Growing up with a grandfather who was in the army and strict parents, YCEE’s music horizon was greatly censored by his folks. Nonetheless, he listened to D’Banj, Tuface, Bone Thugs n Harmony, Fat Joe, Ludacris, Ruff Riders, M.I., and Lil Wayne who he drew his largest inspiration from and would like to meet eventually. To satisfy my curiosity about how he chose YCEE as his moniker, he explains that he initially went by Young Crack, and then changed it to Young Carter when he took a break from the music industry. This he did mainly to focus on rebranding and restructuring because he didn’t want to give off the wrong Impression to his audience. He doesn’t forget to mention that CARTER stands for Crazy Advanced Rapper Terrorizing Every Rapper. He decided not to stick with YC because the pseudonym was already mainstream; he added two “Es” in front of YC to give it a distinctive quality, which has succeeded in branding him as YCEE the music artiste.
“YCEE and his crew are here” My production head said to me. I sat down at the edge of the seat that he would later use for his interview. My eyes widen in anticipation as the elevator door opens and I see the silhouette of someone coming out of the elevator. My hopes of an interesting interview are dashed, as I look further. I see a lean man wearing a t-shirt, knickers, a gold chain and sneakers stroll out of the elevator; he looks relatively blasé and impassive. Suddenly, my hopes of having a fun interview with him come to an end. YCEE later tells me his often somber and melancholy look often gives off the impression that he’s arrogant and presumptuous. With a drink in on hand, he sits down to tell me the story of how Demilade Martin Alejo transitioned to YCEE the rising superstar.
From going to cyber cafes and download beats to record freestyles, to signing a record deal with Sony Music West Africa, YCEE says that hard work, motivation, and craft mastery were essential for becoming successful in the music industry. He also acknowledges the help he got from his childhood friend, manager and owner of his record label Tinny of Tinny Entertainment, and long-time friend Patoranking that aided his climb to the top. Taking breaks to drink from his cup, YCEE tells me that the break he took from 2013 – 2014 was instrumental in breaking into the music industry. He is quick to debunk claims that he became an overnight star, citing instances where he would have to beg bloggers to feature his music on their blogs and getting walked off stage by an event organizer for having absolutely no stage presence. He also proceeds to say he has certainly paid his dues in the industry. Getting Patoranking on ‘Condo’ was not a hassle because of the long-time friendship between them, and after gaining recognition through that track he released Jagaban that was significantly instrumental in throwing him into the limelight that he enjoys today.
He tells me that the level of success he has achieved is nothing compared to the struggles he faced as an upcoming artiste. He believes the endorsement deals with KUI, a natural hair company and Samson mobile that is set to launch in the coming year, are just stepping stones of much greater things in store for him. After being nominated for ‘Best Breakthrough Act’ and ‘Best HipHop’ at the MAMAs this year and not winning both nominations, I asked YCEE how he deals with failure. But he doesn’t see it as a failure in the least bit; he referred to not winning those nominations as a success for him as an artiste. He explained that simply being nominated for the 2016 MAMA awards was a big deal. Being up on stage with Patoranking at the 2015 award show in Durban gave him a euphoric rush he had dreamed of feeling again, so performing on that stage alone this year was all the win he needed. He doesn’t forget to chip in that the road to success is often filled with failure, so his not winning only makes him even more certain of winning someday. I must admit, this is a very positive way to view life and the failure that goes hand in hand with success.
He’s very hopeful for 2017 as he has a number of things in the pipeline. His deal with Sony Music West Africa means that they will handle his music distribution through Tinny entertainment, which is bound to get his music to a much wider audience and a wider range of people. He is also set to launch his EP ‘The First Wave’ in early 2017. When asked what the inspiration for the name was, he referred to his music being called wavy by his fans.
“Seeing as I was one of the very first artistes that people regarded as wavy, it’s only right that my first body of work is called The First Wave cause (sic) I consider myself as the First Wavy One”,
he tells me. Unlike popular expectations, his previously released singles are not appearing on the EP. “It’s going to be brand new music,” he says. “Link Up”, one of the songs that is going to appear on the EP, was released a few days ago featuring Reekado Banks. A significant amount of creativity was put into ‘The First Wave’ as YCEE worked with artistes from South Africa, a couple of artistes and producers from the U.S., and producers from the U.K. YCEE says his fans should be on the lookout for an international tour in the coming year as well. He has plans to tour parts of Europe, the United States, and even a University tour within Nigeria, all of which he’s sure his fans would be looking forward to.
YCEE values the distinction between YCEE the music artiste and Demilade the budding young man from FESTAC. He tells me he values a time out with “his niggas”, and an ideal chill session for him is staying at home with his brother and friend who he lives with, or a night out with them. He says it’s on one of these night outs that he listened to Young Ma’s “Ooouu”. He liked the tracked and was convinced by his friends to “jump on the track”. The result was “Ahnahn”, a cover to “Ooouuu”. When asked about the reception of the track so far, he first laughs at my less than perfect pronunciation of the song, tells me how it is accurately pronounced, and goes on to tell me the reception has been very heartwarming from his fans.
Delving into future collaborations, YCEE envisions working with Drake, Lil Wayne, Kanye West, G-Eazy, Yemi Alade, Wizkid, and Tiwa Savage. He records his biggest growth as an artiste in recognizing that talent is one out of a number of important criteria that is essential to making it in the music industry.
“Over the years, I’ve been able to learn to a certain extent, the way to handle the industry and the fans; And to also know the kind of music to create and make. Relationships with other artistes and industry personalities are also as important as going into the studio.”
At this point in the interview, he begins to get comfortable with me, he feels more at ease and starts laughing and smiling more than when he had first walked in. This gives me the go ahead to ask lighthearted questions and make tongue-in-cheek comments. He laughs when I ask him how his folks perceive his celebrity status and says that although they were not in support of him initially, they have adjusted over the years when they realized it wasn’t just a hobby or a phase. When talking about crazy things that female fans have done to him since he became a star, he says one tried to kiss him once and he felt really awkward about it. He skillfully skirts around the question of his dating status but says that it’s important for anyone who he dates to know that as a music artiste his schedule is going to keep him away from her most times. He also states that it’s of utmost importance for her to take into consideration the fact that he is going to get a lot of attention from his female fans a lot of the time.
“I get nudes daily. It’s normal. If I’m not getting nudes then I’m not doing something right.”
“At the end of the day the person has to understand that you’re in a relationship with them and you’re in a relationship with your music as well.” On how he’s managed to stay baby mama drama free, he proffers a simple solution; use protection.
I quoted a line from one of his tracks, “I am a stoner/ I love me a chick that can handle a boner” and asked if there was anything he would like to tell me about the line. He falls back in his chair and has a good laugh and says “Google it!” We both laugh. “I engage in a certain level of intoxication” he says but quickly sets the record straight that he is not a drug abuser and does not support drug abuse. When asked about his celebrity crush, he mentions Genevieve Nnaji. YCEE does not condone violence against women; a belief he makes clear when he answers my question on who he would marry, kill, or have sex with out of Simi, Victoria Kimani, and Seyi Shay. He first asks, “Can’t I have a foursome with all of them?!”, then says he would marry Simi but sleep with Seyi Shay AND Victoria Kimani at the same damn time!
He ends the interview with a freestyle as requested by one of the crew members. I leave the interview with a more succinct and apt perception of him as YCEE the celeb and Demilade the guy. Love him or hate him, one thing is sure; the continued Rise and Rise of YCEE in the entertainment industry is certain.
Cover Story: Adaobi Ezeodum
Photography: Amazing Klef
Styling: Jekwu the Stylist