Bella Shmurda’s “Cash App” celebrates Mammon and the Nigerian dream
Once in a while, a Nigerian artiste steals the spotlight with an undeniable hit song. On Christmas day, 2020, Bella Shmurda’s “Cash App” was No. 1 on MTV Base’s Top 10 Street Anthem. As I watched the video, Nicholas Kristof’s NYTimes essay “The Children of Pornhub,” a criticism of the porn industry and its enablers, reminded me of a similar case with Shmurda’s “Cash App” which brazenly glorifies cyber fraud: Why are TV and radio stations playing it?
Because of a similar scenario last year, the Nigerian government, through EFCC, investigated singer Naira Marley for making pro- cyber fraud statements (“If u know about slavery u go know say yahoo no b crime”). But Bella Shmurda who has sung openly about online scamming—otherwise “Yahoo Yahoo”—evades the vengeful Nigerian Censors Board and enjoys the success of his hit single, going “higher, higher” as he sings in Cash App.
Shmurda’s Cash App sings to a familiar Nigerian spirit: the celebration of being lifted out of poverty or a place of jonsing. More lived is this spirit in the music industry where hustling artistes try to break through. But Joey Akan writes in “Dancing to the beat of the 419” of the industry being a jungle system “with a lack of investors hampering the development of new stars.” So, the Nigerian music industry is levered by Yahoo money.
Thus, Bella Shmurda, aware of this reality, is unhypocritical about it. In an earlier song “Vision 2020,” he sings “You know say boys go chop/ Every day we scamming . . .” But this is an answer to a different problem addressed by the song title and content: a social commentary on prosperity, alluding to the bogus claim under President Obasanjo’s tenure that projected 2020 for Nigeria to arrive its paradise as one of the First 20 economies of the world. Bella Shmurda knows this vision was a scam. Ironically, he sees scamming as a path to wealth, supported by the society through his mother. In the song, she calls to say Chinedu, a neighbour’s son, “is balling.” Four years in Lagos State University doesn’t count; Bella better makes money, else she’ll starve. Bella also sings about his cause to rise above jonsing: “When I pull up in a Phantom/ Tell bitches, ‘Game over’.”
The hook to Shmurda’s Cash App has a vocabulary that screams online scamming. In part: “O ni maga, bill am . . . You get sure client, lock am.” And if you see the EFCC, “japa,” meaning “run,” especially, to safety. These guys are so creative at inventing code words: when Bella says “Usain Bolt, run am,” we outsiders think, what’s a Usain Bolt in cybercrime world? Cash App is so melodious it numbs the listener’s conscience. Its catch is its 8-line hook delivered in 4 to 5 syllable lines ending with the same rhyme to a zanku beat, sang twice.
And now we all sing it, play it at wedding receptions and in public spaces, and TV stations televise its very graphic music video. Where does its criticism start?
Nigerians are trapped in a system of the corruption of need—a term coined by Ayo Sogunro—where the line between good and bad is blurred. This conditioning has engendered a lackadaisical outlook for judgement and ethics: a culture we have collectively inherited. This is why Naira Marley can say yahoo no b crime, and sing in “Soapy” that everyone is a thief. A line Zlatan reiterates on his verse in Cash App, adding, “Any way na way”—in defence of cyberscamming.
Artistes tell us the truth even when they don’t set out to do so or if their medium is unpleasant; they reflect their society better than graphs. Bella Shmurda’s Cash App reflects the dreams of many young people now into Internet scamming, waiting to sing to a song like it when they “lock,” scam a “sure client,” and cash out big.
To Shmurda and the community of online scammers, there’s no moral question. Scamming is legit business espoused with the spirit of hard work. He sings “Many days I never sleep . . . chasing good life,” never getting tired. To anyone who wishes him bad, it is “back to sender.” In the comments of the video on YouTube, someone comments: “600 years of blessings for everyone that likes this with Faith.” If this commenter grasps the song’s content and celebrates it, it is a bad sign. Internet scamming has become so ubiquitous and normalized. Across the country are cells where these scams are hatched and executed, the most routine the Binomo ponzi group, and others like it, scheming people on Facebook.
Bella Shmurda’s Cash App is a dangerous song; its video misleading. I confess that I cannot stop singing it, as I know you can’t. I asked earlier, where does its criticism start? It is a question of charity beginning at home; in essence, there shouldn’t be a possibility for the song to exist. But Bella Shmurda, like Olu Maintain singing “Yahooze,” is singing for all of us, not just himself. He is singing the Nigerian dream of making it, or hammer-ing, even if it means being criminal and normalizing theft.
Online skit-comedian Lasisi Elenu has a character Sinzu Money, that depicts the life of a Yahoo Boy. He acts this character so smoothly: the viewer fails to find the fault in it because he is already complicit. Bella Shmurda is a very gifted singer and songwriter. His performance in Olamide’s “Triumphant” and songwriting skills in Cash App is unmatched, only perhaps by Fireboy DML, among new acts. This performs a legerdemain for Bella Shmurda—like Lasisi acting Sinzu Money—to distract us from the reality of his song.
This is what I see: a crowd at a concert singing to Bella’s music, screaming, falling over itself in adoration to its star. This crowd is us and the star it worships celebrates criminality. Yet he is our star and he sings about our dreams, and we love him. If we have little gravitas in us, we feel shame and nurture the last bit of criticism in us, waiting for God to ask, like he did Adam, where are you? But we can’t hide, we are in the open, probably about to sing an addictive line from Cash App to God: higher, higher, I’m going higher, I never come down, I’m going higher◊