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Bizzle Osikoya: The Plug's Plug
Bizzle Osikoya joined the Nigerian music industry by opening MySpace pages for local artists. Today, he's Afrobeats most connected middleman, building an international business.
“Bro how far?”Bizzle Osikoya enters the building, taking measured steps upstairs to get some quick business done before our interview. It’s our fourth attempt at scheduling a meeting, and the music exec is in high spirits. Our first attempt was truncated by business. The next allotted time was missed because I was stuck in Lagos traffic for six dreary. Business came in the way again, throwing the third meeting off. But today, we’ve found a way, sitting across each other this bright Saturday morning. He’s comfortable in the Lekki offices of local music streaming company, uduX. He’s checking his phone, silencing myriad calls, texting when he can’t avoid it, and apologizing for the disruptions, with “sorry, I have to take this.”
This is Bizzle Osikoya, a man in constant demand. A&R, music executive, entrepreneur, renowned culture middleman, and social media influencer with his hand in many pies. In my time in the music industry, I have seen him take many forms, generating value along a spectrum of ventures in the music industry. From events, to record deals, to consultancy for streaming companies, Bizzle takes many forms, does a multitude of things, and wears numerous hats. He says this space is a familiar workstation, where he conducts most of his affairs. Of course, he’ll have access to spaces like these. His business involves moving between worlds, industry walls and cultures. His work hasn’t been unnoticed. Bizzle appears to be an unwilling celebrity. His efforts as a celebrity culture broker is a blessing and a curse. While it has put him in pole position to attract a range of industry opportunities, fame has eroded his privacy and provided a pedestal. It’s a reality he often rues.
“To be honest, I pity myself,” Bizzle says. “Even when people say you’re famous, you’re a celebrity, I try to get away from it. I’m not famous, I’m not a celebrity. People know me because of what I do and I do something good.”
He pairs this confidence with a passionate approach to the industry, and entrepreneurship. Check the scoreboard. He’s winning.
Born Abiodun Osikoya, the Lagos native first joined the Nigerian music industry while schooling in London. Fascinated by the emerging scene, Bizzle specialized in creating MySpace pages dedicated to Nigerian artists and sharing their art via Facebook. A family relative introduced him to the rapper, Sasha, who instantly took a liking to him, and made a connection to Mavin boss, Don Jazzy. “Don Jazzy hit me up saying, ‘look, help me design my MySpace page. I’ll owe you. Í’m a don, I keep to my words. When I say something, I’ll do it,” he says, smiling from reminiscing. He continues: “And me, when I went to meet Don Jazzy, I went prepared. I didn't look like a hungry guy. I was wearing my chain. I’m sure you saw the throwback picture I put on Twitter the other day. I was wearing a chain, everything, so you know this guy is not a hungry guy. This guy is not somebody that is an anyhow guy that just wants to collect money.”
Excited by the chance to get involved, Bizzle returned to Nigeria after bagging degrees in music business and music for film, from institutions in the US and UK. His first job at Storm 360 Records, handling social media and filling in as rapper Naeto C’s road manager, gave him instant status. To build his personal network, he moonlighted as an industry photographer, taking photos at events, tagging people, and striking up relationships. Don Jazzy would later offer him a job at Mo’Hits, where he handled digital marketing strategy and learned A&R from Don Jazzy. “Mo’hits was where I really discovered what I really wanted to be in the music industry. That’s where I knew I want to be an A&R. I used to enjoy being in the studio with Jazzy when he’s creating. If you go back to listen to one of Ikechukwu songs ehn, that ‘now is the time’. If you hear the beginning that says, “it’s don don don Jazzy.” That was my voice,” Bizzle says.
After the bitter split between Don Jazzy and D’banj in 2012, Bizzle pitched camp with Mavin Records. He says he partly made the choice due for loyalty to Jazzy, and “D’banj wasn’t usually around.” The relationship ended in 2016 when Bizzle decided to strike out on his own. When summer came around that year, a depressed Bizzle had moved to the US, met up with old friends, including Asa Asika in New York. Asa, fresh from leaving Davido, was working on building a new company, Stargaze Entertainment. During a visit to Roc Nation offices, JAY-Z’s cousin asked them to create a business together, with the aim of linking Africa to the world. “Asa had his company Stargaze. I had my company B Entertainment. We both dropped our companies and joined forces to create The Plug Entertainment. And for me, I and Asa are both Leos. If you know anything about Leos, it is that we are leaders and we don't give up. There might be some, but I don't think I know any Leo that is a failure. We are go-getters and we believe that no matter what, we’d try to achieve something and make the best out of nothing,” he says.
True to that belief, The Plug Entertainment is currently considered one of Nigeria’s most successful indigenous entertainment companies. The company deals in talent management, Music Distribution, Music Licensing and Events, out of its Lagos offices.
