9 years ago, Ifeoluwa Florence “DJ Cuppy” Otedola got her very first equipment for her 16th birthday; a secondhand CDJ which she still owns and tries her hands on, every once in a while.
It is now November 2017 (her birth month too) and not a lot has really changed, except that: She is now one of the foremost international female Disc Jockeys out of Africa, she now has a Bachelor’s in Business Management with a done and dusted Master’s in Music Business, she has represented Nigeria as the tourism ambassador for the Fascinating Nigeria Campaign under the ministry of tourism, she was the resident DJ at the prestigious MTV Africa Music Awards (Durban 2014), she has interned with Jayz’s critically acclaimed record label-Roc Nation, she’s been featured in Forbes Woman Africa, her very own reality show currently runs on Fox Life and to top that, she runs her own production and talent management brand (named after her favourite type of cake), The Red Velvet Music Group.
Who am I really kidding? A whole lot has indeed changed and that’s even barely all.
The 13th of October saw yet another feather adorn her cap, as she took a worthy risk in the business of entertainment, teaming up with fast- turning -global -superstar Tekno, to officially debut “Green Light”; her first single ever, as a vocal musician.
‘I feel like, finally my work ethic is starting to speak for itself.’
“Girl she’s gotta watch her back, cos’ she’s not just anybody”. I’m thinking these Aaliyah inspired words that have been remixed so many times in my head as the team and I hurdle through the first security point at the gate of the Red Velvet Music office. 1 elevator trip later, we are delivered to the apartment floor and received by a lady security officer whose bad books I really never want to get into, no matter how nicely and warmly she received us.
Looking more like a tastefully yet simply furnished condo than an office, we walk into a mentally relaxing whitewashed living space, as directed by a young lady who we had mostly been in communication with about the interview. A dining table is lodged in the right wing of the area and there Cuppy is, seated with 3 members of her team, conceptualizing, making lists and drawing plans for what would later be her super-lit ranch themed 25th birthday bash.
‘I’ll join you guys in a bit’ she says, as her smile infused voice travels across the room to us in assurance. She’s clad casually in a stylishly cut flair skirt and a grey tank top while her slightly ombre blonde weave which now almost sticks as part of her brand, flows freely. After a few moments of dashing into an inner chamber to touch up for the cam, her neck is now wound up in a choker of pearl-like beads, matching perfectly with her white under-eye liner which gives her a glint that says absolutely nothing of her utter tiredness.
‘Regardless of Green Light being my song, it’s such a jam.’
We first touch on the excerpt of her interview with Goldmyne TV which had made rounds earlier in the day; where she had spoken about living in her dad’s shadow. In the past, being under the parental umbrella of one of the world’s richest oil magnates would terrify Young DJ Cuppy a little. But now, with her ambitions fueled to its gauge’s brim, she could really be unbothered.
Seeming very confident to repeat herself, she sends a joke the way of her team still seated at the table, suggesting that they try sign language in case they need to communicate during our session.
She resounds her pride to be associated with her family, adding that beyond her father’s financial fame, people are really beginning to take her brand seriously.
‘ I would never ever apologize for what family I’m from and if anything, I can use my own opportunity to create more opportunities for others.
I’m actually a hardworking young woman that has a passion for DJ-ing and that message has taken me a lot of years to come through. I’m still working on it, but I feel like, finally my work ethic is starting to speak for itself.’
Well, her work ethic is speaking quite at the top of its lungs, considering that the latest addition to her accolades is the New York University Alumni Artistic Achievement Award.
‘I don’t wanna be lonely, I need me someone to hold me, tease me, please me’ sings Cuppy in the first minute of Green Light – her much cherished single which now sits pretty on YouTube, spilling over 2 million views. 1 million of those views happened within the first 2 weeks of release and though Cuppy claims to be often hard on herself, she seems quite content with the remarkable traction the track is gaining.
