Reality shows have taken quite a digital turn, compared to when Kingsley Chinweike Okonkwo (Kcee) and his longtime music partner, Precious John (Presh), were announced the winners of Star Quest’s maiden edition. Save for a recorded episode or a live show at the very best, there were definitely no mobile voting options or internet campaigns to boost the chances or popularity of participants in the year 2002. This is also probably why many might not recollect Asa or P-Square as some of the contestants that KC Presh competed against for the One Million naira cash prize.
Bred and buttered in the one-time Street-hop capital of Nigeria, Ajegunle, Kcee already possessed the prerequisite skills he needed for a career in entertainment. His father’s expanding DJ business tripled his chances and exposure but somehow, music remained the side chic to soccer; his very first love.
Though he took significant steps towards realizing his footie dream, his success at Star Quest called for reevaluation. ‘I joined Star Quest and won which got me thinking… “a bird at hand is worth 40 in the bush”. I was still looking for sponsors to take me to Europe for football but I was like hey, just hold this one wey you see first. That’s how I held on to the music and left the soccer.’
‘I can be here for twenty years if I want to because I know what to do. I do music for business and not just for my pleasure.’
Serial entrepreneurship and multi-tasking may be the new black but for more sensitive paths like music, Kcee believes it is a give-it-your-all situation; especially in the building phase. And for what it’s worth, he has no regrets.
‘Most of the youths today face the dilemma of choosing and paying attention to something. If I wanted to do soccer, I’d have abandoned the music and gotten the best out of it. Maybe I would have made more money playing soccer but at the same time, maybe I would have had an everlasting injury that would have cost me my ability to walk. God always has plans for us.’
Five Star music would easily make a top 10 list of Nigerian record labels always in the news and if we’re being honest, they’ve had quite some history; from Kcee’s hot topic fashion to his interesting dance moves, to Skiibi, to HarrySong… This controversial status, however, can be traced back to the KC Presh days. Before the breakup, a portion of Kcee lyrics on their ’09 Timaya assisted hit ‘Ginja your swagger” addressed some of the public perceptions resulting from their rapid rise to fame and fortune:
‘Dem say we be yahoo yahoo boys eh,
We dey fresh dem say na mawu mawu eh
Because we dey drive big big motor
Dem see us for road dem dey call us otokoto’
With none of these being quite the case, Kcee acknowledges his affiliation to Star Quest and his attentiveness to his Dad’s Disc Jockeying venture as the eye-openers that made him privy to the success secrets and formulas of the industry, which very much includes instigating harmless controversy.
‘2018 is a merchandizing year for me…’
His in-depth understanding of the diverse Nigerian music market (both in the traditional and digital eras) happens to be one of his strongest suits. He professes his genuine love for the Reggae/Dancehall genre but he also understands that making only dancehall music can limit his reach as an artiste.
At least one generation of musicians have come and gone, with a whole new one on the rise…Yet, 18 years later, Kcee is still within the perimeter of every new wave. He responds to how he has managed to make this his reality with a subconscious brag. ‘I can be here for twenty years if I want to because I know what to do. I do music for business and not just for my pleasure. I look at what the people want to listen to, react to, and dance to.’
He’s quick to note that it doesn’t end there, admitting to employing various radical means of keeping his name and brand on everyone’s lips.
‘There’s a whole lot more I do surrounding the music. In 2013 when I released ‘Limpopo’ which was one of my major hits, I was selling colors. I always tried to dress colorfully as a strategy to draw more attention and expand my fan base, and it worked. I was getting thousands of followers on my social media handles. I didn’t want to do negative things for publicity. At every point, I draw up strategies for my branding. Recently, I decided to cut off my dreads and the internet went down.’
When I released ‘Limpopo’, I always tried to dress colorfully as a strategy to draw more attention and expand my fan base, and it worked.
