I watched a Nigezie program on AIT sometime in 2009. During that program the camera crew followed Nigerian rap superstar M.I Abaga around as he embarked on his daily activities. At the time M.I was the Nigerian rap go. With just an album and a mixtape (both stellar releases), M.I had reshaped the whole Nigerian hip-hop scene. Although I’ve forgotten every other part of that program and scoured the internet to no avail, the scene that burned a hole in my head and etched itself unto my memory was watching Ice Prince lay down his verse for M.I’s “Somebody wants to die”.

Ice Prince came into the studio, went into the booth and in one take while reading his lyrics from a phone did his verse. Before entering the booth, there was the humility of an artist yet to blow but immediately he opened his mouth to rap, he exuded the confidence of a veteran. Ice Prince beat that verse with so much arrogance it was like watching A Pimp Named Slickback repeatedly slap one of his workers. That scene in my eyes was the moment Choc Boi Nation entered full throttle mode.

Even though Chocolate City Records was already quite popular in 2009 with M.I as its banner artist, Jesse Jagz’s growing popularity as a prolific rapper/producer and Ice Prince’s show of star power was the perfect setup for things to come. I personally call that short period the Golden Choc Boi Era because every sort of musical venture put out by any member of that collective group seemed to have been touched by the Philosopher’s Stone.

Jesse Jagz was first off the bat in 2010, releasing his major label debut album, Jag of All Tradez. JoAT was an impressive body of work mostly grounded in hip-hop while borrowing production styles from various genres to add colour to the confines of the album. The album would spawn massive hits like the Wizkid & Soul-E assisted ‘Intoxicated’, the braggadocios ‘Jargo’ and the popular choc boi anthem ‘Nobody Test Me’. Next up, Ice Prince stepped up to the bat and knocked it out of the pack with the release of ‘Oleku’. ‘Oleku’ was literally everywhere, topping every chart in Nigeria and Africa for weeks and months, it was the biggest song by a Nigerian artist in 2010. It featured the then relatively unknown Brymo, who would officially be announced as the fourth horseman in the CBN collection shortly after. What was already a great year became an astronomical one with the release of M.I’s sophomore album – M.I.2: The Movie. An impressive album packed with hits and introspective songs, which added more credence to M.I’s place at the top of the rap game further matched by huge commercial success. By the end of the year, Ice Prince’s line from the group song off M.I.2: The Movie cut ‘Represent’ was an apt description of their influence on the music industry – “came from the back door, now we’re at the frontlines”.

2011 started with the release of Ice Prince’s second single, ‘Superstar’. Its success showed that Ice Prince had some staying power and drove the hype for his full length debut up. At Tim Westwood’s studio, Ice Prince bottled his freestyle by taking lyrics off his phone and Brymo’s breezy singing contribution was pretty cool but M.I and Jesse Jagz’s fiery display fuelled by brotherly one-upmanship was one of those heart swelling moments as a choc boi fan. Then came Brymo’s Legendary’s Beatz’ produced debut single ‘Ara’, which reached the astronomical heights set by ‘Oleku’. It continued Choc City’s star making power and set the ball rolling on Brymo’s solo career which had been just impressive guest features up to that point. Ice Prince finally came through with his debut album Everybody Loves Ice Prince (E.L.I.) in October 2011, largely produced by Jesse Jagz and arguably Ice Prince’s best full length project till date, it featured Ice Prince moving through afrobeats, dancehall and highlife. E.L.I. was a fun album, not the critical darling but fans guzzled it up and more hits came off the album like ‘Juju’, ‘Magician’ and the dexterous choc boi cut, ‘Thank You’.

M.I took the baton in early ‘12 and torched the rap game with the second instalment of the Illegal Music mixtape series which spawned another holy shit verse from Ice Prince on standout cut, ‘F*ck You’. Illegal Music 2 was filled with some of M.I’s best rapping, from the jazzy freewheeling ‘do i move you’ to the pure fire of ‘Lost’ to the introspective ‘Heart of the City’. One of the best attributes of IM2 was M.I using the features on the tape to introduce some of Nigeria’s best underground artists to a wider audience. Brymo released his second official single ‘Good Morning’ produced by Jesse Jagz which also became a hit. Brymo’s major label debut #TheSonOfAKakpenta was released in September 2012, it was lauded by critics but it failed to make a huge dent in terms of sales, a disappointing turnout with fingers pointed at the label for improper or little marketing. Whatever the case, the beginning of the end of the golden CBN era had started.

Jesse Jagz was the first spoke to detach from the wheel around mid-2012 due to issues with the label over creative issues. Brymo breached his contract in 2013 citing irreconcilable differences with the label and both parties went to court. CBN had been depleted; the creative glue and the emotive soul had left.

Jesse Jagz has self-released two impressive albums  (Jagz Nation, Vol.1. Thy Nation Come & Jagz Nation Vol. 2: Royal Niger Companyand is currently back working with Chocolate City under his Jagz Nation imprint. Brymo has released three impressive albums (Merchants, Dealers & Slaves, Tabula Rasa & Klitoris) and currently has an international distribution deal with Tate Music Group. Ice Prince has had a stop-start career since the release of his underwhelming Fire of Zamani album in 2013, his latest full-length – Jos to the World has done very little to restore any faith in his artistic abilities. M.I is currently the president of Chocolate City, but that hasn’t stopped him from releasing music. The impressively curated feature-laden The Chairman album in 2014, the urgent final instalment of the Illegal Music (IM3) released in early 2016 and he’s currently teasing a new project.

In the digital era where the attention span makes days feel like months and where very few crews stand the test of time, it is only right that we take a moment to appreciate the immortal legacy imprinted by M.I, Jesse Jagz, Ice Prince and Brymo as a creative tour de force under a common umbrella.

Words by Peter Ade Dennis, aka The fifth horseman, aka @ayo_dennis.