Bizzle’s personal A&R acumen has tasted success. The music exec is instrumental in the emergence of Afro-Fusion singer, Oxlade. Their meeting was serendipitous. In 2018, rapper Blaqbonez—newly signed to local record company Chocolate City—released an album, Bad Boy Blaq. It contained ‘Mamiwota’, a refreshing collaboration with Oxlade, which gained critical acclaim. A staff of The Plug Levi, was charmed by the record. Levi put Bizzle on. Loving what was on offer, Bizzle wasted no time. At their first meeting, Bizzle confirmed the authenticity of the artist. “From the first day, there was just something special about him that just said, ‘this guy is going to be a great guy.” And then I just asked him a question that day. I said, “bro are you patient?” I asked him three times. He said ‘yes now. I’m patient o. Why I no go dey patient.’ So I said, ‘if you trust me, we would work together,” Bizzle recalls.
Oxlade has since risen to become one Afrobeats luminaries. His hit song, ‘Away’ currently has over 2 million views on Youtube. “Shoutout to Mavin records, that’s where I learnt patience from. When we signed Reekado Banks, Korede Bello and Di’ja, they had recorded at least 40-50 songs before their first single came out. I don't believe in just rushing. If it works for you, fine. If you sign to a label, and they want to drop your music immediately and drop 6 albums immediately, it’s fine if that works for you. But I don't believe in that. I believe in finding yourself, discovering yourself,” Bizzle explains when I ask about his winning formula.
Under his shared guidance with Asa Asika, The Plug Entertainment has expanded, booking tours across the world, consulting for international culture-affiliated companies. In December 2019, The Plug NG announced its newest frontier, Plug NG Sports. The arm currently has AS Monaco forward and super Eagles regular, Henry Onyekuru on its roster.
We speak for hours. Bizzle juggling demands from the industry for his time. Talking passionately, and sharing gems across networking, music business, and making the art. He says he’s still running away his celebrity. Choosing to focus on providing value which has been responsible for his success so far.
First, how’s the experience of being Bizzle?
To be honest I don’t know. It’s funny how someone asked me this question yesterday night. Someone met me and then everyone was like, ‘you don’t know Bizzle.’ And I asked ‘how’s anybody supposed to know me?’ If you need to know me, you know me. I’m the kind of person that I don’t want everybody to know me. I want people that need to know me to know me. What’s the point if everybody knows me and I add no value to you? Know me if I bring value to you, or know me if I do something that inspires you. Not just know me because you feel like, Bizzle. So they told the guy who I was. ‘How does it feel being Bizzle?’ How am I supposed to know how it feels? I’m just living my life, trying to make an impact for a lifetime. Even after I’m gone people can remember me. I’m not necessarily looking at it like ‘óh my God I’m Bizzle’. I don’t see myself as Bizzle. I see myself as a human being just living life the right way.
But generally, people would try to project these things on you because the work you've done. How can you reject this propensity for people to always stroke your ego? How do you not let it get to you?
To be honest, I pity myself. Even when people say you’re famous, you’re a celebrity, I try to get away from it. I’m not famous, I’m not a celebrity. People know me because of what I do and I do something good. For example, so many people say to you ‘oh Joey you’re famous.’ You’re famous because you’re a good writer. People enjoy what you write, people enjoy your articles, people enjoy what you speak about. So that’s what makes you famous. You’re not famous necessarily because you're on Instagram and you’re looking good and pretty. You’re not famous because you made a skit and it went viral. No, you’re popular for what you’ve done and I really don’t want to be popular, to be honest. When I first started all these things, I started off with no images. Nobody knew who I was. But then I moved back to Nigeria, I started meeting people and saying Bizzle, ‘oh you’re the Bizzle guy’. Because for me, I feel like if you’re doing something, do it because it’s right.
It’s the same way I believe when you go to the motherless baby home or when you give charity, you don’t have to show the whole world you are doing charity. Do it because you feel like it’s the right thing to do or it’s a good thing to do. Which is the same thing for me too. I don’t necessarily believe in doing all these things because I want to get the glory. I’m doing it because it’s the right thing to do. And for me, it’s like work. When you work at a job and you’re given tasks, you do your task so you can get promoted or you can get referrals. Which is why I do what I do, to get promotions or get referrals.
Guess what? If you listen to that thing, it would kill you. That’s what kills a lot of people. When they start to believe their own hype and believe that, ‘look I’m famous, I’m popular.’ Really and truly, you’re not. So live like a normal human being, doing what you ought to do. That’s why I love people who have mental breakdowns because then everybody has made you feel like you’re this big person, on this big level that you feel like I can’t do this, I can’t do that’, oh my God people are watching’. Just live your life and that way you’d see that you would live stress-free. And you stop being anxious and having depression or feeling sad about things you can't correct or fix.
