It is impossible to narrate the story of Phyno and Lil Kesh without referencing him and his production credits on songs like Yayo, Shoki, Parcel and Alobam among other great songs that have established Phyno as one of the biggest artistes in Nigeria over the last few years. He is regarded in the music industry as the king of hard-hitting kicks and drums having produced Lil Kesh’s fan-favorite Shoki. I met with music producer, Major Bangz (real name: Michael Archibong), at his studio in Lekki, where he is putting finishing touches to his new EP titled Inner Peace.
Archibong, born in Akwa Ibom and the father of two children, was born in 1988 and has been making music since 2002 when he finished secondary school in Makurdi. After the completion of his secondary school education, he moved to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) to study Architecture and graduated in 2008. It was, here, at UNN that he produced Superwoman for Waje in 2005 but the song did not see the light of day because of issues with her management. He puts the timeframe of the start of his music career towards the end of 2004 and early 2005. Early in 2011, he would move to Lagos to earn a living off making music, and though the early days in Lagos were tough he tells me passively, “I came to this city with a positive mindset.”
“I knew the challenges would come and it would be a hard journey, but I kept pushing. Late in 2011, I got signed to a record label called Mogul Music. We released Let Me Know and Respect My Hustle with Banky W and Ice Prince at Mogul Music. The most difficult part of moving to Lagos was networking, getting to meet new people to work with. Because I was coming from Akwa Ibom it was difficult to meet record executives, producers and artists who would give me a chance to work with them on their projects, but I persevered. That period taught me that nobody has to come to you, you need to find the people that will work with you and the people that will consume your music.”
In Lagos, Major Bangz met with eLDee who was working on an album and wanted to sign him to the Trybesmen 2.0 imprint. However, the deal was dead in the water as Major Bangz was still signed to Mogul Music. “He (eLDee) wanted to sign me up with Sarz, but that meeting with eLDee would help me as a producer,” Major Bangz says. “He told me it will be a hard journey, to hold on and that if I go back home, I might not be able to come back and maximize the opportunities that Lagos has for me. ” Bangz credits eLDee for making the biggest impression on his life at that point and says that the advice he got from him helped shape an understanding of how the industry worked. “We didn’t get to make music together, but his advice shaped me and gave me the urge to keep pushing.”
It was Let Me Know, produced for Taikoon at Mogul Music, that introduced Major Bangz to mainstream consciousness; the song was getting a lot of airplay on radio and soon other artists began to reach out to him to collaborate. But his label refused on the basis that he was signed as an in-house producer and so could not execute work as an independent producer. It was during this period he met with Phyno. The Enugu-born rapper had heard the Taikoon song on the radio and sought the producer behind it but his contractual obligations again precluded him from working. “We kept in contact and when my contract ended in early 2013, I contacted Phyno,” he explains. “I kept contact with Phyno because when we met, I knew we could work together. The synergy and chemistry were there”
The first song the duo recorded was Parcel. “Recording with Phyno was inspiring, he knows what he wants when we make songs together. I think this has something to do with him being a producer and rapper, we understand each other and complement ourselves whenever we work on a project. These were the factors that made the work I did with Phyno exceptional”. Smiling, he tells me that he and Phyno understood quite early that making hip-hop in the Igbo language would “bang” so they spent a great deal of time in the studio sifting through ideas and sound movements that eventually created Phyno’s unique sound. Their close relationship helped them connect and record great songs together, including Okpeke which featured 2Baba and Flavour.
“Having worked with Phyno, Kizz Daniel, Lil Kesh, Patoranking, Timaya, Olamide, Lil Kesh, M. I Abaga, and so many others, I consider myself as a versatile producer. I make hip-hop, EDM, RnB, afrobeats, afro-fusion, and alternative afrobeats. I have been able to train myself over the years to be able to make all genres of music. My beats all have the influence of hip-hop in them, which makes them special because that’s my signature as a producer. And as far as music production is concerned, hip-hop is central in all my production.”
Major Bangz adds that his reluctance to make core hip-hop songs at the moment is based on the fact that many in the industry underrate him. He feels he is not getting enough recognition for the work he has done as an industry veteran but says he prefers to continue honing his craft rather than complain. “Making music in Nigeria is not an easy task; I have been burnt out as a producer. My EP is titled Inner Peace because it reflects my journey thus far and because a lot of producers fight depression and I want my fans to know that the path towards happiness is when the mind is at peace.”
Talking about depression, I notice that the producer is pensive, so I allow him to gather his thoughts for a few minutes. He soon continues, “I have battled depression as a producer. In 2017, I made no song because I had to clear my head and restrategize. When I started out making music, there was no structure for producers or songwriters to get what was due to them, there was nothing like royalties and publishing for producers. Things are beginning to change now, but working and having nothing to show for it after investing your time and energy can be depressing. My mind was troubled, because of the level my career was. I experienced this because when you work with artists, certain standards are not met, you have bills to pay and things to sort out. This led me to depression. But that phase of my life helped me to find inner peace, that I might not get what I deserve at this season of my life, but it does not mean it will not come to me.”
