MI Abaga’s new album, “Yung Denzel”, which was released under the Chocolate City label in the early hours of Friday 24th August 2018, could be a make-or-mar feature length body of work, one which could re-assert his standing in African Hip Hop or banish him to oblivion as far as discussions bordering on musical relevance are concerned.

The diminutive rapper first gained notice when he lent a verse to Jeremiah Gyang ‘s “Kauna Allah” , but it was with his debut album, “Talk About It” (2008) that he made a huge impression on Nigeria’s Hip Hop scene. With tracks like “Anoti” (featuring Gabriel), “Teaser”, “Blaze” and “Fast Money Fast Cars” (which featured a certain Wizkid), the Jos-born lyricist blended fluid wordplay with playable sound, showing music enthusiast that it was possible to merge Mode 9ine’s lyrical skill with Rugged Man’s commercial drive.

More success followed in 2010 with “M. I 2”, an album which pretty much cemented his place as the country’s best rapper (with tracks like Undisputed, Action Film and Beef), and which was sandwiched by two non-commercial but hard-hitting mix tapes (2009’s Illegal Music and 2012’s Illegal Music 2).

By the turn of the decade, however, the tempo had significantly slowed down, intra-label conflicts (leading to the departure of Jesse Jagz and Brymo) did not help his cause, and a sub-par single in 2013 provided ammunition for critics. 2014’s “The Chairman” (an album which had at least one artiste featured on each track) did well financially, but fans and culture commenters have had to inquire about the whereabouts of the word-spraying, pun-dishing MI from 2008. Running the label has not got any easier (with Milli departing in 2016 and neither Koker nor Dice Ailes pulling expected numbers), and even 2016’s “Illegal Music 3” (which was, objectively, a decent Hip Hop offering) did not travel too far across that many Nigerian ears.

The first quarter of 2018 had Mr. Incredible churn out “Rendezvous” (a largely commercial EP which involved contributions from talents like Falz, Nonso Amadi, Odunsi the Engine and Cassper Nyovest), but it was not only fairly dissapointing by way of charts and numbers, it was panned critically, with more than a few referring to it as a “joke of a rap album”. Many have suggested that the multiple Headies award winner is finished musically, and not without good reason : Other than the controversial “You Rappers Should Fix Up Your Lives” from late 2017, there hasn’t been much captivating material from the Short Black Boy in recent times.

Questions have been asked, and MI Abaga hopes to answer them all in “Yung Denzel”. His latest offering comprises ten tracks, with heavy hints at introspective lyrics, and the long nature of each track title makes for curious anticipating. He has been working hard in the past couple of weeks, wrapping up production on two albums from his label mates (Blaqbonez and Loose Kaynon), and for the first time in over two years, there is something from the Choc City stable to rub palms for.