‘Green Light is my original song’ she affirms proudly. ‘I came out to the market with a song called “I love my country” which was a remix, but Green Light is really me not hiding behind anyone’s record. Tekno and I wrote the song together, produced it, came up with it and I’m so proud of it. For me it’s such a breath of fresh air. Regardless of how well the song does- and it’s doing very well- I’m so proud that I decided to take a risk. I’m singing on it which is a new thing for me. I love the video, I just love everything about the song, Regardless of it being my song, it’s such a jam. I fall in love with it every time. Every time I hear it, I feel refreshed’.
Tekno’s talent and consistency made him the right choice for Cuppy. They’d been planning to work for so long but their schedules never agreed. Matter of fact, she tells me of chats that date back to when Tekno wanted her to check out ‘Pana’ before it dropped. Nevertheless, when the time eventually came for them to vibe, they knew they had no excuse not to nail it.
‘Tekno is an artiste that I’ve always wanted to work with. If he’s not playing the drums, he’s playing the guitar or he’s playing the piano. I’ve always admired him. I literally cannot think of a bad Tekno song. He’s always working on epic stuff. He’s just grown from strength to strength and as far as my debut single, I couldn’t think of a better artiste to kick it off with.’
‘It’s my job to make sure the dance floor is not empty…’
Coupled with Cuppy’s DJ fanbase, (she calls them cupcakes by the way) the choice of Tekno on Green Light couldn’t have been more perfect from a strategic point of view. He provides his signature beat stuffed with premium sensual “pon pon” feels; as well as hilariously gibberish lyrics that his legion of fans either love or in all truth, hate to love.
If one word could describe the time period between this present day and when Cuppy first laid her hands on a DJ equipment, technology would be it. Various sophisticated innovations have made it possible for any average Joe to claim to know how to spin the wheels but in the areas of song choice, library and reading a crowd, I’m schooled that it takes quite some raw skill.
Many times when she is playing at a gig, she’s torn between playing music from her curator’s perspective and playing what the crowd wants hear but at the end of the day, it is a job.
‘You know, it’s difficult because you want to follow your heart but you have to think about your pockets, so when I’m on a gig I try my best not to be predictable and just play the big songs you know but also, it’s my job to make sure the dance floor is not empty…’
To later satisfy herself, she started her own party series themed “Cactus On The Roof.” At least here, she could play what she wanted. Though she’s played numerous shows at venues that mattered, for people that matter, it is at one of her smaller relaxed gigs in London, that she has played her best set ever.
‘Wow, no one has ever asked me that question. Everyone just asks my best gig, it’s crazy that you’re asking me that. I keep getting better and better every time. I had a party called Cactus Halloween and I absolutely killed it. You know when you go to a party and they are dying for Nigerian music? I just kicked it up with “Yeba” and I scattered it.’
It is at this same party that Cuppy experienced a very rare form of pleasure that I could almost taste as she relayed the moment.
‘There’s nothing like playing your own original song and being at your own party’ she says, referring to Green Light of course. ‘I just felt like it was me times 300 in the room. It was just…’ She strives at finding the befitting word before she settles for ‘…Amazing.’
‘DJs are now getting the recognition they deserve,after so many years of playing artistes’ music, supporting artistes and breaking their records.’
The joy that being an artiste-DJ gives Cuppy makes me question if there’s a chance that the singing might overtake the Disc Jockeying in the long run but she quickly defends her “first love”.
‘I definitely want to take the Calvin Harris approach. Calvin Harris sings a lot of his records but you’ll never see him leave the booth to pick a mic and sing. I’m a DJ, I love dj-ing, that’s my love… that’s my passion but yeah I don’t think I have a great voice, I think I have an okay voice and for me as an artist, it’s another way to express myself outside of dj-ing, so yeah I’ll probably sing a little bit more.
Calvin also makes the list of local and international DJs she feels are her best of all time, as well as D.J Prince, her team member- DJ Neo, DJ Lambo, DJ Obi, her best female jockey-DJ Caper, Diplo, DJ Maphorisa, Drake’s DJ Spade and DJ Spinall who she specifically mentions as her number 1 in Nigeria.
On the Nigerian homefront, DJing, just like every other area of the entertainment industry, is beginning to pick up real momentum.
