As we buckle up for the ride of the Timeless era, Asa Asika takes us through the inner workings of the project and his dedication to grow an all-conquering entertainment ecosystem.
Clarence Mac Ebong
●26th April 2023
If we played a game of name association, mentioning Asa Asika brings an immediate Davido response. Such is the closeness of their relationship, and even if you were to put their musical conquests on mute, their friendship had taken root in their teenage years — long before any of this began. But it’s impossible to turn off their champion sound. Their efforts as a team helped transform Afrobeats from hot continental property to legitimate world music that takes the African and Nigerian perspectives into account on the global stage. Since they were teenagers, Asa had always trusted Davido to burst through cocoons to become a butterfly of an artist that was capable of becoming so much more. An ear for good music and an eye for good people were Asa’s first gifts as a child which he still uses till this day.
“I can play a song I know will be big in like 2 months o, and my brother and sister would ask me ‘what’s this?’. Then I’d see my sister using it for a TikTok and she’d say she doesn’t remember me playing it”, Asa says to me with a small smirk on his face as he relaxes into the chair. A lot of his job requires him to be ahead of the curve. Getting his schoolmates a record deal while in high school was only a pointer to the eventual entertainment ecosystem he would help create by doing something he has always done — getting people together to make things happen.
He’s off the back of bringing to life his star client’s most important album yet. The circumstances surrounding the release of Timeless signified it as a hero’s welcome back into the fold. As a manager, Asa’s biggest trump card is that the Afrobeats space is genuinely incomplete without Davido. Before Timeless, Asa was charged with maximising that leverage by pulling every string that made 001 the most sought after face in the genre.
The constant flux of commitments at his feet didn’t stop him from making ours, arriving at the office only a few minutes after the agreed time of 12PM. Ever so often his phone lit up with a message or call he couldn’t postpone. With the concert only 5 days away at the time, he had to tie loose knots and protect the interest of his superstar artist.
“David can go and record music if he wants, but he’s not doing any press conference,” Asa tells Lati over the phone. “It’s time to be selfish. Focus on our own parole. Stop trying to rise people; rise yourself first.”
This interview is lightly condensed and edited for clarity.
Bounce: How far now?
Asa: I’m good man, I’m blessed. Can’t complain.
I can tell you’re chilling. You have your trad on with the Bapes. I haven’t seen anyone wear trad and Bapes.
(laughs) I try to be stylish.
What would you describe your style as?
Comfortable. That’s the most important thing. I’m a big sneakerhead, I think one of the things I spend the most money on is sneakers.
What’s your most expensive sneaker? What brand was it?
Based on brand loyalty, I can’t say it. But I used to buy a lot of streetwear; the Nikes, Pumas, Yeezys, Reebok Kamikazes… and I keep my shit. For example, I probably have the Kamikazes in like, 3 colorways still. Even though I don’t wear Yeezys anymore, I still have my Yeezys. But I’ll say my favourite sneakers would either be Jordan 1s or the Puma Suedes.
Would you say that style extends to clothes? You have a taste for shoes but do you have a taste for stuff like… Evisu Jeans?
Yeah I went through my Evisu and True Religion phase. Funny thing is I still wear True Religion. I hadn’t worn them for a while but in 2019 my bag went missing when we had a show. I had to go shopping and the only jeans I could find were True Religion and bruh… it’s still fucking epic. I remember growing up seeing Naeto C and Ikechukwu rocking Evisu and True Religion.
For real. Guys would pose so you could see the “E”.
For me, it’s all about comfort. I wear a lot of my friends’ brands like FreeTheYouth, ‘cause at the end of the day…
We rise by lifting others.
I mean yes, but I think they make dope shit. This trad I’m wearing, my friend made it.
You gotta keep the money in the circle.
What’s a typical day for you?
Today’s actually a chill day. I have this interview stuff with you guys, go to the office for a few hours, prep for the show… but typically, I go to the gym at 6am with some of the boys. Go home, shower, office, then go to the Hotbox office. Then maybe link friends, or meet a client. Then go home or go to Hotbox, depending on what kind of day it is.
