D'banj: How To Be An Industry Statesman (Part 2)
In the concluding part of our special anniversary interview, Dapo Oyebanjo details his motivations for taking African music global, and how entrepreneurship offers him a future beyond music.
“Here!” D’banj drops two bags of his branded ‘Koko Garri’ on the table. It’s a sunny afternoon in Lagos when I return to his home in Ikoyi for our concluding conversation. The singer rushes into his living room with some souvenirs. His signature sunglasses now replaced by a clear set. As he walks in, he announces, somewhat apologetic for bringing me out again, “Today will be calmer, but I might have more meetings, so let’s start early.” The boisterous energy was still present. The jokes continue to fly. But in the absence of near-constant interruptions, he is enjoying a rare moment of calm.
We are no longer in the apartment from the previous day. “Let’s go to my private family house, where no one will disturb us,” he says. As I walk behind him, he gives me a tour, explaining the makeup of his apartments. “These two two-bedroom flats are places where I host my work people. You know the kind of work I do. If we have a writing camp, or producers come to work overnight, this is where they will sleep instead of hotels. I don’t like hotels,” he explains, pushing the elevator button.
Much to my surprise, we rise higher to another apartment. While the new space resembles the luxurious all-white decor of lower flats, a red art-deco piece positioned by the balcony adds a creative flair to the living room. We take our seats by the dining table and launch into a conversation. There is no need to warm him up because our conversation had continued long after I left the day before. He’d texted me that night to ensure I slept well. He told me he slept well too. Being a rich 40-year old pop music legend ought to afford you simple pleasures like a good night’s rest. When I arrived, someone told him that his steward, Rotimi, was ill. He quickly placed a call to check on him and tell him to take the day off. Above everything else, Dbanj doesn’t play with his relationships or his people.
Our conversations are interrupted by another call. “Dear…” D’banj takes it. His voice had assumed a lower, softer tone as he nodded in rapt attention. “Can I get the door for you? I am in the other flat…” he mutters answers to questions, phone pressed firmly against his ear. “Wifey is outside, let me go get the door.”
In 2016, Nigerians were stunned to see news reports that D’banj was now someone’s husband. The quintessential playboy and the subject of African celebrity romantic fantasies had secretly married his lover, Lineo Didi Kilgrow, or Didi, and successfully kept the public in the dark. He would issue a statement publicly the following year, telling journalists that his mother was instrumental in the hushed nature of it. Sadly, the couple would later lose their first son in June 2018 to a drowning accident. Daniel Oyebanjo III, who turned one that May, reportedly died in a swimming pool at the singer's Lagos home. D'banj was not in the country when the incident occurred. He was attending the BET Awards in Los Angeles, and cut short his trip to be by his wife. D’banj says the experience was a reset button for his life, bringing him closer to God and his wife.
“I've been shouting that I was a superhero since way before I got married. When this happened to me, it was when I understood. Because when you watch any superhero movie, the superhero is untouchable. And the only way they can touch the superhero is when they go after the loved ones of the superhero,” he tells me about the experience.
Just then, Seun Kuti walks in, sporting a brown T-shirt, and African wax print trousers. We are introduced briefly. It is his first visit to the apartment, and D’banj is in jolly host mode, obliging his request for a tour. Mid-interview, D’banj’s wife Didi graciously sent us one of his favourite meals — bread and stew, with an assortment of choice meats. I and D’banj exchange words, tearing the bread into small chunks, dipping it in stew and munching between revelations.
She later joins us at the table, with two steaming mugs of black tea, and a smile. Calm with a measured sense of wonder, she sits in listening to stories of love, and life. Didi’s launching a foundation in honour of her late child. Its primary function would be to rescue people in need of a hand in life. “The most painful part of it all was that I had no one to give all the love in my heart. All the love that was in my heart for my child. So, I thought to myself: There are children suffering in the world. It isn’t until they are my biological children that I will show them love,” she explains, her left hand moving to her chest with each pronouncement of ‘love’. She would name it “The DOTT Foundation,” inspired by the name of her dead son: ‘Daniel Oyebanjo The Third.’
They are in a better place now, D’banj tells me. On Thursday, September 19, 2019, the couple welcomed another child in the US. The new baby feels like a restoration, he explains, smiling deeply. “...we get by day by day, focusing on the positive side. And I asked for restoration. And the Bible says "He would give you everything that you lost." And I told him (God) that ‘I know, maybe I wanted a girl next. But I still want a boy, so give me back that boy.’ And in a short time, he gave us the boy. And you see now, our boy is going to be one year old in September. So we thank the Lord Almighty,” he concludes
We talk about his entrepreneurial journey across tech and agriculture. He’s eyeing a future as an investor. All of his artistic success, status and celebrity will be adapted for potency in his future endeavours. And above everything, he is truly happy with life.
What did Good Music mean to you then? What did you think you were joining?
