Maryland, USA
SoloHip Hop

If you were to combine the sounds of the great Nigerian musician Fela and Kanye West with a little indie rock and dubstep, and then the talents of a Kendrick Lamar, you would get Ikey.


For Ikey (pronounced like “Mikey”), it’s all about the story. Born in New York, with roots in both Spanish Harlem and Lagos, Nigeria, Ike Obioha connected with music at an early age. The diverse palette of his father’s music collection painted a musical canvas that pays homage to everything from Elton John and Journey to the Neville Brothers and Igbo Nigerian highlife singer Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe. Ikey distinctly remembers hearing “Juicy,” and being mesmerized by how Notorious B.I.G.’s storytelling ability could transport him to a Brooklyn bedroom covered in pictures from Word Up! magazine. The mutual love of a compelling narrative arc and music capable of emotionally resonating ultimately fueled his decision to embark upon his own music career.

“Seeing people of different backgrounds respond to my songs made me say, ‘Okay, I can tell this story,’” recounts Ikey. “I don’t have to compromise anything.”

That uncompromising story began with 2010’s “Ghana Must Go” from his Coming To America project. The track used a sample of Melvin Bliss’ “Synthetic Substitution” and took its name from a popular refrain coined during 1983’s mass deportation that forced millions of Ghanaians out of Nigeria in a matter of weeks. The notion of a Maryland kid blending Nigerian references such as “419 scams” and former Head of State, General Sani Abacha, with talk of Kimbo Slice and Nintendo resonated with listeners of various backgrounds and revealed Ikey’s  sharp-witted and unique take on hip-hop.

Like many college students, Ikey juggled a full schedule, a few empty bottles, and his fair share of dead-end jobs. His unique, 1.5 generation immigrant experience influenced both the subject matter and creation of his music, as his passion for hip-hop was never a hobby so much as it was a burgeoning professional craft he simultaneously honed while pursuing his college degree. Despite pressure to embark upon a more scholarly career, Ikey would ultimately find himself opening for the likes of Big Sean and have his music covered in the Washington City Paper. While he gained recognition for his craft and graduated from the University of Maryland, his biggest accomplishment and inspiration for his next release had little to do with either music or school.

“I went through the process of getting my mom a green card when I was 21,” Ikey explains. “I could see how much it meant to her. America has this whole thing of being the land of opportunity. I’d see other people, crossing their fingers and praying to God to get that green card, because they felt it was their ticket to the land of opportunity.”

That sentiment found its way onto his new EP, The Green Card, which is a collection of music shaped by the myriad of experiences—both locally and abroad—that molded him into the grown man he is today. In singles like “Timbuktu,” “Olodo,” and “Green Card,” Ikey, weaves tales of multiple jobs, and being called an “olodo” (a Yoruba slang term for dummy) for pursuing a rap career. The songs are seamlessly interwoven with confident, metaphor-driven rhymes over production inspired by Fela Kuti, DJ Premier and other musicians influential to Ikey. Having already been embraced by the likes of Complex, DJ Booth, and Pigeons & Planes, Ikey’s material from The Green Card EP finds him equally adept at offering boastful couplets peppered with references to Diego Maradona and dodging student loan calls from Sallie Mae. He balances his penchant for music representing all aspects of the human experience over tracks representative of hip-hop’s golden era and stacks melodies in patois detailing his trials and tribulations. The millennial approach to constructing art with a mosaic’s worth of influences is evident while still maintaining Ikey’s unique Nigerian-American identity, as he pulls influences as disparate as Ma$e and Guns N Roses from his stuffed “Ghana Must Go bag” of musical inspiration. It’s as classically self-assured as Biggie in a Coogi, yet still introspective and a useful text when incorporated into the discussion of the African Diaspora or used for theme music during a night of debauchery.

“I’m just a young kid straight out of Lagos,” Ikey says. “When I see people like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie being sampled on Beyonce records, it makes me feel people want that true African story. I just feel there are a lot of Nigerian-Americans trying to tell that story, and I’m trying to tell it the right way.”

For those who missed the Coming To America project, The Green Card EP represents a chance for acclimation at just the right time. The best part of any story isn’t the beginning, middle or end, but seeing it unfold right before your eyes.