Custodian Interview: DJ CUPPY

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I recently had a follow up interview with Ife Otedola, famously known as DJ Cuppy. In our initial interview in September, we discussed her rise to fame, her new sound ‘Neo-Afrobeat’, and her advice for the youths in the coming years. In this second interview, which was held a few days after her press conference announcing the Cuppy Takes Africa tour, we discussed her upcoming tour of 8 African countries, future events, and endeavors. Below is the transcript of the conversation that prevailed:

Hello Ife, How are you doing today?

Hello! Thank you so much for having me! I am good darling, it’s always exciting catching up with you.

 Great! Your ‘House of Cuppy II’ compilation launched last week, can you describe the event, the make up to it, and the atmosphere?

I think that for me it’s really exciting doing House of Cuppy again this year. I can’t believe it’s been a year, I mean it’s been a year since we had a chat as well! You know, things have been moving around so quickly! So this year, it’s the same sort of idea where I am remixing original records from artists’ that I really admire. You know as always I try and get a lot of female engagement, so this year we have Seyi Shay  and Yemi Alade who have both had fantastic years. We also have Olamide, Psquare. Then I decided to bring in other African stars, so AKA, who is a fantastic rapper. So you know overall, it’s all about putting together a piece of work that gives a very broad perspective on how I think that 2015 music has gone. Also, since I am trying to fuse in the fact that I live in New York now, with the African and my original love of music and culture. House of Cuppy however, this year the branding was a bit different. Last year i was inspired by Marie- Antoinette, this year it’s all very ‘African’ which is inspired by ‘Cuppy Takes Africa’.

Interesting, Can you give us an insight on what Cuppy takes Africa is about?

Definitely, my team and I have been working for about a year under the wraps to perfect this. We have been working very very hard, and you know we are finally pleased to come out and announce our 8 country African tour. So it’s an 8 country tour in four weeks. 2 countries per week, we are going out on the road, giving a great show in terms of production in every city we tour. There’s a lot of different moving parts, and it’s all exciting and innovative as it’s never been done before by an artist, talk less of a DJ. It is a very unique project and I like to think that  it’s going to set the pace for many more acts to come. People get scared when it comes to things like this; I asked a lot of my friends in the industry, ‘Why hasn’t anyone done this before?’ I think the logistics scare them! It is fantastic that i have someone like Asa Asika as my tour manager on board, and I have a great team, and we are looking forward to taking Africa!

In terms of the tour, when you get to the various cities, are you planning on you just DJ’ing throughout, or take the concert approach, and have artists perform?

I can give you some details now, since it’s an exclusive interview! Apart from me having my own tour, I think it’s pretty important to discover new sounds, and it’s important for me as a DJ to grow out of this experience. I always say it’s fantastic representing Nigeria, but I also want to represent Africa. I think this is my way of trying to integrate all the cultures. It’s exciting: In each country I will be working with local artists, and definitely I think a body of work will come out of this project. It just has too! I have to come back and creatively express my experience in the 8 countries I tour.

Apart from working with the respective artists, I will be working with local DJ’s as well. It is important to help other creatives.

I am also working with local designers in terms of my outfits, local suppliers in terms of production, working with a lot of universities and schools. With the Lagos show, it’s in partnership with Unilag, they get quite a number of free tickets there! It’s fantastic because you know I am a student myself and I really connect with young people, so this is a great way to get more people involved and offer some kind of inspiration.

In terms of the Road to tour, how long has the preparation been for? It came as a surprise. 

Yes Yes! We just sprung it upon you all! It’s been a dream of mine for quite a number of years now. I am also trying to push the envelope and be unique and come off with some crazy, practical ideas! When I mentioned it to my brand manager, Elizabeth about a year ago, she was like “Cuppy you’re crazy!” And now she was the same person seating on the panel for the press conference announcing it! I think it’s all about planning ahead, but also giving an organic feel. In terms of the idea, I will say about 2-3 years, in terms of the concept, a year, and the actual activity, about 8 months. I Knew I was doing it as soon as House of Cuppy I came out. I stared planting the seeds in early December, and it’s fantastic I have GTBank as a sponsor, and it’s in partnership with the Dangote foundation which is great because that’s they’re a philanthrophic organization in Africa, and they are trying to be on the fore front of the new generation. We think  that the future generation needs to be able to express themselves in order to be great leaders. Sometimes, a means of experessing ourselves is through music.