Like I said, details would never really be known unless we make a documentary. It wasn't more like an artist deal, it was more like a movement. And it was a movement. And if I look at it today, I see that God positioned it for it to be a movement of stars aligned. We needed something to give—not just me but the whole African music industry—a kind of stamp. Because before that, we've been doing music forever and they always separate us. Even if you go somewhere, you'd be in the World Category. But this was the first time that in the same room we're talking, you're having a Big Sean, D'Banj, Pusha T, 2Chainz, Kanye. For people watching, even me stepping outside and watching, it's more of a ‘yes, we can do it.’ I don't know how they'd explain it for you, but I know you already know what I mean.
It was a confirmation of what was possible.
Yes, it was a confirmation of what was possible. What has been thought about and never achieved. Because the predecessors before us, even though they went there and gained, it was within the African or Nigerian community. But for the first time, and as at that time Kanye was the biggest artist in the world. It was more of that stamp that we need, that was what we got that time.
It's like when revolution wants to happen. They say it takes one person of courage to go forward. And in the short time those people always suffer. God forbid na when they don die or something don happen na him them go talk say ‘wow, na this guy lay the foundation.’ That's what I saw, and that's what it meant to me. Not just the GOOD Music part, but that whole movement. And Naeto C then used to say it everytime, like if there was a negative press or something harsh that came out. If I'm complaining, Naeto would be like: ‘you can't complain, you're the Jesus christ of the industry. You know that you're supposed to be the one to suffer.’ I say no, I don't want to suffer again wey people go con pass. And I remember we joked about that maybe seven years ago during the 'Tony Montana' remix.
But to an extent your vision is playing out now. And seeing it play out, does it make you feel some type of way that there are other people that are at the forefront of it?
It depends on what you're saying it from. If you ask a JAY-Z or Diddy how it feels on the same question, I feel it'd be almost the same answer—he's happy. This is what we've always struggled for. And I've always said no man is an island. So you can't say you want to do this and be alone. And when you are alone and doing something, people add different things and call it different reasons. So being alone then and doing this move, what I saw is what I just told you. But what people saw was different. Some said it was Illuminati, some said it was...
Was that funny to you, the Illuminati rumours?
Very funny. I remember when my mum called me—I was in America—and said, ‘what is all this Illuminati I'm hearing that you're joining?’ I said ‘mummy can you join something without knowing? If you can join without knowing, maybe. Maybe as I just drink this water now, I don join.’ For me, the kind of moves that the new generation makes now, that means we have like five Illuminati artists that have now joined me. If you can see it from that angle, okay finally you guys can get it. I'm vindicated. That means that I was doing the right thing.
Secondly, to know that I'm a pacesetter. It puts you like; if you've done that, whatever mistakes you've made from that, maybe because you slowed down, maybe because you chilled, maybe because you came back to address the initial fanbase. Or maybe you should have just gone ahead and continued. Those are all the things you now look as hmmm. You now learn from all that, and know that what's next? Because you've been bestowed with a gift to make sure that you're always ahead. The responsibility is tough so you can't relax. You can't relax. I'm not relaxed and looking at the artists on the forefront now and say ‘oh these people are now taking…’ No. I'm opening up the industry for them, knowing fully well that there's a time that comes that it's now the brand. You have to have a platform. You have to have merchandise. You have to have a business beyond you just singing on stage. I think if there's anything that has taught that very quickly, it’s Corona.
How did Corona affect you?
Not me, but the whole industry. The whole industry. In the creative sector, social distancing is not how you make money. You make money from lack of social distancing. Going on the road, doing shows...
You make money from communion.
That's why I said lack of social distancing. They are opposites. Which is why I say to myself that ‘you've got to see yourself as a pacesetter.’ In coming through in the past, and fastforwarding into the future, the only thing I can say is vision is the next best thing to time travel. Because in the last 2-3 years, since 2016, I focused on the business side. You know, my CREAM platform, launched in August 2016. pushing that everywhere, up until I lost my son. I took a break to get some healing with the family. I did less shows in the last three years because I was focusing more on the business side and the digital side. COVID-19 actually just reaffirmed my state of mind. Like ‘yo, how can we reach everybody without them coming to Lagos?’ How can we get talents to be refined without them dying half of the way? Without them coming to Lagos. So I'd say it affected me like it affected everybody. Yes, there's no month, there's no week without us doing shows. But I had already balanced it and put my mind on the business side. So I just focus more on that and we're revamped and ready to launch.
What was the greatest thing you think 'Oliver Twist' did for you and the continent?
The same thing like we're saying. Like GOOD Music, it was like the icing on the cake for the crossover. It won’t have been believable without one of ours doing it. And not doing it like them, but doing it like us. Most times, people that have left. When you hear them, and you hear their hit records like top ten that have gone global, you don’t even believe that the person is Nigerian.
It's not when you hear the name that you now believe that it's possible. Like we heard of Nas being Nigerian, we now checked his father and saw that his father is Oludara Jones. We heard of Shola Anna and Sade Adu. When you hear those names you'd be like wow. But when you hear their songs, you no go see yourself inside. So that is what 'Oliver Twist' did for me. It finally gave me that stamp to say ‘yes, this can happen for all of us.’
