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Throwback: 5 top viral shirt designs of the past 20 years in Nigeria

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There are shirts and then, there are shirts. There are designs, and then there are cultural staples that mark an era with the force of a power stamp, banging heavily of the sands of time like a UFO spaceship.

The powers are real and the loyalty over that period is even more impressive.

You must have owned one shirt that you troubled your parent or your stomach with starvation just to have. Asides any of the shirts on this list, I once troubled my mother for a Gaizka Mendieta jersey which she only found years later in Yaba, Lagos, but that shirt has nothing on those on this list.

In fact, those designs are one of the few things that unite different social classes in their wardrobes they occupy and bodies they possess like Cristiano Ronaldo used to do the UEFA Champions League – until yesterday, oops. Asides that, they also made a killing for the several bootleggers in Aba and other Nigerian knock-off hubs.

Another characteristic of these designs was accessibility across the Nigerian states and locations. Just so I won’t bore you, dear reader, here are those designs;

1.      All Eyez On Me


The album art that became a Nigerian pop culture/fashion assessory. (Band Tees)

Chances are every cool middle-middle class to lower middle class-born 90’s kid had this shirt. If you didn’t have the shirt, then simply were not be cool enough. “All Eyez On Me” was Tupac’s fourth studio album, released in 1996. The album art for that song was literally what became a viral sensation in Nigeria.

At the time, in the mid-to-late 90’s, Tupac was one of the biggest artists in the world and Hip-Hop was becoming a mainstay of mainstream pop culture, transcending the black subcultur stereotype at a pace no one could deny.

This same thing spilled across the world and reached Africa. Automatically, it also became the subject of multiple knock-offs and boutique shelves across Nigeria.

Even crazier, you could also pick yours at Yaba.

2.      Ama Kip Kip


“Ama Kip Kip” is the name for a brand South African popcorn that impacted pop culture beyond borders. (Medium/Kelo Okeke)

Around the post-drivers era of 2007 and especially around when the MTV African Music Awards held in 2008, popularized by the successful South African supergroup, Jozi, and further aided by D’banj, Ama Kip Kip” became mainstream by final quarter 2008 atop bootlegged jeans and Chuck Taylor All-Star sneakers.

Describing the phenomenon on his Medium page, Kelo Okeke says, “Ama Kip Kip is a South African based urban fashion brand that was very popular in the mid 2000’s. Originating out of Johannesburg (Ama Kip Kip is actually “colored popcorn”, a local Jo’burg delicacy), the brand became a continental hit when the newly formed MTV Base Africa started beaming South African videos to the rest of Africa.

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The design became the toast of Nigerian knock-off producers who churned it out in copious numbers as demand grew. One can only imagine what the owners of that design would have made had they sold it directly to the Nigerian market the way Nigerians bought those shirts.

3.      Why Always Me


A viral shirt design circa 2011. (Eskimi)

On October 23, 2011, Manchester City inflicted the worst home defeat on their City rivals, Manchester United. The score was 1-6 – even worse, the win meant City went five points clear of Manchester United in the race for the Premier League title.

One of the goalscorers on that day was 21-year-old Italian Maverick, Mario Balotelli. Upon scoring one of his goals, he pulled his shirt up to reveal his undershirt, bearing the now legendary quip, ‘Why Always Me,’ to exemplify the many reasons he was always in the news at the time.

Not so long after, and due to the popularity of the match and result, Nigerian designers began producing different shirts with that design and it stuck. Before you could say, “Kapaichymarimarichupako,” you would count 70 thousand shirts bearing that quip on Nigerian streets.

In fact, some of your MCMs bought that shirt, hoping to shine with it. Instead, they stuffed it in their wardrobes after seeing their 9-year-old cousins play football in it. What a life…

4.      Alobam


“Alobam,” means “My Guys” in Igbo. (The Info NG)

In March 2014, Nigerian rap superstar, Phyno dropped his first studio album, “No Guts, No Glory,” and a certain song titled, “Alobam” was track two on the album. Three months later, he dropped a video that spoke to the Nigerian ‘cool kid’ culture at the time, filled with young men dressed well, riding bicycles.

The song is described on his Wikipedia page as, “He promoted the album by rolling out several tee shirts with the #NGNG logo. Phyno narrated his life story in a hilarious manner on the album’s intro. “Alobam” is an ode to his friends who have contributed to his success; the instrumental of the song is a cross between Drake’s “Worst Behavior” and Olamide’s “Sitting on the throne.

The merchandise Phyno made was created by designer, Myro. Soon after, the design was to take Nigeria over for the next 2 years, with some of the knock-offs sold at an astoundingly low cost of N500 on retailers with wheelbarrows.

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5.      My Money Grows Like Grass


Its origin unclear, “My Money Grows Like Grass” sold well in Nigeria, albeit for shorter than others. (Nairaland)

Bruh, this one was mad for some reason. For some other reason that I will never figure out, people kept on buying these shirts in what seemed like they were kept interested. The origin in itself is unclear as conflicting stories fill the internet.

One thing was, however, sure; this design was a viral sensation circa 2012/2013.

My Oga At The Top


From the blooper of Nigerian bureaucracy, Nigerian youth found a pop culture/ fashion trend. (Cheer ON! Nigeria)

At the start of the quip era, championed by Facebook and Twitter, anything became a pop culture trend. It was so bad that even the average quip from a comedy skit became something for knock-off makers to milk in the land of fakery – shout-out to Nigeria, once again.

Describing the events that led to this phrase, Wikipedia states that, “(It) became very popular when Channels TV’s morning program Sunrise Daily interviewed Obafaiye Shem, the Lagos State Commandant of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) on the need to know the correct website of the corp to avoid misleading job seekers.

He was asked, “What is the website of the NSCDC?” And he responded, “I cannot categorically tell you one now.” He was asked again, “Do you mean that NSCDC has multiple websites?” He responded, “We can’t have multiple websites but I cannot tell you one now, and “My Oga At The Top” say is another one and the one we are going to make use of will be made known by “My Oga At The Top.”

A few days later, rapper, Skales made a parody video of himself rapping the phrase on a trap beat. The phrase became the height of incompetence prevalent in the bureaucracy of Nigerian Civil Service.

Boys Are Not Smiling


“Boys Are Not Smiling,” became a Nigerian slang for the struggle and a reference that got knock-off makers rich. (Marco Martinez Clothing)

The poverty era of Nigeria was rounded up into two of the major quips by Nigerian youths of the 2000s. The quips were, “Nor look Uche face,” and “Boys Are Not Smiling,” to exemplify the seriousness of Nigerian struggle and hustle era during the internet era.

When Terry Tha Rapman made a song about it in 2010, the word emerged in mainstream pop culture, but its legend was sealed a year later when Nigerian rap legend, Olamide made a song of the same title. Inevitably, the shirts rolled in. 


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