‘I feel like DJs are completely underrated, but then having said that, DJs are now getting the recognition they deserve,after so many years of playing artistes’ music, supporting artistes and breaking their records. Now, us DJs are taking that limelight that we’ve worked so hard for. You know there’s people like uncle Jimmy Jatt who really started this idea of a DJ being a brand, not being hidden behind the scenes or in a corner in a room and there’s amazing people like Spinall now really taking that force. For me it’s really exciting. As a female, I feel like we can take that branding force to another level. I could not think of a better time. When you think about how big African fashion, films, music and creativity in general is now globally, I couldn’t think of a better time to be a female DJ from Nigeria.
At this point, Cuppy gives into her tiredness and yawns. We are way over the time initially negotiated for the interview but she fights the fatigue off as we settle for a few more minutes of chat time. Now, we completely veer off entertainment as she intimates me with tales from her childhood. I probe about her room which is rumored to be decorated with the bae of one of Walt Disney’s essential characters.
‘Oh yeah I collect ‘Minnie Mouses’ so if anyone is getting me a birthday present, get me Minnie Mouse. It’s really scary growing up, I had such an amazing childhood. Now having to make decisions on my own, run a business and be a woman, it’s really scary so any bit of my childhood that I can hold on to, why not?’
‘Nigerian parents, be more like my parents. Love and nurture your children and please let them chase their dreams.’
Still on her childhood, Cuppy mentions her dad’s no-nonsense disposition as key to the enviable upbringing herself and her siblings have. Regardless of whether their children are now adults, Daddy and Mummy Otedola have not changed much with the discipline. In fact, Cuppy had just been telephonically yelled upon by her dad just before we came in.
‘I still am accountable; I still have my dad calling me like “what time did you come home yesterday?” I’m like “well it’s my job”. He’s like “ok, yeah I forgot” so it’s very structured, and I’m really grateful for that actually because you have to protect children…you have to guide them. I’ve made a lot of mistakes and I’ve learnt from them. I feel so blessed that I have parents that I can call and say “hey this is the situation, what is your advice?”. A lot of parents in Nigeria scare their kids away. They don’t make them feel like they can actually be close to them and kids hide away from that and it’s wrong, so Nigerian parents, be more like my parents. Love and nurture your children and please let them chase their dreams.’
Oh well, here she was, living her own dream as proof. When she first told her dad of her disc jockeying intentions, he wholeheartedly told her to go for it but that if she was going to do it, she had to be the best because anything worth doing, was worth doing well.
Questions concerning her current relationship status were a no-go-area as blogs had messed the opportunity with soft sell gossip and irrational click-baits. Nonetheless, she did not really mind telling me some other personal and random stuff like her Cuppy takes Africa experience, her stance on spirituality, the age she got her first kiss, foods she hated and a personal childhood memory she swears not to forget in a hurry.
‘I’ve grown up in an environment where I’ve looked at people because of their ambition not because of what they have…’
Vibe: What were the highs and lows of your Cuppy Takes Africa tour?
Cuppy: I mean, Cuppy takes Africa was a very different type of project for me. As a Nigerian, it reminded me that there’s so many other variety of flavors in Africa. We forget that it’s not only just us. There are 53 other countries so to put myself out of my comfort zone was phenomenal. It was a month of being on the road with 30 people, going to 8 countries. Infact thinking about it is making me tired. It was exhausting but I learnt so much, I got to try new food, meet new people, and play new music. There was so much drama but it was such a great project. You know, they say “no risk, no return” and that was definitely a risk. We really pushed the envelope with Cuppy takes Africa, but I enjoyed every single bit.
Should we expect more tours? Yes, I definitely want to go on tour again. It’s just such a big project. It takes a lot of determination but now that I have music, now that I’ve found my sound, it makes sense to go again.
Would you say affluence gets in the way of love? I feel like for me, it’s hard to say because I’ve grown up in an environment where I’ve looked at people because of their ambition not because of what they have. A lot of my friends are go- getters. We come from different backgrounds and it’s almost like I’m a bit of a disappointment in that sense because I don’t act like someone they expect me to act like. I’ve dated people that have grown up completely different from me but the thing they’ve always had in common is that they’ve been ambitious. They’ve had careers, they’ve had very serious goals. So I don’t think that affects anything.