Which is what I've been trying to get with the Snoop Dogg collabo, with the Kanye West movement. Not just because we just wanted to be with Kanye and be chilling up and be jumping up and down. Same way wey e be for Nigeria. If established artist bring person under him wing, e fit give am that stamp wey him need. Kanye was humble enough, smart enough to see the future. To render not just his presence as a stamp, but he said that the whole GOOD Music should come.
We were in London. DJ Ryan from BBC and just said that this song nice o. Let's just mix it into the system. They always do countdown in Hyde Park into the new year. And they need people wey go come stand for there. You go register 250,000 standing in the whole Hyde park. The they now do the countdown. 10..9....Happy new year! My brother before you know wetin dey happen, everywhere lit. 'Oliver Twist' play after them do that thing. So that's why I now went to London to look for a way to maximize it. I con see the DJ, him con say na you get this song? If you release this song here, it has a potential to be a huge hit.
By that time, Mo'hits don already scatter. I was just like maybe na God lead me come here. So I just decided to stay there. I stayed in London throughout, e-mailed Kanye because then him no dey use phone. I just put everything the way dem take put the Hyde Park say there's an opportunity, I think we need to maximize. Him just respond like two days later, 'where are you. I'm in London too'. He was in London, I was in London too. I went to see him. I played him the song. He said ‘what's your plan for this song?’ I said I just want to release it here, maximize it here, if you allow me, I'd shoot the video here. He said okay, you can do so. And I said ‘would you be able to show face in the video?’ And he was like, I can't make any promises and just before that he just arranged all his people. Kanye arrive video shoot before me sef.
So how did he treat you as a person?
Like a big brother. He's Gemini like me. He was born a day before me. So we really connected and I know. I remember there was a time when I brought Big Sean, Pusha T and Idris Elba to Nigeria. And I remember offering Kanye $750,000 then to come. He was like ‘wow, you have this kind of money? Why don't you put it towards your project? I told him I had already paid Big Sean, Pusha T, everybody but I wanted him because I wanted the whole Good Music. He was like ‘this is too expensive for you.’ He actually showed concern for my business and said, let's leave the money. We didn't have 'Oliver Twist' then. He said’put it into the marketing of your project and there'd always be time.’
For me, I'd always have that sincere and genuine love for him. And I remember when we were going into Nigeria the first time, and it was only Twitter that was reigning at the time. And people had heard that we were with Kanye, but they didn't believe. And I remember Jazzy saying ‘go meet am na, go meet am, make e tweet as we dey go so people go believe.’ I went and met Kanye and said, ‘baba we're leaving o. Our people won't believe. They doubt a lot. They won't believe we met you. And he said ‘oh really?’
And Kanye said, ‘what do you think?’ I said maybe you can tweet for us and say “Yo D’banj and Don Jazzy get back here quick.’ And he says ‘oh really, oya write the tweet.’ It was us that composed the tweet, he looked at it and edited it the way he liked it. He said it's good, and he'd tweet it. We thought he will post it in front of us before we dey go airport. But he said he'd tweet it. So we were now gallivanting around. Wey we dey wait say ‘baba no do us like this. (laughs). But if we were doing that, we were going to miss our flight to Nigeria, so we had to leave. So we now beged people there and they said ‘no wahala na, baba go do am.’
I remember we were getting to the airport as the tweet just enter Jazzy shout. me too I shout, I say that's it. It's over. As we dey reach Nigeria like this, everywhere was on fire. So kudos to him. And I feel he's the person that they should ask how he feels, seeing that he's the first person ever to have spotted Afrobeats and taken the risk. And when he met us, he even told us that he had even been working with university students who were studying African music. He wanted the sound, like ‘who did these drums?’
What do you think about his legacy and support for Donald Trump?
I think you can talk about legacy in different parts. What he has done, and the legacy he's created can't be overruled, it can't be erased. The changes, whatever he stood for in the music industry can't be thrown away. Which clearly states that he's a legend and he's godsent. But he's also a human being. And when it comes to humans, what I've realized is that no one is right, no one is wrong. It depends on how people feel. It depends on their opinion, how people process the world. So today, someone might say what he's saying o, preaching that it is wrong.Tomorrow, it's perceived as the only way to go. And so for me, I'd say I'm not the best to talk about his involvement in politics. Even me, I dont involve myself in politics. But generally speaking, I'd say he's not speaking out of no base. As a Gemini, as very deep people, we are always about sure there are solutions. But how you'd now get to that solution, you just need the grace of God, so you make fewer mistakes.
Entrepreneurship, DKM. What did you do with DKM?
I didn't want to form another record label after leaving. So DKM was birthed after Mo'hits and I didn’t want to do the same thing and for me. I'm also always about the business. I understood that for you to own a record label and see it strive, you must be on the ground. You must have the attention the way we did with the guys. Now, knowing fully well that 'Oliver Twist' had taken me outside, I wasn't going to be regularly on the ground. This is the reason why I said that the best thing I needed to do is to make sure that it's a multimedia company where you can do distribution. We got our license in 2012 and started distributing content for all the platforms. Then it was only CRBT. And then I noticed that the digital world is the way to go. Make sure that you're the brand that you can franchise if you can get a following proper. Especially if you have that in the music side. Which is like what Dangote has, but it's like for the business side. People can trust you.
