The producer talks about his Twitter outburst which happened a fortnight ago.
Around 10:00 am, this writer gets a call for directions. 30 minutes before the 12:00 pm interview, he was here. Dressed casually in a pair of trainers, sweatpants, T-shirt and hoodie, he was taller than I had imagined. He also had a back pack that I was to discover had goodies in the form of chocolates.
He was cheerful. Before interview, we had a beautiful chat about his career, the industry and life in general. We also ate chocolates as the chat wore on. He was laidback and the chat kept going.
Finally, we decided to get off the couch and conducted the interview. His desire for freedom was also palpable in how he spoke. He said curse words more often than most people.
His name is Ezra. He is a Kogi State indigene who grew up across Northern Nigeria. You might know him better as Northboi, The Oracle. He is the Nigerian producer behind hits like ‘Soco‘ by Starboy featuring Wizkid, Terri and Ceeza Milli as well as ‘Joro‘ by Wizkid.
Due to his affiliation with the North, he got the name, ‘Northboi.’ But on the funny side, he calls himself, “‘Soco master. ‘Joro’ master (laughs)…”
Northboi was born in Kano State and he spent the first 12 years of his life there. Then, his family moved to Abuja, but he kept moving because of the music and schooling. Since those first 12 years, he has lived in Abuja, Bauchi, Sokoto, Maiduguri, Jos and so forth. He says, “North is my culture, I am a North boy.”
He started making music when he was five or six. He says, “I remember when I was little in Kano. When my mates wanted to sing, I’m the one they always called to drum on the table. I was the youngest, but… When I got to secondary school, I kept on doing the same thing. I played P Square, I played M.I, I played Don Jazzy and I hummed the melody and played the rhythm with my hands on the desk.
“So people loved that sh**. Eventually, a friend of mine advised me that there was this software that makes beats. I wasn’t even interested – he (the friend) started making beats before me. So, I was like, ‘Let me give this sh** a shot. I tried it and I made a beat on the first day. A friend of my used the beat, recorded a song and it was big.”
From there, he got the conviction to pursue that path, but his Dad was particular about education. In 2015 – at the age of 22, he was on break after his first year in University. Then, he fought his dad and left home to live with his elder brother in Lokoja, Kogi State. He says, “I refused to come back home. Anytime I had break, I would come down to Lagos (Laughs)…”
Then, he started working with Ceeza Milli whom he reached out to via DMs. That relationship later led to the birth of ‘Soco.’
Move to Lagos
He recognized his dream and was ready to fight for it. Now, he admits the risks and admits that he might have been naive, but he kept coming to Lagos. Then in 2016 and at the start of his third year, he left school and moved to Lagos permanently. He was staying and working in an Ikeja studio owned by Adex. He was also paying this Adex.
Nortboi kept grinding and he moved to a Studio in Agungi, then Lakowe and now, he on his own. Looking back on his journey, he claims he never expected things to open up for him this much. He says, “No one thinks that (things will open). You just come and take your shot.”
On his first lesson after moving to Lagos, he says it is, “Never stop working. I sleep a lot because it’s the creative business and I need time out time to rest. There are periods when I don’t create – my friends know me. When I want to go idle, seven days, I won’t create. I just stay in the house with Netflix, food and my girl – Oh, I have one.”
A little later, he was able to rent a studio.
Soco: Meeting Wizkid
Sometimes, grinding leads to opportunities. Sometimes, these opportunities come by virtue of relationships. Northboi and Ceeza Milli maintained their relationship.
Then, Northboi sent Ceeza the beat that became ‘Soco.’ Contrary to rumours, Northboi says Ceeza already had a freestyle on the beat. On how the song became ‘Soco,’ he says, “He (Milli) went to play some of his songs for Wiz… He played the beat for Wiz and Wiz liked the instrumental more than what he (Ceeza) had done on the beat.
“They had an agreement and Wiz called me. That was how it happened.”
A few days before Northboi got this call from Wizkid, he was contemplating going back to Abuja and back to school. In his words, “I was in a mess.” He had just gotten back from the hospital and the landlord to his studio was on his neck for rent he could not afford.
Before that, in January 2018, he went for a competition called, Kill My Beat. It was organized by Frizzle and Bizzle Films. The winning prize was a brand new car and N2.5 million. He came third, but he felt like he was better than the winner and first runner-up – he refused his price and the frustration kept piling up.
He says, “Three days later, Wiz calls me and I was like, ‘Okay, this is possible o (laughs).” To him, this was both a turning point and a sign. Now, he feels optimistic – but not for the first time. Most importantly, he claims that he feels enlightened. He says, “Every stage has a lesson.”