Is there anything that would make you stop what you’re doing and change careers?
Before, yes. Not anymore.
What was it before?
I wanted to be an anthropologist when I was younger. Anthropology is the study of human life. Growing up, I was really into general knowledge and history. I still watch some crime shows and tv shows like Blacklist and Criminal Minds. I don’t want to watch a show where someone’s not dying.
So you watch stuff like How To Get Away With Murder and YOU?
Yeah! The thing with YOU is it starts slow so I watched the first season and stopped but my friend spoke about it so I thought I’d start again.
You’re into things that make you go, “okay, what the fuck?”
Exactly, “what was this guy thinking?”. I watch a lot of documentaries about people’s lives; stuff that makes you wonder what you’d have done in their position. Stuff like that intrigues me a lot.
That’s interesting because when I see someone like you, I wonder “what was this guy’s childhood like?”
People always make that mistake [that he wasn’t born in Nigeria]. I was born in Nigeria, I lived here till I was 7 when my mum passed. My dad moved us to the UK for a brief 1-year period. I did Primary 4 to 6 in Nigeria. Went to Whitesands for 6 years, then I decided to do a gap year ‘cause I was already sucked into music. Then in 2009 I went to the UK to reconnect with my friends and get back into the swing of school. By the 3rd month, I tapped out and I was back in Naij by December.
Between 7 to 9 you had the UK upbringing. How did you merge that with your other influences?
I know my relationship with my mum (before she passed) helped create a bond with music for me ‘cause she used to play music in the house. Till today, my siblings hate it – everyone knows when I’m awake. Good thing is everyone had their own floor to themselves.
What were you listening to between the ages of 7 and 13?
Between my dad and mum, they had the most diverse taste. We used to collect CDs so we had this huge CD rack. We had stuff from Ice Cube to Vanilla Ice to Whitney Houston to Julio Iglesias and Michael Bolton. My mum was a huge Michael Jackson fan as well. I have memories of watching that Michel Jackson movie over and over again, I’d say that’s the start of my connection with music.
There are young children from other countries that will have Davido CDs in their house. How do you feel knowing you had a hand in Afrobeats’ positioning in the world?
Its fulfilling, knowing that all the sacrifices were worth it. Its great to see that people take us seriously, how Afrobeats is a thing. The fact that Nigerians are selling out the O2 is a crazy thing. I remember people looking us crazy when we announced David would perform at the O2 on stage at Wireless in 2018. People had done it before but they did it with supporting acts. Even our agents and Live Nation asked if we were sure. Wiz has done the O2, David has done the O2, Burna has done it now.
And David performed at the World Cup, nobody should whine him.
He’s not even the biggest football fan, but when the opportunity came, I told him, “this is the Super Bowl on crack”. It was a huge moment. Or when 50 Cent was doing something in Madison Square Garden and he brought David out. He said, “I don’t think you guys realize how many G-Unit sneakers I bought”.
Even being Asa, and him being David, you guys still have those fanboy moments.
Anybody who says they don’t have anyone they’ve idolized before is a liar. I feel like I’m the most calm and collected guy, but there are 2 people I would meet and y’all would be shocked how I react. I’ve met one – Jay-Z. The other person is Andre 3000. I’m probably the biggest OutKast fan in Nigeria.
Even with the way The Plug was formed. Bee-High gave us the name. We used to have these New York summers; me, Bizzle and DJ Obi. He said Bizzle and I worked together so much, why don’t we just merge our companies and call it “The Plug”? It’s just great to know that Afrobeats has gotten to the point where we can have these conversations.
In terms of finding talent, what’s the first thing you look for?
First of all, the music has to be good. But it’s more about the person embodying what they’re tryna sell. Look at Odumodublvck for example. My business partner has been talking about Odumodu for about 3 years. It’s so crazy because Plug has been distributing for Anti World Gangstars for so long, I get their sales reports but I never paid attention because we distribute music for so many people.
