A young rapper walks on the path to becoming the artistic semblable of a comedy icon.
His musical career may well still be at its dawn, but young rapper, M-Pro, born Mbella Prosper Enem, is already prospering as a hip-hop humour pro. Signed to Steven’s Music – home of the sultry singer, Daphne – in 2016, M-Pro is the contemporary musical version of Jean Miché Kang Kang – who is, arguably, Cameroon’s greatest ever comedian.
Jean Miché Kang Kang was much loved for his insightful humour and unique dress code, marked by oversized shoes, baggy shorts, a bulging belly stuffed with clothes, and a face painted pitch black with charcoal. The comedian, in his prime, inspired a cult-like following amongst young up-and-coming Cameroonian acts like Tchop Tchop.
Just like Kang Kang, M-Pro has transformed humour into art in Cameroonian rap. He has made Cameroonian pidgin rap bang like American trap, without sounding like crap. He has also made the corny sound flashy and classy, surfing on the same comedy wavelength as Maahlox le Vibeur. However, while Maahlox is a foul-mouthed satirist of harsh realities, M-Pro is a subtle humourist of bleak realities.
In his debut single, the party banger, “Didong”, M-Pro addresses police corruption, and partying. In the video, while driving to a party, he is stopped by a police officer, who asks for a bribe despite his car having all the necessary papers. The rapper is defiant, so the police officer gets into the car and orders him to drive to the station. However, the artist rather rockets towards the party venue, refusing to stop. Scared, the big, muscular officer pleads to get out of the racing car, but the tiny-framed rapper is relentless.
The artist opens the song rapping in French, then carries on in Cameroonian Pidgin English, with solid background rap vocals in Pidgin English interspersing his verses throughout. He, further, inflects a Cameroonian childhood Pidgin English song.
“Didong”’s beat, which is groovy, with a party dance feel to it, was produced by AnyKindBeatz. It blends in contemporary American trap music with Cameroonian musical instruments, and elements of electronic dance music (EDM). Dr Nkeng Stephens directed the Buea-shot video, which has top-notch and very creative visuals. BBOFIA worked in some colourful cartoons, which increase the song’s comic effect as they alternate with real-life images. “Didong” is a grand entrance into the Cameroonian hip-hop scene, but it is not a clinical song.
M-Pro quickly built on his comedic incursion with an even better second release, “#Showbiz”, which is a fun record. The track’s beat samples Soulja Boy Tell’em’s 2007 hit, “Crank that (Soulja Boy)”, thus giving it a Southern American Atlanta hip-hop feel, blended with African music rhythms and instruments. The rap verses are all performed in Cameroonian Pidgin English, with no rhymes.
Every line begins with the phrase “If showbiz nobi helep…”, after which M-Pro delves into a punch line, funnily unveiling an alternate, low-income, meagre career that various successful Cameroonian musicians would be engaged in, if they weren’t into showbiz. Worthy of note is that, “#Showbiz” is not a diss song but a fun song, with the artist simply displaying his wit and humour. He also makes references to successful hits by some of the artists in some of the lines, which are laced with very mischievous backup rap vocals that complement the humour.
If showbiz nobi helep, Featurist them for be na Nganakor (Helele Bobo)
If showbiz nobi helep, Locko for be na chef cook (Yi dey like say yi like chop)
If showbiz nobi helep, Franko for be na teacher. Yi for di teach men dem na whetti hey? How for Coller la petite.
If showbiz nobi helep, Charlotte Dipanda for be na buy am sell am (For Marché Mboppi)
If showbiz nobi helep, Gasha for be na Mberé (Yi for di tif)
If showbiz nobi helep, Magasco for di sell na yi okrika (for Kumba market)
If showbiz nobi helep, Salatiel for di push truck (for find yi Fap nkolo)
M-Pro even pokes fun at himself: “If nobi na for showbiz me sep I no know ting way I for di do for di front mic (you for di sell plum)”.
Arguably, the funniest is the punch line on Petit Pays: “If showbiz nobi helep, Petit Pays for di work for Musango”. Musango is a bus agency that was opened so many years after Petit Pays became a Makossa superstar in 1987).
The Daphne line is a stroke of genius (“If showbiz nobi helep, Daphne for be na choir mistress”). It is not as funny as many others, but it is very revealing. You just have the gut feeling that, if Daphne hadn’t become a music star, she would have been the lead chorister in church during the weekends, after her day job.
Also, the Akon line was not as funny as the others (“If showbiz nobi helep, Akon for dong turn back for Africa”). Nevertheless, immediately you watch the image of Akon in the video vigorously descending on a piece of wood with an axe, it triggers laughter. Like, is this what the Akon who rides in Lamborghini Gallardoes and Bentleys in his videos would return to Senegal to do? The music video director, Dr Nkeng Stephens got that right.
The video director also got the concept of the entire music video right. With each of M-Pro’s humorous punch lines, the director slaps us in the face with an image portraying a giant headed, Les Guignols-like caricature of the artist being mentioned, doing their thing meagre-style. It makes the song a lot funnier and cornier. The video is also reminiscent of the Missy Elliott and Ludacris caricature videos of the early 2000s, like “Work it” and “Stand up”.
The downside of “#Showbiz” is its hook. After laughing your head off due to the high dose of humour in the verses and comical images, you naturally expect to hear a great hook. But what comes thereafter is a chorus that falls totally flat. The auto-tune used in the hook makes it sound even more boring. The hook could have used some more work. The fact that Mr Leo features in “#Showbiz” without singing begs the question of why he didn’t write and sing a good hook for the song. On another note, considering there are many a great hook-less rap songs out there, maybe M-Pro should have recorded it hook-less, using the part that comes just before the hook as its hook. That notwithstanding, the two rap verses and the video are beautifully delivered, so I would still rate “#Showbiz” an excellent song.
Mr Leo and Blaise B conclude it with a battle-style outro, in an attempt to find out who would deliver the best “worst-meagre-job knockout punch line”. It prompts the last laughs. Blaise B wins that battle, with his mbangaa (slang for marijuana) punch line on Mr Leo. “#Showbiz” created a comical movement on social media when it was released. Various Cameroonians explored further what our artists would be doing in very funny posts. For a start, this shows that M-Pro is already our hip-hop humour pro, and well on the way to becoming the rap version of Jean Miché Kang Kang.
Nkiacha Atemnkeng is based in Douala, where he works for Swissport at the Douala Airport. He was Ethiopian Airlines Cameroon’s first blogging award winner, and also winner of the Entrepreneurship category in the Vodafone Cameroon Writers competition. He attended the 2017 Nigeria-Cameroon Literary Exchange programme and the 2015 Caine Prize Writers Workshop in Ghana. His illustrated chap book for children, The Golden Baobab Tree, was published by Aalvent Books in 2014. His short story, “Bad Lake”, was runner up in the Bakwa Magazine Short Story Competition. His work has been published in the 2015 Caine Prize anthology, the 2014 Writivism anthology, Fabafriq magazine, This Is Africa, Munyori, and the Caine Prize blog. His musings can be found on his Writerphilic blog, nkiachaatemnkeng.blogspot.com. He is on Twitter: @nkiacha