“If the music industry had a Putin, I’m Putin. I’m that villain. And I don’t give a fuck because, in the end, I’m going to win.”
Over the last few years, the Nigerian rap scene has slowly descended into a less than enviable state. This is a result of several factors, but it is mostly due to the dominance of Afrobeats and the desire for artists to make music they can live off of. Nigerian hip-hop has existed largely in the shadows of its African contemporaries since arriving on our shores. Its influence on our country’s music spectrum is widespread, but on its own, the genre is on its last legs and in need of a new injection of life. Nigerian rap has lost its soul.
You can argue it never had a soul. Its earliest iterations had the closest semblance to an easily-digestible dish garnished with relatable stories that tasted like home. Eedris Abdulkareem, Mode9, Vector, Olamide, Phyno, Jesse Jagz, and M.I. Abaga are some of the artists who told stories that shed light on the reality of living as a Nigerian since the late 90s. After their era, everything we’ve heard has tried to sound like something else, and not in a good way.
The effect of the country’s vast westernization has detached young Nigerian rappers from their roots. Rapping about anything remotely Nigerian is seen as “uncool” and we have now pivoted to talking about a reality that we have not experienced. It doesn’t help that our music industry has set its sights on the globalization of Afrobeats — a topic unanimously accepted as the most important in the evolution of our music. Creators and listeners alike have stopped giving our hip-hop a chance.
In the shadows, though, there is a selection of rappers who hold in their lungs a new breath of life that they wait to unleash into Nigerian hip-hop. Lagos and Abuja continue to be the source of Nigerian music’s neo-renaissance. These cities are the home of rebirth because their people hold within them an understanding of what it means to be ingenious. One rapper that embodies this quality is none other than ODUMODUBLVCK.
The first thing that strikes you when an ODUMODUBLVCK verse comes on is his fearlessness. “If the music industry had a Putin, I’m Putin. I’m that villain. And I don’t give a fuck because, in the end, I’m going to win,” he tells me over a Google call. From his image, you would be inclined to agree with him. From his actions, you would have no other choice. ODUMODUBLVCK delivers his verses in a way that’s similar to a mercenary’s performance in a cold-blooded war. He speaks, as a matter of fact, about a shared reality with those he has evolved and stuck with till this day. It is this realness that has put him on the radar of established artists and endeared him to us all.
We went back and forth concerning an interview for about 10 days, our circumstances refusing to align. One faithful Tuesday evening, it all clicked, and my phone lit up with a call from ODUMODUBLVCK. “Can we do it now?” he asked, his voice carrying a willingness to honor our postponed commitment. He’s relaxed this evening, his shockingly gentle eyes alternating between the screen and his plate of rice and chicken.
This interview is lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Bside: Has the day been hectic?
O: I didn’t do anything today, I just rested.
Have you been active?
I just came back from Port Harcourt… about two days ago. I had a show there.
Ah I see, how did it go? Was it mad?
Omo it was mad. I did Abuja on Friday and Port Harcourt on Saturday.
That’s serious doings. I think I’ll start with your early years. Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Lagos. But to be honest, I don’t like Lagos bro.
Why don’t you like Lagos?
Lagos is too crowded and hectic. My guy came back from Lagos today and he was looking so skinny. But here in Abuja, I can go to 5 places easily. Right now, I’m in an apartment and if I walk, I can get food just two minutes away. I can get whatever the fuck I want. There’s a bank in front of me. But in Lagos, my cousin would make me leave rather early to beat traffic.
Ah yes, Lagos traffic tax.
Come on, no man. I can’t live like that. I even went to UNILAG bro, so nobody can tell me anything about Lagos. The last time I went, I was on the island and the water was crazy. [sighs]
Does this mean your environment affects the music you make?
Definitely! When I’m in Lagos, there’s a kind of music I make…
Do you sound angrier?
Funny enough, when I’m in Lagos I make happier music because I’m never there for up to two weeks. The last time I was there, I was there for a week. When I’m around, I know I have the money to stay where I won’t need to go out. Even if I do, it’s planned, and my cousin is there to drive me about. It’s basically like vacation, living there is a different thing. I envy you guys o.
We envy you guys more! You grew up in Lagos so I’m guessing you started making music in Lagos…
Nah, I came to Abuja when I was 7 years old, and I went back to Lagos when I wanted to go to UNILAG. So I stayed for 5 years, I came back home and I’ve never gone back. The only thing that can make me stay there is if Wizkid calls me to stay in his house and everywhere he’s going I’ll follow him.
I know when you started making music you had weird names like T-Flows and such. What was it like making your first song?
The first song I made was with Agunna. My guy was just playing it in the room right now. The mixing was crap, but we still made it work. That was a stepping stone, and a lot of guys don’t understand time. That was a time to pave the way for now, just as now is a time to pave the way for Coachella and all that. We recorded that song in 2016, we released it in 2017.
That’s not such a long time ago. Did your experiences in UNILAG affect your music?
Definitely. Normally, I’m an extrovert, and UNILAG was the place where I lived my life as a Lagosian. Even though I didn’t like going out, I still experienced Lagos. Going to multiple clubs at night, doing some dumb shit… I picked up a few traits.
What was your thought process going into music?
I said to myself, “bro since you can do this shit, do it.”
What about parental support?
My dad was against it.
And what was his reason?
After all the money he paid for school, na music I say I wan do. Funny enough, he’s passed now.
How did that affect you?
My tape Time and Chance came from that moment when I heard he had cancer and all that. Everybody knew he was gonna die, it was just a matter of time. That was when I had “Gutter Man”, “Overload”. it really affected me man, but it’s life and we still give God the glory. He saw my video on TV before he died though.
