10 years ago today, rapper Da Grin passed away just as his music career was taking off. It’s one of those great hypotheticals to imagine what twists and turns the Yoruba rapper would have taken over the course of a career that was threatening greatness. His influence would shine through as the zeitgeist saw a transition from the smooth IJGB variation made palatable by the likes of M.I and Naeto C to the hard, indigenous flavour we would get from the likes of Olamide, Phyno and Lil Kesh.
To understand Da Grin is to understand the underdog who defied the odds, had a short run in the bright lights and was taken away right before he hung his jersey in the rafters.
By talking to some of those who knew him best and digging deep into the archives for past interviews and insights, we make some sense of his story below.
Winston Ola ‘Olamus’ Badmus- Manager, Label Executive
Sarz- Producer, DJ and Collaborator. Produced Da Grin’s Kondo
Frenzy- Producer. Produced Da Grin’s If I Die
General Pype- Recording Artist and Collaborator
Ayomide Tayo- Journalist
In the Beginning
Olamus: “I first met Da Grin in a studio with Doctor Frabs. I signed two artistes, Lala and Chuddy K, under Satty Records with my friend Ibrahim Salawe. One day, we decided to go record at Doctor Frabs’s house driving all the way from Surulere to Egbeda. On getting there, Doctor Frabs was playing a song and I liked the song, so I was like, ‘This voice sounds like I’ve heard it before.’ He said, ‘Yeah, one boy called Da Grin.’ He was on the song with YQ. I told him that I’d been looking for that boy (Da Grin) and was told that he’d soon show up. 10, 15 minutes later, Da Grin came in, during that time we’d already started making the beat for the songs we came for – Idi Nla and Slow Slow – but I was like, ‘Oh, you’re the little young man.’ I’d met him before and he said my face looked familiar too, I told him that I think we had met at Henry Hope studio when he was working on his debut album, Still On The Matter. We had a conversation about that; before we started recording, I said that we feature Da Grin on the Lala song and Doctor Frabs was like, “Not bad, it makes sense.” I asked Da Grin if he was going to charge for it (his verse) and he said “Give me anything na, you know say your boy dey hustle.” I told him to jump on it and we’d talk about the payment. I left them in the studio to record and called Ibrahim out. I told him that I didn’t think I was going to do music again because I was supposed to be recording as well because the whole record label thing was my idea and he was supposed to be recording as well: he was a rapper and I was a singer. We decided to defer our music first to let these niggas come out. I told him that I was willing to defer my recording if Da Grin did not have a label, urging Ibrahim to let us sign him then use my budget on him. I told him that Da Grin was good, you don’t want to fuck with him. Lala did his hook and Da Grin was just mumbling around, then he jumped on the track and I liked it. I was supposed to do the second verse but I told Lala to do my part and Ibrahim did the outro. That’s how I met Da Grin.
General Pype: “I met Da Grin through Sheyman who told me that he was one of my biggest fans. I sat outside my house one day when he came around. When I saw him, I asked if he was Da Grin and he answered in the affirmative. He seemed so excited to meet me and from that day till he died, he never called me General Pype, he always referred to me as Baba. I really miss him a lot. I miss the fact that he was down-to-earth despite the way the entertainment industry could be. Da Grin was a very humble, thoughtful and kind guy. He loved me because he was also from Abeokuta.”
Olamus: After he did the track with Lala, I paid him N50,000 for his contribution, then told Ibrahim that we need to talk to him about joining us (Satty Records). I asked Da Grin if he had a record label, he said he didn’t, but later told me that he had a label (he was tied to) based in Magodo that were ‘not nice,’ They’d been shady and he didn’t like their aura. I asked how he he’d feel if Satty Records signed him, and he said, ‘Baba baba, sign me ke, e go hard o!’ I told him to leave the e go hard and tell me how he’d feel if we wanted to sign him; he was like, ‘Ah go think of am,’ because some people were looking out for him – YQ’s record label at the time, 2concept – and wanted to sign him but he hadn’t gotten good terms and because he was in another record label that wasn’t treating him well. So I told him that what if I got him out of that record label, he said it’d be hard because the label was run by thugs, I told him that it was fine because I believed I could talk to anybody at that time and I assured him that I’d talk to anybody to get him out of that deal. I asked him again, ‘What if I get you out of that deal, will you sign?’ He said, ‘Yeah, yeah, as long as he was out of the deal and the deal was okay.’ And that was how that conversation evolved.