I had to learn a lot about entrepreneurship and then also get the right hands to help grow the business. And I'd say that's one of the hardest things to get as an entrepreneur, which is the right human resources. From doing all that, we have partnerships with the right labels to be their distribution. We have partnerships with the right companies here and I just started moving to ensure that attained what we wanted. I remember we shot TV adverts for the Bank of Industry (BOI) to other kinds of businesses that were kind of affiliated to the creative industry but not specifically music.
That's what I've been pushing since 2013. When we got to 2015 after dropping 'Emergency', I said that the music side is still going strong. I've already seen the trend, knowing that the industry was getting bigger from what we've done. People needed more help, people needed more access, people needed more deals. And I didn’t want to do it for a record label. I just thought to myself: how can DKM be involved in this new age without undermining my strength and also without overshadowing the new ones? That's when the idea of CREAM came about.
If there's a platform where it can be our own LinkedIn, it can be our own Facebook. Where whether you're in Port Harcourt, whether you're in Kaduna and you need access to distribution on that platform, you would get it. If you need access to collaborations, you would get it. Because I've realised that as we move around, there are so many talents. But if you don't leave your house and move to Lagos and grind, it will be so hard. The only two people that I know made it without living in Lagos, and they still had to move to Lagos, were Styl Plus. It was only Styl Plus that I know that came and moved back. And we all could see that maybe if they stayed more...we never know.
I thought to myself that since we are here and we've tried the record label way - and if you look at the trend, with Mo'hits, no record label even stayed anymore. Even now, most record labels have artist that would sign max two years, three years. Or they'd say they want to have a Joint Venture (JV) with you. Meanwhile, they didn't have a JV in the beginning. I just said let us just build labels. Every household now can be a label. Let's just build labels and put them there. And that's what we did.
I called the team together, I got a guy, his name is Damian Okoroafor. I had my IT guy then, his name is Harold. I told them this is what I want to do. I want to be able to reach these guys. I want to be able to reach these guys. Shebi me, everybody know say me I get the access. Even if I don't know it, I'd get it. Most people were hitting me from Twitter before that and Facebook. That I should link them with the Bank of Industry. I got a deal with Bank of Industry in 2015 as a brand ambassador for creatives. And you know the way people are. When you're a brand ambassador, they think you're sleeping in the same house with the bank owner. Everybody proposal, proposal. Proposals was another reason why we built the platform that let me connect. I'd be that gateway for everything creative. For you to be a good footballer, athlete, musician, journalist, you have to be a creative. That's why I said ‘let's open it up,’ and that's why call it the CREAM (Creative, Reality, Entertainment, Arts and Music) platform.
Did you date Genevieve Nnaji?
Yes, we dated.
When you brought Amber Rose to Nigeria, what did you aim to achieve with that celebration?
You know then, people had already known the brand was international. I had met Amber Rose a couple of years before where I performed for Vodafone in Ghana. I knew that she was partly African, and liked anything that had to do with Africa. We had the same agent. Talking about the celebration, I think it still just boils down to the same thing that I've always tried to achieve with the guys like Kanye West. I just wanted to make sure that I continued. And after speaking, I didn't want to be bringing musicians alone so in my head. Influencers. The idea was already becoming big where the Kardashians, the Kim Kardashians, are already making it. And in Nigeria as well, we're the New York of Africa. I didn't want to bring another person because I was just celebrating. And if you remember that particular show, it was just a party. So instead of bringin an artist, why don't we also bring someone that we also know attracts and represents that international. And that's why we did it.
As a man, what do you think your purpose is here on earth?
You know as a person over time, I've seen that my purpose is to be an agent of change. An agent of change for hope. An agent for hope. If you look at the story, everything that we've said about me is just a story of hope. I didn't fully recognise that, which I did. But I became more aware when I became a family man. And with all that that has happened to me that's how I know that ‘O my God.’ Because of how much love, support. And then how much messages I got from people that have said listen, ‘you're that beacon of hope for us. I don't know how you've dealt with it, I don't know how you've dealt with that. You've been able to weather the storm and hold your head high.’ Which comes across from all my career. That question has always come up from either when my partner said he was leaving or when negative press came, or when I was misunderstood or, up till even now. So I see myself as say, I'm a vessel of visible hope and agent of hope across all board.
And you think you've translated that in all your dealings?
I think when you're finding your purpose or walking towards your destiny, it's not a day's thing. And like I said, little dots connect the world. And just like I've been doing now, you don't even know who you're giving the hope to. Whether it's now or five years from now. That the person will see it or go through the same thing or a different scenario. But to be alive to see my generation and the next generation reference me as that hope in different interviews that I've watched. From Burna Boy to Wizkid to even David, just gives me that affirmation that yes, I'm not yet there because I know I have more to do. But by God's grace, I'm doing the best I can to be that agent of hope for someone.
When people tell you things like you would have been better if you didn’t split with Don Jazzy. How does that make you feel?
