There is always something new about Nigeria's international pop artiste, D'banj. My editor (Nseobong Okon-Ekong) and I recently caught up with him few days before his birthday and discovered his hilarious side.
There was no air of a celebrity about him as he mixed freely with the small gathering of journalists and friends of the media. The camaradie was magnetic with Nigeria’s international super artiste, Dapo Oyebanjo, better known as, D'banj, personally doing a bear hug with everyone and backslapping them with amazing familiarity. Even if it was an effected emotion, it was well executed as he had a joke for each person. And because he never repeated a joke, this betrayed a little known side of the entertainer who took Nigeria (first and later the world) by storm about one decade ago.
He was clearly happy to be in the midst of those he considered friends and acquaintances he had not seen in a long while. Perhaps, it was that feeling of long-time-no-see that engaged his fun mood, prompting him to act like a cheerful party host. He went around encouraging everyone to have a drink. And he was clearly acting out his own mantra by having a glass of his choice drink all the time.
Parting Ways with Mo’hits
One year ago, D’banj was not as happy. He had just parted ways with his former record label, Mo'hits Records. Moving from standing on a solid rock to the uncertainty of a slippery ground created some anxieties, but he was willing to take the risk. Today, it is clear that Providence was charting a new course in his life, one that would open more doors for him internationally.
Decked out in an army green double-breasted suit, D’banj admitted that separation from his erstwhile producer and business partner Don Jazzy was a trying period in his life. He was confused on how to further the journey without Don Jazzy whom he described as a wife and brother.
"My relationship with Don Jazzy was like a marriage. At the point we broke up, I could compare it to a wife who suddenly abandoned her husband taking the five children they had along with her. It was like giving 10 years of my life away. By next year, I will be 10 years in the industry. If under one year, God has done so much for me, I think breaking up with Don Jazzy was the right thing to do."
No Lost of Friendship
Despite the painful estrangement, love is not lost completely between the two. At least, both friends are on speaking terms and Don Jazzy is not averse to working on D’banj’s album again. “The last time we spoke was during Tuface’s wedding in Dubai (about two months ago). I was in America then, I thought we would meet there but I couldn’t make it. I was in the studio working and called him to let him know how it’s going. In fact, he produced three songs in my upcoming album. One of them is already out. That is the one I did with Fally Ipupa.” He described their current relationship, hinting at the fact that there is mutual respect between both parties and a clearer understanding of each person’s expectation.
“It’s something that we all just know where we are right now.” Though he claimed it’s been long since he set his eyes on Don Jazzy, but he did not fail to make known his observation on his physical appearance. “I told him on the phone that he had lost some weight when I saw the ‘Don’t Leave Without my Heart’ video that Don Jazzy did with Tiwa Savage.”
Signing to Kanye West Label
Besides his signing on to Kanye West’s record label, G.O.O.D music, D’banj was recently made a goodwill ambassador of the Bank of Industry in Nigeria. He's been privileged to sign a distribution deal with Universal Def Jam and Sony Music, a monumental feat by all standards. D'banj also performed at the AFCON 2013 closing ceremony and in concert with Jay Z, Rihanna and Rita Ora. His 2011 popular hit ‘Oliver Twist’ landed him on the UK singles chart and he was #2 in the UK R&B chart last year, gaining him international fame.
D'banj made his debut in the industry with the single ‘Tongolo’ in 2004. The album "No Long Thing" was later released in 2005, fetching him accolades and collaborations with artistes like Darey Art Alade. It also bagged him the alias ‘Koko Master’ with ‘Koko’ being the catchy phrase in his ‘Tongolo’ hit. However, this alias is about to give way to a fresh stage name which is the hallmark of the born-again, D’banj who now wishes to be addressed as Banger Lee, leader of the De King’s Men (DKM). Again, like ‘Koko Master’, describing himself as ‘Banger Lee’ is certain to draw sexual interpretations from an artiste who is seen as a sex symbol by many of his fans.
Banger Lee, Leader of the De King’s Men (DKM)
Explaining what DKM means, D’banj said it is a movement whose membership will seek after excellence in everything they do.
His first Koko concert after the breakup with Mo’hits record last year saw international artistes gracing the event. Though it went down as a poor performance, he promised to blow the mind of his fans in the second edition of the concert slated for. The concert would be a three-in-one package to mark his birthday on June 9, album launch and the unveiling of his new media company, De King’s Men Media (DKM) in partnership with Ndani TV.
D'banj also revealed that the album would be the first album to be released under his record label DB Records and is titled ‘De King’s Men’.
"De Kings Men is a movement, if you listen to the album; you will find out that Olamide is in the album, Durella is on the album so also Fally Ipupa, Naeto C and Ikechukwu. I didn’t sign everybody you know, but it’s a movement where like (when) Jay Z does an album you have Kanye West on the album, 50 Cent, you have everybody featuring on it and then you go on tour together.” His response put to rest the question on whether D’banj has signed Olamide on DB Records.
