As he sipped local Pasa Bitters, trekking from his house to the studio and getting ready to spit his environment inspired lines, Lil Kesh had no idea that the song he was about to record-Lyrically– would be his winning shot at a deal with (arguably the biggest hit-churner in the country) Olamide.
His own “time and chance” happened to him in the toddler phase of his artiste journey and trust me, there are levels to this. Two months into his record deal, Lil Kesh dropped a track with an internationally recognized dance signature that gave Nigerian Street-hop a complete face lift.
Shoki, and eventually Shoki Remix (which featured Davido and Olamide) put Kesh on the map, right beside a few choice artistes who had a tougher time reaching and maintaining their current status. In the shortest space of time, Kesh defied the one-hit-wonder curse, dropped a number of worthy and impressive follow ups, became the focus of 2 enormous controversies in 2016 and transitioned into a pair of shoes that many could have sworn he was in the least way ready for.
A curious and much younger Keshinro Ololade, once approached a group of boys who he probably perceived as the Eminems and Modenines of the tutorial center he attended, deep in the heart of Bariga.
“I walked up to them and I was like yo, this rap thing that you guys do, can you try and put me through? And they were like yes and they said a whole lot of things that still don’t make sense to me up till now (chuckles) but as at then, I was so interested in learning so I was trying to concentrate pretending like I understood exactly what they were saying…”
Dissatisfied with the limited information he had gotten; Kesh began a personal quest to understand the dynamics of rap by, doubling his dose of rap music but this time, with intentions to understand and to practise.
“I was able to figure it out myself. It started with writing, and writing, and freestyling here and there a little bit.”
In no time, Kesh who first started out as a dancer, became a serious neighbourhood sensation simply by freestyling from compound to compound with his proud sister, who showed him off like an engagement ring.
“Every little thing counts you know. A little bit of encouragement, a little bit of “I think I like that line”…”You’re doing well” contributed to my success and from every positive comment in my life at that point, I felt like I could do it.
Armed with the cheer-leading of his family and friends, his back to back victory in campus rap battles and popularity among Unilag girls even before he gained admission (a really rare phenomenon I hear), Lil Kesh slowly built what can now only be described as an indestructible confidence.
He was also at this point ripe enough to be tagged the very interesting, yet most frustrating term known in the hierarchy of the Nigerian Music industry: An upcoming artiste.
The young man who I received from an angry looking, fully tinted Mercedes Benz revealed that ‘Shoki’ blew out of proportion and visibly overshadowed the artiste.
“When ‘Shoki’ blew up, I didn’t have a car. I was living somewhere in Gbagada so I was basically staying indoors. The song was way bigger than me… I was looking very young; I was looking like a very upcoming artiste.”
Sounding like he faced challenges that he would rather not talk about, he said the music was enough distraction from everything. Rather than brood over what was not working, he eagerly looked forward to when Baddo would call for a meeting to discuss his next single.
As if he was in a hurry to confess something to me, he disclosed
“…The highest pressure I have felt in my career, was after Shoki…”
“You know you can tell when a whole lot of people are looking at you like “Bro, there’s no comeback from that”. The song was massive. It’s doing almost 10 million views on YouTube. Imagine, for a kid that was just new in the game… The pressure was siiick…and eventually, ‘Gbese’ came through. After then, things started getting easier…”
Although ‘Gbese’ stands at a little over a million views, Kesh still brags that it was a worthy follow-up regardless. Even bragging some more, he believes that his choice to blend Yoruba and English as his style is because he is a smart boy. However, with only 3 professional years in the industry, he doesn’t fail to also acknowledge that he feels blessed everyday.
“…I have seen a lot of things. I have seen a lot of boys, I have seen the ones that are very talented, I have seen the ones that have the money to sort as many people as you can sort to get your music played and I know of a lot of artists that have really really tried but eventually had nothing to show for it…
….Yeah I am very talented. I’m not even gonna lie. I know…but it takes God’s blessings.
These days, when I hear some songs, I’ll be like this song is crazy. Why is it not number 1 on iTunes? But the song is probably not even on the chart.Having the right instrumental, having the right inspiration, having the right vibe, putting out the right music at the right time, that is God controlling you. That is God trying to help you get somewhere…”
His mentions about the God factor did not come as a surprise as he had earlier shared a joke about being a pastor’s son. With regards to people’s opinion that he would turn out to be a pastor just like his dad because of his calm nature, he said
“I’m sorry. God called only the father and not the son…It is not a conference call.”
