For many millennials, Grand Theft Auto, the American video game first released in 1997 and currently 15 editions in, was a big part of their childhood. When I first got a PlayStation Portable, it was one of the first games I got, nevermind that it was rated mature (for 17 and up) and I was 12 at the time. Around the same time GTA launched, somewhere in Warri, two brothers Ayo and Bayo Peter, now popularly known as Ayo the Creator and Bayo the Creator, were surrounded by the kind of violence- because of the Warri crisis- you think is only possible in games like GTA. Today, they are most popularly known for their work with GTA Naija, a parody of the numerous editions we have seen that has featured artists and important voices like Rema, Joeboy, and TG Omori in its first five episodes. After a conversation with them, I will point out how they got here through road mapping, taking risks, and strategic thinking on their journey toward creating Africa’s biggest media production company.
The Road to Creation
As children, Ayo and Bayo were not really allowed to go out to play football or run around like most children, largely because of the insecurity caused by the Warri Crisis. Instead, they spent most of their time at home and behind the TV screen where they enjoyed shows like Power Rangers and Powerpuff Girls. Before long, they started to attempt to draw the characters they saw. Their dad encouraged them to think about creating their own shows and characters for TV. He felt it was important they did not spend all of their time-consuming content and instead pushing them to think about creating. The early interest did not stop Bayo from eventually becoming an engineer for Shell, eventually working on Forcados island in the Niger Delta area.
Many analysts today, hold Nigeria’s economic issues to the country’s lack of planning for life without oil as valuable as it is. In almost any industry, planning is important and when Ayo, who had already begun to gain some online notoriety for creating memes began to struggle to find jobs as he was concluding his time at film school in Warri, his older brother Bayo, then fed up and losing motivation at his job as an engineer, thought it time to look at creating what they want to be the largest media production company in Africa. They set out, creating a seven-year roadmap that took into consideration how they wanted to grow.
Implementing the plan
Stage one of the plan was to increase the visibility of Ayo. They had decided he was going to be the front-facing player. They went about execution by photoshopping Ayo, often selling Nigerian snack Gala into pictures of Davido, Wizkid, and any other celebrity you can think of. They are honest stating that they went down that road with the desire to gain the recognition of the big celebrities. They admit that at times, it felt like they were clout chasing, but they understood their plan and stuck to it. Before long, Ayo’s following grew to 10,000 followers and earned reposts and recognition from celebrities like DJ Cuppy and the many fan pages of Davido and Wizkid at the time. He became widely known on the internet as the King of Photoshop, taking the crown from Adekunle Gold. According to Ayo, the support from family, seeing people share their work and thinking to themselves that they were doing something right, served as encouragement. They soon understood they now had an audience and moved to the second stage of their plan, creating for the audience they had acquired.
Ayo and Bayo credit social media for its ability to spread their work and allow them build meaningful connections. In Bayo’s words, they always knew that “connection was wealth.” Social media was what made it possible for them to grow their brand and when in September 2019 they began to strategize going into creating video parodies, they knew social media would be the tool they needed to get the people talking. This is how they arrived at GTA Naija, perhaps their most visible piece of work so far. Social media is also the tool that facilitated the Joeboy and Rema features in GTA Naija.
Initially planning to start off with parodies of movie trailers, Ayo and Bayo quickly found they were going to incur heavy bills and do work they felt did not show off their creativity in its fullest (shout out to the Ikorodu Bois). Coupled with a desire for longevity with whatever material they put out, they soon found themselves contemplating creating video game parodies that had them telling their own stories. In February 2020, after saving money for a few months, they set out to the city that never sleeps Lagos, with the intention of recording a parody video of Justin Bieber’s Yummy. When they left Warri, the brothers thought they had done everything right but thankfully, the plans they had made were with a group of creators who failed to honor their commitments. Those broken promises are probably the biggest blessing Ayo and Bayo have gotten in a year we will remember for more of the negatives.
After three days at a hotel in Lagos, the brothers connected with a friend they were looking to stay with until they at least had something tangible and it made sense to return to Warri. Ayo showed up at the friend’s house dressed in a pink hoodie bought as an outfit for the Yummy parody they had intended on shooting. It is that same hoodie he dons in episodes of GTA Naija. Inspired to create on the day they arrived at the earlier stated friend’s, Bayo convinced a group of people they were meeting for the first time that day to feature in what became the first episode of GTA Naija. He recalls that none of the people in question were content creators or actors and so there needed to be a lot of patience involved in getting them to get to act like game characters as they recorded on the field of the friend’s estate.
Challenges and the road ahead
When we ask Bayo about the challenges of creating GTA Naija, he pauses for a second before saying “If I should put it on a scale of 1-10, I’d say 20.” He talks about the high costs associated with the production, getting talent, locations, and props. He also talks about getting talent to act as game characters. He goes into the fact that they shoot with continuous shots next. This makes it particularly difficult to produce because a mistake after two minutes of perfect action means the whole scene has to be redone. The last component he touches on is that editing takes the longest period. He’s quick to point out that the least time that has probably gone into an episode of GTA Naija is 48 hours, in response to anyone who thinks of it as easy.
Looking forward, Ayo and Bayo intend on working on more parodies, food and music content. They acknowledge that there is potential growth to be made on a technical standpoint and suggest that if time and resources permit, they are looking to create a visual EP. They also talk about branching out into animation but perhaps the most important thing I heard from them is when Ayo says “we always used to talk about we’re going to go into filming and now we’re doing it.” It is significant because it shows the mindset of these two brothers, that they can do anything they want to and have a plan on how to get there. For creators, in a world where many skills can be acquired by taking online classes on Youtube and the like, the mindset is one that is important. That if you look around, you can teach yourself how to make it happen.