On the feud between D'banj and Don Jazzy which popped up few months ago, I clearly mentioned that there was much more to what people read over the internet (most especially twitter) or in the papers. In this first ever interview (after the brouhaha) with renowned Journalist, Kunle Ayeni, the charismatic musician bears his mind on the controversial topic
‘I’m a risk taker’, he says. ‘Life is all about risks. But you must never endanger yourself. I don’t endanger myself, which is why, even though I’m here, I’m still in Nigeria all the time, performing’.
He believes his deal with Kanye West was a case of ‘preparation meets opportunity’.
‘I pulled up with my entourage at the Emirates first class lounge in Dubai. We were returning from Scott Tommey’s birthday. I came down with Bankuli, my P.A. Chuchu, and my business manager Chidi. My entourage was large and I was looking fly. One of the hostesses ran to me with a Kanye West placard. I said I’m not Kanye o – then I told my guys ‘Kanye is around so no dulling.’ Chuchu and Bankuli spotted Kanye walking in to check in.
They went to him and he said we could come over’. ‘As they came, I had my iPad with me, and my headphones. Kanye said ‘I like your T-shirt’. I wore a Zara T-shirt and a D&G ring. He liked my appearance and said he’d give me 5 minutes. I told him ‘I played with you in Nigeria during NB PLC Star Megajam.
I’ve done a song with Snoop and we’re going to shoot the video now. I’d like to play you my songs.’ I played Oliver, Scapegoat, and Fall in love. He was dancing. He removed the headphones and said ‘I don’t mean to sound rude, but if anyone has to bring you out in the states, it has to be me, not Snoop. He asked when I was going to be in the US, and I told him I was going there that day. Then he asked who my producer was, and I said Don Jazzy. He said ‘come with him.’
‘It was only an email address he gave us at the airport. When we got to NY, we sent several emails but got no response. Then Bankuli sent a final one saying, ‘we have been in New York for some time and sent several emails. We have waited long enough and are now on our way to do the Snoop Dogg video’ And then the reply came. ‘Sorry to have overlooked your earlier emails. Mr. Kanye would like to meet with you tomorrow.’ ‘We didn’t believe it.
Don Jazzy, who had been reluctant all along, still did not believe it. Even when we got there (Wyclef’s studio) the next day, he stood outside. When Kanye came I went to call him ‘Oya come now, come play am the music now’. It was difficult to believe it was real and it was happening. Then when Kanye came in, with the GOOD music acts, I was like, ‘wow’. ‘I’ve always thought of how I can be a useful vessel to the industry. A friend and colleague always says to me: ‘D’banj, you’re the Jesus Christ of the industry.’
So having ran Mohits for nine years, I already had plans of how we could blow Mohits up. I had plans of expanding, and most especially, bringing hope to that 11 year-old kid somewhere in Africa who may never have had the opportunity to get signed to major labels’. ‘So it was not really just about me. There’s a big market in Africa. I said to them, ‘I’ve sold millions of records in Africa, we’ve done millions of hits with CRBT, and I’ve run the most successful label on the continent. You take care of the US, but let me take you to Africa.‘
And I’m happy to tell you that we’re doing that. D’banj’s album will be the first under Universal/Def Jam Africa, and we’re already putting all the structures in place’. And that’s where the problem started. ‘Don Jazzy was no longer comfortable. You know, we were like fishes out of water, in this new system, starting all over again, like when we returned home in 2004. I got him a place in the US, set up a studio there, so he’d be comfortable and be able to work without going to hang around the studios. In one year Jazzy did not make a song.
I said, maybe you want to go back to Lagos, you’ll get inspiration there?’ I was all about the work, I wanted us to make this happen, so we can bridge that gap and create a path for Africa. But Jazzy wanted us to go back home. And I understand. He’s my friend, my brother’.
‘But I never expected him to do what he did.’ He said to me in July last year ‘Let’s scatter Mohits. He told me there are two captains – two captains cannot be in a ship. I was like ‘that’s not possible, this is a marriage’. He said ‘then this marriage is no longer working’. I said then let’s go for counseling; I asked, so what happens to our children?’ ‘
I have full rights to my catalogue and full ownership of my Koko Holdings, while he has full ownership of Mo’Hits, including the artistes and liabilities.’
On the attitude of Dr Sid and Wande Coal, D'banj is sad, but not bitter or lonely.
‘Asking me if I’m lonely because Wande or Jazzy has left me is like asking my first sister if she’s lonely now – she has two kids now, lives in Canada. Don Jazzy is still my brother – we just had to move on. We’ll still work together in future, same with my boys. In fact, just this week, he sent me the remix to Oliver Twist that we’re releasing in the UK on May 14.