What is the easiest way to get into your parents’ bad books? The quickest way to be in my dad’s bad books is probably to be at a gig and he asks me to play a song and I don’t play it. Like, he takes it so seriously. He’s like “why didn’t you play that Fela song?”, I’m like “well because no one wanted to hear it”. And my mom, it is probably not to call her back. like I’m so busy, and when I don’t call her back she gets upset. she’ll say “Oh, I saw you put a picture on Instagram but you didn’t call me back” .
What sort of relationship do you have with your siblings? I have a great relationship with my siblings. I have an older sister called Tolani who’s actually really breaking into the music industry and I’m very excited for her. I have a younger sister called Temi who runs JTO fashion.com. She’ll always be my baby sister but she’s doing so well. I have a younger brother called Fewa who lives in London. He’s like the baby of the house. Me and my siblings are really close and I have to say that everything I’ve achieved at some point, each of them have been a part of it. Whether it’s my older sister taking me for gigs or Temi, my younger sister in general just supporting me, giving me advice, being my companion. It’s really nice having a house full of kids, I definitely want to have four kids.
Were you involved in Temi’s sky banner birthday message to Mr Eazi? (Laughs) Oh, I was not involved in that in anyway. I also woke up and saw a sky banner message.
What is the easiest way to make you cry? Ok, it’s really weird. When I’m flying and I watch a really romantic movie, I actually cry and I never used too. I don’t know, maybe I’m getting older and my hormones are everywhere. I don’t know what’s going on. I’m probably crying because I’m just tired of flying. I fly a lot because of my job, but it’s happened like 3 times. I watched this movie -The Wedding Party- and I was crying so much when they said the wedding was off. I don’t even know why but I was heartbroken.
Are you spiritual? Yes to some extent, I’m in touch with my faith, I’m a Christian, I try and go to church, you know I try and just live a really good life. I feel like that’s very important when you’re in the music industry because it does really change your stance on a lot of things but it’s really difficult especially because I work on weekends, but I try my best and I cannot even lie, every single thing that has happened, that has been positive in my life has been because of God.
What food would you rather starve to death than eat? I hate gizzard. I can’t eat it. I would eat cow tongue, I would eat flies, I would eat snails, I would eat roundabout but I cannot eat gizzard. Even with dodo, when they do that whole paroles (Gizdodo), I can manage it but I don’t like it. And I don’t like periwinkles, the other day I tried it and I didn’t like it, I don’t even know what it is.
Cuppy was 17 years when she first locked lips with a person whose face she never saw, at a masquerade ball; at least she says this is her theory. As for the most memorable moment of her growing up, I’ll just use her opening words into the hilarious juicy gist.”This one, was really bad”.
‘So, I was really young and we were raising money in school for charity. This is where I’m very similar to my dad- I’m very competitive. My best friend was raising more money than me so I actually went in her bag and I stole the money and I put it in my bag. The funny thing here was that it was for charity, so it’s like who could raise the most money for charity. I think it was like 200 Naira and I won the competition but then I had stolen the money. I remember I went home and was like “Dad, guess what, I won this competition, I raised the most money for charity, and I stole my best friend’s money” and he was so upset, I’ll never forget.’
‘I plan on eventually building a structure and building a system that allows other Cuppys a platform to come through. It’s really important.’
If Cuppy wasn’t Djing or making music, she says she’d probably be in an office right now thinking about the weekend. She’s sure her father’s entrepreneurial spirit rubbed off on her and if her life did not turn out this way, she’d be doing the exact same thing he’s doing but in a more modern way. A coincidental laugh-like sound made by my colleague when she shaded her dad’s “oldschoolness”, sent all of us into a short fit of laughter.
‘I still have an entrepreneurial element to my work though. I own Red Velvet Music Group which is my management and production company and I do plan on not always being Cuppy. I plan on eventually building a structure and building a system that allows other Cuppys a platform to come through. It’s really important.’
Cover Story: Cynthia Atagbuzia
Photography: August Udoh
Styling: Uche Agbara
Hair: Glory Uduma