You pop up in the music conversation, you also pop up in charity conversations even though you never state it. You tell people to not divulge your charity.
I don’t. Because I’m not doing it for them to say it. That’s why I’m doing it in private.
But why do you do good?
Because I feel it’s the right thing to do. That’s how I was brought up in my family. My father, my mother, that’s how I was raised, to do good. I didn't see any reason why you should do evil to me. People would tell you: sometimes, maybe I might have 20k and I can give out 15k and I have 5k for myself. Not because I don’t need the money but because I feel like if you share—God forbid I die tomorrow—that 20k if I didn't share it now, the money is there, it’s gone. So sometimes, just look at it this way: this money, do I really need it right now? No I don’t. Okay, let me share it with these people. If I actually do need it, then I’d tell you that I don’t have. I can’t give you. And then we keep it going. And if you come to me at a point where I have excess, there’s no reason why I won’t give you. Recently I met somebody and the person was talking about their business and everything and I was inspired that this is a young person that actually has their head-on. The person was telling me I have a 5-year business plan and I need money blah blah blah, and I had. So I said, ‘ýou know what? Take this.’
The person thought I was joking. The person thought that all this is audio. I now sent the money. The person saw the alert and was like ‘wow!’ But for me, it was just a thing of, ‘you just inspired me from the conversation.’ You meet some people and you try to converse with the person and… I’m not going to lie when I met the person the conversation was just for bants. And then when we got into the conversation and I saw okay this person is smart. You have a 5-year business plan, you know what you’re doing, you already registered your company. I’m like okay this person already knows what they are doing. Things like this is what encourages people because trust me, it’s hard being an entrepreneur in Nigeria. I know what it is, trust me. I know what it is to be an entrepreneur in this country. It’s frustrating. If you see people that are doing it and you see this is a little way you can help them so they don’t give up, to keep striving, you do it.
How did you start on the music side? What was your first introduction to the business?
Well, I started off by posting stuff on my Facebook page. I started from Myspace. I used to create pages for Nigerian artists and I’d upload their music on there. Just help them manage the page and design it. And I also started on Facebook, posting videos and music of Nigerian music. This was way before Notjustok or BellaNaija or Linda Ikeji.
Why was music your focus? You could have done any other thing.
I loved music. My family is a music family. There’s no musician in my family but my family is a music family. From growing up, every Sunday my father would play vinyls and…we had a bunch of vinyls. When we moved from my old house to the new house, we had over 300 vinyls. Till today I wish I kept some of them. When we were moving, my dad said, ‘throw it away, no one uses vinyls anymore.’ It pained me then that I wasn't in Nigeria when they moved. It pained me. But I wish I kept some of those vinyls. Some of them are very special right now. But that’s the past.That really got me into the music. My brother-in-law went to school with Sasha. He connected me with Sasha. And then, me and Sasha started talking. Sasha was really my first contact in the music industry. Me and Sasha started talking, and she took me like a brother and then she introduced me to Don Jazzy. She told Don Jazzy that I helped her design her MySpace page. And then Don Jazzy hit me up saying, ‘look, help me design my MySpace page. I’ll owe you. Í’m a don, I keep to my words. When I say something, I’ll do it.’ I helped him design his page. Then when he came to London. He came to London first before D’banj and 2face. That was the year of MOBOs that D’banj and 2face were nominated. He came way before them, so I met him. I happened to meet him and his brother James.
As a young kid, did you feel a sense of occasion about meeting Don Jazzy that day?
To be honest ehn, I was living in the UK and I had my ground in the UK Afro scene. I wasn't popular but I knew my way. I was like a rat just connecting with people. Just trying to get to know things and trying to get into get things done because I live here. There’s no way I can get into the Nigerian scene. In the Nigerian scene, there are big stars. And I remember the first time I came back for holiday in Nigeria. I can never forget. Ruggedman and 2shotz were shooting a video ‘Reloaded’ on Awolowo road. I went there. That time they used to have all these club parties. There was a club party there, I went that’s how I met Ruggedman and 2shotz. I hit them up, I was like I’m a big fan and I live in the UK. I took pictures with them sef. I took pictures with both of them and that was it.
So back to the story. I met Don Jazzy and his brother James, they came to a cyber cafe close to my place in London. I met up with them and we spoke. And they were like ‘ha, bad guy. So na you be this’. Because I had no pictures, nothing online. So nobody knew what I looked like. He was like ‘bad guy, D’Banj and 2face suppose come next week. They are coming for MOBOs’. I now said no problem, that he would introduce them to me. And me when I went to meet Don Jazzy, I went prepared. I didn't look like a hungry guy. I was wearing my chain. I’m sure you saw the throwback picture I put on Twitter the other day. I was wearing chain everything so you know this guy is not a hungry guy. This guy is not somebody that is an anyhow guy that just wants to collect money.