The Lion King: The Gift
A few months ago, American Superstar announced that she would make an afro-centric album for the remake of live-action animated adventure film, The Lion King. African features include, Burna Boy, Wizkid, Tiwa Savage and so forth. Beneath the spotlight were Nigerian producers/composers like Shizzi, Bankulli and Northboi who also got credits.
Northboi is one of the producers credited for ‘Keys To The Kingdom.’ However, he only found out about the news just before two days before the album dropped.
On the story, he says, “A few months after we made ‘Soco,’ I was in my hotel room, then one of Beyonce’s associates at Parkwood texted me on WhatsApp and asked if she could give me a phone call. At the time, I didn’t know that the reason was because it was too confidential and they couldn’t just write it.
“So, she called me and they listened to ‘Fever,’ ‘Soco,’ ‘Gucci Snake’ and that they love what I do. She also said that they would want me to be a part of what they are doing. They also asked if I could send them some tracks.
“I couldn’t believe my ears. She said she represented Beyonce, and I was like, ‘Excuse me (laughs). I just want to be clear. Did you say Beyonce?’ She (the rep) laughed because it was funny. I couldn’t believe it. After that, I sent them 40 beats in two packs.
“They selected two of the beats and one of them made it to the album which was ‘Keys To The Kingdom.”
On how he felt when he discovered that he made the cut he says, “(Laughs) It was a miracle and a drama between my Lawyer and I. To be honest, I found out that I was on the album two days before the album dropped. I just got an email that the track I gave them was on the album that Beyonce drops on Friday.
“My Lawyer sent me the email, e come be like say I nor sabi read English again. It was already trending like one week before the release. Yet, I didn’t know I was a part of it.
“Funny enough, I was at the Palms with my friends (to see the movie) and we were just seeing it everywhere – the whole cinema was littered with it. They had statues, paws and everything. I didn’t even know they were celebrating me..”
He was excited and according to him, he got paid and documents were signed. Unlike the Nigerian landscape, even on the documentary, Making The Gift, Northboi gets royalties.
Compared to Nigeria, he says that it is a good deal. He says, “What they (Parkwood) paid me for a track, most Nigerians won’t even pay you for five songs.” He then says that is just upfront and he still has splits (royalties and publishing).
Northboi says he was paid $5,000 upfront for his work on ‘Keys To The Kingdom.’
Effects of afrobeats wave
Afrobeats is the current sonic obsession of American capitalists. Everyone wants a share of the ‘untapped ground.’ So far, it has not really yielded any major fruits, but it looks like that is inevitable. For these western capitalists, the goal is profitability and marketability.
Beyonce did a lot with her album, The Lion King: The Gift. This reality continues to impact African music markets – everyone wants to appeal to ‘a Sir Lucien Grainge.’ Northboi says that is also the case for producers. He says for him, this reality has positively affected the way he makes music.
He says, “Change is uncomfortable. People prefer security and a method that guarantees success no matter how small. Now, afrobeats going international means it’s starting to appeal to foreign minds. Those foreign minds already have what appeals to them.
“There’s a way they like their music – the cadence, the sound selection… they don’t like too much, they like simplicity. Our version of afrobeats was dense – ‘get it all in there,’ just make it loud… But they (foreigners) like simplicity and composition.
“I feel afrobeat artists should learn how to play certain instruments because internationally, you can use four instruments to make a beat and that beat will be international. Most of the biggest hits come on simple beats. If you look at Rihanna’s ‘Work,’ or Drake’s ‘One Dance,’ the beats were simple.
“Coming down to afrobeats now, we have to adapt to what that market finds appealing and incorporate them into our sounds. For me, it has affected the way I make music because I find myself working with a few of them and I experiment with different sounds.”
Northboi feels like international artists find it hard to relate with our raw, dense afrobeats. He feels like these foreign acts don’t like over-produced beats. American Producer, Larrance Dopson said as much during his ‘In The Studio’ session with Output.
Lessons of a producer
Nonetheless, while a few producers succeed, most are struggling. The Nigerian landscape can be hard to navigate for a composer. Artists don’t want to pay producers and songwriters. Sometimes, artists even steal songs from producers or their fellow artists.
Ordinarily, producers should be paid upfront for the beat and then get royalties when release becomes the discussion, but Nigerian artists are always reluctant or unwilling to do either. Even when they pay producers upfront, they can reduce fees charged. What should be an easy process is arduous.
For Northboi it is because, “Nigerians depend on their feelings to think.” To him, Nigerian acts only act on the impulse of their own needs, not the other guy’s needs. He feels like it is general human nature to be reluctant to pay for anything, but evolved humans have overcome this weakness because they work with reason and logic.