The internet did go down again a couple of weeks back when a topless photo of Kcee went viral. Not only was he sporting a set of debatable six-pack abs, he was also modeling his soon to be launched underwear line, La Cueca. Having been in the pipelines for almost 4 years, Kcee confirms that the brand will stock trendy intimate pieces for both men and women.
‘2018 is a merchandizing year for me’ he says. ‘I have another merchandise coming out soon which you will love. There are some edible things come from Five Star and Kcee. There’s already the Five Star tomato which is doing well. There will also be the Five Star groundnut oil, sweetcorn, among others.’
The booming enterprise will however not interrupt Kcee’s plan for his music this year.
His latest singles- Burn featuring Ghanaian rap maestro Sarkodie and Bullion Squad- have put both terrestrial and digital airwaves in a chokehold while another waits in line to be released next month.
As our session progressed in the live band rehearsal wing of his duplex, he spoke of the serious work going on in his studio, with over four producers there, experimenting with different sounds. To stay fresh blooded, he makes it a point of obligation to surround himself with young music minds while staying open to contributions and suggestions.
You can’t have everyone, you cannot be with everyone and you cannot sleep with everyone so I try to manage their feelings.
In as much as Kcee’s 6-year solo career has been a fairly good run, history will forever remember the 12 years he spent churning out interesting music cuts with his partner Presh. One grapevine version has it that their breakup was initially a stunt before it blew over, while another one speculates that it was a result of imbalanced focus and drive but in a 2014 interview with Yes magazine, Kcee set the records straight, saying the decision to move on as individual artistes was a mutual one.
When I ask if he’d consider the possibility of a reunion, he doesn’t completely rule it out.
‘We have done that already at a show and if anything happens tomorrow, we can do that. I have a tattoo on my hand right now, and I remember when I was younger, I felt negative about having tattoos. Now I have a different perception of it. So for me, I don’t want to say no to any reunion as it could be God’s plan for something better. I always like to be open to anything while being smart at the same time. Anything is possible.’
‘Nigerian youths are some of the smartest in the world…if you don’t believe, wait till Wizkid or Davido enters your country or till I enter your stadium.’
We return to him spilling the beans on industry hacks, where he points out the crucial factors of attitude and relationships. Fame, he says, can be very tricky and intoxicating and he has witnessed it snatch many careers from the cradle. He has learned to condition himself to be level-headed and approachable at all times, especially when his fans and colleagues are involved.
‘You need to finetune your attitude and personality to better suit the society’ he advises. ‘You need to understand you’re no longer living for yourself alone as you have people who pay for your shows, download your music among others. You have to learn to be yourself while being nice to everyone.’
As for impulsive female fans, he says he handles them the same way he has for 18years; “In a bad guy way”.
“You can’t run away from them’. You don’t need to be rude or mean to them. You can’t have everyone, you cannot be with everyone and you cannot sleep with everyone so I try to manage their feelings. If I feel like I don’t have anything to do with someone, I just try to make them happy while creating a balance.’
I’m tempted to ask about his marital status which has been his best-kept secret but I resist the temptation when I remember his manager’s stern warning. That notwithstanding, what I can categorically tell you for a fact is that our Limpopo master has been happily married for 8 straight years.
It is almost surreal that in this dispensation of living our lives on the internet, a very social media active Kcee has managed to keep the narrative of his private life under such strong control. Perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned here?
We capped the session with a few more music business nuggets which included an exclusive sharing of his encounter he had 5years ago with Davido and his manager Asa Asika, his top 10 song choice from his overflowing catalogue, politics, political ambitions and of course his ties with Hush Puppi and Bobrisky, to which he gave epic replies.
Vibe: What stresses you the most in the entire business of making music?
For me, the process of making music is not stressful. It’s a part of our lives and what we love to do. The stressful part would be the fashion. The process of getting what to wear for shows, pack for trips, and wear on stage is what I would consider as being stressful. It’s enjoyable but stressful. The process of music production is exciting for me. But having to combine clothing accessories is quite stressful.
