Words by Amarachi Nwosu
Photography by Obidi Nzeribe
Styling by Ugo Mozie
There’s a clip currently floating around Twitter – a screen recording of an Instagram live session between Prettyboy D-O and Odunsi the Engine where D-O breaks into a prayer against the “industry cabals” and “enemies” to “burn like wildfire.” Odunsi watches on in silence. It is exactly the type of prayer we have come to expect from the spiritual heavyweights that are Nigerian mothers. Another story told by Manager, Tinya Alonge offers a deeper portrait into the artist. Alonge speaks of the first time he spent a night at his client’s house and is woken by some furious chanting. Eager to find the source of the chants, he finds D-O admiring his reflection in the mirror and offering himself a pep talk. “Lion! Lion! You’re a lion. The King of the Jungle!” These anecdotes are essentially some of the anchors of D-O’s personality that make him one of the most exciting artists of the new generation. In one vein, he wears the cloak of a pastor summoning the gods for blessings. In another, he takes on the role of the motivational speaker offering nuggets of wisdom and inspiration to his audience.
Prettyboy D-O represents a new generation of Nigerian artists taking charge of their brand and their sound. Like many coming out of the digital era, apps such as Tumblr, Youtube and Instagram played a role in the foundation of developing Prettyboy D-O’s interests and identity. Growing up, Kanye West and A$AP Rocky were among the artists he took inspiration from, adapting their ability to connect with their fans both through their music, fashion and taste in art. In many ways he wanted to bridge and raise the taste levels of how music in Nigeria is presented and consumed. Artists like D-O represent those who are willing to redefine the status quo and use digital tools to level the playing field and break through new markets with powerful music, storytelling, and community.
D-O’s sound sits between what some would describe as “Alte” and street music in Nigeria that mixes elements of Afrobeats and Hip hop with raw execution. His Lagos upbringing and years spent in America for school assisted him in bridging these genres and creating his own interpretation. While it’s very easy to place D-O amongst the new wave of artists coming out of Nigeria’s “Alte Scene”, he credits groups like DRB for coining both the phrase and sound and talks about the evolution of the genre from its origins in 2008 to its next frontier. “Everyone says Alte now, but there are two different generations of Alte”, D-O says, adding that “It took a whole new renaissance in 2016 “ which was sparked by his counterparts Odunsi and Santi. For D-O, Alte goes beyond music, ”It started representing a lifestyle.” While he initially rejected the term, he eventually realized that based on his brand he did fit in the Alte community and this birthed records like Pull Up with Santi, with a video that’s reminiscent of Kendrick Lamar’s Humble mixed with his own relevant cultural twist.D-O’s voice is a big part of what sets him apart as an artist. Filled with emotion, passion and raw execution that fuses elements from Afrobeat, Hip Hop, R&B and Dancehall, D-O credits a range of artists including Naeto C, Craig David, Sisqo, Aaliyah, Shabba Ranks, Bob Marley, Shaggy, Rick Ross and Travis Scott, to name a few, as his inspirations. Despite drawing motivation from many of these artists, he has always pursued his own unique voice that sets him apart saying, “I feel like I do everything, I rap and sing, but my music is about making the person listening feel what I feel”. He continues by adding, “I just tell the story of my life, whatever I’m singing, I just want people to resonate with it.” With records like Footwork, D-O can succeed at turning any setting into a dancehall, but he never actually sets out to make the audience dance. “I want people to hear the story of my life. I put in a lot of work purposefully to set myself apart. I was going to the studio every day to record, record, and record, to the point I didn’t even know that I was progressing.”
Using music as a vessel to express both his pain and his power, D-O’s voice always holds a ton of emotion. When discussing the period that shaped his sound, D-O recalls 2015 being a pivotal time in his life. Rounding up his higher education in NYC at St. John’s University primarily to please his parents, D-O came to realize music was the passion he wanted to pursue. He explains, “One thing about my music is it deals with a lot of self-belief. I come from Nigeria where they believe in the gloss. Our parents want everybody to be lawyers, doctors, bankers. Those are who they treat like rockstars. If you say you want to be a rapper or musician, they look at you funny.” He continues saying, “2015-2016 was the worst period ever in my life. My music reflects the pain I went through, my confidence went downwards and I hit the rock bottom mentally.”
While this period posed great personal confrontations, he used it as a means to rise above his own circumstance and find his voice. “Music actually made me become the man I am today.” In many ways, he represents the essence of a rebel with a cause. Understanding the powers that be, but still fighting to create space for a generation of artists to freely express themselves and exist with their own stories and journeys. When talking about his initial engagements as he was trying to enter the Nigerian music scene he discusses how difficult it was for people to support and take him seriously at first. “That pain gave me a lot of aggression in my sound today. Because a lot of people did not support me. The Nigerian music industry is funny because if you don’t know people or have money it’s going to be really hard for you,” he says. The reality is that with the music industry structure in Nigeria still being in developmental stages, there are not many options for young artists to find success without labels, relevant cosigns, and financial backing.With the difficulty of trying to break into the traditional music scene with a new sound, it helped D-O build his character and integrity. Value systems are a big part of how D-O maintains his principles as an artist, believing that the music is spiritual and has to stand for something, whether emotionally or personally. “Even if you fight, don’t let that fight get to you and your life. You can conquer the world, but you just have to have your heart and passion intact.” In many ways, having that passion is what helped him continue to drive his sound and in 2018 his record Pull Up started to create buzz, which put him on the map both in Nigeria and abroad. He also released records like Chop Elbow which addressed societal issues like police brutality, politics and extortion which is a relevant reality for young people in Nigeria. Eventually he would come to release his debut project Everything Pretty and collaborations with artists such as Falz, made more people in Nigeria aware of his mission and sound. Later would come records like Chop Life Crew with MOJO that shows his ability to stay relevant beyond project cycles and connect on a ground level with other rising artists.
A big part of what set D-O apart was the storytelling attached to his music. Resembling his inspirations Kanye and A$AP, D-O took his music videos and visual branding very seriously. When asked about his visual branding his response was, “It ‘s very intentional. When I moved back I knew I wanted my videos to be fresh.”, he continued saying, “Most of the time the videos I saw on TV were from big artists. So when I did see up and coming artists, their videos had to keep my attention.” These exact sentiments are what birthed his long time collaborations with visual artists like TSE and UA.X who have played a pivotal role on his team and in his visual journey. D-O represents a new wave of artists that not only use music but also visual storytelling as a tool to push his sound beyond imaginable borders. “You have to take charge of creating a character and persona through your videos.”
While D-O has recently signed a deal with SONY Music’s distribution branch “Orchard” he intends to stay true to his sound and evolve the sonic experience for his fans. ‘Wildfire’ D-O’s upcoming project, represents his next chapter as a musician and person. Although life in quarantine has many artists frantic about what comes next, D-O, is confident and focused on making this phase of his career the best yet with plans to utilize digital tools as a way to connect with his fans on a more personal level, adding some more perspective to an already intriguing personality. Describing Wildfire as “conscious music that can also make people dance”. He believes that his first EP represented a message to “just believe in yourself, but Wildfire represents the next step which is seeing his music spread like wildfire.”
While the future is uncertain in this new world order, Prettyboy D-O is sure to make a mark both visually and sonically on his journey as an artist and is ready to put Nigeria on the map. His advice to the next generation is “Take it easy, enjoy the moment, enjoy the people around you, keep believing, be humble, keep sharing. Everything is God.”