It's their opinion. I always feel like it's their opinion and people are free to have their own opinion. But like I said, I pass through every experience in life as a school fees. If you go to Havard, you'd pay expensive school fees. For me, especially when you can't do anything about it. I look at it from the half-full part, instead of the half-empty part. And in the beginning, if you had asked me this question even a year, not even a year after. That's the thing. Because we didn't get the final stamp of global attainment until the group broke. Clearly the person that's telling me that, is looking at it from a different perspective. And the reason why the group broke from my own point of view, which is part of the reason, is the global stamp. So I didn’t even see it as anything for a long time. But when I started hearing people—and knowing the kind of synergy we had in music—I said okay, that's possible. Nobody is an island and we're really really great, he's a great producer. So I said the fact that he's not the only and I know that all perfect gifts come from God.
I remember praying to God and saying: 'God, I know that I'm a full businessman and I'm fucking talented, I want you to shock the world. Give them something that they'd hear and they go hmmm, 'this one be like Jazzy o', but it's not Jazzy.' And that's how he delivered me 'Emergency' from nowhere. I remember it was Olu Maintain that brought the beat. He tried to get on the show with us that we were doing in Warri or Owerri. He sat beside me in the plane. And when he was beside me in the plane, he said that he had studied my music and he had a beat that he wanted to play for me. And as we landed, he played me the beat and I said I love this beat. And I remember what he wanted for. It was a collaboration and a video, and he said he had sorted out the producer. And for me to have paid him and then got the beat and used the beat. and It was later I found out that it was just maybe like N25,000 that the producer was paid.
I remember calling him again on Hip TV and giving the producer money and signing the producer that he did four other beats for us. But what made me gravitate the more is this 'Emergency' beat that everybody hears. And the only thing they said that was missing is if I said 'It's Don Jazzy' again' in the beginning. It was done by someone that received just N25,000. So it proved what I was trying to say that yes, my success is not in one person's hands. It's actually in the right energy, in the right spirit. Yes, you can have better relationships or better synergy with someone. But it would not mean that without them, you would not achieve your goals. And for me that was it and since then it's been beautiful.
Performing at the nations cup, ho was that experience for you? Very few artistes get to perform at these type of tournaments.
I think it's the same way you'd be feeling if you ask Beyonce how she played for the Super Bowl half-time. The Super Bowl half-time was considered the biggest tune-in performance wey people go watch. In fact, they talk say one advert na one million.
It’s worth millions of dollars.
Thank you, you don hear am. For me, that's how it felt because the stadium had 90-something thousand people. Not because it was just a stadium, but because it was Nigeria that was playing their final. It was Nigeria, South Africa, two countries that I love. If you look at the time sef, it was more of us stamping it. I didn't come to perform at the African Cup of Nations until we did 'Oliver Twist' in the UK. It just gave a further stamping to everyone. That external validation for internal credibility. And that now set the trend for the new generation of artists now moving. For me, it also gave me that last thing that I've always known; my strength is making people smile. I'm giving you the right energy.
So putting me in front of everybody there, the way I performed, 300 dancers. Somizi, the biggest choreographer from Africa, he choreographed it. I made us feel like yes, this is what I've always seen. That vision that I've always seen that we could do it. And I think not just me but the whole industry at the time. Fast forward to even the same South Africa, Global Citizen, two years ago. It's the same thing everybody felt. It’s just that feeling that they could put everybody on stage but we'd always seem them. But they'd never put us. If they're going to put us, they're going to put us separately. But finally, we're confirming that validity that we're the same. It's just that you guys just don't let us play on the same Global stage as you are. Still, hope.
Why are you the greatest live performer in Africa?
I think it's because from time, if you look at my life, I never said I was a singer. I didn't say I was rapper. I said I was an entertainer. You don't have to sing to entertain someone. You don't even have to talk to entertain someone. We've learnt that from Mr Bean. You just have to be able to capture the person. Now some people are gifted like that. Just by looking at them, like a Mr Bean, you're already leaning to know what he's trying to say. I think I fall into that very special type of people that are very gifted. And mine is for me to make sure that I connect with you and then elevate you. So I've never been able to go to a show where I'm performing and people are just sitting down and relaxing. It's not my thing. And actually, for some people, it's their thing. That's why I think I'm the biggest performer. That's the second reason. The first reason is the grace of God. I know some people have an aura that God has given you that you just have to use it. And over time, I think I've been able to master it.
So when you get on stage what's the feeling?
I still get butterflies in my belly
Of course, even for one person, or two people or 10,000 people. I'm not sure if it's stage fright or butterflies in my belly or just anxiety. But whatever it is, it just comes.
Why do you think it still comes?
I think it's a natural human thing.
When you're performing do you read the room? And how do you respond to it.
First of all, I go into the room knowing that my energy is higher than yours. Always. It's a default. It's to help m not be waived by their energy. If you enter the room and someone's energy is not at par with you then you know you've exploded. When you enter the room and their energy is not up to you, we bring them up. But they'd never bring you down. That's how I always enter. It's more like you ready to go and fuck shit. Like go and destroy. And if you reach there and everything don destroy, better for me. Let's add more fire on this thing sef. You reach there sef, and they con dey look. You blow am up, you call extra power to come. So I read the room, I read the stage, I read myself. And from backstage, I'm reading and I just make sure that I try to read everybody.
