Sunday 26th of August 2012. I’m in an elevator in a block of maintained flats in Kilburn with my brother Tomi and cousins, Boluwatife and Bolaji. We were heading for the 2nd floor from the 4th floor when the elevator weirdly went to the 1st floor. In stepped Teni Zaccheaus, alias Teezee, the rapper from DRB. Knowing him (we went to University together), I said Hi. He looked quite moody so I kept it brief. He got in and we found ourselves headed for the ground floor. He pulled Boluwatife’s cheeks as if to say “You cute boy”. Tomi and Bolaji were quiet. As soon as he got out, I knew what was coming. “We just saw Teezee.” “He’s so cool” they screamed to everyone who would listen. They were buzzing for the rest of the night.
Over that summer, DRB crossed new boundaries. Fresh off the success of Toyin, they made the strides that set the foundations of a transformation from “Student music maker” to genuine industry elite on a “Rookie of the Year” run. They covered Scene magazine that summer, found themselves performing to the Nigerian Olympics contingent and then opening for P Square and Wande Coal. These achievements were the byproduct of their professionalization process. They got themselves managers that year.
We approach the end of 2014 now and whilst certain things have changed, you could still say that DRB are bubbling under. They’re definitely on the cusp. There’s been a change in management from Tenny Karim and Folajimi Ayodeji of LSG Management to Asa Asika’s Stargaze Live. (Asa manages Teni and Boj). It’s probably been the most rewarding in the wake of Boj’s Headie triumph. Now, they’re about to headline their third annual Christmas concert, the biggest one yet. Last week Thursday I met up with the guys (Fresh L wasn’t back yet. All things being equal, we’ll get one done over the coming days) to talk about the music.
The interview was designed to be between Teni and I as I’ve interviewed Boj before (Rationale being; I understand his journey better so why not go for the more illuminating experience first). However, Boj and my brother Tomi interjected at different points so it effectively functioned as a conversation between the four of us. Find below the excerpts:
I know how you guys started. You guys were all in school together and started recording. Looking at the level you guys have reached, when you started did you think you would get here?
That was the vision but at the same time guys didn’t have that much foresight.
So when you started were you just having fun, doing what kids would do?
Back in boarding school?
I guess we were having fun but at the same time, everyone wanted to get the music as far as possible. Even all the way back to Marry You days in like 2007. We always had that dream that one day we go blow.
When was the first time you rapped? Why did you start rapping?
The first time I listened to rap? My uncle got me two albums. He played me those two albums, this was the first time I also learnt how to swear. It was the L.O.X album and Jay Z Life and Times Vol. 1. I just thought it was mad and started studying lyrics from the album booklet. I started thinking “Why don’t I write my own?” So in like JS 3, I started. Performing in school and all that stuff.
When you started out, you were part of a big collective. Why did you guys make the decision to kind of, subdivide it and how did the three of you reach the decision that you were best going alone?
It was actually quite easy cos we were all in a big BBM group and one day, half the people said they wanted to give them UK rap, on a UK tip and straight away me, Fresh and Boj were like we’re on that Naij wave.
Boj: Remember at first Fresh didn’t want to be on the Naij wave.
Teni: Oh! Are you serious?
Boj: Can’t you remember?
Teni: Zero. Me, I know I sha wanted Naij.
Boj: Fresh was like.. He was upset. He was upset at Benzo that he told him to do the Naij thing. After all that recording in school.
Mayowa: I think Tobenna should have joined you guys.
Teni: Tobenna knows too that he should have done Afrobeats.
Boj: Tobenna’s new P is mad though. He’s fully alternative now. In every country, he’s alternative.
That’s the perfect segue to the next question. Now you’ve got your own new genre. Why did you come to that? And what’s it all about.
What? Alte Vibes?
That one just came naturally cos when we were first coming out, our music was just different. Our sound was different. Our content was different. I guess, as we got older in the game. It’s good to know exactly what you want, the sound you’re looking for. Because we always used to say this is Alternative, it’s Alte and that just became our sound.
When was the moment you knew you were actually going to make it? Like I remember you (Boj) told me it was when you dropped ‘Gra Gra’ and everyone loved it. When did you think you could actually do this?