I definitely agree. With you, you’re expressing your self through your new sound, ‘NeoAfrobeat’. How do you think this sound will grow unto people in the countries you’re touring?

I think that is amazing how Nigeria, despite being the biggest economy and the biggest entertainment industry in Africa. We are actually a little behind: We do not have a DJ Culture. A lot of different African countries do like Uganda, South Africa. We are not doing well on that part, also a lot of other countries are open minded to this new sound. There are a lot of countries that I think just absorb hip hop. In Nigeria, we do appreciate it, but not like others. I think that his NeoAfrobeat sound that I am trying to spread will be welcomed and acknowledged in the various countries I visit. Funny enough I find that my biggest challenge is Nigeria. When we look at Senegal, French speaking country, naturally they have a very Afrocentric sound. Ghana they love hip hop, Kenya too. Tanzania is a new discovery for me, I have heard that they do have a bit of a house culture there. Rwanda is a very small country, so they naturally try and feed off different influences, and of course South Africa, who have a great hip hop culture too.

Speaking of South Africa, as much as they have a huge hip hop industry, their house music is rising very quickly. It will be interesting to see how you blend there.

Their music sounds are so much cleaner and sharp, I am looking forward to performing and learning there. For me it’s amazing. They definitely are open to this new sound because I still cannot believe 2 years ago we had Khona which was a viral sound, you couldn’t get away from it! I was so excited that Nigerians welcomed that sound, it’s so different. Now seeing some of the big collaborations going on with Mafikizolo and Uhuru is fantastic and really exciting! I am looking forward to hopefully being a part of some of these inter- collaborations, and you know Yes we have great records between people like Davido, Skales, Olamide, Runtown. But it will be fantastic to see us collaborating with other African countries’ artist like Kenya.

In Tanzania, Diamond has been making a lot of hits! He partnered up with Davido, has a song with Kcee and Waje. Yemi Alade did a remix of Johnny in French which was just amazing!

In the coming months, a lot more collaborations will be released hopefully! Your press conference was last week, Can you describe the event?

The press conference was fantastic!  I was so impressed by the turnout, just shows that people are happy and ready to support a younger generation. We had a lot of press personnel naturally, and I was able to personally connect with them about some of the ideas they had, they also wanted to know my ideas about the whole project because when you do something like this there is no blueprint, it’s just figuring out as you go. It was great to hear some of their thoughts. They were very excited, after a few private conversations we were able to get on panel: I had my team, Asa Asika my tour manager, Tola Olarinre who is our logistics manager. Elizabeth, who is my personal manager, she’s from the UK and 21. Also had Lola, my Nigerian manager, a GTBank representative, and a Dangote Foundation representative. Each person was able to express their role, personal input, and their expectations of the tour. Following that, we were able to take some questions and I have to admit I had a few tough ones! It’s fantastic that I have Asa Asika on board, we are friends for a long time, and he is a heavy weight in the music industry, so it’s fantastic that we are working together. We have plans to make something pretty epic, he started his company Stargaze which is very promising.

Should be something to look forward too. At the conclusion of the tour, are you heading back to New York to finish up your masters degree?

Yes. Final year of my masters. I have school from September. The tour ends on the 29th of August in South Africa. As soon as the tour is over, on the 5th of September I am headlining the New York University Event. It’s exciting- time has just really flown by for me because i feel like it’s only a year that i was there.

So what’s next for Cuppy after you complete your masters degree?

The thought of it tires me. Definitely next year I can deliver house of Cuppy III. It is something that has become part of my brand. I can see possibly another Cuppy takes Africa tour. You know there’s 54 countries in Africa, I’m doing 8. There’s so much more to discover! A lot of the partnerships I have, have already been expressed in future projects. We can expect finally an original record from me. Exclusive to you Gbemiga, I am coming out with a record next month. I think it’s definitely time for me to start putting out my own record.