So I went decked up, my freshest baffs, everything. I met Don Jazzy. Then two weeks later I spoke to him and he said they were at Greenwhich Station because the MOBOs was at the O2, and the O2 Arena is at the station. I went to meet them, he introduced me to D’banj and 2face. 2face was like, ‘so you be human being. I just used to see the name Bizzle posting stuff on Facebook.’ From there, I just kept in touch with Don Jazzy on a low and just once in a while hitting him up. I didn't want to be a pest, hitting him up every time. After I finished university in England, I moved to America to go to film school and then I said let me see if I can get into the music industry in America. The UK industry wasn't…they were still doing celebrity African boy. It wasn't really a thing of where it was big. So I said, ‘no, let me go to America.’ I went to film school and I went to do Sound for Film. In England, I did music business and sound engineering. I now went to the US to do sound for film. I went to a film academy called Digital Film Academy and I did filmmaking, but I specialized more in sound for film.
But I’m not going to lie, I was missing classes. I was going to do internships at labels. Small small labels just to try and get into the music industry. I kept talking about the Afro scene. They were like ‘nobody really cares about this.’ But obviously, I was learning things from there like using Facebook marketing, MySpace and all these things to promote music. I knew Obi Asika and all these people from online. I didn't know them one on one. So after it didn't work out in America, I didn't get a job. I reached out to Obi Asika that, ‘big bro, this is the plan o. I’m trying to get into this music thing and it’s not really working out in America here and everything.’ Obi Asika said, ‘I’d give you a job. Come back to Nigeria, come work with Storm.’ I packed my bag, the next day I got to London. As I got to London my sisters were like, ‘you’re not even going to stay?’ I said ‘no o, I’m going to Lagos straight, I have a job in Lagos.’
You weren't scared in all of this? What if it didn’t work out?
I didn't care about anything, man. When you’re young you don't care about anything. You’re not thinking. You just want to prove yourself. You are trying to build a dream. You have a vision in your head, so fear is the last thing on your mind. Bro, and what’s the worst that would happen? Highest highest, my father will employ me in his company and I’d work for him. Fear wasn't on my mind. I came to Nigeria on the week of Headies and I knew Ayo Animashaun…
What year was this?
2008. I knew Ayo Animashaun from coming to America. Ayo Animashaun invited me to the Headies. They gave me an invitation. We went for the nominees’ party at Ilashe Beach and I had my camera, I was taking pictures. To some people that knew the name, I was introducing myself, Bizzle. People thought I was a photographer because I had a camera and I was taking everybody’s picture. They didn't know that me, I had a strategy. Coming from America and London, obviously, there are always photographers that take pictures and then they’d ask for your social media and tag you on the page. To me, I was using that one to take pictures of people to get to know their social media and then build my network to know more. I just moved back to Nigeria. I was using that to know people in the industry.
For a while, people used to think I took pictures. One time sef, someone hit me up that ‘come and take pictures for my music video behind the scenes.’ I said, ‘no, that’s not what I do. If I want to, come I’d come.’ And me I was chilling, I came back and I had a car. I had a pencil light Camry, full option with DVD screen and I was working for Storm. I was getting paid N80k in 2008. For me, I was like ‘you can't be talking to me anyhow.’ Even club sef then, the biggest club on the Island then was Kays Place. Most of the time we used to go clubbing on the mainland, all these places in Ikeja. And then nobody was buying Henessy. It was Night Train, beer. 80k salary, I was a baller, chilling. I worked with Storm for a while, I was Naeto C’s road manager, and then I was handling social media for Storm. From there on D’banj offered me a job that I should come work at Mo’hits. He’s like, ‘I like what you’re doing’.
Mo’Hits was where I really discovered what I really wanted to be in the music industry. That’s where I knew I want to be an A&R. I used to enjoy being in the studio with Jazzy when he’s creating. If you go back to listen to one of Ikechukwu songs ehn, that ‘now is the time’. If you hear the beginning that says, “it’s don don don Jazzy.” That was my voice. Everybody was asleep. It was only me and Jazzy awake in the studio and Jazzy was like, ‘o boy just come do this thing, try am.’ And he did it, put the effects. When I tell people and they listen to it, they say ‘ah, it actually sounds like you.’ But yeah man.
For people like me that came into the industry later, they say your claim to fame was Mo’hits. “That Mo’hits guy,” that’s how people referred to you then.
People didn't really know what I did. People just knew that guy. And when people started to know me and now figure out ‘oh , this is what you do’. And like I said, I started building connect from taking pictures. For me, on my phone, I have over 8000 contacts. I started building connects with people. I wanted to able to know ‘okay this is Joey. Joey is a journalist. Joey is a businessman. This is Segun, Segun is a sound engineer. How can I connect Joey and Segun together? What can they do together to make money and I make a percentage out of it?’ Now I lived in England and America. People there want to do shows with Mo’hits.