People say that you never grow old. That you're still looking young and everything.
I'm a vampire.
Yeah, they've called you a vampire. Do they call you anything extra?
I drink blood (laughs. Actually it's the same thing, God’s grace. And then sometimes, if you watch a superhero movie. I don't know if you ask yourself, why na you be superhero? Why na you be Ironman? So it's that God's grace that he has given to me. I didn’t know it was a gift in the beginning. Because in the beginning, I thought that it was the way we grew up. If you're rich, you're wealthy, you have a potbelly. But then as I started growing up and started making money, I was like where the food dey go? And when people see you, they say ‘ah, you're too skinny.’ Being skinny was more affiliated to sufferhead when we were growing up. I didn't really understand the gift until I don grow. I don enter Mo'hits and I never perform on stage and take off my shirt because I want to show off my six-packs. It's because I have a high metabolism and I sweat per second, so I take it off. All my life, I don't think I've done the gym more than one month, other than pushups in my house. But to go to the gym, I can count how many times in my life that I've been to the gym to say I'm going to work out. Maybe 30 days in my whole 40 years. But if I wake up, I do my press up. If I eat, I have fast metabolism. So I'm just gifted.
What is entrepreneurship to you?
Entrepreneurship is creating something out of nothing, with no support. Not like with no financial support, but with no structural organisational support. That's what it means to me. In a nutshell, entrepreneurship is you not waiting for someone to hand something to you, but going out to get something. You're creating something out of nothing, and that's what we've been able to do in the creative sector.
How did you start CREAM?
You know I already told you the story from not having a record label and then forming a record label. So after the two issues happened and I couldn't tie my hands - now I know, they say it's Special Ed, he said it himself but which I thank him for, like I said. But I didn't want to not do what I was called to do to support and then be blamed for something else. I didn't want a situation whereby I would be caught here now feeling guilty that I didn't complete my purpose. So me looking for a way of protecting my brand and my mind from the reactions I've gotten already, and not denying the new generation or the new potentials that I'm supposed to bless. I said, can I have a platform that I don't have to see them but I can still help them? I started talking to my tech guys and that's how ... And I remember then Mr Damian Okoroafor, my CEO, we were already talking and working on a number of things since I had a vast following. So, I said let's build it. And the aim was to build it for the masses, knowing that if you don't come to Lagos, you won't make it. So let's build it on a USSD and web base. Because if we should say app, how many people have smartphones?
We thought about that carefully and thought who is the first best telecoms. We wanted to connect to all telecoms but we said let's start with one. We approached some but they were not getting the vision so MTN got the vision and said okay we'd like to connect with you. And immediately MTN agreed, we knew that we had to push further. I had a deal with Glo then as an ambassador so I had to wait six months. After the deal expired, I had to wait six months for I didn't want to breach anything which gave me time to prepare the backend. So I think the fifth month was June or May, then we launched CREAM in August 2016. And since then, it's been a dream come true. It's been tough, but it's been so successful beyond what I expected in the beginning in such a short time. And if not for the setback that I had with what happened with me and my family recently, we just took a 24-month break to restructure our lives back. And now, we are about to relaunch CREAM again. I call it CREAM 2.0.
So far, what are the successes you've recorded with CREAM?
Firstly, the aim of CREAM was to give access to the creative sector. And this access ranges from capital, to sponsorship, to scholarship, to funding, to also mentoring. I you look at it, what we've done in a space of four years that I'm telling you now that we've been actively active for about 2 and half years, I'd say we've shot about 4 videos for young talents on the platform. We've released these videos on the platform. Now because when we started CREAM, the DSPs, the Apple Music, the Spotifys. Even now they are not yet fully in Nigeria. So we based our marketing on what our biggest strength was. Our biggest strength was caller back ringtones. And there's nobody that has come through CREAM platform as a top-ten artist that we picked as a winner, that has not done top ten on downloads on MTN ringtones.
We've generated over a hundred million Naira in caller back ringtones. From there we've paid all these winners that would not have made this in the first place if they did not even meet me. We've had two winners from Port Harcourt, one winner from Kaduna, two winners from Abuja, TK Swag and Pastor Courage. Two winners from Ikorodu, Mr Real who did 'Legbegbe' and Slimcase. That is why if you watch that 'Legbegbe' video today, the first thing you'd see is CREAM. The way you always see a record label on the front door. As we started doing this and shooting videos, most of the complains we had from people was ‘yes, I know that I need access. Like you for example; I'm a journalist, I need access to interview D'Banj but I'm not going to go there empty-handed. I need small kala for my hand. I don't even have a laptop. My laptop needs changing. So people started complaining that yes, you've picked this winner. But after you pick us, we no go dress well? We no go look good? And to be an artist, you need all these attributes. So the next thing we started doing in our mind was to attack and made sure we started giving.
So we got a lottery license, the lottery permit from the NLRC. Then we started monthly. Even if you don't win, the fact that you're on CREAM platform would give you added incentives. And so each category had its own incentives that added to about 3 million in a month or 3.5 million. And that we started doing, and distributed that successfully throughout the time for about 2 and half years, up until now that we're about to relaunch back into the market. These are a few of our success stories that we have.
