Jude Abaga (born 4 October 1981), better known by stage name M.I, is a Nigerian hip hop recording artist. He has won several awards including the MTV Africa Music Awards 2009. He was nominated in the Best International Act category at the BET Awards 2010. He rose to prominence in 2006 when his song “Crowd Mentality” became popular in his hometown of Jos. He is a music executive at Chocolate City. On 11 December 2008, M.I released his critically acclaimed debut album, Talk About It.
Jude was born in Jos, Plateau State. His parents, Pastor and Mrs Abaga from Takum, Taraba state, both of Nigerian descent. He attended Baptist High School, Jos where his mother purchased basic music notations and later, a 7-key mini piano which launched him into the music world. Jude has two brothers, Jesse Jagz who is also in the Nigerian and African music scene, and Jason Abaga. During Jude’s adolescence, he would listen to tracks from Lauryn Hill, Bob Marley, Sarah Maclachlan, Pablo Neruda, Jay-Z and DMX. Jude’s venture in the hip hop world started with the sampling of musical works from DMX and Lauryn Hill as early as 1998. After his stint at Calvin College, Michigan, US, he delved into poetry while pursuing a career in Business and Economics. There, he performed regularly at the school’s major hip hop shows and concerts. His impressive rap flows and attitude gained him a third place finish at the Calvin College show tagged ‘HipHopera’ in 2003, which was actually the only “hip hop show” that Calvin College ever had. M.I. also made some amateur attempts at comedy, but decided to stick to music because he was embarrassed when nobody laughed but him.
Jude began his music career when he returned to Nigeria in 2003. Finding his place in an industry dominated by the likes of Modenine, Ruggedman and Eedris Abdulkareem, he quickly commenced the production of mixtapes with his friend Djinee. This led to the critically acclaimed single “Safe”, (a song which he parodied popular Nigerian songs in its lyrics) which has gathered impressive airplay by African radio and music video stations such as MTV Vibe. The track also earned him awards at the Nigerian Music Video Awards, City People, N.E.A amongst others.
The hype surrounding the release of Safe led to the critical acclaim given to his first studio album titled Let’s Talk About It. The album gathered awards such as Musician of the Year (Modemen Awards in 2008), Best Hip Hop Artist (City People Awards). His first mixtape was PYERIBOY. He later went on to bring out a sample mixtape, ILLEGAL MUSIC,in which he fully exploits his lyrical prowess.
Back in Jos Nigeria, he teamed up with his brother,Jesse Jagz, IcePrince, Ruby, Threadstone, Lindsay, Moses (Elbulk),E kelly to form a record label, called LOOPY records, and they perform every Sunday at an open bar, with a theme tagged Jam Session. M.I was later signed to the Chocolate City company, a renowned music label in Nigeria, which made him move from Jos city to the nation’s capital Abuja and also influenced the beginning of his successful career in the Nigerian music industry. He has also received international recognition in South Africa from the popular Channel O music Award, MTVbase Awards and also the American BET Awards. A proficient producer, lyricist, songwriter and instrumentalist, M.I has been described by DIV[who?] as the future of African hip-hop. He has produced and featured on the works of artists like, Don Jazzy, Threadstone (Nigeria’s first rock band Kel, Djinee, Shifi (Styl Plus), Jesse Jags, Ice Prince, Ruby, Lindsey, Leony, Wizkid e.t.c. He also runs a production company, Rytchus Era Productions with his brother Jesse Abaga (Jesse Jagz). In 2013 he was appointed by Nigerian telecommunication company Glo Mobile as a brand ambassador alongside other Nigerian artistes like Omawunmi, Burna Boy etc. He was also a judge in Glo X-Factor, the Nigerian version of the reality singing show in 2013.
Tripol of Blaze-A-Mic describes M.I’s flow as “easy going but packed full of punches”. Similarities in styles have also been drawn to renowned rappers such as Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, Lil Wayne and Jay-Z. Those who know M.I. well have also compared his ego with both that of Kanye West and Jay-Z.
M.I’s role in the music industry cannot be overstated. He has been responsible for bringing out many upcoming artistes such as Wizkid, Vypa, Jesse Jagz, Ruby, Pype, Ice Prince and the latest is Brymo. He has been described by many Nigerian hip hop fans as Nigeria’s ‘Hip Hop Messiah’. MI has done a lot to bring a Northern presence to the Nigerian music industry, he depicts the perfect example of bringing Nigeria together. His music is conscious; therefore he is a leader in many ways to the youth of Nigeria. He is the founder of Loopy Records, and he is signed to Chocolate City. M.I produces with Chocolate City, and has produced albums and songs for his labelmates. The most notable of these being in 2011 when he produced two songs off Ice Prince’s album Everybody Loves Ice Prince.
There has been a little rivalry between Nigerian artists, M.I. Abaga and Kelly Hansome. This started when M.I. in his track Fast Money, Fast Cars stated, “Kelly Hansome is handsome, I’ll tell him when I see him. But if I want a man, it’d be Keke or D1″. Kelly Hansome did not take kindly to these words and from there they both have gone track for track with Kelly Hansome releasing Catch Me If You Can, where he goes in on the whole Chocolate City label. In response, the Choc City camp released Nobody Test Me with a line from M.I talking directly to Kelly Hansome, saying, ” Only one Kelly that I know, Kelly Rowland. Why would I diss them, give them cheap promotion. I think that they’re so dry, I should give them lotion”. Later, Kelly Hansome released Chocolate Boys (Chocolate City members). M.I. released a track on his 2010 album, M.I.2 named Beef. With Kelly hearing this, brought out the track Finish You Boy.
In 2009 a US-based rapper by the name Iceberg Slim released a single titled Mr International where he said the lines: “Am I better than M.I? I don’t know. Am I? Matter of fact you should ask M.I”. That apparently didn’t sit too well with M.I, prompting him to release a single known as “Somebody Wants To Die”, featuring his label mate Ice Prince on the track. Less than 48 horrs after the release of M.I’s Somebody Wants To Die IceBerg Slim released Assassination and sources quote that his Facebook status at the time of the release read “Somebody Wants To Die, I’ll be responsible for the Assassination … let the countdown begin … (I told em it would be a M.I.stake, but they didn’t listen)”. There was a contest in the mind of rap fans on who happened to be the best rapper in Nigeria.
M.I developed more fans than Iceberg Slim and had more hit records, while Iceberg Slim gained hearts on Nigerian rap fans in a very short and unusual period. In 2012, both rappers decided to sweep the feud under the rug. Iceberg stated, “I don’t think I picked on MI. It was a healthy competition in Hip-Hop, which most people don’t understand. In Hip-Hop community, we could be best friends or brothers and I can say I’m the best rapper in the world and no one takes offense or takes it personal. My shot at MI wasn’t a sign of disrespect in any way. Though sarcastic, it was healthy. People just took it out of context and thought I was dissing him. Rap music is all about competition because it helps you grow and improve on yourself.”
His popularity has quickly reached the youth of Nigeria as he has become one of the most critically acclaimed Nigerian artists, and has recently been compared to other artists like Naeto C, D’banj, 9ice and Mode 9. He was listed as the 4th most talented rapper in Nigeria by online music site Notjustok.com.
International recognition, charitable works and causes
M.I was appointed a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador in 2012. M.I also supports the Jostified campaign.
M.I has achieved worldwide recognition as part of the vanguard of the “Afrobeats” wave.