Olamus: “It was Satty Records at first. When things started going south at Satty – I had a quarrel with my friend, Ibrahim, who accommodated us, fed and clothed us – Da Grin walked up to me and told me he was going to walk out of the deal. I told him that he couldn’t walk out because it was the best deal that he could get. He wasn’t tied down and it was just three years. He refused, saying that record labels were not run that way, and told me that a lot of people wanted to take my place as the General Manager of the label; it was tough for him because he was in the deal because of me. I asked what he suggested. He said he was going to leave but I told him not to leave. Instead, we started something on the side, things we knew we could do without the Satty Records money and as time would go on, I’d get investors enabling us to proceed. He was like, “You, You, You are too smart, oya make we dey do am like that.” We started thinking of names to call the movement. There was a slang we always used back then called Kosofo, we’d always say it- we heard the slang from one of our friends, Shoti. I told him to let us use that but he refused because it was Shoti’s slang; he suggested ‘Ko yen yin’ but I asked him how would a white man pronounce it and he said he wasn’t dealing with a white man because his focus was Nigeria. I told him that I didn’t like it; then, he suggested Misofunyin, immediately it gave me an impression of “I told you.” It gave me that impression immediately. I said it was a good one seeing as we had a message that we wanted to pass to Satty Records and other record labels that I talked to. I also told him that we needed to register the label before we started moving and he was like, ‘We might still change it (name) along the line,’ I asked why we’d start something we wanted to change. He said, ‘You know it’s Yoruba and if we wanted to go international…’ I said that was okay, we’d have a different national and international name. Then we talked about structure, I asked who was going to be the owner of the label, he said it was me and him I’d be the C.E.O. and he’d be the artiste. So, we had a deal and I moved it. We started working on how to publish the album on that name?”
Sossick: “We used to just vibe together and everything Grin would be in the studio, just recording – that Pon Pon Pon bursting head. Then we had to come up with the chorus. I’d already lost my mind for the rap because when I saw the marriage between the rap and the beat, I was like maybe we don’t need chorus sef.”
Olamus: “Pon Pon Pon dropped under Satty Records, but he had the Misofunyin slang. All the while he was mentioning Misofunyin, we were still under Satty Records, it was just for us to slide out once the deal was done.”
C.E.O (Chief Executive Omo Ita)
Sossick: “While we were recording C.E.O., he would say to me like, ‘Yo, I want when this album drop, game go change. This industry go scatter.’ I’d be like, ‘Dude, I know.’ Then we’d keep working and another day, randomly, when we don listen to the songs, he’d be like, ‘Baba, stop stop.’ ‘When this album drop, everywhere go scatter, we go change the game, scatter everywhere with this album, I’d be like, ‘Mehn, I know.’ Then we’d keep listening. Another day, he’d go ‘Stop, stop, stop, baba, hear this our album.”
“Why him talk 70 beats in a beat: when him come studio, right? He say baba, play beat for me, I play beat for am. He say, ‘Baba, this beat,’ before him talk I don play another one. (Da Grin: ‘Ah, baba you don kill me.’) I played so many beats for him the guy (Da Grin) was like, ‘omo!’ He heard so many beats, him no believe say person dey wey dey do this kind number of beats on this level. When he went in there (recording booth), him don hear like a hundred beats. So he was like, ‘Seventy beats in a week baby.’ I don play beats, I don burst head.”
