine the influence of DaGrin in what Olamide has achieved and that’s facts. That said, we need to be careful about arguments that could easily be defeated by time.

There is no world in which DaGrin is greater than Olamide.