And I think that’s all you needed.
But at the end of the day, even if he didn’t see anything, I’m still doing what God sent me to do. And if he were here, he’d be happy because I’m taking care of his wife.
I listened to Time and Chance a while back and it was interesting because I heard some slow songs that made me wonder, “so this guy can make these records too?”
Those slow jams, I call it Okporoko music. What state are you from?
Okay, that means you’ll relate. Okporoko is stockfish. Now, stockfish is not sweet but everybody wants it in their food still. Why? ‘Cause, it’s healthy. So technically, it gives you a bittersweet feeling. Okporoko music is when the artist sounds sad as fuck but it’s sweet, like my latest song “Dog Eat Dog”. Have you heard Omah Lay’s tape?
Yeah, I wrote a review of it.
Now when you hear “soso”, it sounds like he’s coming from a place of pain but there’s light at the end because it makes you happy. That’s how God gave it to me.
I feel that. Now that you’re ODUMODUBLVCK, you have 16k monthly listeners on Spotify…
Mm-mhm? Are you serious?
Yeah, I checked. How would you say your life has changed between the time you decided to make music and now?
Better than I expected. At the end of the day, God na hin dey do am, and God doesn’t do his things small. It’s in the Bible, and it says “what I will do for you, eyes have not seen, ears have not heard”, and God does not lie.
I was in the space during the hip-hop conversation a few months ago [Psycho YP v dndSection] and you referenced God a lot, and you still do now. I understand that.
Omo, you have to. In anything you do, as a Christian or Muslim, try and draw parallels with scripture and see how it goes. For example, someone says to me, “how do you do it?” — it’s consistency. The Bible says anybody that is diligent in their work will sit at the table of kings. It’s simple. If you say you want to be the #1 serial killer, don’t worry, one day, Boko Haram go find you. [laughs] If you figure out what you want to do, just make sure you do it well.
I want to talk about Anti-World Gangsters and what you guys represent. I know there’s you, AGUNNA, Reeplay.
FatBoy E, Shagba, Gustavo… We’re against the ways of the world. We’re bringing realness to the game. We’re the guys who see you at a show and greet you before you greet us.
Do you guys solely make Drill?
No. If you listen to Gang Business you’ll hear EDM, you’ll hear some Afrobeats songs, and you’ll hear some Grime songs that can be played in the club. But we’re the pioneers of Drill in this Naija, straight.
With Drill, it’s because of you that guys like Frisco and BackRoad Gee would want to fish here.
O: Yes bro. They know. Before me, nobody dey do drill for this Nigeria, make dem go call the person. Back then, it wasn’t even Drill, it was Grime.
So how did the Frisco linkup happen? ‘Cause BBK is one of the biggest labels in England and you got them to notice you.
They’re the biggest Grime label in the history of the game. One day during the lockdown, Frisco was calling people to spit bars on his Instagram Live. I went on and saw Fatboy E live with Frisco and I was like, “what? this is mad!” Then he saw me trying to request. He asked, “who’s this BIG GUN guy? He’s gotta be hard”. He put me on and I rapped my “Cheffing” verse for him. He stood up from his chair like, “rah! cool off!”. The next year, I saw a message from him telling me about a song he wants to put me on. It felt like a dream. He sent me “Albany Close” the next day I sent it back.
That verse was hard actually.
What? Don’t go there, bro. Hard as fuck.
I guess you embody everything you say you’re about. For people to see you and immediately recognize… it’s nice to get the recognition but it seems you don’t get phased by it.
You gotta keep going, bro! E get people wey don feature Davido, where dem dey today? People think when you feature a big artist, you’ve blown. Na lie o.
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I wanted to ask you about Dog Eat Dog, and how you came up with that concept.
So my guy Ucee was selling beats on lease. Not exclusively, if you want the beat you’d pay the full price. I bought the beat and did “Dog Eat Dog”. The hook, ”when I show them light/they turn their back and show me dark”, that’s just the world for you. Most people are after themselves. Look at Nigeria: a politician will come out and promise you blah blah blah, as his dog you go out and vote for him. In the end, he go chop your eye. The song has two parts: one where I talk about the world’s wickedness, then my niceness towards my girlfriend. With all the wickedness in the world, she can’t say I’m not treating her well. The song embodies the fact that we’re in a dog pen: baby o, husband o, wife o… person dey chop another person.
You seem to take aspects of your personality and merge them with what goes on in the world. Even the name ODUMODUBLVCK seems very scary.
That’s my brand. I want people to listen to me and say, “yeah, he’s here”. It’s like when Undertaker is coming… And that’s my plan. No fear, no envy, no remorse, all love. Jesus is a perfect example here. They call him the “Lamb of God” which means he’s gentle. But they also forget that he’s the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.
It’s a stable paradox.
Thank you! I lean more towards the Lion with my personality, based on the fact that Jesus is the good guy but you should not disrespect him. He’s still the same guy that went in the temple flipping tables. He’s the same guy for whom Peter cut someone’s ear. Only a couple would’ve seen someone’s ear get cut off in a million people. That’s to show that, while you might be good and show love, the greatest Man who walked the Earth was ready for anything. I’m the ready guy, I’m not afraid of the industry. I’m going to say what needs to be said.
You mentioned not being afraid of the industry and I thought about the state of mainstream hip-hop in Nigeria. What would you say about that currently?
I don’t need to say much but everybody has started reverting to what they know because they realize originality matters most. I didn’t do “Dog Eat Dog” to sell, I did it because it’s a nice song. If it weren’t nice, I wouldn’t drop it. Some people make kpangolo music to sell, then they paint their nails and all that. But everybody get the one wey dey worry them.