He explained further, “it’s a movement where everybody has his own record label. For me, what I bring on the table is the D’banj Records right now and we have a universal distribution deal. With what we have done last year, by entering into a working relationship with Universal Def Jam, Sony Music, I know how hard it took me to be able to get there. The opportunity is open. What I have with me is that if you have something you want to sell through his medium, if you have your own record label, it doesn’t matter, DB records will still help you to get you that distribution deal whether with Sony Music or Universal Def Jam so I see myself as that link. That bridge is finally here."
Why Lee Banger?
Known for his energetic and bouncy performance on stage, D’banj also has a tradition of coming up with catchy lingo phrases and titles for himself with each new song. From ‘Koko Master’ to ‘Igwe’, ‘I’m D'banj’ and the rest, the latest alias he has created in anticipation of his new album is ‘Banger Lee.’ In his cheerful and energetic manner, D'banj revealed what inspired his new name.
"A lot has happened to me in the last two months that has questioned a lot of things. Whenever I drop a new album, I drop a new name; from I’m D’banj to Koko Master. The Banger Lee is from the Lee temple. You asked me something about De Kings Men and I told you it is a movement. After the split (with Don Jazzy), a lot of things happened and I knew how loyal I was to the whole crew. Moving forward, I knew those who were loyal. And I looked and said to myself who in the world are the most loyal people that will kill themselves before they snitch on their friends and I realised it’s the Chinese, the Japanese, they would kill themselves as an act of loyalty, even the Russians are inclined to do the same. I said to myself, you know what, ‘I’m D’banj dem don play you the banger say you must lead this movement’. So it’s the Lee movement. I’m the Banger Lee and other people can have their own form of Lee. It’s the Banger Lee for De Kings Men movement so you will have a lot of people with Lee on their names very soon who will be known by their loyalty.”
Any Cultic Tendency?
Besides the Lee being derived from the Chinese, it also describes D’banj as a leader in loyalty.
Unconsciously, D’banj may have moved closer to confirmation of insinuations in some quarters that he has cultic tendencies. Is this not what the Lee Movement is? Would there not be oath taking as required in his rumored affiliation to the Illuminati? His response: “Hell no, for me, it’s a thing of pride. As Banger Lee, I know I’m loyal. I don’t have to sugarcoat my words. I’m a realist, what you see is what you get. Enough of the bullshit, so when you have Lee, you are loyal.”
The new Banger Lee finally cleared the air on the Illuminati buzz since he became an artiste on G.O.O.D Music and his wearing of crucifix, which is believed to be an emblem of the mysterious cult. "It’s just a cross. I believe in God and I do really love jewelries too. I won’t say it’s a Catholic thing or a Moslem thing; it’s just a way of justifying who I believe in. This illuminati thing I really don’t know what it is. There are things you don’t understand and I just try my best not to get involved in it."
At the interview, he adorned a gold crucifix, which he said was a gift from his mother. Unlike his contemporaries in the pop culture, D’banj keeps a safe distance from piercing any part of his body. He revealed that he could not stand the pain that comes with piercing and tattoo.
‘Time Won’t Permit Me To Start Relationship’
The Koko Master has no doubt created a sexy persona for himself, endearing him to the female folk. Though he's been rumoured to have a relationship with Nollywood ace actress Genevieve Nnaji who featured in his ‘Fall in Love’ video and also the Ghanaian actress Nadia Buari who was also mentioned in his ‘Oliver Twist’ hit, D’banj revealed that he has not been in contact with either actresses in a long time.
His busy schedule in the studio would not permit him to start a relationship. This is what he said: “I work so hard. The last two and half years I have not been in any serious relationship. I have been so busy. That is why it’s hard for me to make new friends because I hardly go out. I’m always in the studio or in one meeting, before you know it, I‘m out of the country. I just came back from South Africa yesterday; I’m going to America next week, I don’t know if I will be in the country on my birthday. I’m not even sure about that. So many things happening. After everything that happened last year with my former record label, I just want to focus on my work. I have very few friends I appreciate.”
‘I Want Rihanna’
Though he was reticent on his love life, he hinted on his undying crush for the sexy Barbados singer Rihanna. “I want Rihanna,” he said.
As we wound up, we wanted to know how he rates his father who didn't approve of him delving into music since he wanted him to walk in his military stead. D’banj still acknowledged that his father is his role model and the reason why he believes in marriage. Through his father's discipline, he said that he could't be found in bed past . He stood up, stamped his feet at a smart attention in the fashion of a soldier and motioned his hand in salute to the journalists. But the greatest admiration he has for his dad stemmed from his father’s loyalty to his mother. In his own words, "My dad is the reason why I will ever get married in the future because I saw real love, to see the way he loved my mum and treated her so well. He is the most faithful man I have ever known.”