You want to book Wande, you want to book D’banj, okay we would book you. We would get a cut from there. And then on the side, I was also doing the nightlife thing and also doing other businesses at the time, trying to figure out what I really wanted to be in the industry. Because I didn't see myself as ‘this is the guy that is just there, hanging around people.’ No. I saw myself as someone that brought value. Even though people outside didn't know what I did, but people I worked with saw the value I brought in. They knew this guy has so much value.
Like I put Jazzy and D’banj on to Twitter. I remember when Twitter started, they didn't like it, I put them on to it. I was the guy that knew about all these social media things and I knew where it was going. So I caught on it early. I remember when I used to tell people to let me help them do their social media. They used to say, ‘abegi, no be to just post things?’ When people started to offer me money to help them, I was like, ‘wow you people are actually kidding right? When I was telling you guys to get on it and I was going to help you for a fee, you didn't want to pay.’ And everybody started doing it. For me, it was really a thing of this isn't who I want to be. I like it, but this is not where I want to be. I want to be in the music industry. I can’t sing and I can't produce, but I know how to make music. I enjoy the publishing side of music, collecting people’s money back, and I also enjoy being an A&R. I enjoy putting music together.
I’ve seen a lot of people come into the game and they never find themselves. Somehow the industry spits them out or puts them in a place where they are very unhappy.
I’d tell you why. For those kinds of people, what’s your mission first getting into the industry? My reason for getting into the industry was because I wanted African music to be heard globally, and I want African music to be one of the biggest genres in the world. That’s what made me go into music. I could have said, ‘I’m going to work in the UK industry or the US industry. I said no, I want to be part of the African Industry. I want to be part of the generation that built it even if it’s not us that’ll enjoy it. When you’re talking about people that built the industry, I want to be part of the people that my name would be mentioned.
That’s what took me into it. A lot of people reach out to me and say, ‘baba I want to work with you.’ I say, ‘what do you want to do?’ They’d say ‘baba, I just wan dey dey with you, I just wan dey dey. I just wan dey industry. I just wan dey your crew.’ You really don’t have a vision. You really don’t have what to do. Do you want to be in a crew to learn? To see how I can actually add value by being a creative director or being a videographer or being a photographer or being a stylist? Have a vision. Have something at the back of your head.
A lot of people just think of the cool side. And then when you start to do it and you’re not growing and your followers are not growing and then you start to think ‘I’m sad, my followers are not growing.’
Because you’re doing the same thing. There’s no innovation, there’s nothing new. You just come every day, post pictures of you in no clothes, what’s there? You’re not giving any value. Tomorrow you wear bikini, next tomorrow you’d wear full dress, next tomorrow you’d wear shorts. For a guy today, you’re wearing designer, tomorrow you come topless, tomorrow you wear trad. What value are you giving asides you just coming to post you wearing nice outfits online? There has to be something more to it. Maybe take a drift around it. Change it. Maybe don’t focus so much about the clothes you’re wearing, focus more on the lifestyle. Focus on more to things you do, where you go to eat, how you wake up, your skincare routine. Things that give value and make people want to be interested in your life and know what you’re doing. Those are things that would make you grow and find yourself out.
If you talk to like the most successful people in the game, self-reflection is always present.
You know when D’banj and Don Jazzy split up, it was either Mavin or DB records. And I went with Mavin because D’banj wasn't around much, I hung out more with Jazzy, so I got closer with Jazzy. And when he was starting I felt like, ‘look, this guy has been there for me. This guy has been a real G and we were all together creating. I’d be with this guy and I enjoy it.’ And to be honest, me being with D’banj, I didn't think I’d have that much freedom to be able to express myself. So me being with Jazzy, I told him, I want to be the A&R for Mavin and he was like, ‘Yeah that’s fine, and I went with that.’
Nice. But it also shows a certain level of loyalty. That’s a very big currency in this game.
I said it to someone this morning, and the person was laughing. I said look, in this life, if you know a big man, there’s only three things you can give a big man that he would appreciate. One, your loyalty. Two, maybe a cologne. Three, fabric. What else do you want to give him? He can afford everything, but these things are things that when he makes an outfit from the fabric you’ve given him, he’d remember Joey gave him this. He sprays the cologne, he remembers Joey gave me this. And your loyalty to him, every time he sees something that has to do with you, he remembers Joey is a loyal guy. This would fit Joey.
True. How was the journey with the Mavins?