Yeah you can’t know everyone, that’s someone else’s job.
We started using him [Odumodu] for our block parties in Abuja, and when you’re doing something in Abuja, you have to involve those guys. It’s an unspoken thing between me and my boys who I grew up with: we’re going to build an ecosystem that runs this industry. For my guys at Native to sign him, its all God ordained. Everyone’s story is different but what will align, will align. Odumodu was like, “who am I to even think I can sit in the same car as Davido?” Put in the work and just be ready. It could be single 1 or single 5.
Let’s talk about Timeless. What was the process of putting the album together?
We were recording album 4 and songs like “Champion Sound” and “Legends Can Never Die” were already cut. Then we got to a phase where we thought we were done before we started recording again. He returned after his break and got back into the studio in late December/early January. So that’s 3 phases.
The way we make music is: David goes off with a producer for a week, comes with so many ideas and songs he’s made himself. I come with ideas, get writers and go back and forth on the process. The whole team is involved in the process. I have my studio so we’re always cutting records there.
It was interesting. One thing we know people like to do is leave David out of classic album conversations. I get them doing that with A Good Time because a lot of the songs were out before the album dropped. But I’m like nigga put that tracklist against any tracklist – “If”, “Fall”, “Blow My Mind”, “Risky”, “Sweet in the Middle”… who are you fooling? We decided there won’t be any lead single.
Can’t let outside influence taint your process.
So many people tried to discourage us, talking about a lead single. I told everyone on the team, no matter what anyone says, this plan isn’t changing. We knew the two videos we were shooting before the album dropped and we were right, “Unavailable” and “Feel”. Everyday is a tug of war between “Kante”, “No Competition” and “Na Money” for that spot of single 3.
How many sessions were you present for? Because you said you bring your ideas.
Yeah so “Unavailable” was my idea. I spoke to Magic, he sent me some stuff. I played some beats for David and he chose that one. We got Peruzzi to write a verse, sent it back to David, he cut it and we sent it to Musa Keys. For “Precision”, Shizzi was playing me records. I heard the beat and I called David 4 times. On the 4th call, he said “when you call me like this, I know it’s sure. I’ll be there in one hour”.
For “Kante”, we had the record and the idea. Some of the writers signed to Plug cut the verses for David, and he also wanted to work with Fave.
For “Champion Sound”, I heard the beat. David didn’t want to record that day. I told Focalistic to bring his laptop to David’s room. He heard it and that was the fastest Davido session ever. In 20 minutes it was done.
You’re Davido’s manager but you’re also one of his closest friends. What would you say your role was, as his friend, making the album and during his break?
If you look at the whole circle of us, it’s pretty much the same people in the main circle for time. Everyone has had their low and high points, and it’s important to be there for each other as friends. We knew we had to be strong for David.
The rollout was crazy on so many levels. What was the most interesting part of putting the rollout together?
With this rollout, we had time to plan. We needed to have dates that didn’t change. We all knew we needed to prove a point with this album, especially with all the “classic album” conversations. For us, it was about coming back with a bang. I had conversations with guys from Spotify, Apple Music, TikTok, Boomplay to align the plan for what we wanted to achieve. It was the same thing with the album cover and what we wanted to depict.
Who designed the cover?
Tycoone. Tycoone has done all David’s album covers since A Good Time. It’s about keeping it in the circle, doing stuff in-house.
He’s been David’s creative director for the last few years. He’s the creative genius on our side. He was really angry because we had a completely different album cover we had approved, and at the last minute we had to change it. I think he used that anger to make this new one.
Do you have a favorite song on the album?
It changes. There are a few. “Precision” is one of them, “Feel” is another. “Legends Can Never Die” as well.
Funny enough, when I did my own album tracklist, “Kante” wasn’t on it. I’d be honest. Obviously we don’t do anything based on one person alone. Remember we have songs that didn’t make the album for different reasons.
I’m just surprised because everybody loves “Kante”.
That’s the thing about music, what I like might not be what you like. That’s why we don’t do selections based on one person.
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