Agriculture. When did you start? How did you start Koko garri?
I think I told you in the tape, we were in Mo’hits and how we like to drink garri with moi-moi or suya. Jazzy likes garri a lot. Then we had done Koko mansion, Koko concert, Koko mobile and Koko lounge in Yaba. And Jazzy came and said ‘imagine we can do this.’ I said I think this can be a good idea. Because what we do is we have sessions. We were living together, so we thought about everything. We thought about Koko condom, we'd say it and maybe someone now says ‘ah this one no go work o. You wey be koko master.’ And I said ‘yes now, that one fit work.’ When we came up with the Koko garri, because I'm partly from Ogun state which is Sagamu near Ijebu, I said it's home. It's my product. We went fully into it.
First of all, they say when you're getting into a business, you have to study the business. We partnered with someone who had already been doing this for a while. And they'd package for us and we saw how people liked it. We were even just first using it for our own consumption first. But then, in 2014 or so, I did something with ONE.org and it was 'Do Agric'. It was a campaign for agriculture because they had realised that Agric is the fastest way to eradicate hunger and poverty. And they say one-third of the arable land left for agriculture in the world is in Africa. That’s why there's a need to start educating our new generation to know that agriculture is a viable business.
ONE.org came to get me as an ambassador to champion that project. But I actually got converted first. I don dey do this agric since, but not on this level. When they took me to Ghana, took me to some factories, my eyes started seeing the opportunities that were there. And after the campaign, I remember that the campaign was for 500,000 signatures. Because it's an advocacy organisation and their job is they advocate for different policies to be made. This time they wanted to advocate so all governments in Africa increase the budget on agriculture. And the only way that they could do it was by agriculture.
When I led the campaign, instead of 500,000 signatures, they got 2.5 million. That brought me to Bono. And that's how I met Bono, we got talking, I saw what they had done, America Caterpillar Foundation. I knew agriculture was going to be big. Then I came back home and called my mum. And I said: ‘mummy I'm sorry. You have been keeping this thing since, you've tried. Now I'm ready. Can we have a factory?’ In Sagamu, we have a factory now. We're just about completing another one of our processing plants where we can expand. And then we have Sango-Ota where the standard production is done and packaging is done in Sagamu.
From that 2016 up until 2017, we were everywhere, Shoprite. Then our distribution was handled well. But I believe because the brand was already way big out there. The stock was growing very quickly. That is why we said, you know what? Instead of pushing too much, let's invest in expansion. And when we've expanded, we'd come back and push into the market. That's what 2020 is all about for me. That's one of the things we are focusing on.
At this stage of your career, entrepreneurship is what's important to you? That's where most of the focus is?
That's where most of the focus has been from 2016. But moving now, it's going to be more of a balanced structure. Because I think I've been able to manage the entrepreneurship phase to a place where we can now have an auto-pilot mode and the music side. And when we finished that, we got into the studio, did an album. Now I have a full album coming out this year. And more importantly, with my strategic team, we've been able to embed it together to see how both can grow.
You're a family man now. Not a lot is known about your wife, even your family. Why did you keep this part away from the public?
I kind of came into the industry quite early. I learnt a lot of stuff about having some type of me-time. It's very important because the world only consumes. You should be able to hibernate. You should be able to look for a safe haven for yourself. Also getting into the social world, the creative industry, we're exposed to everything. Nothing is private. The only part that I thought could be private was my personal life. And because I wanted to have a safe haven, I was like everything about me is already shown. Why make this also show? You've got to protect it.
I learnt also that if you have gold or you have jewelries, you're not just going to put them outside. You're going to keep them in the vault. Once in a while you bring them out. You're not going to have a Rolls Royce and drive it every day. For me, that was my family. And I know that I'm going to do this entertainment till I die, so there's no issues about that. I just needed a way for God to keep me private. And luckily, God blessed me with a woman that doesn't want the limelight. She’s just private and just understands that. And my parents too never really wanted this. My father is a deacon and my mum is a deaconess. They didn't want any fame. Like I've gisted you about mum before. I wasn't doing it to impress anybody. In fact, some people were telling me that ah, you made mistake, you for don make money. People would come to your wedding, spray you moni. You for go for courtesy visit to all the governors. You be D'Banj now. If it was my album, I can do that. But I didn't think it was the same thing for family.
What does fatherhood mean to you?
For a long time, I felt like I had that fatherhood responsibility, but I've never had one of my own. That's why if you're saying fatherhood, most things it did was actually make me more humble and more aware of what our responsibilities are in this life. Because you've done dealings with your brother, you've done dealings with your family, you care about them. You care about your friends. You care about maybe the artists you sign. But when you have one of your own, you know that you're the one responsible for bringing this child into the world. A sense of responsibility and 'you go die there'.
It's different from 'I'm responsible for my friends, if something goes wrong, I try my best, they go away. In this sense, I have to find the way. I think that's what fatherhood is to me. Whatever it is, you've just got to stand tall with your family and be responsible for their happiness in a weird way. So you can't just be saying no, I'm not in a good mood today. As a father, you must always have that good mood even if it's denying yourself. Sacrifice.