I enjoyed working with Mavin, I’m not going to lie to you. Mavin was like a family to me, it wasn't even a job anymore. It was more of a family thing and I enjoyed working with them. Even my parents knew Don Jazzy, everybody. My mum would send him food sometimes. For me, it was more like a family thing. Me leaving them, it hurt me a lot because I felt like when I left them I didn't know what I was going to do. But there was something that just said leave. Our visions weren’t aligning. I wanted something, they wanted something else. So we couldn’t continue to travel together. So I left. We still stayed friends, and then I moved to America in 2016. Summer 2016 was one of the best summers. Even though for me it was good and bad. In summer of 2016, I was depressed. Very very depressed. I was living in America with my friend, I was still having fun, but still depressed.
So one day we went to Roc Nation office. Me and Asa. Bee-High, Jay-Z’s cousin was like, ‘Yo you know you guys know so many people in the industry, you guys are like the connect. You guys are like the plugs, you should form a company and just start connecting people in Africa to the rest of the world. And I’m like, ‘dope idea!’ And then I and Asa were like that’s not a bad idea o. The Plug, set up a company, everything. So we reached out to somebody in Nigeria to find out if the name was available for us to register The Plug Entertainment. They came back to us, told us yes. We registered the company and then just stayed in America. I was still just trying to figure myself out. I was like, let me really understand what I want to go and do before I go back to Nigeria. I know we’ve set up this company to connect people, but what if people don’t need connection? Let’s figure it out.
So we now said, you know what? We’d manage producers and DJs that we feel. Producers and DJs don't really get that much love and let’s see how we can push producers and DJs to the next level. So our first client was DJ Obi. We were managing DJ Obi. And before we knew it, next thing Davido fell out with his management and he reached out to Asa saying, ‘Bro I think me and you should work together again. Asa asked to think about it. He called me, he was like, ‘David called me, he says so so so.’ I said bro, go and think about it man, if you feel like it’s the right thing. If you feel like it’s not, don't go for it. He came back like bro, let’s do it, man. So we now started managing David, next thing you know, it just blew the company up. Everybody just starts reaching out to me and Asa, ‘we want to work with you.’ We’re not even established fully yet. And then David now dropped ‘If’ and everywhere just scattered. It just felt like The Plug, these guys are the ones. They brought the magic back to David.
But you guys did the work na.
It’s teamwork. For us, it’s just a thing of where you’re trying to get in a car and you’re not fully in. One leg is still out and the driver just starts speeding, that’s what happened to us. So we now had to catch up, adjust and start fixing. We didn't even have an office. We used to work out from Asa’s house. We just said you know, let’s figure it out. As God would do it, I got a Francophone Africa tour for David, that was a big bag. Almost half a million dollars. And our percentage from there, we just used it and set up the company straight. We got the office, everything. Since then, it has just been growth, elevation. We started off the publishing side; we started off the distribution; we launched sports and things have been looking well for us.
In the early days when you guys started, why did you guys believe that plug was going to work?
Asa had his company Stargaze. I had my company B Entertainment. We both dropped our companies and joined forces. And for me, I and Asa are both Leos. If you know anything about Leos, it is that we are leaders and we don't give up. There might be some but I don't think I know any Leo that is a failure. We are go-getters and we believe that no matter what, we’d try to achieve something and make the best out of nothing.
As an A&R, how do you track changes in sound?
I’m not going to lie for you. In Nigeria, it’s difficult but at the same time, it’s not difficult. For example, when the Zanku came, people didn't really think it would work, but it worked. When Small Doctor came, people didn't really think it’d work but it worked. For me, I feel like what usually happens is when maybe you start to see a trend...For example, Small Doctor was big already on the mainland. And then when the song got into the island, it started off from beach parties. You know a lot of beach parties yeah, they usually get DJs that are not the club DJs. Because the club DJs are usually scared to play all this music. They say it’s local music, the owner of the club might not like it. But when you go to these beach parties you see the DJs, they feel free to play music. Now when you start to play music as human beings, naturally your ears tune to something and you like it. It’s the same way that ‘Egungun be careful’ came back. Even though baba (Obesere) didn’t take advantage of it properly, but your ears connect back to this sound.
How did you discover Oxlade?
Shoutout to a boy called Levi. He used to work with us at The Plug. He brought Oxlade to me, and shoutout to BOJ as well. BOJ was the first person I ever saw tweet about Oxlade. And Levi, and they used to play his music at the office. They used to play Blaqbonez’s ‘Mamiwoter’ in the office and say, ‘this Oxlade boy is bad, he’s bad’. I now listened and invited him over. I listened to his music and there was something special about him. From the first day, there was just something special about him that just said, ‘this guy is going to be a great guy.’ And then I just asked him a question that day. I said, ‘bro are you patient?’ I asked him three times. He said ‘yes now. I’m patient o. Why I no go dey patient.’ So I said, ‘if you trust me, we would work together.’ We kept in touch, he’d tell me when someone reached out to him or when somebody was talking to him just for advice. One day, I told him, ‘you know what? Let’s do a camp.’ So I called Spax and we set up a camp. The first day of the camp, Oxlade recorded ‘Shuga’, ‘Causing Trouble’ and one other song. Three songs.