Definitely, you have done a bunch of mixes, the next stage is singles.

Yeah, It’s exciting! But I just think that, it’s important to always supply something that is in demand. If we look at the other DJ’s, it’s fantastic what they are doing. People like DJ Exclusive, DJ Spinall, they have fantastic original records with artists. Before I jump into it, I want to see what I can bring to the table. I think remixing is my forte and that I am very good at it, but I want to throw myself into the deep end and perhaps have an original.

If I recall, when you first started off in the music industry, you were into strictly producing. Do you think you might go the route of Calvin Harris and have records featuring the top artists of today?

Yes. I’m so glad you said that Gbemiga. Next month i have a big record coming out that I produced; It’s not my own original record, I just produced it, but Ice Prince and Sarkodie, African Rap heavyweights have teamed up on the record. Ice Prince reached out to me and said he would love for me to get involved. It is called “For Days”. Exclusive to you, we will be having a DJ Cuppy produced record, and we are hoping to shoot the video soon. I have to say the song is fire! Can’t wait for all of you to hear it.

You have been in America for about 10 months now, How would you say they have welcomed your sound? I can speak for Atlanta, where I am based, it is big on the trap and house scene. 

I think for me, the idea of me even doing Neo- Afrobeat came from the fact that I lived in London for many years; I went to University at Kings College, so I was in the heart of the city, and I felt it was difficult to put Nigerian music on a platform that it deserved. I will be booked for mainstream clubs and gigs, you know I couldn’t just go from house or hip hop to Afrobeat, the contrast in sound was very wide. House of Cuppy has allowed me too integrate it slowly, the sound is “housy”, it’s just the lyrics that are slightly different. I think that it’s an exciting time for Afrobeat with amazing collaborations. Everyone heard the news of Ojuelegba remix with Drake and Skepta. I am looking forward to it being a fantastic rest of the year for Afrobeats. People are really starting to appreciate not only the artist and music, but also our culture,the fashion, literature, the whole creative.

You mentioned before that you are an intern at Roc Nation, can you describe what your role is for them?

Yes, I specialize in the African projects. My job was to come on board, and really help them shape their African projects. There are prospects and plans to come and provide artists with access to the U.S market, and try and nurture them with their expertise. So far, in the year i’ve been there, I’ve been able to help them to get a team on ground. Also, it’s an exchange as I learned so much from them. With the launch of Tidal, it’s been very exciting to also have my own playlist on there. There’s definitely prospects of Tidal coming on ground as well. I think it has been a fantastic year, and I am looking forward to being part of their amazing journey for another year.

With you interning at Roc Nation, also being a graduate student, a DJ, and a tourism ambassador for Nigeria. How in the world are you able to balance your schedule?

A lot of people ask me that. At the end of the day, it’s one of those things that I have to do, to achieve greatness. I believe in discipline, It’s important to have a strong priorities. I have to say my education has helped greatly with that. Being in boarding school in the UK for about 5, 6 years has really helped me to become independent. Although knowledge is power, the main thing I say is important to me is to have self discipline. To be able to know I have this deadline, I have to prioritize. Even now, i have a thesis paper I am writing over the summer! In many of the countries I am touring I’ll probably be backstage writing! I think it’s passion, and I am also very good at micromanaging!

But Gbemiga, I am not going to lie, I am getting bad! I am all over the place now, in the sense that I just want to sit down, relax, and hang out with friends! A lot of people say I’m social, but half the time If someone sees me in a club it’s because I’m working. I want to have loads of free time! Even for you to ping me down for this interview has been quite a journey on it’s own! I think that it’s a matter of figuring out as you go, I’m still just 22, I’, still discovering things about my self.

Since you’re based in New York, have you looked into the possibility of working with some famous NY DJ’s?

Yes! New York is such a hub for DJ’s. It’s exciting because legendary DJ’s such as DJ Scratch, he is someone I’ve worked with, he is in Brooklyn. I think that also with the international scene, you get a lot of different big DJ’s. I was able to go to Coachella, I didn’t quite spend time with Afrojack, but I got too exchange a few words. I got to see David Guetta live which was an unbelievable experience. I was able to connect with Swedish house Mafia after their performance, and a bunch of female DJ’s too from  Hannah Brofman, to DJ Kiss, there’s a lot of big DJ’s in New York which is great. I am absorbing everything and learning as I go.