Ghetto Dreams- The First Track on C.E.O
Sossick: “Make I burst your head: we dey pick beans for house wey we wan cook. One and a half derica, the thing plenty small. Grin is like, ‘Yo, him get this song.’ I’m like, I dey do stuff. Then he starts banging on the table, singing his own hook, then he goes, ‘Mo fe di Nigerian president (part of verse 1 of Ghetto Dreams). Then he’d stop. All of us go burst laugh say see this werey. Which kind line be that? He’d be like wait, wait, and keep banging on the table (and continues rapping parts of Ghetto Dreams). All of us go burst laugh, this guy you dey mad, you dey mad. He’d try to sing this hook that was banging in his head and I’m like, ‘Nigga, we gaxt produce this record though. We have to make this into a record. No worry, when I’m done, I go let you know.’
Then there’s this day, I’m feeling blue. Not feeling too happy and too jiggy like myself, I had to travel, had to go to Benin. Go say what’s up to ma. Right before I go, make I say what’s up to my nigga KP. KP’s got a studio in his crib. I wasn’t feeling too happy and what I do when I’m not feeling to happy? I turn to music. So, I get on his P.C., his studio shii, I start mumbling (hook for Ghetto Dreams.) I lay it right there in KP’s studio and was like this is how I’m feeling right now. He was like, ‘you feeling blue, Nigga.’ And I was like, ‘That’s true Nigga.’ Then when Grin comes, you know one of those days where he comes, ‘yo,’ he’s rapping that his flow again and I’m like I got the perfect track for this shii. He’s like oh oh, woah. When I heard his flow, when I heard his rap… I don’t think you understand, it was even worse than Pon Pon Pon for me. My head just burst.”
Wizkid sought Sarz after hearing Kondo
Sarz: “I met Wizkid way before the Superstar album. This was after I produced Kondo. Wizkid at this point was really nobody. He was an artist signed to EME. He came to the studio and said he really likes Kondo, and he wants to do stuff like that. We made a song in the studio and it was really dope. Everyone in the studio was feeling it. He was with his manager Osagie Okunpolor (formerly Osarenkhoe). I gave them the bill, and they said they couldn’t afford it. It was all business, they couldn’t afford at that time, and so they left. After a year, he became a superstar.
We would always meet at Rehab or all those clubs popping then, and Wizkid would be like ‘You, you didn’t work with me that time, no problem. We would see.”
5 Million Units Moved
Olamus: “CEO was dropped under Satty Records officially, at first. I set the whole thing up, but as time went on, I moved it to Misofunyin. We did well with it. But Nigeria does not have a great sales record so the sales might be much more than we got. Based on what we got, I’d say, before he died, we sold about five million copies. That was what we got money for. We were on royalties, so we got records of how much he sold and got percentages, that’s how we worked.
“We sold it in Alaba through Uba Pacific. That was Uba Pacific’s first album sale. He used to be a wholesaler but while I was trying to market Da Grin’s album to Abu – who buys albums from musicians – Uba saw me in Abu’s shop begging him to let us release the album and Abu was like, “No, no, no. I just gave Terry G three million naira and the album will sell. This one (Da Grin’s album) is hip-hop and hip-hop does not sell in Nigeria.’ I was like, ‘Oga, abeg na,’ then Uba tapped me and told his boy, Ejike, known as Biggest Entertainment now dealing in mixtapes, to call me. I walked up to his shop and he said, ‘Ermmm, this Da Grin is he known?’ I told him to ask his boy, that everybody knows him here. Ejike was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah people dey find him album o, him first album still dey sell.’ And he brought Still On The Matter out. Uba see say na the album wey him sell well well. He said he knew Da Grin and told me to bring Da Grin the next day.”
The Follow Up to C.E.O.
Olamus: “He did a few tracks with Sossick but it wasn’t complete; we trashed it. He did a few tracks with an Olu Maintain-affiliated producer too. We had a couple of people planned for the album but it was only halfway done, he was just gathering beats.”