All the interviews I’ve had here, I kept hyping him. It’s already in my system – you know me, I’m a one-way soldier. Jazzy is a very quiet person. Loyalty is key. My loyalty still lies in the friendship I had with him. He was cheated by JJC, and I was present. I swore never to cheat him. But I’d like to think our visions became different. ‘It was clear when we met that Jazzy wanted to be the biggest producer, I wanted to be the biggest African entertainer, not the biggest singer. I had my mind on money.
In order to say I’m the biggest, I had to be the richest. So for a very long time, he was on the back end. He respected my act, I respected his music judgment. Every meeting that brought us money I went for. I’d say I need to confirm from Don Jazzy because that was the agreement, even though I knew it was my decision. First Glo deal was $500,000. That Landcruiser jeep was because of my demands. It was because of the skill and exposure that I used to bargain. I’m a businessman’
‘People say I’m less talented, I was known as a jester in the JJC squad. I’d make everyone happy and play the mouth organ, but I knew what I wanted. I decided to give Don Jazzy power in 2007 when we realized that after four years, they did not recognize us as a record label. We had signed artistes and done all this work. So we restructured, and restrategized.
So I told him to chill, so he can be more respected and be the don. I’m older than him by one year, yet I respected him like a don. I remember when he came out at Ali Baba show, I knelt down for him, so people would say he’s the baba. All the talking in my ears and all, it was an arrangement. All the Soundcity advert and all, he did not tell me anything.
It was all an arrangement.’ ‘Jazzy did his part’, he made the music for nine years. But nothing stops him from making for twenty more years. We could have changed the formula. Why didn’t he want to change the formula? It was time to expand the business, Mohits was Motown reloaded. We always knew we would expand, he always said I had more swagger than anyone else he knows, And I know he’s one of the best producers in the world; we wanted to make Mohits the biggest in Africa.
Other labels were springing up. So if we could conquer America, London when no one had done it before.
Most of our people stop in Germany, or Paris. We had already made the money. Kanye did not want to change anything about my music, my style of dressing, or my brand. It is God’s favour. But Jazzy was and is very scared. Something had worked for eight years, so he wanted to maintain the status quo. People are afraid to try new things.’ I’m a vessel that God is trying to use to help the industry. Once in a few years, one artiste comes from the UK to run the world, none has come from Africa. Fela was the closest. It’s been my own dream.
I made my name from Nigeria, unlike Seal, Wale, and Tinie Tempah. And I want to bring Universal, Def Jam and all to Nigeria. So if I can build that bridge, then we’re good, because it will give hope to the boys in Asaba, in Oshogbo that this thing is possible.’
‘And when people say why am I not talking, this is why. I’m focused on making this happen. It’s more important for me to make sure I don’t disappoint all those who have invested in me; all those who believe in me and are supporting the movement, than to be fighting over who’s right or wrong. Even now that I’m talking to you, I don’t even know if I should be doing this interview.’
The perception is that you’ve become arrogant, unreachable, proud.
Obviously people will say stuff – but this is me. I can’t keep up with everyone, no matter how much I try. But I understand where I’m coming from. I cant forget my roots. You saw me giving Jazzy props in my interview earlier.
That’s me. If I was arrogant I wouldn’t have been the one even chasing Jazzy around since he told me last July that he wanted to scatter Mohits. Last time I saw him was on February 19 at Irving Plaza. He didn’t support the show, and he only came on stage when SID and Wande were performing. I wanted peace.
And even my mom, who had supported us from beginning, who gave us the house we stayed in (in Michael Otedola estate, Lagos), the Previa bus we used and paid for Tongolo video, spoke to his parents last December; ‘this is what your son said o’. I remember my mom saying to me, ‘if you guys have been together all these years, and no wahala, then if you need to part, I hope there’ll be no wahala.’
She was very particular about that. I had enough proof to have come out and speak; this thing has been on for a long time, and we’re in April now. But I don’t want to cause any wahala. I don’t want to spoil anything. I don’t want trouble. Right now, I just want to be able to move on and do my business.’
And on the leaked email?
‘The signing (away of my shares in Mohits) was already being discussed before April 16. If I kept quiet from January till now, what would it benefit me to leak anything? Remember all the stuff about my password and all? We know where that was from, I really wouldn’t want to think it was from him, my brother, but it could be from anywhere, but I don’t want to call anyone’s name’
But were the emails forged?
Everything in those emails were facts. And I don’t even think the mails favoured me in any way. It’s not the exact mails that were sent and signed, but there were elements of truth in the mails that were published.’
Why did you tell Ebony you own Mohits?
My mom advised me not to speak. And the interviewer took it out of context. I co-owned Mohits. We registered the business in 2004, and we owned it 50:50. So I spoke about that, but the interviewer took it wrong and the fans put pressure on them and they corrected it.
