Kiss Daniel’s Woju arrived on the wings of a difficult yet successful shift in the Nigerian sound, stamping it as one of the definitive tunes that birthed the urban- Afrobeat era. At the time, a breakthrough act coming out from a relatively unknown stable would normally mean one thing: getting hot-chased and poached by more established labels, bearing promises of better structures and systems but G-Worldwide Entertainment, seemed quite ready to bear the weight of its new capacity. To industry spectators, G-Worldwide Entertainment is only 4 years strong but Festus Ehimare or Emperor Geezy (as he is mostly called in social circles) floated the label one long decade ago. ‘I have been a lover of music from way back’ he writes, filling me in on his primary reason for choosing an entertainment venture. ‘It was a long term plan to invest in it because of my passion for good music so at a point in my life, I knew I was ready.’
Emperor Geezy arrived a little later than the rest of his team, spending quite a chunk of minutes in the car after pulling up at the home studio location opposite Madam Cellular Estate, in the Agungi neighbourhood of Lekki. A really busy day he seemed to be having as he wound down to signal his hello whilst taking a call but this was him really keeping to his word to be available for the shoot (though I was later informed that his own interview would come in by mail). His commitment to the career affairs of his artistes, has proven him to be a very hands-on CEO: a reputation which has earned him both applause and criticism. ‘The personal relationship I have with my artistes is a cordial one’ He explains. ‘We are like family, father and “sons” way… Lol.’
From an executive point of view, Emperor Geezy sees Kiss Daniel and Sugarboy as purely impressive. He had stumbled on a track on the internet some years ago, causing him to contact the blog’s admin to inquire about the singer; after which an introduction happened. Following the introduction, Geezy invited this upcoming artist, to meet him up in Lagos.
‘I came to Lagos from Abeokuta in Palm Slippers and one T-shirt like that’ Kiss Daniel recollects with a high pitched laugh, describing the day he met Emperor Geezy. ‘I can still remember my face. I was looking like a thief’ he adds, laughing some more. Geezy needed further proof that Kiss wasn’t just a flash in the pan so he instantly drove him to a studio to test some of his abilities.
Sugarboy, a singer, songwriter and producer who had already gained some level of public attention, was present at the studio that fateful day, and he put together the beat that served as a worksheet for Kiss Daniel’s vocal test. Unknown to them that they would sit together as a team for a Vibe.ng cover in years to come, the trio vibed; bringing talent, hardwork and opportunity together in a worthwhile threesome.
I started by loving the game before the game started paying me. -Sugarboy
Sugarboy had received a light buzz in 2010 from lacing a fire hook on Badman: a hot single off the Davinci Mode Album by Nigerian Hiphop Icon, Modenine. The applause received from Badman led to him releasing a spinoff extension titled Swaggerman Dope, which then exposed him beyond the Hiphop base as that artiste with a smooth, sweet and toned down Afro-Jamaican vibe. At this time, Nigerian social media was at its novelty stage and he was one of artistes who benefited from it quite early as his unique style gained him attention within what used to be a small circle (that most of us miss if I may add).
He frequently dished out freestyle, singles and features that were unfailingly picked up by the music blogs that mattered and one of the ones that stuck with me was Ashewo; a dancehall influenced soft banger that saw him singing of a complicated relationship with a girl rumoured to be a commercial sex worker.
He wasn’t always referred to as Sugarboy though. ‘My initial name was A1, cos my birth name is Akanimoh Umoren Felix’ he says, letting me in on the various transitions that his stage nomenclature passed through. An attempt at creating a profile made him first think of “Ai” but a friend suggested stylized it as A1 since the symbol of distinction according to him, “already carried power”. I wasn’t sure if he could see me subtly lift my brows from behind his shades, as he narrated how a girl first called him Sugarboy. I resisted the urge to ask why, and further listened to how the name went from A1, to A1 Sugarboy, to Sugarboy A1 until he joined GWW and in his words, “kicked A1 into Sambisa“.
‘What was different about Sugarboy was hardwork and persistence…that’s just the attitude one needs to create impact.’ These were Emperor Geezy’s words as he informed me on his decision to sign the Akwa-Ibom singer to his label – a move that other music execs may have considered as a risk, considering that he had already bubbled up to the surface before going lowkey for a while.
Sugarboy became affiliated with Emperor Geezy in 2012 but got signed after 3 years of showing and proving. ‘I was just like a team player, being around, just working and making music. Daniel got signed in 2014 and then my boss was like, I think it’s time or you to give them that thing you’ve got. Let’s do something.’
We are like a family and that’s a basis for greatness…
Kiss Daniel’s seeming leap from invisible, to the top of music charts, was somewhat disruptive. Shoye, his first official single produced by BeatBurx didn’t exactly pop and the first 2 months after the release of Woju seemed just as bleak; until his phone went “hotline bling” from people calling from far and wide to tell him how much buzz the track had begun to rake.
‘As at the time I dropped Woju, club songs were the rave of the moment but it stood a chance because it is a love song with that club feel… that wedding feel… it had that mushy mushy feel, it had everything in one song. Now…that’s a great song’ . His hands come together to support his last statement, which had pretty much defined the current formula for some of the most celebrated songs of 2016/2017. Woju remix featuring Davido and Tiwa Savage, burned even hotter and by the time Laye followed up, Kiss was more or less regarded as an A-lister but it was the weight of his debut studio album that sealed him as the real deal. Kiss Daniel’s immense talent was undoubtedly a huge advantage but the strategy that helped prepare Woju for easy mass consumption could have only amounted one thing: a sh!t load of money. In a very vague estimate, Emperor Geezy admits to the capital cost of his artistes running into millions of Naira but he first believed in them before sowing into what now looks like a damn healthy investment.