As DRB or as Teezee?
I think it was definitely when my mixtape(Fresh Prince of Las Gidi) dropped. I used to feel like “Yeah Yeah! We’ll make it. We’ll do well.” That pressure of dropping that mixtape. Boj had done mad numbers so it was like if you don’t do mad numbers, that’s a dead p. When the mixtape dropped, the reception was so crazy. Especially Theatre of Dreams with Ajebutter. Crooked Love Story too then the mixtape.
Are you satisfied with where you are?
Where do you think you should be?
If I tell you, you’ll think I’m an arrogant cock but Really. Guys definitely think they should be regarded as one of the baddest guys in this game.
In Nigeria or generally?
In Nigeria. Generally. And I feel like because of some certain things, people just want to limit you.
I think, People think ‘cos you’re rich…
Yeah! Of course. Definitely.
… They don’t take you as seriously as they should.
I agree with that 100%. I used to think about it. They used to say DRB, DRB but Boj, we went to the same school and stuff like that but Boj’s voice is different. Do you understand? He’s distinct. The voice of a generation. So because now they can now differentiate, since Boj’s own is so mad and so much better than the rest of these guys. You understand? It’s very hard for them to understand. Not everybody gives it the time of the day. So when I moved back to Naij, I had to start messing with more industry heads to understand how the game worked. Naeto is well off. Lynxx is well off.
What would you say has been the most important thing in your evolution?
First factor, it was something different. It wasn’t anything that was heard before. The music was good now. That’s one thing people always seem to underestimate. The choruses were good. The music was well thought out. Our second single was Amebo. If people go back and listen to the concept of that p. This was before guys knew anything was going to pop off. The music was good so I always felt like there’s always a chance when the music is mad. You dig?
Boj: And also with the input of LSG. To be honest, they changed the whole P because we were now gingered because we had a manager and things like that and it boosted everyone’s morale.
Teni: LSG actually helped a lot. They were good.
Do you think the Internet made easy?
Boj: Definitely. A lot easier. Back in the day when all these guys like Wizkid were blowing. It was there but it wasn’t at the scale it is.
Teni: We got our first buzz from social media.
You know, when I first moved to England I met Sayo who played me Marry You. You know how when you were in school, there were people who were making music but you didn’t think anything would pop off for most of them. Marry You was really crazy. In case you’ve never heard it – Marry You (Fresh L, Boj, Tobenna)
Teni: And that song started off moving via email. When Twitter wasn’t popping like that.
Do you think it should have been bigger than it was?
Teni: Not for the level we were at, at the time. It did well. It got on Cool FM from kids sending a song round via email to Tobenna managing to get one of his Uncles to get the song on Cool FM which was impressive for guys who recorded that song in a dorm room using earphones and a laptop so I think Marry You did as good as it could have.
Besides the guys like Naeto them, you guys were part of a generation of kids from the elitist schools to actually crack it…
Teni and Boj: How about Davido?
Teni: It’s because people knew us before we blew. That’s what was razz. So we were popular guys and that stunted us. If we were razz, it would have been better. This guy (Boj) was very low key. Fresh was bait (The British slang Defined by the Urban Dictionary as being “extremely blatant”.) I was too bait.
Boj: But that helps though.
Reluctantly. Some people carry over the hate for things you did.
Teni: A bit. My secondary school life messed up my music career. I had so many haters and I didn’t even know people that hated me which is fair ‘cos I know what I did in high school. It’s fair, I can’t be mad. Even people that are my guys today, I punished them. I chewed hot dog and put it in his hand for the whole of break and told babes to come and laugh at him. So I’ve paid the cost.
The point I was trying to make, just as you guys are blowing up it seems like there’s a switch to more local music. Olamide, Phyno type music. Do you think that makes it harder for you guys or you just have to do what you have to do?
Teni: Me I think at the end of the day, your target audience is already there. You just have to do what you have to do to stand out. I can’t start rapping like Reminisce or Olamide cos that’s not my p.
Boj: The most you can do is try and do a song with them and appeal to both crowds.
Teni: And when you start copying them, it’s not original anymore and people can see right through.
You’re still mixtape artistes. This year, Ajebutter dropped his album and he’s in the same league. So when do you guys take that step and drop your own albums?
