Interview: Tejiri Akpoghene Wants to Set Up the Biggest Record Label in Africa

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Music-making is scarcely a lone effort. It requires several hands. Of those are the music producer’s, resting on the soundboard, teasing out euphony from ether. Yet it’s the singers who bathe in the milk of celebrity, lording over a vast Twitter fandom. Producers make do with a pittance of recognition, or at least so is the deal in the Nigerian music scene. Tejiri Akpoghene, also a singer and songwriter, is one of the few Nigerian producers who have managed to put a face to their sound. This May, Akpoghene put his name on the Billboard.

It all started with love. Long ago, Akpoghene composed a beat for a former girlfriend. When they broke up, he kept the beat for sentimental reasons, denying all who asked to use it. Until, that is, Tems came asking. The emotion-laden R&B production is that thin ice slate of sound on which Tems’ voice slides in the song Higher, from her debut EP For Broken Ears (2020). While polishing the sound for Tems, Akpoghene got into a “mini accident” that kept him chair-ridden for six months. When completed, the production was loaded: with love, heartbreak, and great physical pain. What followed was a great American success.

The song Wait for U, from Future’s album I Never Liked You, was released this May and samples Tem’s Higher. This means Akpoghene got production credits, alongside FnZ and ATL Jacob. He is also credited as a songwriter, alongside Future, Tems, and Drake. Wait for U debuted at number one on the US Billboard Hot 100 – Future’s second, Drake’s tenth, and Akpoghene’s first such honor.

Having produced music since age 14, Akpoghene now turns to sing. His EP arrives this year or at the beginning of the next. Revised for clarity and concision, this interview has Akpoghene talk about his career’s current high and his plans for the future. His sky-high ambition bewilders the modest dreamer: he wants to establish the biggest African record label.

You recently signed a deal with Ultra Music Publishing and The Revels Group’s new boutique publishing arm, Coup D’Etat. What is it all about?

I don’t know if you know this, but Wait For U sampled my song with Tems called Higher, which is from her last album. The kind of songs that are usually sampled are from the 70s and 80s. But they sampled my record. So what that means is I’m automatically a producer on the Wait For U record. I have producer credits. I also have percentages of the publishing of the record. With that kind of thing, you know publishing companies would reach out to you and see how they can help you collect your money and make you exciting offers. So Sony reached out, as well as Warner Chappell, and wanted to sign a publishing deal with me. At the end of the day, we ended up going for Ultra Publishing who have a partnership with The Revels Group’s Coup D’Etat. 

You studied Accounting in Covenant University. How did you get into music?

I’ve been making music since I was 14. I was in secondary school at the time. At the time, there was a guy in the music department who made beats, and there were a lot of rappers coming up. I felt that if I could learn how to make beats, I could sell them. My brother wanted to learn, too, so he bought equipment from Computer Village. The first thing we did on FL Studio was In Da Club. It was an easy beat. And that’s how I started making beats.

My dad wanted me to study accounting, but I wanted to go abroad. I ended up studying accounting while going to the studio.

Who were your musical influences? 

My dad played a lot of 80s and 90s music in the house, so I would say, George Benson, and Quincy Jones. Then there is Timbaland, Dr. Dre, but mostly Timbaland. 

Any memory that stands out from your time producing in Lagos?

I was doing something similar to the job of A&R. You know, find artists and then work with them to figure out their sound. Is it EDM? R&B? Dancehall? I worked with many artists before I met Tems. I reached out to Tems on Instagram.

At the time I didn’t have a studio of my own. I forgot to mention — I was mentored by Dede Mabiaku for one or two years. He was crucial in my journey, before I met Cobhams. For me, the journey has been a favorable one. I just climbed on the shoulders of giants. From Dede to Cobhams, to doing my own thing.

Let’s talk about DIY

DIY is a company I started last year as a platform to help artists develop their sound. Many artists taught themselves what they know, even the popular artists. For example, Kanye West was a DIY musician. But there’s a formula to DIY-  to do it yourself and find out what is unique about you as a musician before you start to worry about things like distribution of your music. That’s what DIY is for. 

You are a producer, singer, and songwriter. Are you all three equally? And how do you approach each of them?

Production is my first love, although I was into rap before it. The production part has been the main thing for me. Now I’m focusing on my artistry. I’ll be releasing my music soon.

I approach music from a feeling point of view. If I’m feeling something, I try to express it. I really have been doing all three as a whole, because when you’re playing the keyboard, you’re already forming a melody, you’re already writing a song. For me, all three are not separate. 

That track was from my least favorite beats. But Tems really loved it. There’s a lot of emotion behind it because I made the beat for my girlfriend at the time. But we broke up, I held on to my beat. Every time people asked me about the beat, I would tell them that it’s personal to me and I would know when I am to let it go. But I had sent the beat to Tems two years ago, 2019. That’s pretty much how it went. 

Basically, there’s a lot of pain in that record. Even while finishing the beat for Tems’ EP, I got into a mini accident and hurt my back, and I couldn’t walk for like 6 months. So there are a lot of emotional things in that beat. I feel like when God wants to reward someone, he just does it. I’ll just say I’m blessed.

What would you say drives your impulse to get more into singing?

I believe I was born with a certain frequency, and if I don’t share it with the world, I’d be doing the world a disservice.

I have been cheated tons of times as a producer. In Nigeria, producers are not taken seriously unless they have a big record. I wonder how I have made money from it since I was 14. Producers are getting more recognition and respect now, but songwriters don’t have that yet. 

What are you doing when you are not making music?

I like to run, work out, and do yoga. I read books. 

What can we expect to hear in your songs scheduled for release?

I would say a fusion of R&B, retro 70s with afro influences. Chill music, but still groovy. 

When can we expect your debut EP?

I have my debut EP planned. It might be released late this year or early next year. 

How would you characterize where you are right now in your creative journey?

Where I am right now is by God’s grace. I also feel I have a lot to learn. There’s so much I don’t know. I’m at that point where there is so much room for growth.  

I plan to set up the number one label in Africa and replicate the same thing we did with Tems. Bigger than Mavin. Many artists have the talent but need a platform to learn how to find their sound. As I said, there is a formula. That’s how Jay Z’s record label was able to bring out stars over and over. It’s because they have a formula.