By late 2015, all the 20 songs for the New Era album had been recorded, arranged and ready for mastering when calamity struck. The company’s laptop crashed and everything went with it. No backups.
Reflecting on the nightmare, Kiss Daniel opens up on the painstaking manner in which he fire fought the disaster. ‘I re-recorded almost all the songs in one month. It was crazy. I was very skinny because I was just going back and forth into the studio’, he laughs. Looking back in retrospect, Kiss Daniel counts the stress all worth it as he enumerates the blessings that followed the release. ‘Let me start from the most important one. More love from the fans and more money…I want to say thank you to everybody who recognized my work. If I had dropped that album and nobody bothered to listen, it would have just been buried.’
If this is what God wants you to do with your life, if music is your purpose, you will blow. -Kiss Daniel
I badly wanted to know how G-worldwide managed to stroll out of some of the heaviest industry controversies unscathed, but as part of their tight modus operandi – which many in the entertainment industry have termed as too strict and have openly unsubscribed to-, they’d rather much talk about pressing forward than glancing over their shoulders to feed my curiosity.
One of the common criticism that New Era shared with Sugarboy’s Believe album, was the project’s length. New Era crashed out at 20 tracks and Believe, a whopping 22. Besides both of them admitting to wanting to put out all their old stuff to give room for their new materials (that they both swear will change the entire climate of Nigerian sound,) Sugarboy had the memorial of Dagrin attached to the number of tracks on his album and the release date.
‘Dagrin, someone I idolize, died on the 22nd and I released the album on the 22nd. I did that for him because for those that died chasing that dream, it is the duty of those of us that are still alive, to continue from where they stopped.’ It has been 5 months since the Believe album dropped and Sugarboy seems quite confident of making a killing in the next season of award shows. Speaking of awards, New Era winning the album of the year at the 2016 Headies, soothed the nerves of all who believed Kiss Daniel was shortchanged during the Lil Kesh/Reekado Banks incident.
‘I was happy, even if it was Lil Kesh or Korede I would have still been happy’ Kiss says laughing. ‘Emi kan wa joko ni, mo kan quiet, mokan observe’– (I just sat down there, watching quietly, and observing.)
I had a time of my life listening to both Kiss and Sugar tell me tales of women and the great impact that this “complicated” gender has on music making amongst other things. With both claiming to not be currently seeing anyone, Sugarboy explains why. ‘For now, I have to serve the music. No woman will understand…’ This notwithstanding, he makes it a point to watch romance movies that update him with the latest wooing techniques which he in turn uses, to create custom-made music for the ladies. Also addressing the switch from the Terry G Bpm to the current sensual patterns of Afrobeat (the latter being his style from the get-go) he educates: ‘Babe, the tempo back then used to start from 128. As soon as you hear free me now, you’re sweating on your back already but mehn, we thought about it…Girls are sexy beings and the core of their dance is in their waist which is why they twist and whine so… Fi di gyal dem.’
Kiss Daniel on the other hand claims to not have a girlfriend too, but he confesses to having kissed someone the night before.
Afro-rich-pop or Afro-deep pop is what Kiss Daniel and I jokingly agree to describe his music style. He prides himself of his songwriting skills which his music truly seconds, and he breaks down the formula that helps him with lyrical and subject matter approach.
Songwriting 101 By Kiss Daniel
- Have an idea of what you really want to talk about.
- Nurture it.
- Attach whatever it is you want to attach to the idea. E.g. Emotions like anger, love, envy or anything… Attach something to it. If I want to sing about a lady, what do I want to say? That I like her? That I love her? That she’s cocky? That she’s witty?
- Choose your words carefully. Make them simple but complex. E.g. No be you I carry come, but na you I go carry go (Woju opener alert). It’s simple but when people hear it, it makes them wonder for a while.
As for music business, All three of them come at it from different but complementing angles. Sugarboy’s funny yet insightful 2 cents, goes thus. ‘The reason why it is called music business and not business music is because the music comes first. I started by loving the game before the game started paying me.’
Emperor Geezy thinks the biggest enemy of the business is good content but believes that the situation is gradually changing. ‘My artistes have complete creative control over their music while in the making but at the end of the day, what the management chooses to give the listeners is based on market perceptions.’ To him, the biggest risk in running GWW is failing to meet set objectives which may lead to losing capital. This may explain why he is taking his time with Kiss Daniel and Sugarboy before getting them an artiste sibling.
‘Suru (patience) is key’; Kiss Daniel sounds in my ear, talking about the problem of impatience he believes most artistes have. ‘Everything has to do with patience. I believe everybody can and will blow. If this is your line, if this is what God wants you to do with your life, if music is your purpose, you will blow. That I am sure of. Ota kan le da owo yen ko pe ni…(it can only be delayed). Forget all these talks of the structure being bad.’
He then supports his claim with a sarcastic analogy. ‘Structure is bad yet new cats are coming up every day and making beautiful hit songs. Structure is bad but Mr Eazi is huge now. Structure is bad yet Mayorkun has dropped 2 great songs this year. Everybody wants it now now.’ He finishes up his mini outburst using Sofa, his current wave-making single, as the ultimate example. He had been told that if Sofa did not blow in one week, it would lose the chance of doing so but he recalls that 2 months later, the song blew off the top.
Many have questioned the nature of GWW’s policies and contract with Kiss Daniel and Sugarboy time and over again but the people that I met, seemed content, happy and full of respect for each other. Infact, Sugarboy went all spiritual on me; summarizing the strength of their relationship with a Bible verse. ‘We are like a family and that’s a basis for greatness. Even the Bible says that when two or three are gathered in one accord, He is there. Even if it is not a church, He is there…’
Cover Story: Cynthia Atagbuzia
Styling: Mag Payne