The name Opeyemi Gbenga Kayode may not ring a bell to many people, but mention Pepenazi, heads will turn and the whole place will literally turn to a dancing floor. The pop singer has launched himself into the music industry with two hit singles, Illegal, which featured Olamide and One for the Road- these two songs have pushed Pepenazi to the topmost level of his career and the young man seems to be enjoying every bit of his time in the music industry. Pepe in this interview with SEGUN ADEBAYO, shares the story of his journey into music and how he intends to stay relevant.
You are gradually becoming a force in the music industry. What’s the feeling like for you now?
There’s no greater joy than doing what you love and seeing it get appreciated. So if you ask me how I feel, I’ll tell you I feel very elated and thankful for the kind of fans I have and the unconditional love they’ve shown me this far. My fans have been my driving force and one of the major reasons I’m where I am today.
Attaining this level must have come with its high and low moments, what was it like during those days when all you had was your voice and songs?
Yes, definitely. There have been highs and lots of lows but then again that’s what makes up a perfect success story. Back then, it was difficult, booking studio sessions, getting the right, producer and necessary funds to make that happen, believing in yourself and getting others to follow suit. The hardest part was actually convincing my parents that music is a profitable craft. Then there’s the problem of standing out in an already choked industry. Passion and “strong-head” are some of the qualities that made me overlook all the low moments.
How did the music journey start for you? What inspired the dream?
Music for me started way back when I was a kid. It didn’t start from the church as most usually do. I’d say music grew in me and my dad was one of my strongest influences. I listened to songs off his playlist especially at weekends while doing home work and house chores. He listened to a lot of Ebenezer Obey, Sunny Ade, Fela and the likes. Junior and Pretty who also happened to be one of the biggest Nigerian acts as of that time stayed just a street away. So music was practically everywhere around me. I also listened to a lot of hip hop, then I started expressing myself through rhymes and poetry when I joined the literary & debating society in high school, Mayflower, Ikenne, Ogun State. That was basically how the journey started for me.
You have succeeded in dropping hit singles in the last two years, what have you been getting right?
First of all it’s been by the grace of God because that’s where all inspiration comes from. Working with the right producers that understand me and with the right team has also given me an edge. When you have the right people around you, it creates a positive vibe which increases productivity.
At this point in your career, what do you think you can’t do without?
I don’t mean to be too spiritual but I pray a lot. That’s how I start my day. It’s what I do before I step into the booth to record. It’s what I do before I go on stage. It’s now a part of me and now more than ever, it’s something I can’t do without. It’s my “one for the road”
Dropping hit songs is one thing, writing them is another work that many artistes don’t do again these days, how do you want to keep the momentum going?
As I said before, it’s about having that positive energy all around you. Writers are inspired by their immediate world, what they see, where they visit, pleasurable conversations and so on. Most times you hit a brick wall and you run out of ideas but that’s only normal. You just have to give it time, give yourself a break, and go on vacations. You’ll find out that your creative juices have been refreshed. It’s also important to note that writing itself is a skill, if you don’t have it, hire people who can do it for you. It’s not a big deal; you have only created a job opportunity for someone.
Do you actually write songs?
Yes, of course, I do. I don’t just write for myself, I write for others too.
In your struggling days, how many songs did you write?
Well, I can’t actually give you an exact figure because I couldn’t keep track. I wrote a lot, I was hungry and ambitious, I think I had about a whole big book full of lyrics. I only wonder where that book is now.
How big is the Pepenazi brand in the music industry today?
Pepenazi is a brand that has definitely come to stay. The brand “Pepenazi” is definitely not where it used to be. It’s a work in progress and I’m glad it has steadily become a household name today.
The competition is rife, how prepared are you for the task ahead?
Competition is what brings out the best in every industry. Today we can see the rapid growth in the Nigerian entertainment industry as a result of this. The sweet thing about competition is carving out your own niche. It’s what singles you out from the multitude. I have my style which I intend to stick to and modify if need be. So I guess I’m very prepared.
Looking back at where you were coming from, what singular thing did you think was part of you back then that you have stopped doing?
Well my love for “mama put” has to a certain extent reduced. I can no longer go to a street side food vendor. Sometimes it’s annoying but then again, that’s part of the price you pay.
Where do you place yourself in the music industry today?
Well, I wouldn’t say I’ve got to that highest level but I definitely have become a force to reckon with and that’s progress, judging from where it all began. I see myself as blessed because there are a number of artistes that started way before I did but haven’t recorded as much success as I have.
Obviously, your days or struggling are over, things appear to be looking up for you now. How are you making sure that you save for the rainy day?
*Ahh!! The hustle is still very much on oo. We grind every single day non-stop even Dangote still has to hustle, but things are definitely looking brighter. There’s always going to be a rainy day so I’m doing a lot of investing, not just in music, but also in other industries. It’s always better to have multiple streams of income.
What kinds of songs do you do and what messages are you selling to your audience?
Certainly! I’m very proud of every song I’ve created. I do songs that people can relate to. Most from past experience, others from what I’m feeling at that point in time. “Illegal” was that fun word we used as kids to express when someone was acting strange or doing things in a weird way. Even parents used it. So what I did was put it in a song, got the right producer and Olamide was just perfect on the hook. “One for the road” on the other hand is a feel good song that encourages people to always be positive come what may. To always look for that silver lining no matter the circumstance. With the hustling and bustling in this country, it’s only right to have that song on your playlist. I didn’t drop these songs based on an already existing trend, I dropped them solely because it’s what the mainstream can easily relate to and it became a trend.
Is it true that only lewd songs sell fast and are mostly appreciated by fans?
It’s true what advertising practitioners say “sex sells” but then again, we have a very intelligent Nigerian audience/fan base that selectively expose themselves to media content. In the midst of the hullabaloo, some fans take their time out to appreciate good music. It’s only a matter of time for others to follow suit.
What are your plans to have an album to your credit and what should your fans be expecting from you anytime soon?
Fans and marketers have been calling out for an album already but I have decided to take my time a bit to increase their hunger and thirst for it. My album is almost done, so my fans should expect nothing less than top notch. It’s definitely going to be very refreshing
You are called Pepenazi, where did you get it from?
Pepenazi takes its roots as far back as my high school days. Pepe was given to me back in school because I was very outspoken. Then I turned it into an abbreviation for “People earn, people enjoying nice and zealous instincts”. I know it’s a mouthful but just hold on to the instincts.
Some people don’t see you as a serious artiste. But then you come out with something special every time. What is it about your style that people don’t understand?
That question really sounds funny. Let’s just say the thing about me that they know is what is confusing them! My style is eclectic and very conscious with a unique groove that has deep African roots. It’s meant to take people by surprise and play with their minds. I guess that’s what makes it special.
Are you not worried that people don’t really understand you?
I think a lot of people understand me it’s just taking a little bit of time for them to adjust to my sound which is only normal.
What would you like God to still do for you?
Only God truly knows our innermost desires. So, I simply want him to take charge and direct my path.