On the EP, Major Bangz has a song titled Moment of Clarity, I ask him about the rationale for the title and he tells me how life has taught him that even if monetary issues arise between him and another artiste, he must never cut the person off. He says that this is because he now understands that relationships are more important than money. “If I start having issues with artists because of money, I would not be where I am today. It will be difficult for me to achieve certain things for myself. Even if an artist cheats or owes me, I will not make an issue out of it. I have been cheated a lot in this industry. Most producers in Nigeria have been cheated and this leads to depression but I overlook most of it and focus on my art. I can’t diss artists that I have worked with; I will keep the relationship and when we get to work again we will surely correct the issues in our relationship.”
Still dwelling on relationships, Major Bangz says one of the relationships that has been very impactful for him recently is his relationship with legendary producer Cobhams Asuquo. “Cobhams opened my eyes to making money from producing commercials. He sat me down and told me to focus on commercials as there’s more money there. Working with Cobhams’ advice, I was able to produce the 2018 Hennessy Artistry theme song Live Life featuring Olamide, Falz, and Timaya. I made the beats for the 2018 Hennessy Cypher. The entire production took me more than 8 months.” He has been busy in 2019 producing ads like the TomTom Power of Cool commercial featuring Teni and Phyno, Pepsi’s Max Africa Campaign, a Star Radler campaign with Tiwa Savage and MTN’s Say No To Drugs commercial.
He says Cobhams opened his eyes to this and helped him discover that there was more financial benefit in producing commercials than producing songs for artists. I ask if the music industry has lost him to the corporate world and brand commercials but he reassures me that though these projects have sustained him through the years, he is back and ready to make music again. “With my new EP, my aim is to build up my catalogue and get people to recognize another part of my production skills. This EP is a shift for me, it signaled a transition from making core hip-hop songs to making afro-fusion sounds. Also, I will be releasing an EP every three months to explore genres like highlife/ethnic Nigeria sound, hip-hop, EDM, alternative sound, etc. My transition to making sounds different from hip-hop is based on my research as an audio scientist. During my hiatus in 2017, I studied the industry and found out that, the music of today is about simplicity and bringing the sound down. I usually make a lot of heavy chords, but I discovered that most Nigerian artists have a certain chord progression they like to sing. So I now have to make music to fit their progression in a Major Bangz way.”
We have been speaking for a while now, so I ask him about his plans for the future beyond the EP. He replies that he would like to work Burna Boy, Wizkid, Davido, Tiwa Savage, Teni, Mr Eazi, Reekado Banks, Tems, and Lady Donli. Responding to my question about which producers he admires, Major Bangz says, “as I continue to evolve as a producer, I look up to DJ Snake, Timbaland, Dr Dre, Scott Storch, Hit-Boy, Cadiak, and Ryan Leslie. I would love to work with them someday. I don’t have a favourite producer in Nigeria, but I respect everyone making music in Nigeria. The hustle is not easy!”
He’ll also like to work with Kizz Daniel again and says that working with the afro-pop act on One Ticket was an amazing experience. “I still remember the day I reached out, to work on the song with him. I was making a beat in my studio and had this thought to reach out to Kizz Daniel. I went on Instagram, called the number I saw on his page and his manager asked me to send the beat. Two days later, I met with him at Eko Hotel to record the song. Kizz Daniel is a great artist, he knows what he wants and keeps it clean. Working with Davido and Kizz Daniel for One Ticket was magnificent. Davido is a very energetic artist and it shows in everything he does.”
Any last words for young and emerging producers? Major Bangz replies that he is blessed to be making music in this industry and would advise emerging producers to make their priorities clear when they are starting out. “You need to be strict and direct on what you want. Let artists understand how you work, how you want the relationship to go. Tell them you like to collect royalties from the start. If you don’t tell them about this in the beginning, there is a tendency things will be chaotic.”
“Starting out as a young producer, for me, it was about making music and expressing myself. It was never about the money, it was about the music. Even up till today, it is still about the music. The only thing that has changed now is that I am working to get a reward for the work I have done. To make this happen, I am setting up my publishing and royalties. Because for all the songs I have produced from 2013 – 2018, I didn’t have any publishing rights on it and I am yet to collect any royalties from the songs. At the moment I am working to fix this, with PRS for Music in London, so that going forward I can get what is due to me whenever I work with artists. He blames his failure to sign publishing for most of his past projects on his ignorance of the fact that it was possible to sign publishing deals from Nigeria. “Now I know it is possible, so I am making an effort to fix this.”
His parting words are directed at emerging producers who have the talent and are trying to get a bigger foothold in the industry; he reiterates that they must fix their publishing before doing anything with any artist in 2019. “The way the music industry is today is different from when I started. If you make it clear that you want publishing on the songs you have produced, anybody that wants to work with you will work with you and this will help the producer weed out people that are not serious to make music with you.”
He adds that young producers must know there is no formula to making hit songs, but that some things are constant when making a hit song. “You have to make sure the beat sticks to the head, the beat must be memorable and something to remember. Even if the beat is not memorable, the artist must sing something memorable and deliver it in a way that music lovers can connect to it. For me making a hit song, it is a marriage of memorable beat and great delivery from the artist.”