Nigerian musician, D’banj recently granted an exclusive interview to Nigerian Entertainment Today where he spoke on his relationship with Don Jazzy and how he is building Def Jam Africa following his recent signing to GOOD Music by Kanye West.
The interview which delves into many areas from the personal to the professional reveals many aspects of his relationship with his label mates and former Producer, Don Jazzy. Check out some excerpts of the interview below.
On how he got signed by Kanye West
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. First thing Kanye said was ‘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.’
Three months later, D’banj, Don Jazzy and their crew were in New York, where, according to D’banj, it took almost forever before they could establish contact with Kanye. ‘It was only an email address he gave us at the airport. So when we got to NY, we sent several emails but got no response. Not a single one.’
‘Then we met someone that knew someone that knew another someone and we got another email address. We sent several messages again, 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’.
From there everything happened fast. Next they were meeting Jay Z, making a presentation to LA Reid (At Electric studios), and discussing contracts. But while the label offered him a traditional recording contract, D’banj opted for a joint venture agreement structured to guarantee three things: retaining full control of his materials in Africa, signing Don Jazzy on board (on behalf on Mohits USA), and, he says, bringing the Universal/Def Jam imprint to Africa.
On his relationship with Don Jazzy
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, just 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?’
On why he is focusing on foreign markets
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.
On public perceptions about him since he got signed by Kanye West
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 – all the interviews I had yesterday, I was ‘bigging up’ DJ Abass, he gave me my first show in London. 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 forTongolo 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.’
On how he plans to build Def Jam Africa
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’.
‘I’m a businessman.’ I learnt from my mom, who’s a very successful businesswoman. So having run and funded Mohits for nine years, I knew we had to move to the next level. And everything we wanted was happening. Finally we could take African music to the world.’