The biggest criticism in Kesh’s career pretty much comes from his liberal use of vulgar words but he does not regret it. As far as he is concerned he has studied and taken various demographics into consideration and has carefully crafted music for everyone; with songs like ‘Ishe’ and ‘Semilore’ as proof. In obvious defense, he tells me;
“The age range I am trying to satisfy is a whole lot… The guys in their 20’s just want to go to the club…they want to hear songs that are very blunt…yo! The same Kesh that did very vulgar music was the same Kesh that did some very inspiring music.”
He supports his point with the 15th track off his Y.A.G.I album ‘Life of A Star’.
If asked, Lil Kesh would tell you that 2016 was an eventful one for him. If you had to deal with an album release, an expired contract and being the reason why two industry heavyweights publicly fight, I bet it would be eventful for you too.
As per his contract issues with YBNL, the word on the street was that “Lil Kesh is an ingrate. He left Baddo after all Baddo did for him.”
But the conclusions were wrong. Olamide had told him from the get-go that his 2-year deal would be a training process after which he would emancipate and become his own boss. Kesh in turn did not (like we would say) fall Baddo’s hand. He charged at his opportunity like a bull to a red cape and exceeded both limits and expectations.
Titled with a double edged acronym (which had both an indigenous feel and was an ingenious summary of his current status), Kesh’s debut album ‘Y.A.G.I’ (Young And Getting It) served like a YBNL statement of result. Although they still serve his management needs, he officially parted ways with them 5 weeks after the release of his project.
With an unbelievable quality of guest appearances like Olamide, Phyno, Davido, Adekunle Gold, YCEE, Wale, Viktoh and Patoranking, ‘Y.A.G.I’ did not seem to have a landslide success but Kesh says the numbers and the feedback prove otherwise.
“I had my intentions and I had a direction when I made that album…My aim was to make the most of my 2 years. I had a strategy from the onset. I would rather give you bangers. I will make you dance. I will make you call me for your weddings, call me for your ceremonies so I can entertain you basically.”
Strong emotions were all over his words as he continued….
“most of the stories on the album were very real… I met some people that were crying when they were telling me how much ‘Semilore’ meant to them.I know how strong the album did. Even digital (online sales) I know how much I made off my album last year.You know how the industry is hype and everything. I would rather meet somebody and they genuinely tell me how much my music means to them than pay people to hype my music.”
When asked if he feels like he deserved the public disagreement between Olamide and Don Jazzy at the Headies, his reply is filled with utter disinterest.
“Let’s not give anybody free promo…it’s so gone, I’d rather not talk about it.”
He is of the strong opinion that indigenous rappers are doing much better in terms of numbers in comparison to their non-vernacular speaking rivals. He said with what looked like a shading sneer.
“You sef do the maths now. (Looks away, everybody laughs, he joins the laughter) But you yourself do the math. In the past 3 years, YBNL strength has been 100 %. We came from nothing to what we are right now so you need to know that whatever force is pushing our music is very very strong.”
“The street is everything. If the street does not f@#k with your music, I’m sorry.”
The creative freedom and hands on training that Olamide gave his protégés prepared Lil Kesh for his own Y.A.G.I. record label. He admitted that it felt uncomfortable when the training wheels came off but he bounced back to a 100. With the enormous responsibility of running a label and having to cater to his own career which has barely gotten close to it’s prime, he has no intentions of signing any new artiste just yet.
On the lighter note of things, I asked what he gave his boo for Valentine’s and he said; “A house”. Just in time, he picked up all our jaws from the floor by telling us his boo was his darling mum.
*Clears throat* Should Lil Kesh be given the chance to spend his life with one Nigerian celebrity, it would be with the delectable Ms Kedike, Chidinma. His reason? He joked that her petite physique fits his and he would be able to “tie her mouth small; not too tight o” if she causes him trouble lol. Is he really just joking?.
From trekking to the studio, to signing a big record deal to releasing a hit record and eventually heading a record label in a 3-year space; Lil Kesh’s journey is what miracles are made of.
As he walked out with his armed security, displaying a blend of respect, confidence and poise, he did not just look the part. He played it perfectly.
Story by Cynthia Atagbuzia
Photography by Image Faculty
Wardrobe by MagPayne