If Ruggedman was a forerunner of the ideal, DaGrin broke the door down and created a worthy blueprint that rappers like Olamide, Reminisce and to an extent, Phyno and Classiq could follow.
Carroll Shelby is one of the greatest car designers in American history. After giving up an illustrious career due to incessant migraines, he formed a successful partnership with Ford Motor Company and effectively ended the Ferrari dominance at the prestigious endurance race, the 24-hour Le Mans. Much of this was dramatized in the movie, ‘Ford vs. Ferrari.’
But in the movie, Need For Speed (2014), another thing was dramatized. Embedded in the fundamental movie plot is the idea that Carroll Shelby was working on a Ford Mustang that could have been the greatest endurance race car with Ford Motor Company at the time he died.
While Shelby and his company Shelby American had built some amazing cars, the one he was building when he died would have been his crown jewel. That inconclusive end to that arc deprives Shelby and the American automotive industry of a momentous work of art that could have re-imagined the idea endurance race cars. That inconclusive end is pretty significant to the story of another human being across the Atlantic. His name is DaGrin.
Carroll Shelby died on May 10, 2012. But on April 22, 2010, Nigerian rapper, DaGrin, a budding superstar with a head for rhymes and a skill for deft punchlines passed away after succumbing to injuries sustained in a car accident – nonetheless.
When the car was fictionally re-imagined in the movie, Need For Speed, it was a one-of-a-kind, beautifully built sports car with a muscle peculiar to Ford Mustangs. It bore a conspicuous silver painting with blue lining, had the gruffness to excel in dirt and importantly, it travels at a top speed of 234 miles per hour. The car was then sold for a whopping $2.7 million.
DaGrin‘s story is like the unfinished version of that car. Born Oladapo Olaitan Olaonipekun on October 25, 1984, DaGrin excelled because he represented the voice of the Nigerian people. Except you are counting the underground song, ‘Democracy’ and the off political reference in his music, being the voice of the people was not about being politically-driven for him.
Instead, he spoke for the polity and documented the struggles of inner-city Nigeria with a detail everyone could relate to. Even when you didn’t understand what he was saying, you could tell that he was saying something special. Nigerian Journalist and Creative and Design Lead at MAVIN Records, Segun Akande agrees.
He says, “It was a feeling of knowing that there was someone who could channel the soul or the spirit of the streets – like the place I was embedded in – because of where I grew up. He talked about things I knew, but he did it with a kind of class, precision… Everything he had was amazing producer in Sossick – who is one of the greats.”
He had a baritone voice perfectly suited to Hip-Hop, he was short of stature, but he had charisma, confidence and a personality. His natural ‘street looks’ was a brand and image that organically sold itself. Nigerian rapper, Paybac says, “Dagrin proved that there should not be a box. His flows and mannerisms were American as f**k. His content was very Nigerian and it worked.
“To me, he just showed that there’s always a way to do it if you’re passionate enough. The first time I listened to him, I think I felt awe. He reminded me of 2004 50 Cent and 2008 Lil Wayne – the swag and the delivery.”
Asides that, he was the rapper’s rapper and that endeared him towards the Nigerian Hip-Hop community that endorsed him without second thoughts. Between 2008 and 2010, he fed the beast of Nigerian Hip-Hop, impregnated it, watched it bear fruit, watch the fruit attain infancy and then passed on.
His emergence also coincided with the golden era of Nigerian Hip-Hop (2006-2010). Ayomide Tayo, Senior Editor at Opera News felt DaGrin marked the golden era of Nigerian Hip-Hop because he shifted culture.
His album, C.E.O (short for Chief Executive Omo-Ita or in English, Chief Executive Street Boy) sold out like colored ice water laced with sugar at 2pm in an inner-city Lagos primary school in the 90’s. ‘Pon Pon‘ became arguably the most-remixed Nigerian song of all-time. Across Nigerian radio stations and car sound systems, ‘Pon Pon,’ a core Hip-Hop track blared with intensity.
In fact, that beat birthed a lot of rap stars across Nigerian universities. Nigerian rapper, Mz Kiss told City FM in 2019 that she was a regular artist until she heard DaGrin. Of course, when you see Mz Kiss on a good day, she’s an eloquent ‘prom queen.’ The street voice is all part of an act she sells and that’s all down to DaGrin.
On inspiration, it was a mutual thing between DaGrin and Nigerian rapper/100 Crowns Exec, AQ who tells Pulse Nigeria that, “I was not close to Dagrin, I was not close to Sossick either till much later. We (Sossick and I) even had a rap battle back then, of course you know what the result was (laughs). Sossick and his brother Gino had started MOB records, I had recently finished my marketing my first project Listen and Overstand and distributed 5000 copies hand to hand – It took me close to a year.
“We put up posters everywhere we could. I wanted to collaborate (with DaGrin) – MSpeech was close to Sossick, so I asked him to help me talk to Sossick to set it up. Sossick told me Dagrin came to his crib to listen to beats and he saw my posters in the studio and said I was one of the guys that inspired him to push through.
“If I could cut CD’s and push myself to sell them, then he could do it too. When I heard that, I was super inspired and did not request for a feature anymore, I just felt I could do it too.”
