Oludemilade Martin Alejo otherwise known as Ycee is a Nigerian rapper and songwriter who broke into the music scene with his popular Jagaban song. In less than two years of hitting the limelight, Ycee has established himself as one of Nigeria’s favourite musicians. He shares the story of his rise to fame in this interview with SEGUN ADEBAYO.
The name Ycee has become quite popular among the Nigerian youth in the last two years, how do you feel about the volume of attention that you have been getting?
I feel very proud of what I have achieved and I sincerely appreciate the support from my fans both home and abroad. It has been a very interesting journey for me and I don’t wish to lose sleep over it. But above the attention, I will say Ycee is a young Nigerian, who is trying to do something for himself and also for his family regardless the situation around him. I am a young musician, and if you look around you very well you will discover that there is always a young artiste coming up somewhere, not just in the entertainment industry but in the other industries. You see young people doing great exploits in education, fashion designing and other fields. This should remind you that things are changing and youths are beginning to take their future in their hands. So, I think I am proud of the new movement of the youth that are recognising that it is not until you become an adult before you start thinking of what you want to do for yourself.
Now that you have established yourself as a serious artiste in the industry, what would you say your brand represents?
Well, I will say my brand represents urban, fresh and a little bit of rebel because I am a rebel and people that work with me will tell you that Ycee can be strong and stubborn, but I just feel it’s part of me. I always strive to let people know more of me. I am still trying to put more of myself and my motion into the music I make. I think that is what makes me a bit different from any other person. I am not just making music to make money; I am also making music as a form of expression to make people know that okay, this is how I am feeling. If I put out a dance record, it is not just going to be a dance record because I want to have a hit record out there, it’s going to make you feel something. It won’t be a sound that you just hear and say oh, I like this beat, I like this song.
Looking back to those days when you were not known, compared to now where you are already seeing the big picture; climbing the big stages and putting your music on the lips of the people, how do you reconcile your past with your present?
I actually started music officially in year 2010. At that time, I thought music was just about going to the studio, record a song, shoot a video and you become big if you keep repeating that process. But in 2012 when I got my record label, Tinny Entertainment, I got exposed to the industry itself where you have to know certain people, because it’s not just about the talent. I’d seen some artistes that are talented but did not get to make it. So experience, for me, played a major role because most people thought I really started making music in 2015 but I had been putting out music before then. The first official music I released under Tinny Entertainment was in 2012, I released my first video in 2013. Things were not easy for me at that time because when I just got signed to Tinny Entertainment, I was still very new in the industry. Tinny Entertainment had just started when I was signed. So, after some time, we released singles but we were not getting our desired effect, so around that time I got admission into University of Lagos. So, I took that time to focus on school. I think I was off the scene for a long time, I wasn’t going to clubs, I wasn’t going to shows, I was just going to the studio, recording music and going to school. All through that process, I was just studying the industry, looking at the artistes and what they are doing. That was when I actually learnt a lot, I also discovered that as an artiste, for you to stand the test of time, for you to go that extra mile; you have to be known for something more than your music. It could be your loads, your movement, and it could be your fan base. The way you relate with your fans and everything. If you look at people like D’banj for example, a lot of people will say he’s not the best artiste out there, but he has been around for over 10 years and he is still out there because D banj is an entertainer, he takes his craft very seriously. So, for me, I just created my sound words and still do rap music but in a way that you will listen to it and be rapping along every lyrics, but you will forget it is a rap song.
Where exactly does your strength lie in all these?
I think my strength lies in the fact that no matter where I find myself, no matter the kind of beat any producer creates for me, if it is a dance beat, I can sing along; if it is a rap beat, I can rap on it. So I think my strength is in the fact that I am versatile enough to listen to a beat and know what to do with it. Over the year working on myself, there was a time when I couldn’t sing by myself, so it is really a 24-hour job where you have to look at your weakness and work on it.
Did you say you have passed that stage of struggling now?
Yeah, I will say I have passed the stage of struggling now, but at the end of the day you know everyday presents a new chapter of life. So I have passed the stage of struggling in the studio to make music, now my own challenge is to create different kinds of music because I wouldn’t want a situation whereby I put out one song and I put out another song after that song and now two songs sounding the same and I put out the third song and they are all sounding the same. The challenge for you as an artiste is when you have to work out in the studio and make sure every song was a different experience for my fans.
You signed a deal with Tinny Entertainment at a time when you knew nothing about what you were getting into. Now that you have become established in the craft, are you proud of the deal you signed back then?
I signed the deal with Tinny without having any form of exposure. I hadn’t performed at any show; I hadn’t even had a proper studio session. I remember those days when I would sit at home with my brother, a music producer; he had a laptop and headphones. That was how we started recording our songs. After a while, I met the owner of Tinny Entertainment. When he met me, he listened to the songs that I was recording and said he saw something in me that I was not sure I had. He was the one willing to take somebody that has not been in the studio and said ‘okay come, let’s do this music properly’. He put me in the studio for the first time and shot music videos for me. He came at a time when I almost gave up on music; I wanted to go back to school. I am happy he came around and I am grateful. We have a very cordial relationship and I am happy about how things have played out.
So you really wanted to give up on music. How would you describe that moment?
No, you know I have been in music 2012 and I believe if you are doing a business that is not bringing the much expected proceeds after some years in the business, then you will begin to ask yourself if you made the right decision. At this time, I didn’t want to feel that I am wasting my time or wasting the time of the label. But as people say, the darkest time of the night is just before sunlight. So I think those dark moments in my life were the moments when God was trying to see whether I will give up. I almost gave up but I am glad for the people I have around me. They made me believe that success takes patience and hard work. I am happy I listened to them. In 2016, everything kicked off and the joy I felt is in the fact that the music started working out under the same people that I started with in 2012. At this moment, I think we have recorded enough music; we’ve studied the business side of music. Right now, the lines are falling for us in pleasant places. I think when it is your time, it is your time.
Whose decision was it to have Olamide on the Jagaban remix?
From when Jagaban came out, everybody was like we should find a way to get Olamide or Phyno on the remix of the song. At that time, we had not met with Olamide. We were actually working on how to get him and all of a sudden, I think he listened to the song and went on tweeter and tweeted that he was really feeling JAGABAN and that if we were down to do the remix, he was hoping to do it. So I think it was all his decision and I was really happy because I remember he tweeted that on a Saturday and as soon as the next Monday I was at his place ready to record.
What do you think about Olamide’s rap style and his influence on the remix?
I will say Olamide is a great guy. Over the years, if you look at the success he has attained within and outside Africa, you can’t rule out the fact that he has done well for himself. Above all that, he has managed to keep himself grounded and still be that same very humble person. He is an amazing person; somebody I look up to. So, I think he was just God’s favour at the end of the day because it wasn’t my doing or because I sang the song this way or because Tinny Entertainment signed me or anything. I feel it just happened because it was the right time for it to happen.
How are you handling the pressure to keep the momentum going after the success that greeted the songs you have released?
You will definitely feel the pressure. It could come from the fans, being in a record label where you have to account for expenses at the end of the day. There is pressure but I try my best not to think about it. You know the best way to making hit songs is just to keep working and keep recording. I remember Jagaban was recorded in the morning and as soon as I woke up, I went to the studio to record. I am not rushing it. Slow but steady wins the race. I believe I have been handling the pressure the best way I could, so I am only waiting for the next pressure.
How did you come about the name Jagaban?
Jagaban is the title given to former Lagos State governor, Senator Bola Tinubu. I think the name is common in the north, which means “leader of warriors”. A lot of people just give it their own meaning; most people think Jagaban is suitable for the boss.