The third song sef is on my phone. I don't know if we will ever bring it out. His sound has changed from then. Perhaps later in the future, he can just drop it then. After I heard the three songs, I said, ‘out of these three songs ‘Causing Trouble’ is the strongest.’ But I said we can’t drop it because nobody really knows you like that. You did ‘Mamiwota’ but you don't really have a strong following. Let’s give a DJ that can push it. I said look, if I give these other big DJs, they might not, because they don't really know you and they are big DJs. So I reached out to DJ Tunez. I said ‘Tunez, I have a record for you. I sent it to him, he loved it. He went back to Spax, they changed some things and then we dropped ‘Shuga’. We also dropped a video for it, and before man and God, I didn't think ‘Shuga’ would do that well. We dropped ‘Shuga’ on December 21.
But it’s a sweet song.
Because he’s a new artist. You know Nigerians, the way they accept new artists. So we dropped ‘Shuga’ on December 21, by January 1, we had over 100k streams on Apple Music. Okay, people are definitely feeling this jam. And there was a lot of love internationally. A lot of international dancers were doing it. And I remember begging dancers in Nigeria to do video for this song, none of them did. The international people started doing dance videos, then Nigerian people started doing it too. I now tweeted “una see say God?” From there, I just knew that Oxlade’s market is not just Nigeria, it’s outside Nigeria. The first show we did in London last year, DJ Tunez’s event, Oxlade was weak. 250 people capacity event, everybody was singing his song, word for word. You know when you reduce the mic and put the mic in the crowd, he was weak. He said his heart first said, ‘don’t try it.’ But he just did, everybody sang his song. That boosted his confidence and he just started performing, then he did more songs. For him, it felt like, ‘for me to do this here, they definitely know my music.’
You mentioned patience. How important is patience in talent development?
Very important. A lot of people are not patient. I’d tell you something. Shoutout to Mavin records, that’s where I learnt patience from. When we signed Reekado Banks, Korede Bello and Di’ja, they had recorded at least 40-50 songs before their first single came out. And Crayon did an interview, he said that ‘I was signed to Mavin a year before I came out. I was recording constantly.’ I don't believe in just rushing. If it works for you, fine. If you sign to a label, and they want to drop your music immediately and drop 6 albums immediately, it’s fine if that works for you. But I don't believe in that. I believe in finding yourself, discovering yourself. Look, a lot of people forget that it’s not just about yourself musically. You have to identify the brand of the artist. What are the things he likes? What are the things you can use to complement the music? Because you need to remember, at the end of the day, when the music is not hot anymore what happens to the brand?
Look at D’Banj. He hasn't really done a huge hit in a while but the brand is very strong. If not because of the saga that happened, the brand is still strong. Even with all the saga, the brand is still strong. So that’s what I’m trying to build with Oxlade and Jinmi Abduls. I’m not trying to build just for the music. I’m not trying to build just because we want number one, or we want the top ten. It’s more than that. You have to have something substantial with the brand. So that you know that, ‘I can take two months break or three months break, and not drop music. But there’s something else bringing in cash.’ Maybe it's the fashion side or it’s acting. You know, figure out things that this guy likes. Get to know him. Understand who the artist is. That’s really what an A&R does. A lot of labels in Nigeria don't have A&Rs helping them. That's why after a while—I don't want to mention names—but there are so many people that they had big hits and then they disappeared because there’s nothing again. It’s just the music they had in their head. It’s just the music that they were focused on. Now you've focused on the music, the music is not coming again. So what’s happening?
When is a developing artist most vulnerable to falling off? Is it when the love starts pouring in?
As you said, when they hit their first million streams, or when they make their first N5 million or something, they just start to feel like I’m on top of the world. They forget that you haven't gotten anywhere. They don't remember that you still have to keep building. No matter what. Keep building and being hungry, or else you’d lose what it is. Once you let the little money and the numbers get to you, you forget where you’re coming from. We’ve seen a lot of artists feeling like, ‘okay, right now I’m on 20 million streams, there's no need to be promoting anymore. I'm automatic. Everybody will support everything.’ Then you drop another song and then you see that nobody is streaming it because you’ve forgotten that you still have to put in work. You used that formula to get the previous one to 20 million. Why don't you want to use that same formula again?