How about Sahara Reporters?
I never wanted to have any interview. It was on the eve of my US show. I was told I should do the interview, because they’re very troublesome. I had to do the interview for the sake of my show the next day. I was guaranteed that there’d be no politics questions. I had not been in the country. And I had been under pressure.
Sadly, when that happened and I was being attacked in the media, none of my guys came out to support me. Looking at all this, what are your regrets? The truth is that if nothing went wrong, you’d have still heard all this good news and Mohits would take the glory, I didn’t come out in eight years to say anything.
Everyone made their contributions. There were no issues, as long as it worked. My mistake was thinking that we were one. How do you feel about Wande Coal and Dr. SID taking sides with Jazzy? I won’t be too quick to judge Wande Coal. I hear it was Jazzy that tweeted those Wande tweets. I don’t know how true that is, but I know he had our social media accounts. As at a month ago, I couldn’t access any of my accounts.
My password was changed on Twitter and Facebook. Then Universal intervened. I’m about to be verified on Twitter now. I’m not really a social media person, so it was Don Jazzy and some of our other guys that were running it. Wande himself knows the truth. He cannot talk to me like that. The whole Mohits knew who ran the label businesswise. They knew who to come to when they needed to get money out, after we recorded the album.
Who knows the factory where Dansa was made? But you will know the marketing manager.
The car he’s driving, I bought him a brand new Prado from Phyllis and Moss after he crashed the car he won from Hiphop World awards. I bought six Range Rovers last year. I bought D’Prince an LR 3 last year, he crashed it, then I bought him a Range, and it’s true that I bought two Bentleys. Because of Jazzy. But after July last year, after the issue with Jazzy, I bought myself the Aston Martin.
How were you able to fund all that?
In the last nine years, there are a few people and corporate bodies that God has helped me build relationships with, either individuals or banks, or even corporates that are involved in the growth of the industry. I’ve enjoyed their support, and even now that we’re going global, we’re pooling the funds together from all these places.
Could you possibly be Nigeria’s richest pop star?
A billionaire? Vanity upon vanity. Money is material. In terms of what we’re doing, you’ll call me a Trillionaire, because this vision is too big for only me. With the help of the industry, the government, people like you Ayeni, we will not only be billionaires, but trillionaires.
There’s been a lot of confusion, what label exactly are you signed on?
My album comes out under my label/GOOD Music/Island Def Jam. I’m funding the D’banj album, in America, through GOOD Music/Island Def Jam. GOOD Music is Kanye West who is co-executive producing with me. The deal comprises of Island Def Jam, in US. But in UK, it is under Mercury. My first single will be released in Europe on May 14. My work will be released in Africa through Universal/Def Jam. We don’t have these structures in Africa. They’ve seen what I’ve done with Mohits. I’ve made them realize how much they were losing in the African region. Over 150m Nigerians, over 800m Africans. 2% of that is 8.5m. They were not making anything except from S.A, which has been the US of Africa. So we will be launching this label in Ghana, in partnership with Vodafone, launching in Nigeria in partnership with MTN. Def Jam Africa will be up soon. Why are you risking all this? What if you burn your fingers and lose everything you’ve worked for? Lose out? Well, I am happy I even have something to risk. To whom much is given, much is expected. Look at Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Jay Z, Kanye West, these people take it to the max, take it to where they believe that they can push it to.
In the first instance, coming back to Nigeria with Jazzy was because I was a risk taker. And I wouldn’t say I’m throwing everything away. I would say I’m putting everything back in, in order to rip into the future. I get a broadcast from Tonye Cole everyday. He says when you tell people this your vision, know that it’s not for you alone – it’s for everyone. It’s like what Fela did. If what I’m doing doesn’t work, but sows that seed that will germinate in three, five years, it means my name will be written in gold.
Some people have tried this before you, unsuccessfully. Do you have doubts and fears sometimes?
My last album was in July 2008 – no album in four years and I know what I still command in those four years. The momentum for me to be able to do this is because I see how much it took me, I saw the benefit, it’s God, and the favour of the relationships we’ve built. Plus, I don’t take no for an answer, I don’t take negativity. It will work in Jesus’ name. If not, I wouldn’t have landed in the UK and hear Oliver Twist on the radio.
Nor would I be in the mainstream media with them saying I’m pioneering afrobeats. I said to them ‘Oh hell no, that’s Fela’s music. Fela is the legend.’ So I pray to God – I beg my fans, it‘ll be good to do half a million downloads.
It’s possible, it’s a different market. Platinum in UK is 300,000. I believe with the support of my people in Redding, Coventry, Dusting, Hackney, Thamesmead, Abbeywood, we can do it.