The Recording of If I Die
Frenzy: “He came to the studio that day as usual. After I had finished recording with some people, I played the beat of the song to him and he loved it. So he decided to do freestyle on it first, with the hope of coming back later to perfect it. But unfortunately, we didn’t have the time until his accident and eventual death.”
Olamus: “I was in the house; I was in the house at Agege with Tillaman. He was signed to the same record label–Headline–at that time and he wanted to pay for a room in the house Da Grin rented. Da Grin refused, saying he could accommodate everybody. The day Da Grin had the accident I was on his bed with one female friend that was waiting for him.”
Ayomide Tayo: “It was an intense moment. At that time, I was a junior writer at Hip Hop World Magazine. The night Da Grin died, I’d already gotten home from work but a colleague of mine called and said that I needed to come back to the office – Ayo Animashuan had told me to go the hospital where Da Grin was (on admission). I asked if Da Grin was dead and she said she wasn’t sure. I got back to the office, then the TV reporters – attached to HIP TV – and I headed to Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) When we got there, we heard the announcement that he (Da Grin) had passed away. We waited for a while then his father came out with the doctor to officially announce his death. Once that got out, it was pandemonium from there. Celebrities started coming in, and it was just sadness and grief. We couldn’t even conduct interviews; it was a very emotionally-charged atmosphere. They didn’t want to see any journalist there, a journalist from the NET tried to bring out his camera to take pictures and he was roughened up.”
Olamus: “Do you want to hear the facts? Till now, I’m still trying to recover from his passing because I had a lot on the ground at that time that was going to change our lives and everybody’s life but it all went back to zero. I had to pull everything back together, so it is depressing.”
General Pype:“The most painful part of our relationship was the fact that when he was in the hospital, I did not go to visit him. I was just waiting for the day he would be discharged so that I could jokingly slap his head and scold him for drinking and driving but I did not get to do that. I am so pained because a day before his death, I was supposed to visit him with a girl I was dating then who was in the media. The lady asked me to accompany her and when she noticed my reluctance, she said I could sneak into the hospital and nobody would see me but I refused. I told her that I did not want to see him in that state and that I wanted him to come out of it alive but he never did. I never visited him at the hospital; I was waiting for him to come home. I regret that I did not visit him in the hospital. My father always told me that you do not need to have billions before you show love towards someone. Your time, presence, and kind messages would go a long way. I really regret the fact that I did not go to the hospital to check on him.”
Olamus: “His legacy has got you talking to me. That means he’s still on point.”
Ayomide Tayo: “The thing is, back then, if you were looking at the history of rap in Nigeria, before Da Grin’s rise, it was always led by artistes who rapped in English or, at the most, pidgin. Indigenous rap was seen as this funny thing that guys used to do, we had Lord of Ajasa, AY, and Nigga Raw who had hits in indigenous languages but they were not given that credibility. People saw it as this weird thing. Da Grin came and he basically shattered that way of looking at it with his C.E.O. album, his best-selling album. For that short time – when he released that album late in 2009 till his death – I can say that the album spread to places where hip-hop wasn’t traditionally listened to. It penetrated the ghettos and the slums where normally they’d be listening to Pasuma or KWAM 1. They started listening to Da Grin because he was telling their story. They could see Da Grin’s life and imagine that it was their life too. He was telling the story of the guys that nobody wanted to rap about in hip-hop because hip-hop was this technical thing and it was also flashy; we had the M.I.s, the Mode Nines, Terry tha Rapman, and Naeto C, but nobody spoke about the hustler, the guys who had nothing. The poor boy working in Bariga, the poor boy in Mushin, the poor boy in Isale-Eko, and when he touched that, you could see the shift in Nigerian pop culture. That’s why today, if they are not directly inspired by Da Grin, it starts with Olamide, Phyno, and Reminisce because Da Grin has already shown that this can not only be a cool thing to do, it can overtake any form of rap in Nigeria. That’s why it is easy for indigenous rappers to break in because they now have a huge core audience that wants to listen to what they are saying. Da Grin was able to bring a spotlight to a part of society nobody was concerned about.”