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In December 2021 when Habeeb ‘Portable’ Okikiola burst on the Nigerian music scene with ‘Zazoo Zeh’, most listeners were not ready. All thanks to Olamide for his intro verse, the single enjoyed regular airplay, became a hit at concerts and brought Portable unprecedented fame. But many didn’t expect so much from Habeeb ‘omo lalomi’ as he calls himself.
Many took him as just another one-hit wonder that would soon disappear from the scene. Perhaps a one-hit wonder like Korean singer – Psy whose 2012 hit song – Gangnam Style took the internet by storm and served as a forerunner for the success of K-Pop globally.
Portable’s many controversies from the time he hit the limelight – accusing Poco Lee of taking credit for Zazoo on streaming platforms and stealing the dollar notes Wizkid sprayed him at the Livespot X Festival in December 2021, breaking ties with his promoter Kogbagidi and sacking his team, among many others, left a few people who gave him the benefit of doubt with no choice but to believe he would soon fizzle out of the scene.
In Ijako, Owode and Iyana-Ilogbo neighbourhoods of Sango in Ogun State where Portable claimed to have started out before hitting fame in the Nigerian music industry, many didn’t believe he would become a viral sensation.
“By just listening to him before fame, you’ll conclude he’s just wasting his time doing music,” a resident told me during a visit to the area in 2022. “He was signed to Destiny Records and everyone believed FizzyMayur, the other artiste on the record label, considered a more serious artiste, would ‘blow’ before Portable.”
Since ‘Zazoo’ tossed Habeeb into the national limelight over a year ago, he has refused to leave the scene as many had predicted, instead, he has become a menace of a sort in the Nigerian music industry and one of the most talked about singers in the country, with all his activities attracting public attention.
He never denies being a controversy magnet. He owns that tag with his full chest.
‘Idamu adugbo (the streets’ trouble),’ that’s what he calls himself. In his self-adulation, he would further declare that the “industry has received a troublesome guest”.
Habeeb is not the first Nigerian singer to take on the toga of a controversy magnet and he won’t be the last. Before him, there was Eedris Abdulkareem, Terry G was on that path and most recently Naira Marley. The Marlian President enjoyed a cult-like following among young Nigerians for his many controversies.
Naira Marley was defiant. He was arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for his song ‘Am I a Yahoo Boy?’ which appears to promote internet fraud. The whole country went absolutely bonkers on him for travelling to Abuja for a concert during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020 despite the inter-state travel ban.
The Marlian movement and its menace were so viral that it had its creed and parents were told it was a demonic spirit sent to make their children defiant. Parents became worried and we saw fliers on social media of religious centres organising special deliverance sessions to ‘cast out’ the Marlian spirit from young people who professed and lived by the Marlian creed – ‘Marlians don’t have manners, Marlians don’t use belts’ etc.
The raw lifestyle, lewd and raunchy lyrics that made Naira Marley the favourite of Gen Zs and young adults between 2019 and 2021, are also making Habeeb’s popularity soar among this demography. While Habeeb’s influence pales when compared to Naira Marley’s hold on young people in 2019/2020, his appeal to hip-hop fans goes and the ‘street’ beyond his raw lifestyle and raunchy lyrics. It is not even about a powerful voice, just like Naira Marley, he does not have it. It is his disruption of the status quo and dismantling of the existing structure that has endeared him to many listeners.
There’s no secret with Portable. Everything is a cruise to him. His penchant for using his music as a form of protest and saying it as it is without minding whose ox is gored are some of the attributes many Nigerian music fans admire about him.
He gave prominence to this side of his artistry in ‘Pastor no wan go heaven,’ his song addressing the recent attack on a popular Nigerian pentecostal pastor that led to the death of some of his domestic and security aides.
Many people peme leyin pastor o.
Only pastor no die o.
Ase omo oro ni pastor o
Member still celebrated the incident as a miracle o
Bulletproof car save the pastor not a miracle o.
As the new face of ‘street music’, Portable also embodies all the attributes that make a street artiste. Street brawls, threatening fellow artistes, in his case, he added calling out and cussing out his colleagues, friends, show promoters and business partners.
“Come make we teach you how to sing. Can you sing live band? Dem dey package you ni. You no sabi sing make we talk true. Make una help me tell Ruger and Buju make dem come learn music from Doctor Zeh hand,” Portable said in one of his many rants on social media directed at fellow Nigerian music artistes – Ruger and BNXN who won the Next Rated Award at Headies 2022.
He added: “Dem no sabi sing o, all those music wey dem dey sing, we no dey hear wetin dem dey talk, no be say we no hear English, their wordings no dey commot. Make dem come learn music. Can’t you praise God? Can’t you talk reality things?”
Condemnable as some of his actions and utterances are, he appears not to have learnt his lessons after it cost him the Headies 2022 nomination in two categories and almost landed him in trouble with the law enforcement agencies when he declared himself a member of the ‘one million boys’ a group that terrorised Lagos communities during the COVID-19 lockdown.
While this may be working for him and providing comic relief for his over one million social media followers, many have argued that Portable needs to be more cautious with his street brawl. That show he put up at a concert in Agege, Lagos, last December was unnecessary. He probably needs to listen to one of Wasiu Alabi Pasuma’s songs where he said:
‘Gbogbo la’go mole owo ni o ti de, t’owo b’ade tan… eyan t’olowo oni fe ku o.’
‘Breaking bottles to fight is a result of poverty. When money comes, no rich man wants to die’, Pasuma who broke out from Mushin, one of Lagos’ most notorious neighbourhoods since the 1970s, declared.
With a mobile phone in his hand and MTN 5G internet, 28 years old Portable is not leaving the Nigerian music scene anytime soon. Even if he doesn’t release a song, the comic relief he constantly provides on his Instagram page will continue to make him one of the most talked about Nigerian artistes and force anyone to pay attention. How far that will carry him? We may not be able to say.
Multimedia journalist and story teller.
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