The producer also pegs it down to the common penchant of Nigerian artists to feel superior to producers and songwriters. He backs it up with how Nigerian artists work with foreign producers and have no problem paying. He says, “They probably even paid them (foreign producers) before they walk into the studio.”
Northboi then says, “Greed is another main problem.” On whether he makes beats for free, Northboi says he does.
“God gave us this thing for free anyways. Only thing it costs you is effort. I have friends I am working with right now that I dash free beats,” he says.
Joro: Wizkid’s ‘reluctance’ to pay for beats
A few days before this interview, Northboi had a Twitter exchange with fellow producer, Killertunes – who was later praised by Wizkid. Killertunes produced ‘Ghetto Love’ for Wizkid.
Initially, Wizkid announced ‘Joro’ in June 2019. It was going to be his first single of the year, but it only dropped in September, 2019. As Northboi tells Pulse, the song was recorded last year after he left Wizkid’s house to get his own place. He had lived with Wizkid for a short time before then.
He left due to an issue with Wizkid – at the time, he wasn’t even sending Wizkid any beats. He calls it, “a family thing.”
On one of his visits back, he met with his friend, Starboy Terri who played him some songs made by Wizkid. One thing led to another, Terri convinced Northboi to start sending Wizkid beats again – he obliged and sent Wizkid 13 beats. One of them became ‘Joro.’
He claims that the Teni-featured track which Wizkid teased on his Instagram live in March 2019 was also one of the beats he sent. He says that another one titled, ‘Sarah’s Song’ is also there.
In 2018, recording started after Wiz called Northboi to come touch the beat, but it wasn’t completed. At the time, Northboi had not been paid.
While he had been paid when this interview was conducted, he says, “It (my social media outburst) wasn’t really about ‘Joro,’ it was about my whole experience with the second party (Wizkid). After ‘Joro’ was ready, his management reached out for the STEMs to ‘Joro’ and ‘Blessings’…
“I talked with my Lawyer and Kel P and they said, ‘No.’ Kel P said that by international standards, I have to see a contract, sign and get my payment before anything. They said if they get the STEMs, they have everything and then, they can do what they like and think about you when they want.
“So, a payment for the STEM proves commitment to get the project done. But in the case of ‘Joro,’ after we fought, Wizkid didn’t want to give me the contract initially. It took a lot of fight and back and forth before he did. He finally did and our Lawyers met.
“But even as at that, it was not when I was paid. I was paid before the song dropped, but that was after a lot of documents were sent back and forth.
“What stimulated what I said was that after we settled ‘Joro,’ we started working on newer songs. That was when we made songs with two big Jamaica acts (Darmian Marley and Buju Banton). The problem was that we kept working on new songs without payment for the older ones.
“When I ask, I usually expect to get a positive response, but I never get any. Not even, ‘We’re looking into it…’ I might chill for a few weeks and ask again. But like before, I will get no response. Wizkid could then cover it with another chatter and then ask for beats.
“I will send him beats. Then, he messages me one time and says that his people will contact me for the Buju Banton record. Then asked me to send him beats. I told him I would send four beats. I asked about the previous records, but I never got a response.
“So I texted him that even though I love him, I didn’t see any importance in working for him if my life isn’t important to him. I chilled and then, he responded with threats. So, we had an exchange of words in the DM and that was how it ended…
“I thought everything had ended and then after the release of ‘Joro,’ I saw him praising another producer (Killertunes) on his social media. But what really pissed me off was that Killertunes went online and started saying I made an artwork for ‘Blessings’ before the song dropped and I never did that.
“He also started disparaging my producer tag because it’s too long and I never had problems with him (Killertunes)… He also talked about how ‘chairman (Wizkid) was the reason an ‘aboki (Northboi) was getting proud. So, that was what caused my anger on Twitter.“
As at when this interview was conducted, Northboi had not been paid for the Buju Banton and Darmian Marley records. Neither have documentation been sent for them.
Before ‘Joro,’ Northboi had produced three singles for Wizkid. The producer admits ‘Joro’ was the first time Wizkid showed reluctance to pay him. The second time was for the unnamed Darmian Marley record. When asked what the situation is with the Buju Banton record, Northboi says he has not asked about it, but he expects similar reluctance and a protracted event to get documentation and payment.
The producer then says that this issue might be why the release of ‘Joro’ was delayed. As the chat continues, the producer underlines how a lot of Nigerian producers experience this at the hands of artists, but are reluctant to talk about it because they don’t want to mess with their connects. He says it mostly happens with A-list artists.
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