She has undoubtedly had a fulfilling journey so far, but if there’s something you should know about Cuppy, it’s that she’s never one to stop aiming higher up the ladder. This, coupled with the facts that she’s intentional about always being her most authentic herself, and unapologetic, no matter what comes her way and whatever path she embarks on, makes her the unstoppable force she is. Building on her career as a DJ, she transitioned into another chapter of her professional journey with music, releasing her first official single, Green Light in 2017. Since then, she has put out a number of singles, including her most recent effort, Karma. To cap it all off, her debut album, Original Copy, has finally come to life and will be available for public consumption tomorrow. Building up to this, we caught up with Cuppy over Zoom, as you do, to discuss the upcoming album, the highlights of her career, and legacy.
You’ve been working in the music industry for quite some time now, as a DJ and a Producer. I know you even worked as an intern at Roc Nation at some point. And it’s easy to see how dedicated you are to your craft. Where did this love for music come from? What sort of led you to the music?
I always tell people that it’s my passion. I was born in Lagos and I moved to London when I was thirteen years old and it was such a culture shock for me. I literally went from being in the most amazing environment with my childhood friends and seeing my parents every day to being in boarding school in Canterbury and feeling alone and thinking to myself that I looked different, I sounded weird and my tastes were different. So music was an opportunity for me to connect with home, back [in Nigeria]. I remember, it was the year the iPod came out and I bought one. It felt really good because I jammed it with loads of songs and on those cold, winter days, playing hockey and eating tasteless Sunday roasts, I was able to escape- just listening to music.
At what point exactly, did you realize that you wanted to be a DJ? What triggered your passion for it and made you feel like okay this is exactly what I want to do with my life?
I think it was when I was in boarding school, going back home at every opportunity and for every holiday… I just remember loving the fact that DJs had so much power. I used to go to nightclubs at perhaps, a not so legal age and I remember being in Rehab one night and just looking at the DJ. My partner in crime was Asa Asika and he and I were young people in love with music and I would just watch the DJs and watch how the music could change you and affect your mood, you could escape and forget about all your troubles. I wanted to be that [kind of] DJ. And luckily, one day, I was at the club and the DJ was in traffic… I used to get to the club at like 11 pm, which is really early in Lagos because no one arrives till 2 am and the owner was like, “okay Cuppy why don’t you play something?” So I ended up DJ’ing. That was my first ever gig, I was probably like sixteen and I sounded so bad but I loved it and it gave me so much joy. Going from there, all my friends were turning eighteen and I begged them to DJ for their birthday parties and again, I was super shit but I loved it and it was something I decided that I would do. I thought you know what? I love it and I’m going to get better at it.
As you mentioned, you’ve lived in Nigeria and England and experienced the culture shock that came with moving to an entirely different country at such a young age. How have your experiences growing up influenced your identity and how you’ve grown to become the person you are today?
I’ve always been an extrovert, my parents told me that from a very young age. When I look back at my young days and think about my time in Grange and school, I remember just always being a bit of a chatterbox, always being the first one at music lessons, always being the one that wanted to host birthday parties. It was a small community but it had a lot of people in it and just growing up in that environment felt really good. Everyone knows that Lagos is like the most dynamic city in the world, it’s a city where you can go from sitting in traffic to not having power at home to literally eating the yummiest food, discovering the best sounds, and meeting the most interesting people. Everything is so unpredictable and my childhood really prepared me for that. I also have parents that worked really hard so my childhood definitely created this work ethic that I have now. I was raised, being told constantly that nothing is just given, things are earned and I think I’ve applied that to my job and my brand, I’m a hard worker. I think [my success] is a combination of luck but also hard work. You know, the luck side is being in the right place but what’s going to keep you in that door is how skilled you are. I always say that opportunity meets preparation and you have to be prepared.
Throughout your career, touring Africa and performing in other countries around the world, what are the major lessons you’ve learned?
I’ve learned to be unapologetically myself. I wish I was more comfortable when I first started DJ’ing. I was, I dare not say, embarrassed to play Nigerian music because everyone was into other genres. When I lived in London, it was House music, when I lived in New York, it was Hip-Hop music and it’s crazy that now, what was used against me is kind of my unique selling point. I wish I was more proud and I was myself earlier on. Our culture and music weren’t seen as being cool back then and it’s kind of interesting how it’s now a wave. Now I don’t care what anyone thinks. If I want to have pink hair, I’ll do it. If I want to jump in the bathtub and eat jollof rice, I’ll do it. If I want to switch football teams, I’ll do it. I’ve now gotten comfortable in my own skin. I’m proud I’m here now and I really want to encourage people to do it earlier. It feels so good to just be yourself.
And what has been the highest point for you in your journey so far?
