M.I-King-James-official-art

The world of music is a game of thrones, right? And you play to win or die. If there’s anyone who knows the truth of this statement, it’s M. I.

In his latest single, titled “King James,” he speaks about this violence lying at the heart of any high-stake hustle, whether it’s entertainment or politics.

Of course, M.I.’s evocation of violence is metaphorical, still it’s tapping into very classic ideas about sovereignty or kingly power.

When you’ve been out of the game for 4 years, how do you rise up from having laid low for so long and enter a battle that seems to have gone on without you?

M.I.’s answer?  “Four years I’ve been away, still nothing this hot popping today.” The battle didn’t go on without him. It couldn’t. As the king of African rap, he alone has the right to declare war or peace. In his absence, no hits were made.

There are always people willing to test the power of a returning king. Is he still as strong? Has he lost his bite? Well M.I. warns them: “[I’m] Still gonna blow this market away.”

The first verse ends with the declaration:

and all you rappers Iʼm back…
Youʼre dead!

A direct message to usurpers. Of all the King’s enemies, usurpers—the throne thieves—are the worst.  They never survive the return of the king.

In the very catchy hook, Ice Prince continues the theme of violence running through the entire track with the image of the king as a wild beast feasting on haters.

One thing I beg you, Jah bless me haters!
Keep them alive so they can see when I am greater!
Provide for them food so I can feast upon them later!
Haters are minority, We are balling major !

This link between the king and the beast is a very old philosophical concept. Think Thomas Hobbes, the 17th century political philosopher who imagined the ideal king as a Leviathan, a monstrous beast.

It all feeds into this idea that the king is someone who has an unlimited capacity for violence. When and how he chooses to use this power to kill is what differentiates the awful tyrant from the benevolent sovereign.

Watch Lyric Video

If M.I. has only been hinting at his kingly status in the previous verse, in verse 2 he declares, “Call me King James, the Lebron of verses.” In this line, he also states what is at stake in the game of rap thrones—verses, poetry, language, music.

He who wins becomes the sovereign of poetic artistry. As the biggest cat in the castle, he gets to set the bar as high as he wants. He gets to decide on what is good and bad rap.

In the next line, he says: “Me versus you is worthless.”

Again this is a sovereign reserving for himself the right to declare war. He has no problem putting up a fight in the industry. But there’s nothing like a king fighting other kings. That’s real war.

But having to fight brigands and petty warlords and weak rebels gets boring and lame.

He continues: “I am he whom all you rappers worship.” Here he shifts from a metaphor of kingship to a metaphor of divinity.

As god, he is worshiped. As king, he can’t be defeated.

But at some point he interrupts the grandstanding and thinks about the people. At the end of the day, what is a king without his subjects?

His return is not just about shutting down rebels but fulfilling the people’s desire for a true king—“the streets is feeling, the streets is yearning.”

By the last two lines of the third verse, there’s no need to couch things in metaphors. At this point, it’s clear what is at stake—the throne. “Get out of my throne,” he thunders, “get out of my throne.”

But there is this beautiful moment when he realizes that he’s just made a needless command—“wait…nobody is sitting there.”

The chair is already empty, right? It’s been empty, waiting for his return. Isn’t that the point he’s been trying to make?

Tags: , , , , , , ,

I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

9 Responses to “Conceptual Analysis of M. I. Abaga’s King James” Subscribe

  1. Libercius 2014/08/27 at 02:02 #

    Brilliant and dissected analysis!

  2. Pearl 2014/08/27 at 05:50 #

    M.I is numero uno any day sha o. Colour me biased.

  3. sheldon 2014/08/28 at 03:52 #

    True, music’s a war.But ’bout wat? It’s answer’s as versatile as are music¡ans.MI’s singing his vision of it

  4. Kwadwo boateng 2014/08/28 at 12:31 #

    There is just nothing like @mi_abaga! he truly the King of African rap

  5. kambell 2014/08/29 at 03:23 #

    The true King is here, so all of you jerk rappers should bow down. E wole

  6. Youngkhodie 2014/08/30 at 06:18 #

    M.I is coming home M.I u are the brilliant Suphursticated musician that’s why I love u cus the way u lyrically Not Randomly like others mother4cking rappers I swear to God #KINGJAMES will be take the Best song of the year in naija.

  7. Moves 2014/08/30 at 13:21 #

    Nice analysis.

  8. A. J 2014/08/30 at 14:00 #

    girl u’re very good in analyzing.. I never understood this song like this… as for MI he’z the king we all knw… he shouldint tell us,, we should b d one hailing him

  9. o.n.o 2014/10/25 at 08:32 #

    i always wondered why it was necessary for rappers to compulsorily have enemies. where none exists they create them. is there any Nigerian rapper who isn’t ‘king’? they ALL insist they are. all of them. its amazing really

Leave a Reply

I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Archives

The Brittle Paper Literary Awards: New Date for the Announcement of Winners

The announcement of the winners of the inaugural Brittle Paper Literary Awards was scheduled for 23 September 2017. However, a change […]

The Reviews Are In! | Namwali Serpell Has High Praise for Jennifer Makumbi’s Kintu

Screen-Shot-2017-09-20-at-4.57.42-PM-e1505944728679 copy

Jennifer Makumbi’s Kintu is one of the hit novels of 2017. A historical drama, it tells the story of an 18th […]

New Website Collects Everything Binyavanga Wainaina Has Written Since the Late 1990s

A new Website has collected everything published by Binyavanga Wainaina since his writing career began in the late 1990s. The […]

Opportunity for All Writers | Submit to Vanguard Literary Services’ HIV/AIDS Awareness Anthology

To mark the 2017 World HIV/AIDS Day on December 1, Vanguard Literary Services, a bookselling company in Nigeria, has called […]

The Graywolf Press Africa Prize Launches with Igoni A. Barrett as Judge

igoni a. barrett

A new award just dropped: the Graywolf Press Africa Prize, for “a first novel manuscript by an African author primarily residing […]

Nnedi Okorafor Celebrates Everyday African Life in New Superhero Comic

okorafor comics

A little over two years ago, South African Sci-fi writer Lauren Beukes collaborated with D. C. Comics on a Wonder […]