During his chat with Pulse, Lagos-bred Lebanese rapper, Oyibo Rebel credits DaGrin with his style and gritty flows. He claims that his catchy tune, ‘Ojumi Bloody’ is highly inspired by DaGrin.
DaGrin died at 25. Really, he died and it shocked the world. For a lot of Nigerians, that experience was different. I got the news in a Newspaper I went to buy that morning – soon after, my phone blew up with calls from friends and fellow music lovers who wanted to know if I’d heard the news.
On April 14, 2010, DaGrin‘s Nissan Maxima rammed into a stationary truck at night. Some reports claim DaGrin was drunk, but those reports remain unproven. He went into a coma as a result of the collision.There were conflicting reports about his injuries. Some said he was okay and recovering. Others said he was in a pretty bad shape and his life was in the balance.
Capturing those events as a young journalist working for Hip-Hop World Magazine in 2010, former Senior Editor of Pulse Nigeria, Ayomide Tayo writes, “We got to LUTH and it was pretty much obvious something was going down. People were gradually trooping in from all corners. The word was spreading, Dagrin, the ghetto champ and the people’s representative was dead.
“For some reason, we all gathered at a spot, fans, press people and the curious. A few minutes later stars started rolling in. Sasha was one of the first to show up. She looked sad. Olu Maintain in his immaculate blue jalabia and dark as hell sunshades managed to look ruffled.
“If you had any doubts that Dagrin was dead, YQ erased those doubts. He ran into LUTH like a man looking for hope. People who were with Dagrin at the time of his death confirmed to him that he was dead. YQ lost it. He rolled on the floor and wailed. Olu Maintain shrunk in size as he sadly shook his head. Dagrin was gone forever.”
After DaGrin died, Nigerian music shrunk into one unit away from the competition. Even rivals momentarily forgot rivalry and focused on humanity – he was 25 and destined for greatness. He is like that car Carroll Shelby never got to finish. In his element, DaGrin‘s entire run was actually the early stages of a greatness. It was a career in en embryonic stage – not fully formed.
When he passed, we had only started to see signs of the greatness – that was not even remotely close to his peak. It just so happens that the embryonic success of DaGrin is the peak for other artists. Asides that, his embryonic run was immense enough to warrant arguments for greatness. Like the unfinished car Carroll Shelby was working on when he died, the world never got to see the best of DaGrin.
Ayomide Tayo opines that, “When DaGrin came out with ‘Pon Pon’ and C.E.O, people knew it was a gamechanger. Together with ‘Kondo’ and the remix, DaGrin was crossing over into the mainstream proper in the South-West especially when he passed away – it’s just sad.”
The arguments for DaGrin’s greatness are also partly induced by the incidence of DaGrin‘s death in his prime. As MAVIN Records Creative Lead, Segun Akande always says, “Death is a ready-made canvas for immortality. All you leave behind got no fault. Die young, live forever…” Nonetheless, only those destined for greatness will have arguments of greatness made for them after they die young.
The best we can do now though is build a dreamy song like ‘Jonylah Forever‘ by Lupe Fiasco and dream of DaGrin living it out as a legend in a parallel universe. He was set to rule.
At his best, DaGrin would have been like a rare Carroll Shelby-$2.7 million Ford Mustang cruising and excelling effortlessly through the many punishing terrains of Le Mans while mocking the competition for being inadequate. He might even have evolved into something bigger and left a legacy bigger than anything we imagine.
But unlike Carroll Shelby, DaGrin‘s legacy is now constantly bedraggled by petty arguments around his greatness, remembered with momentary big ups from his peers and pressure on the shoulders of his brother, Trod – also a rapper. It doesn’t help that Trod went from being an Olamide fan to telling Naijaloaded TV that he would be bigger than Olamide in two years.
We have gotten the tribute songs, we have gotten the lazy conspiracy theories about DaGrin‘s death from hungry liars, we have heard the posthumous rap verses, the eerily prophetic ‘If I Die’ and we have seen the Headies award. You might not believe it, but there is a legacy and a root.
The arguments for greatness are not without reason though
Most people knew DaGrin when he dropped that monster verse on YQ‘s 2008 trap song, ‘Efimile.’ Nigerian rapper, Paybac, TeckZilla (also a producer) admit that the first time they heard DaGrin was on that song. But before then, DaGrin had a life and even an album released in 2006 titled, Still On The Matter.
The album spurned popular songs like, ‘If I Die,’ ‘Rap Rules Anthem,’ ‘E Soro’ and ‘Nii 94.‘ Unlike a lot of people, Segun Akande discovered DaGrin on ‘Nii 94.’ He says, “This was after I got into University in 2008. He was rhyming with ‘4’ like, ‘Buki to ma n wo Pina4 Nii 94, gbogbo yen o, itan ma niyen o..’ His cadence and flow were on point, even though the beat wasn’t A1. I was like ‘who is this guy?’
“I wasn’t sold right away because he wasn’t everywhere, but I’d expected to hear of him later. When C.E.O dropped, I was so excited that I held a listening party for it in my parents’ living room by inviting all my friends. We were vibing with my Mom until we got to ‘Kondo’ and when she yanked the CD out of the player. (laughs)”