That’s a great question. I really don’t know, I’ve had some pretty epic moments. I can probably think of three of them. DJ’ing at President Buhari’s first inauguration was amazing. I felt like being asked to do that as a woman was sort of a representation of a new Nigeria. Because obviously, being a female DJ was seen as a taboo and I felt like it was a good start and a good acknowledgment that women can do whatever they want to do. And there’s nothing like DJing for your country, so that was a proud moment for me. Another thing has to be my Apple Music radio show. I’m the host of Africa Now, which is a weekly show and I cannot believe that Apple has chosen me to be the representation of Africa for their platform and it feels so good. It’s really exciting and it allows me to step away from the decks and kind of, get behind the mic. I’m a curator and every week I have guests, so I get to share the most amazing stories. And it’s not just about Nigeria, it’s about all 54 countries [in Africa] so I’ve had to educate myself on Zulu, Amapiano and so many different genres and I’m loving that journey. Apple Music is a huge platform and I’m proud that we share the same vision. The last thing has to be my album, Original Copy. It’s not out but just being able to complete it feels so good. I’ve always wanted to release an album but I’ve been a massive chicken about it because, as I said before, I think I just wasn’t being myself, I was overthinking. I was reading comments about being the worst musician in the world. I was nervous but I feel so good and I’m excited. So, those are a couple of achievements that I’m proud of.
Touching on what you just said about being a female DJ and feeling like performing at the presidential inauguration was sort of an acknowledgment of women being respected as DJs. Would you say that the industry is now more open to women DJ’s than it was, let’s say five years ago or when you started out?
Absolutely! A hundred percent. I know so many female DJs in Nigeria and the diaspora as well and it’s really exciting. I remember when I first started out, I couldn’t name three people. And I think it’s not only about DJs. Female artists, creatives, and even producers are really coming out. It’s so cool what’s going on and I think it can only get better. Everyone knows that I want there to be more DJ Cuppys, I want there to be more women that have the opportunity to do what they want. The structure is also important. I have a few degrees, an Economics degree, and a Masters in Music but I also make sure that I don’t view my work as just a way of expression. It’s a job and a business. I have to pay bills, I run an office, I have salaries to pay, I have costs. So it’s also about making sure that I can be sustainable and I really hope that women also have the same approach. You’re not just a singer or a DJ or a creative, you’re an entrepreneur.
Let’s talk more about your music. You have a mixed bag of collaborations, having worked with many names in music such as Tekno, Sarkodie, and more. What exactly do you look for in an artist when you’re deciding on who you want to work with?
To be fair, it’s less of looking at who I want to work with and more about who wants to work with me. I’m a very organic person and you know, I’ve just revealed my album tracklist with some of the biggest and best artists and I’m just so proud. And the reason they’re there is not just because of who they are but also because of the connection we have. Efya, for example, is a Ghanaian singer I’ve always appreciated, Rema and I knew that we were going to make a record together and Rayvanny… I love his music and Bongo Flava. Wyclef is a freaking legend and this is a bit of a secret but he put me on his song, then I asked him to be on mine, so Wyclef and I have two songs together. Fireboy… I’ve always been a fan of his, I had to beg Olamide to let him do this collaboration but we always knew we wanted to work together, same as Darkoo. She’s killing it in the UK and I love going live with her, we have so much fun. Also, Julian Marley reached out to me saying he wanted to work with me before my album and Nonso Amadi and I have always wanted to work together, we’re fans of each other. So, everything was so organic and a couple of people on twitter have said, “Where are our superstars? Our Wizkids, our Davidos, our Burna Boys” and honestly speaking, they’re all my friends but this album needed to feel like it was authentically me. I could have had other people on it as well but I love this line-up because it’s so real. Every single artist wanted to be on this album, I have an authentic relationship with all of them and I love the energy.
And as we know, the album is set to be out very soon. We’ve heard Jollof on the Jet with Rema and Rayvanny and Karma with Stonebwoy but what’s in store for us with the rest of the album, especially with the mix of featured artists? I expect that we’re going to hear a lot of experimental and diverse sounds on it?
Yeah, a hundred percent. As I said, the line-up is just really exciting. I mean, when you look at some of the collaborations… Karma with Stonebwoy, that was super dancehall inspired. I have an amazing record called Guilty Pleasure with Nonso Amadi which has an [alternative] R&B sound. The record with Darkoo, Gold Heart Killer, that’s Pop through and through. Also, 54 is an amazing song with not only Julian Marley but also Sir Shina Peters and that’s a true African Highlife song. So the list goes on. I just think it’s such a great journey and I’ve dabbled in so many genres and the reason I can do that is because of my DJ catalog. I understand how sounds work.
