In 2014, my friend Samson introduced me to rap music. Although I had been a casual fan of the genre for many years, this was a new exposure for me, and as opposed to solely considering music as a soundtrack for feel-good moments, I was reintroduced to it as an art form for therapeutic, informative and motivational purposes.
I was a very young dreamer, trapped in an environment that wasn’t conducive for my wild imaginations. Nobody understood my vision. “I am going to save Africa”, I said many times to my friends who in most cases would resort to laughing as they could barely understand what I meant. In all honesty, even I was clueless about what drove me but I was pretty convinced that there were people like me out there who wake up every day feeling like it was their duty to save the world- or at least their immediate sphere of influence.
Everything however changed in 2014. I met Samson and just like me, Sam is a creative but unlike me, he was a sucker for rap music. He was constantly bumping it and few months into our friendship, I was forced to become acquainted. Even in his absence, all that played in my head were the melodies of the songs in his playlist. It first felt like sessions of recitations but the music soon began to hit. The words began to resonate – they slowly surpassed my ears and got to my heart. It felt like a revelation.
These rappers embedded their pains, unconventional ideologies and proclaimed their vision on these records and just like a gospel; the words reflected my personal battles. “I know they see the future, they recognise that I’m a king, I know they see the possibility that I’m the dream they’ve been sleeping on; that’s why I’m still keeping on, I own the heart that the future was written on”, these were strong words from Skales in a 2014 rap single titled “Shining”. I realised that there were people with unpopular dreams and personal struggles that resembles mine. Music became my escape!
Amongst many others, Skales became my personal favourite. From Shining to his Jimmy’s Jump-off Freestyle, Thank God It’s Christmas, Tomorrow, Enter the Action, Send Down The Rain (Majek Fashek cover) and of course Heading For A Grammy, I became a follower – not only of his music but also of his (own) journey and struggles.
He was a young artiste trying to make it against all odds in a bid to lead a better life and ultimately provide for his single mother. These struggles as well as the pressure of constantly being compared with his then label-mate Wizkid (who had gathered so much fame and commercial appeal) was well documented in his music. As a troubled visionary who has been constantly overlooked by people who couldn’t comprehend my dreams, I could relate to his struggles – his music became a soundtrack to my soul. In some way, Skales became my soul brother.
“Omo e just dey pain me, say people wey dey run the show no entertain me, even the clique wey I dey dey tolerate – dey say I too scatter, dey need to coordinate me. Dem say dem no like my style, money no dey enter to make dem smile, everyday controversy just dey pile, I never make am though I’ve been here for a while. Dem dey compare me to Wizzy, my people take am easy, everybody get am believe me – when my own time reach, you must believe me”.
Those were words from “Very Soon”, for which he released a video as he parted ways with EME records in 2014. The label reportedly refused to renew his contract because they were unable to recoup their investment on him over the years, saying in as much words, he wasn’t a profitable artiste. I spent many days trying to figure out why a music genius like Skales was being slept on. I shared in his pain and frankly, I remembered him in my prayers.
Many people thought he would fail after parting with EME but like an eagle he withstood the storm and months later as an independent artiste, he released his biggest and most popular single yet – Shake Body.
Although very excited about the success of the record (I mean the world is finally paying attention to my boy), I was a bit conflicted. The soulful substance that I was drawn to was no longer there. In a bid to commercialize, the content was now well watered down. With subsequent releases, he attained more commercial success and provided less (relatable) content. I resorted to holding on to all his previous records and celebrated his newly found fame from a distance. I was heartbroken, but I never stopped cheering and I never stopped wishing him well. To prove my loyalty, in 2015 when he was having an embarrassing Twitter exchange with former label-mate; WIzkid, I penned an open letter encouraging him to keep his head high and continue to soar.
April 10, 2018. Fast forward to three years later. I got a Whatsapp message from my colleague that read; “Hi Victor, quick one, would you be interested in interviewing Skales?” My heart skipped. It felt like being reminded of your ex. I wasn’t sure of what response to give. You ask why? The answer is… I don’t know. I didn’t know how to feel about that. Alas, I responded “Yeah I would”. We scheduled with his handlers and three days later, he showed up.
On the D-day, April 17, I was notified of his arrival by a member of his PR team. “Skales is around”, the message said. For one who always tries to maintain a professional distance with celebs, I made an exception to go recieve Skales as he got down from his pristine Range Rover. We walked into the studio together, making small talk and getting somewhat acquainted.
As we sat across each other, I asked myself again, how do I go about this interview? Finally I broke the silence and said “Let’s have a chronological conversation – let’s talk about where it all started from to how far you have come”. He smiled and said okay.
So I began; you started as a rapper right? I asked this question feeling eager to discuss the phase of his career that saved my life. But what I would get as a response, served as the break up notice I never got. “I didn’t start as a rapper actually, I was just a musician that was just in love with music; so I could rap, I could sing… What brought me out were rap songs, but I just want people to know that I’m not a rapper, I’m a musician”, he responded intelligently.
This response may mean nothing to you but it struck a nerve. I felt betrayed, used even . “Does it mean that those quiet moments I spent listening to your rap songs do not mean anything to you? It was just an experiment that you are not proud to identify with? Does it mean I was attached to a phase of your journey that isn’t real to you?” These and many more were the questions I asked myself as we sat across each other.
“The show must go on”, I said to myself as I tried to manage the weight in my heart. At this point, I became eager to know what his (new) values are because obviously, everything I thought I knew was not real. As we went on, I inquired; “Right now, how do you measure success?” I genuinely wanted clarity.
Responding to my question, he explained that he sings to make people happy and whenever a song becomes big, makes people go crazy and cause him to travel the world, then that is success to him. For me, this response solidified my convictions that there has been a change in principles. I couldn’t blame him for embracing a new principle. I put myself in his shoes – making music that served as therapy for unsettled minds like mine never translated into anything tangible. But it was still difficult to accept that the Skales that made all the soulful songs that helped me navigate the harsh realities that life has thrown at me considers a record like “Booty Language” a genius piece of art. As he attempted to prove his point, I tried to wrap my head around the claims of his argument. Is his judgement of “genius” based on the production, content or the commercial success of the record? I asked myself with the lyrics of Booty Language playing in my head (How do you say booty in your language – idi, ass, ukwu…)
The rest of our conversation as you will see below reflected a strong disconnect. The more he tried to justify his most recent works, the more I felt disconnected. We argued and debated until he ultimately reached a breaking point and took walked off the interview set and out of the office.
Perhaps I should have taken it easier on him. Perhaps I shouldn’t have become part of the story that was being told. In hindsight, I should have internalised the hurt I felt as a fan and as what I imagined to be a soul brother. But as he spoke on, he seemed less and less like the artiste whose early music had helped me overcome personal struggles. My humanity made its way through the professional facade one is required to maintain. For some reason, I just couldn’t accept the metamorphosis of gifted rapper (in my opinion) into pliable musician who caved in when push came to shove.
His irritability- and mine- was obvious and as he and walked off set, I knew it may be a long, long time before Skales agreed to sit down for an interview with me again. In a way, I was relieved that I got in what I thought of his chosen path. In another, I felt bad that he may have misunderstood me. In that moment, it became clear to me that we shared a trait in common: resolute in what we think is right and relentless in defending that idea. How can anyone be mad at that?
Hit play below to watch interview
Postscript: Skales has demanded that this interview should not be aired. I disagree, as does my editorial team. No story is worthless. Skales in particular, is not a worthless piece of content, regardless of whatever direction the conversation swayed.