‘You’ll fail as a musician if you lack female fans’
By TOSIN AJIRIRE
For Azubuike Chibuzo Nelson popularly known in the music circles as Phyno, you don’t need to understand the language in which a song is rendered before it becomes a part of you.
Combining some elements of English and Pidgin, Phyno delivers rap music in indigenous tongue effortlessly. For this, he is widely recognised as a cultural ambassador and role model to many youths.
In this interview conducted at his Lagos home shortly after receiving the official letter informing him as joint winner of The Sun Creative Personality of the Year Award, the vividly excited rapper opened up on his career and love life. Enjoy it.
How do you feel being named The Sun Creative Personality of the Year 2016?
I feel very blessed.
The Sun Awards has run consistently for 13 years. Presidents, ministers, governors and the who-is-who in the business sector of this nation have graced the awards. So, what do you think an award of this calibre will do to your career?
To be honest, it is a good thing to be recognised. Whether you win or you don’t win, being nominated alone is a big thing. I always say this about awards. For you to work so hard and a particular body recognises and pick you out among other persons, I think it is something big. This is an award I will cherish and acknowledge forever.
I do music for my fans. To be very honest, when I do music, I don’t put awards at the back of my mind. I have the fans at the back of my mind. I have my low and high moments and I just feel like making music, I feel like putting myself together to know exactly what will work and what will not work. And it is a different thing when the music drops and it goes far more than your expectation, and you are being recognised for what you have done. I think it is a different level of joy and happiness.
Some years ago, when you started as a producer, did it ever occur to you that you would get to this point where a national newspaper like The Sun will honour you with an award?
The only thing I can say is that I have never looked down on myself for one day. So, maybe I didn’t see myself in that light but I am the kind of person that will say ‘oh yes, I can achieve and get to this point one day’. I know when I stay back and produce songs for people or when I try to record sometimes, and probably it doesn’t sound right or it doesn’t come out the way I want, I always have a way of keeping myself going. And I will probably tell myself ‘this is not the right time, when the right time comes, I am going to get there’. So, that is exactly the way I see it right now. I guess this is the right time (for the award), and that is why it is happening right now.
A few days ago, Majek Fashek was at the corporate headquarters of The Sun and he gave us an insight into how he got inspiration for his hits. If I may ask you, how do you get inspiration for your hits?
Big shout out to the legend, Majek Fashek. I think every artiste has different ways of getting inspirations. I do street music and I do it from the lowest part of the street, to the mainstream. I interact with people a lot. There are people you won’t even believe I hang out with, but I chill with them to actually know what’s new out there and make it into music. So, when such music comes out, people get along with it as well. It’s something different. Doing the kind of music that I do is actually what I chose to do. I keep on telling people that it’s a choice; it is not just because I decided on doing indigenous music. No, it was actually a choice. I know I can rap and sing in English, I know I can rap in Igbo but it is like which one gives me exactly what I want; the fans, the communication and the love I want out there? It’s singing in my native language and I stick to it.
And this has to do with a lot of interaction. For seven years, I have been based in Lagos and what they speak around me mostly is Pidgin English and Yoruba. So, you have to keep on with that interaction to actually know what’s new. I have a lot of friends in the street whom I call and we interact. I can be sleeping and at 3a.m get particular vibes, I would just enter the studio and start making music. So, it’s a different ball game from what it used to be, to what it is right now.
What were the challenges of growing up in the ghetto of Enugu?
The challenges I faced as a producer and-up-and coming musician were totally different. In 2000/2001 before I started learning about production, the challenges were totally different. Then, the people in the East were stuck to a particular kind of music, which was like highlife or gyration sound. At the time, if you were playing music, it was like, you were not doing anything reasonable with your life. But now, all that has changed. Today, I may be working in the studio and wealthy parents would call on me to mentor their kids. That’s something that would not have happened in those days. You’re either a doctor or a lawyer before you can be called upon to mentor a kid. But right now, parents have grown from what they used to be. They now allow their kids to follow their dreams and heart desires. And this makes the industry to grow more. Those were the challenges I faced. I remember my dad never wanted me to be a musician. But you just have to prove and show that you can actually do it for yourself. I am not sure if I practice what I read in school, I will be happy with myself. So, at the end of the day, I am happy doing what I am doing. I love what I am doing, that is why I am putting in a hundred percent effort.
Where do you see yourself in another five years?
I want to keep on what I am doing in the next five years. But not like it is right now. In 2012, if I had told anybody that in 2017, indigenous rap music, whether from my language or Yoruba, which Olamide is doing or from the northern part, which Ice Prince and MI are doing, will be something that people will appreciate or associate with in Nigeria, I am not sure that people would believe me. At that particular time, If you didn’t rap in English then you would not be making sense. I wish to say that the Igbo language or the indigenous rap music has now gone global. It is happening already. Wizkid’s Ojuelegba has gone global. And Ojuelegba is a Yoruba word. So, whether we like it or not, this thing will happen. It is growth. It is development. As long as we are dedicated to the industry and to our art, all these things would happen.
Who actually inspired you? Did you hear about Junior and Pretty who rapped in Igbo and pidgin back then or you just woke up one day and started rapping in Igbo?
I listened to Junior and Pretty, no doubt about that. But to be honest, as I was listening to them, I was so deep into English music. Talking about mentorship, I may say yes. But inspiration, I will say no. No hard feelings about that because I wasn’t into what they were doing back then. When I was a producer, I produced for Nigga Raw. So, talking about inspiration, yes, he did inspire me because at a particular point it was only Nigga Raw and I that were being invited to the studio. Also, the late MC Loph and Slow Dog inspired me. It was like they carried the Igbo rap music on their heads. I equally got inspiration from people like Lord of Ajasa. He was rapping in Yoruba but he was different.
As a celebrity, what challenges do you face from your fans especially the female?
I play music to please my fans. I also play music to stay relevant. The challenges I face are not about female fans but they are personal. I am the kind of person that loves to feel free. I like to take a stroll in the street but it’s something that I cannot do right now. I am the kind of person that if I see a woman roasting corn at a street corner, I would buy and start eating right there. But can I really do that right now? Someone will just take the picture and the next minute it’s on the social media. So, the challenges are personal. It’s not really about the female fans. If you are a musician and you don’t have female fans to show you love and scream your name, then you have failed.
Who is your crush in the industry?
Crushes come and go, I think I have grown pass that stage right now.
Okay, is marriage on your mind?
Definitely yes, I am going to marry one day. But right now, I want my music to stabilise.
Can we say you are single and available?
Yes, I am single and very available. Forget whether I am in a relationship or not, I am not married yet. Even the person you are dating, you might end up not marrying her. So, I am not married, I am available. No! I am not searching but I am single and available.
Like how many years from now would marriage be on your mind?
Let’s say the next three to five years.