There are so many younger and upcoming artists in the Nigerian music space and beyond. I’m sure you’ve discovered quite a few of them, running your show on Apple Music. Who are some of the new artists that you’re excited about? Who’s on your playlist right now?
Again, one of the great things about being a part of the Apple Music family is that I get to come across so many different sounds and on my show, I have this cool highlight called Africa Rising and I get to talk about artists I love. So, some artists that I’m really interested in right now would be… I mean, everyone loves Omah Lay, like I can’t get enough of him. He’s doing great things, I love his music and I’m really happy for him. I also have to highlight Tolani, who’s my sister. She’s put about four records out and I love what she’s doing. I love Forever Tired, I think they’re doing really cool things as well. Also, ToluDaDi is really really cool and Sha Sha as well, who’s from South Africa. There are a couple of cool people doing really amazing things in the music space and I think that it’s just a matter of time, and with more and more collaborations, we’re going to see a lot more great stuff. Alpha P is really cool as well and there’s an artist called Kaysnap that I found on Soundcloud. And Nissi, she’s really good, I like her music. So yeah the list goes on and on. Suspect 95, that’s another cool artist and DolapoTheVibe as well, I love her. I actually messaged her saying I want to work with her and she was like “Obviously Cuppy, your Instagram has been hacked” and I was like “No, I actually want to work with you, I think it’s going to be amazing.” So yeah, that’s a couple of people.
So, talking about your brand and the influence you have on your audience and fans, you seem to have a very, should I say, hands-on relationship with social media and how you use it. Is there any intentionality behind this and how you present yourself online?
Definitely. My narrative for that is just authenticity. I think it is so important for me to be myself, that’s why I’m very much involved in every aspect of what I do. I control my social media, I’m really active on every single platform and it’s me, you know. I’ve never been one to not connect with my fans, my Cupcakes. We’re forever talking about music or football or veganism or whatever. I just want it to be real. I’m really proud to actually be the one controlling every single one of my social media accounts, which is actually quite exhausting as you can imagine (laughs).
Staying on the topic of social media, you’re unfortunately no stranger to the backlash and criticism that comes with being a big presence online. How are you able to block out the noise and keep going regardless of the negative reception that you get sometimes?
I think that I’m just so self-confident and self-assured in what I do that it doesn’t affect me. I honestly believe that what I’m doing is what I’m supposed to be doing, which is very interesting. There are some songs that I don’t like and it’s amazing because I always feel like it’s hard to kind of keep that same energy [that I get] sometimes because every time I meet people, they have nothing but praise for me. And it may be the same people tweeting horrible things but you know, we live in an environment where it’s frustrating. A bad day could mean that you think my song is a bad song. My circumstances as well… the fact that I come from such an entrepreneurial family makes people think that I shouldn’t be doing what I do. But I love what I do and I’m going to keep doing it.
We’ve heard your praises for jollof rice on your single, Jollof on the Jet, and we’ve also seen you eat quite a lot of it on the gram. So, is jollof rice actually your favorite Nigerian meal?
That’s a good question, no one’s actually asked me that. It probably is now, because I’m vegan. Before now, it was probably more exciting meals but yeah, I love jollof rice. It’s great, it’s a pick me up which you can make quickly. Everyone keeps saying, “why are you having jollof rice alone?” It’s because I’m vegan. I have it with mushroom stew or dodo but I’m not going to put any animals on there, sorry.
Besides our amazing jollof rice, what are some of your favorite things about being Nigerian?
Number one would be our community. I can go anywhere in the world, from Australia to Iceland to Mexico, there’s always going to be Nigerians anywhere you go. I love how active we are in our community and how widespread we are. I also love how unapologetic we are, you know, Naija no dey carry last. I’ve been lucky enough to travel and we’re just so proud of who we are. And I think another thing that’s great is our creative potential. When you look at everything, in the film industry, we dominate, music industry, we dominate and also in fashion design. We’re constantly killing it because we just have that creative mindset to constantly push the envelope and I think that’s heavily linked to our work ethic as well. We don’t take no for an answer and we push the envelope always. That makes me a proud Nigerian.
With everything you’ve done so far and everything you’ve achieved in your career till date, what is the end goal for you? When you look back, say in thirty years’ time, what do you want to say you achieved, more than anything else?
You know, I’m still very much on an experimental path but I just want to be known as someone that broke the rules and created my own imprint. I want people to say, “wow Cuppy came into this industry and completely switched things up, she created her own lane and she went against the grain”. That’s really important to me. I also want to make sure I’m known as someone that changes the world. If you don’t remember me for my songs, I hope you remember me for what I was able to do, for humanity and for people in Nigeria. If I can get more Cuppys to come out or more young women to know that they can do what they want to do, that’s more than enough for me. Although, I wouldn’t mind a Grammy or two.