How many albums have there been so far?
As a solo artiste, I have about two albums. When I was with my group I had about 5 or 6. But I have a lot of singles. The industry doesn’t encourage the release of albums. The energy and time put into album production is a lot which one may not get much out of, but it’s just necessary to have one. In total, I have about 8 albums.
Let’s talk about upcoming artistes and the struggle to reach reasonable heights in their careers.
Well, like my song ’Turn by turn’ implies, I think everyone has a turn to success in the industry. As an artist, if you get in the A-list, I observe everyone has a minimum of 5 years to reign if you’re focused and hardworking. Afterward, you are either getting bigger or not.
I remember when I was doing a song with Davido, he liked my ‘Okpekete’ song and we decided to do a remix. We met at Rhythm Unplugged in Eko hotel, got to the studio and was about to record the song when Asa Asika his then manager, said he didn’t think he should be on the song which Davido disagreed to. In between, Asika and I were discussing and he said, “This boy you’re seeing is going to be bigger in the next 5 years”. I asked why and he said he knows the drive and the passion Davido has and if he’s being managed properly in the next five years he’s going to be bigger. That was why he said he didn’t think Davido should do the song, just to be careful with the brand. Five years after, Davido is bigger than when he started. He’s one of the biggest artists in Africa. What it means is If you’re hardworking, dedicated, focused and you have a clean heart, you will have a long time to reign in the industry.
Wizkid, for example, has been on top of the game from the point of his announcement by Banky W to this point. Some people get carried away by the fame and forget themselves or forget to work harder. I think those that are down there shouldn’t give up and should continue to work harder. Someday the sun is going to shine on them and when it does, if they remain hardworking, they would last a long time.
Give us your top 10 Kcee jams.
My top 10 songs are in no particular order. I would start with ‘Limpopo’. ‘Pull Over’ was a strong follow up. ‘Ogadinma’ was amazing and people enjoyed it. There’s ‘Give it to me’ which I did with Flavor. I also love ‘Ebeano’ which I didn’t think would go far. ‘Tender’ with Tekno is another amazing song. The response I got from ‘Burn’ was also amazing. I won’t forget ‘Shokoribobo’ and ‘Sio Nkpo’ which I did back when I was still with Presh. They are evergreen songs. ‘Ose baba’ is also one of my top 10.
In 2017, a faux election poster of you floated the internet. Was this just to push the Attention To Detail album or politics is indeed part of the game plan?
It wasn’t just for Attention To Detail. It was in my plan to alert the youths that the power is in our hands to take responsibility for our future. Our president 30 years ago is the same one we have today. Politics is not for the older ones. It’s our age and we need great people who have a passion for transformation. I think that passion is what I felt and still feel. I was able to meet with a lot of great politicians and learn a couple of things from them. Politics is not a joke and you’re going to be seeing me doing more of that.
Do you agree to President Buhari’s claim that Nigerian youths are lazy?
We have done a lot for ourselves, and I would say Nigerian youths are one of the smartest in the world. We don’t have the resources that other countries have yet anything we do trends around the world. And if you don’t believe, wait till Wizkid or Davido enters your country or till I enter your stadium. Our music and movies are international. Our youths are the ones bringing attention and doing great things to and in Nigeria.
Some fans think you were a bit too strict as a judge on Star Quest. Do you agree?
Yes, I was. I was just being real and very straightforward. It wasn’t like the organizers asked me to do that. It was my own strategy, which I did for about 5 years. I was just being real.
What do you have to say to Hushpuppi’s ‘cars on loan’ claim?
I don’t know who that is.
Bobrisky seems to be in love with you. What’s up with that?
I wish you the same. Lol. Please, can we move on?
Cover Story: Cyclone Artemis
Photography: Amazing Klef
Styling: Mag Payne
Creative Directing/Cover Design: Slimkiss
Location: The FreeMe Space