Boj: Ajebutter had a major single.
But you’ve had a major single.
That wasn’t my song.
It doesn’t have to be your song. You were on it. And you’re winning awards already
I won AN award.
And you haven’t even done what you’re supposed to do.
My own situation is very different cos I was on two hot tracks at the same time. That’s all.
What songs? Omo Pastor and what?
So it’s not like I was doing much. I was in England. I was in school.
Do you guys fund yourselves?
So Boj, when you come back to Nigeria, you buy your ticket?
If it’s not the show that is flying me in, Yeah!
Teni: That’s another thing people don’t understand. They’ll just be saying rich kids, DRB, rich kids. We’re the only guys in this thing with zero funding.
Boj: That’s another thing, as well. Because of that thing people have zeroed their minds on trying to help because they feel “These are rich guys. They already have bar”. I’m not rich.
Teni: What do I have?
Boj: At some point, my Mum started thinking it too. She’ll be like “This Bolaji is rich”. People would be telling her stuff and she started to believe it. And I’m like Dude, If you know what’s going on.
Teni: I lived with this guy. We used to survive on 10 pounds. Buy jollof rice.
What? In Kent?
Teni: In Kent now. That food was my once a day.
Kent was cool though. We were lucky ‘cos the life was easy. It was a small town so you could walk everywhere.
Teni: It was an easy life but that just underlines how the money situation was. Upon all there was nothing to spend your money on in Kent, we were still hustling.
What have you learnt since you moved back to Nigeria that you didn’t know before.
Teni: I’ve learnt a lot in the last year. First of all, because people hala you and smile at you doesn’t mean anything.
Boj: Yes! That’s the most important thing.
Teni: That’s just Naija for you. You just have to know who’s real and who’s not. Respect is important. Whether you’re a new comer or an older guy, no matter how hot you are. That’s something David told me. Once you first give them, you have to be on a humble p. Guys have been on a humble p all year long. If you see any of these guys, any of these egbons show them love and be respectful.
I also learnt something about the radio industry. It’s not necessarily about who has the hottest song, that your song gets on the charts. There are certain interests in artistes.
When I saw you(Boj) in London, I told you Fashionista was getting major buzz.
Teni: They like Fashionista. Thank God. These radio guys, if I see them. I’ll be like “How far?” Buy them a drink. Be like “This my song just came out.”. Relate with them. Don’t just think “I’m an artiste. I’m just going to be giving them”. That’s why people like this guy. They always say Boj is so humble. “Where’s your guy Boj?”
Do you find it harder to appeal to Nigerian people because they don’t really like rap?
Teni: Definitely. The style of rap I’ll really love to give them, that’s what those guys in SA are doing. Them AKA. Those guys are really rapping.
You know, I didn’t listen to that much Nigerian music outside of my circle until I moved back. I couldn’t tell you who Sean Tizzle was. Phyno Fino.
Teni: Those guys are good!
Boj: But you’re dead for Phyno now.
You know I’m dead for Phyno. How did you know?
Boj: Because you said it now.
Teni: Do you know why Phyno is so good? Because regardless of the local p, Phyno and Olamide why they stand out is you can tell that these guys listen to so much Westernized rap. You can tell Phyno listens to so much Drake. Olamide; Weezy and Meek Mill. You can just hear it in their music and these guys have the formula for the streets. There’s no beating those guys. I definitely feel that if the Nigerian industry was advanced enough like S.A when you can rap over normal hip hop beats and have a Hip Hop single that’s popping without you having to speak vernacular.
Tomi: You know something funny. I school in South Africa and you barely listen to South African music there. It’s Nigerian music that reigns.
Teni: Are you serious? So AKA isn’t blown?
Tomi: He’s blown but not like some of our guys.
Teni: That’s why I like people like Burna sha. Burna’s sound is international. Boj’s sound is international.
Tomi: Yeah! The day before I came back, I heard Burna on radio.
Do you ever feel like you should change your style to appeal more?
I won’t change my style ‘cos the time would come when they are ready to accept that sound. See Fashionista now. In my wildest dreams. I used to say they could never rock with this in Naij.
Does Fresh L struggle with that too?