My problem with Nigerian artists is that they forget that it’s your business. Imagine when Cassper Nyovest was doing that Fill Up the Dome in South Africa and he didn't post it. If he said, ‘nah, the promoters are paid, they should do it.’ Will he fill up the Dome? Artists need to remember, no matter what, it’s your show. You’re a headliner. It’s a different case if it’s like a One Africa Fest. Ehen, there are so many people on the bill. But it’s your own show. If it flops, nobody is going to say Flytime Show flops. They’d say Jegede Osikoya, the artist’s show flopped. So we need to start thinking about all those things.
African music is getting into the world now. How does it feel knowing that this thing that you’ve had in your head for so long, is now a reality?
Bro, I feel excited. Sometimes when I have conversations with my friends in America, they’re like ‘bro remember when you spoke about this thing years ago’ and I’m like ‘yes man. This is the time. I’m happy.’ Because for me, it’s what we’ve waited for, for our music to get global. Now, it means more revenue for the artist. Now, it's an opportunity for the guy in Nigeria that’s doing rock music to know that if I push well, I can cross over to America. And the people that listen to Rock would listen to my music. Even though I don't like to say Afrobeats, but Afrobeats guys have opened the door. It’s best for us to tap, because the international world is looking here a lot. They are constantly looking for artists. You know, I have A&Rs in labels in London and in America that would hit me up and say, ‘what’s up about this artist?’ I ask, ‘how you do you know about him?’
We need to start finding ways to invest our money into marketing and promotions because that’s what’s really what it balls down to. And that’s what’s going to get you there, because you don't know who might just randomly catch your YouTube or Instagram ad. Don't feel too big to do ads. Nigerian artists always think that it’s not someone that’s popping that does ads. Rema that’s one of the biggest artists, does ads. Even Drake dey do ads. Nigerians need to get that mentality out of their head that marketing is for people that are struggling. No, marketing is for everybody. At the end of the day, you need to spend money to make money. So the more you spend, the more you make.
Do our artists have to alter our sound in any way when we leave this space?
To be honest, we don't have to alter our sound. But you also need to make something that attracts people. It’s a strategy, and that’s where it also comes down to having a good A&R and a good team. Look at Burna, when Burna first went international. What was his first single? ‘Heaven’s Gate.’ And ‘Heaven’s Gate’ was before ‘Ye’. The thing about ‘Heaven’s Gate’ was, it’s a strategy. Because look, it’s different. It’s not the regular Burna. And look at who they featured on it. It’s strategy. They looked that, ‘we’d pull in the Lilly Allen fans, we’d pull people that don't necessarily listen to Afrobeats to come. And once we pull them to come into Burna, now guess what? Burna has grown a new fanbase.’ If they’re people that love music, they’d go back and dig to see what Burna has. Now when Burna drops another song, what happens? They alert these guys that Burna has dropped a new song. Now you’d go and listen. It’s up to you like it, up to you not to like it.
Do you see a seamless integration between Nigerian music and every other market.
A hundred per cent. I believe so. It's happening soon. Like, give it the next one year, one and a half. Because I'd tell you right now, look at all the top music distribution companies. Empire, Platoon, they have all set up offices in Nigeria. Audiomack has come to set office in Nigeria. Tidal just launched. Spotify is coming before the end of the year. All of them are seeing that this is a big market. They've seen it's a big market based on Audiomack. Even though Audiomack is free, people do numbers there on Audiomack. Large numbers. Bella Shmurda has over 46 million streams on Audiomack. I believe that this market is a huge streaming market. We just need to find a way to unlock it. And I feel like some people have found the way, but eventually, we'd get there. And once we've figured out that way to unlock the streaming now, the artists, the top guys, I know what they are doing for them. I can't say it but I know what the top guys are going to be doing for the international labels. And they would have no choice but to make sure that there's no separation of Africa again. It'd be more of a thing of ‘okay it's one.’ We're pushing everybody's music as long as it's good music. We're pushing on all playlists. If your music is good you're going to be on all playlists. You're not just going to be saying, ‘Oh, you're only for African playlists,’ anymore. So I know it's coming. It's happening soon. Within the next two years.
At the end of the day, what would you want to take from all of this?
Like I said earlier, me just being able to realise that I was one of the people that helped get the industry to where it needs to be at. And that means getting to the world stage. Getting to a level where I know that Omah Lay can blow from Nigeria today, and not just in Nigeria but he's blowing everywhere in the world at the same time. Where an Oxlade can drop a song now, and it's getting premiered on Hot 97 and Capital One Extra in London today. You don't have to wait till it blows in the UK. That's my goal.
One thing I do the most is connecting people around the world and that’s what I keep doing every day. Just try and find a strong connection. The same way they are doing the fibre optic cable across Nigeria, I’m trying to build my own connection cable across the world. A strong cable where I know that as I announce this thing on this platform, everyone gets it at the same time and everything just works out for it. For me, one thing I’d love to take out when I leave the music industry is that this guy...
...set up the pipeline?
Exactly. This was the main plug.