You suffered a loss. How was that experience and how did you learn from it?
It's a continuous learning thing. It's not something you can read in a book or you can go and practice it. It is not something you even wish on anyone or even an enemy. But to have gone through it and be alive today only just teaches me that we should appreciate life. We should appreciate grace, knowing fully well that God is our creator. And he created us for a purpose. Try and look at how your purpose keys into everything you go through. And in looking at this, the fact that I keyed into is that it made me more human.
Because you've been on one wavelength for one decade. Superhero kind of wavelength, superstar. Everybody knows you, you probably get most things that you want but to see something like that taken from you breaks you down. Brings you to the rock bottom and all you can just lean on is love and God. It did that for me, having a reset button in my life and saying listen, it's only God that person has o. Who was going to console me then? What was I going to do then?
I've been shouting that I am ‘superhero’ since way before I got married. When this happened to me is when I understood. When you watch any superhero movie, the superhero is untouchable. And the only way they can touch the superhero is when they go after the loved ones of the superhero. Superman go dey fly like this, nobody go touch am. But if they just call am for phone wey him pick con give the phone to him babe Louis Lane, baba go just turn. When him reach there, them go first use kryptonite hold am down before him go fit show power. Same thing with Ironman. Thinking how they all came out of it is through love. Surrounding yourself with loved ones, not allowing yourself to be down, and hanging on to hope. And that's what I did.
That’s when I now saw that there's a synergy with my story from time about visible hope. When people started reaching out to me and saying, ‘hey, they appreciate you. We don't know how you stayed through, we're are with you. I lost my this, I lost my home…’ I now started connecting and that brought me and my wife extra closer. And then we started talking to ourselves. I think even for her even more importantly, because I wish I could just enter her head and know how she felt being the mother. Being also the person that was present. It must have been so hard. I think I could never have been able to deal with mine because I could not imagine how she was dealing with hers.
I've not been able to settle down. Sometimes I do, but not really. Because when I start and I start breaking down, I now started to think about her. That ‘Jesus, I have to be strong for this girl.’ There were times at the beginning that I had to leave the room and just go and let it out before I come back. That just really affected us. But in holding on to truth, we came together, we held God.
We watched a sermon by Pastor Steven Furtick of the Elevation Church in America. It was on TV, it was coincidental. But now I know that nothing is coincidental. As the thing was on TV, and the topic is: ‘If He Did Not Do It But He Allowed It, Then He Wants To Use It.’ We know that every good and perfect gift comes from God. And God will not give you something and add sorrow. So that's why I said it's only God that gives gifts that's perfect and adds no sorrow. We knew that he didn't do it. But the fact that he allowed it, he wanted to use it..
Watching that sermon kind of reset my life. I prayed to God that ‘I don't know how quick, I don't know when, I don't know how fast you want to use it for,’ but please just give us the strength and the grace to learn. Not just for myself or my family, but others. I think that's one of the major things. When my wife called me recently that people had been asking her to share the story, to come and speak. And she feels that maybe it's time for us to honour our son with a foundation.
I talked to her that I always had Koko Foundation, but now I can just collapse it and dedicate everything to this. I then gave her the whole permission to take it and run. So for my 40th birthday as well, one of the things we'd be rolling out is the foundation dedicated to my son. He is Daniel Oyebanjo The Third and that's DOTT. The DOTT Foundation is the name of the foundation. My wife said ‘Connecting the Dott and the Dott to make a bigger picture.’
Out there, we believe that if there's something that we can do to support those that have lost their loved ones. Lost something, lost hope, by first helping them restore their hope back with our story. And from any other thing that God has blessed us to do. That's how we get by day by day, focusing on the positive side. And I asked for restoration and the bible says "He would give you everything that you lost." and I told him that I know maybe I wanted a girl next, but I still want a boy. So give me back that boy. And in short time, he gave us the boy. And you see now, our boy is going to be one year in September. We thank the Lord Almighty.
What's the one thing that you'd be most proud of that you did?
I think it was me being me against all odds. Because I could have turned out a mechanical engineer. I was smart. But the fact that me being me and everything that 'me' has done. That for me is the proudest thing. Just me being me.
What does celebrity mean to you?
I saw one interview once in a series that I was watching about one of my mentors, Micheal Jordan, which is the ‘Last Dance.’ And he said in that documentary that if he came back and they asked him if he wanted to be a role model, he'd say no. Him just wan play him thing. Because there's a saying: To whom much is given,, much is expected. It’s synonymous to celebrity. That's what it means for me. It means that sometimes you don't even know what you have landed yourself in to be celebrated. And then the pressures. Whenever I see someone as a celebrity, I don't say that ‘hmm this guy is celebrated.’ No. I first see the work he's done. To whom much is given, much is expected. He must have done so much in order for him to be celebrated. And for him to be celebrated and to be seeing the pressure on his head.
Has the world rewarded you for your efforts enough?
Ha! This one wey you talk!
Joey and Koko master combine to devastating effect. Lovely interview but more typos than usual. Looking forward to the next one.
Best interview I have read so far