Teni: Fresh doesn’t care.
Boj: Fresh does not send. He does what he wants. Teezee, I don’t know if you’ve heard Fresh’s song with Studio Magic but it’s a hit.
Teni: Fresh did a song with Studio Magic? Why doesn’t he ever talk about it?
Boj: He doesn’t know it yet.
Boj, someone told me Shakara wasn’t yours. That it was Ozzy B’s or something. That you heard it and freestyled over it.
Boj: Let me tell you what happened.
Teni: That’s such a mad story. I’ve never heard this story before. This is something you’ll read in Fader or something.
Boj: Ozzy B was disturbing me that I should come and record with him. That I should meet him at Giwa’s house. I said Okay, Cool. I left my house, drove to Giwa’s house. I was there waiting for Ozzy B for like two hours, the guy didn’t show. Third hour, I just told Banky (BankyOnTheBeatz- The Producer) “Let me hear it now” . He just started playing it, I gave them freestyle over the whole thing. NEPA even took light, I couldn’t finish it. Banky had to just chop some bits and put them together. There was no second verse. It’s only one verse on the song and Banky just cut and cut and cut.
That’s one of my favourite songs by you.
Your style is based on hashtag rap, Pop Culture references and all that. Do you think you’re going over people’s heads?
Teni: Sometimes. A lot of the time, actually. I have a younger sister, she’s like 16, 17 and is really into that Twitter generation. And she tells me that a lot of the stuff that we talk about very few people can relate to and understand.
You like Entourage?
I love Entourage. Another thing that people don’t realize is that in DRB all our music is based around reality. There’s no fiction. If I say I did this and give you the pop culture references it’s because that’s what guys were giving them. We were watching basketball or I saw this guy, this p, this p. It makes sense. Okay, Entourage Vinny is a funny guy blah blah. Wale does that a lot too. Drake too. All these guys do it. But when a regular Nigerian guy is giving them those kind of p’s, they can’t understand it. There are people that get it and those people rock with you. But the ones that don’t “What’s he saying?””What’s he saying?”
Butter gives them well. It just sounds sweeter because it’s in Yoruba.
Boj: I swear. I was just about to say the same thing.
In the group, you’re the cool head. Fresh L gets angry and rants…
Tomi: Boj vanishes.
That’s so true. He never says anything. He just hides. You’re the one who’ll be like “You guys stop”. Do you feel like their father?
Nah! I know me and Boj are mostly on the same wave when it comes to any of this social media bants. I know social media is not his p so when I speak it’s usually on our behalf. Fresh is one of those guys. He’s hotheaded and says what he wants. We’ve tried to change him for years and make him see reason but he just doesn’t hear. I’m not always calm. Sometimes, I lose my cool.
Who’s the best Producer you’ve worked with?
Teni: There’s one guy who got my sound. Purple Chapel.
How did you guys get around to doing the concert? Now, it’s a yearly event.
Teni: We just came up with it. Saw the buzz, saw the hype at the time and just thought it made sense. Obviously, we were a bit skeptical about it, at a point.
Boj: I was SO skeptical. When I entered the hall in Year 1, I was like this thing is too much. There’s no way we are going to fill it up.
Teni: Yeah! This guy kept on saying that. This pessimist.
Who are your biggest inspirations?
Musically, I like Asa a lot. Sade Adu. J Cole, Nas. Drizzy, Young Thug. In Naij, I love Naeto.
You’re fashionable. Have you thought about taking it beyond that?
I’m not fashion conscious.
The DRB Concert takes place on the 22nd of December at the Intercontinental Hotel. Naeto C, Ice Prince, Skales, Dammy Krane, Runtown, Cuppy, Seyi Shay, Lynxxx, Ajebutter, Show dem Camp, Falz, LAX, Tekno, Yung L, Emmy G, Zamir, Hafeez, KVNG DO, Efya, Poe, The Contract, Stan, Phlowz, Koolkid AR, Milo J, Evokk, Younik, Static and SV will be performing with DJ Rome and DJ Bristar deejaying. The concert is sponsored by Style Vitae, Pulse NG, Intercontinental Hotel, MTV Base, Ndani TV, First Bank, Culture Custodian, Jovago.com and Eventful.