At the conclusion of your tour, are you going to take a short holiday before fall semester begins?

Haha I wish! I have too many bookings already. What’s exciting about my tour is that it’s also a TV show, so that will come out in the fourth quarter of this year. We are doing it with a U.S Network that I can’t reveal now! It will show our journey from about a week before we leave for tour till a week after the tour. So it covers 6 crazy weeks with my team and I. I am sure it will be a lot of fun! I have some energetic people on board. You’ll have highs,you’ll have lows, that’s just life.

Are you looking to the idea of having a big show in Christmas?

(Laughs) You’re stressing me, Gbemiga.There’s definitely some prospects! I think someone that i have always wanted to work with has been Di’Ja. We see a lot of synergies within our brands. I’m hoping we get something done in time. I think that I’ll have more details on that based on how our Nigerian show goes. It’s in Federal Palace on the 1st of August. I am excited to say, although in partnership with Unilag, it’s generally a free show. There’s no cost for it, It’s really all about getting the people together, and having a great time. So, we are putting so much energy into that.

Since you already mentioned Dija, what do you think Tiwa Savage, Yemi Alade, are doing differently, that are making them so self empowered? In the last 10 years, there hasn’t been a dominant female artist with longevity. We had Asa for a bit, great first album but didn’t enjoy her next couple of records.

Well, I personally love Asa! I think she’s a fantastic artist. One can argue consistency, but I disagree because I still think she has great music. You know artists grow with their journey. So, my favorite Asa songs are definitely all on her first album. However, I think she has had some good content since, I particularly like her second album as well. We can’t expect her to create the same kind of content she did the first time.

Just like Naeto C, his You Know my P album is one of my favorite Nigerian albums of all time. Obviously he has created different content, I don’t think that anyone can say he is a worse artist; different things happen in your life and you change your sounds accordingly.

Back to your female question, it’s interesting that we have amazing female brands that are heading the industry. We women need to support each other. If you look at someone like Tiwa Savage, her success I believe has to do a lot with support. One could argue Mavin has been great for her, but she’s been great for Mavin too!

I agree, the female brands are setting the pace. Also, the young splurge of talented new musicians today is crazy. I had an interview with Reekado Banks two weeks ago, and I was just stating to him that we are looking to him and Korede Bello to lead the new generation  of Nigerian artists.

We can only hope that the older generation being open minded to what we have to offer. If they do, we can achieve great success in  our respective fields.

In closure in this interview, what would you say has been the most challenging aspect of the upcoming tour?

I think people don’t really think about the logistics of it as it scares them. From insurance, to legal, to production, it’s an absolute nightmare. Most artists have a tour thrown for them, they work with a promoter and what not.  But for us, we are doing everything ourselves. Doing that, times eight countries is draining. We are not a big team, there are about 6 of us. We have a lot of support but it’s difficult. Another thing, is expectations. We initially started off with more countries, we had to put it down. A lot of people don’t believe  in our project. They think it’s over ambitious. It’s been a journey, we have people on our team come and go because they haven’t believed in it enough. We have had sponsors come and go as well, which is why a project like this is abnormal to just have one sponsor. People have one show and they have like five sponsors, but you know GTBank are really positioning their selves in a place to show they are supporting the future. The Cuppy brand has so many different features to it that they like.

Will Cuppy merchandise be available during the tour month of August?

Yes! It’s exciting- I can tell you we have lots of merchandise which includes Cuppy shirts which will finally be commercialized. We also have hats, pens, headphones and they will all be on sale in each country we tour! I can’t reveal who but I am partnering with a very popular apparel brand, so their merchandise will be on sale as well!  For me it’s so much more than music, that’s why my brand is ‘Cuppy’ not ‘DJ Cuppy’. I can see myself branching out into other elements.

Thank you so much for your time Ife, the Culture Custodian team appreciates it. 

Thank you so much for having me love! It’s always nice, I can only hope that a year from now we will be catching up again and there will be even more to say!

















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