Modenine is hiphop royalty. He is to Nigerian rap music what Rakim is like to American rap. The huge dude who studied Building Technology is about to drop a new album and Jite Efemuaye of Sabinews sat down with him to talk about the new album which features a slew of artistes from Don Jazzy to Ice Prince and Reminisce.
Modenine says the album would be less hard core and more radio friendly. Enjoy the interview.
Sabinews: How did the name Modenine come about?
That’s from a while ago while I was in school. I was good with scientific calculators and we had Mode one to nine, and then zero. They all have their own different functions and the Mode nine brings it back to normal. So I did something for somebody and pressed Mode nine and the person remembered that and that’s what the person called me because she didn’t remember my name. That’s when I said, whatever man, nice name still, original and I just called myself Mode Nine.
Sabinews: A lot of times you talk about your music as real hip hop. What is real hip hop?
Real hip hop is music with content. You can be doing party rap and it can be termed as real hip hop. It’s just you doing what you know how to do best, putting your best foot forward, not bending backwards too far to please other people. So even if you’re doing stuff that’s party, stuff that you’re talking about some real gangster stuff, if you’re really doing that, that’s real hip hop. Real hip hop is just undiluted real music at the end of the day. Not plastic, watery, contentless music
Sabinews: You said the term real hip hop is kind of phasing out, does it mean hip hop is dead?
No, it doesn’t. This is 2014. 1999 was the era where that real hip hop was the official stamp. Right now we have rappers from new York rapping on Southern beats, and some of them are pretty good, so, I’m not going to sweat it. We can talk about real hip hop for five years and still not be able to finish, the different arguments and everything. But I choose not to waste my time arguing and lecturing people who don’t want to be lectured. What I do is, I just make music from the heart. It doesn’t matter what it is even if I’m rapping on a highlife beat, it’s just something I want to do. The beat speaks to me; if the beat doesn’t speak to me I won’t be able to write to it. So any beat that I jump on just know that the beat spoke to me. Like on my album, it’s diverse music, not everything is hip hop. There was a song that’s dancehall, I had Ice prince on it. It’s just about having fun at the end of the day, just relaxing, sometimes you just playfully do something. You can’t be all serious all the time. Like me, my favourite type of movies is comedy and stand up comics, I love funny stuff. So, sometimes I put humour in my rhymes, just a few times. If you’re able to get the wit, you’ll catch it.
Sabinews: Why do rappers seem to thrive on controversy?
I don’t know. Hip hop started with battling; that’s how it started. Break dancers and Djs, Djs battling each other. But Friendly competition, it’s about battling, everybody wants to be the best. And then we have different individuals. Some people just can’t take it when another rapper says, ‘I’m number one, I’m the best!’ This guy feels like the guy is trying to sub him, like this guy says he’s the best when he knows I’m there. Maybe they just can’t take it. It’s just normal human behavior. But hip hop is very competitive.
Sabinews: How do you handle it when young artistes come up to you at awkward places asking for collaborations?
It’s not easy. You can’t be on everybody’s song. This is a business, what people need to understand, it is a business, you’ve got to pay for a verse. Because I’ve actually paid people. As at last year, to get somebody on a verse on my track, I paid. And we didn’t go all ‘help us, help us.’ No, it’s business. When you contact the person, they give you their manager’s number, you talk to the manager and he tells you this is how much you’ll pay and you pay. If you want the track, you pay. Now it becomes a problem if you’ve paid and the verse isn’t dropped. That’s where it becomes a problem. It’s a business, we’re trying to make money, we’re trying to survive. Everybody knows how the country is. In the north we have Boko Haram, in the west we have Ebola, in the east kidnapping. The country is not a 100% stable right now, so a lot of shows, it has affected our money. I had series of shows in the north, I even had a tour. The moment the Bwari bombings happened, the promoters had to call back and say, ‘yo, man we don’t want to put anybody’s life in danger, so let’s just chill till when Nigeria is safer’. Everybody knows it’s up north I have most of my fans. They’re the ones that support me, they’re the ones that do shows. I don’t have an endorsement yet with any multinational so it’s basically those shows and little things here and there. And so that has greatly affected us, so people should just understand. If you want a legendary Modenine on your track, try and pay. It doesn’t mean I haven’[t done some free. If I see a person that has a certain flair, or I just want to help the person rise, it just depends. It depends on how I’m approached and who you are to me. If you’re on a label, tell your CEO to drop that paper, man. That’s just the truth. It’s real talk, I’m not trying to mince words or anything. Everybody is trying to make money. See how it is now Lagos, we have Industry Night, Enigma, Afropolitan Vibes, we have a series of shows every week and the artistes don’t get jack. They’re free shows, nobody gets paid. So you can actually go and watch, any artiste you like for free. That’s Lagos. So most artistes now, if they do shows, nobody will come. It’s like ‘why should I come when I can watch him on Industry Night? That’s just how it is. So the system now is designed now to make the artiste suffer, in the real sense. Only those with serious endorsements, connects to agencies, can continue working and doing stuff. And then those who can go abroad to do shows. Those are the guys that will not find it difficult in these times.
Sabinews: Let’s talk about your album, dropping on the 25th. There’s an impressive line-up of artistes; Don Jazzy, Ice Prince, Reminisce and a lot of others. How long did it take you to put this together?
A long time. The Don Jazzy track took like ten months to do because it was at the period when he was having the break up with Mo’ Hits and they were trying to restructure and everything. He explained to me, so I gave him enough time. I was going to put out Alphabetical Order first so I planned it so I had enough time. Ice Prince too, I talked to Ice Prince January 2013, and the song was done around September 2013. Everybody is busy. Reminisce too, we had to go over the track. He recorded it in a place that wasn’t really good. When I put it on the track it didn’t sound very good. So I was like redo it, he did it again and I think he was sick when he did it and it didn’t come out right. He did it the third time and he nailed it in a proper studio, everything was done professionally. Sometimes good collabos take time. And anybody I’m featuring I won’t want you to give me a lackluster verse. I would want you to do your best. I don’t mind if you do better than me on my track. It’s a blessing that the person you featured stepped his game up and stole the show. You can’t win all the time. And it’s good because my verse is going to be pretty dope, so if you come doper it’s going to make the song fantastic.
Sabinews: Can you tell us a little more about this album?
This album is not the typical Modenine. It’s just me trying to be easy, trying to do more feel good, like some more radio friendly stuff. If I want to do the real me, I don’t think it’d sell in Nigeria. Probably a hundred people will buy the cd, the rest will say, what is this? Because the youth nowadays, they like different things, they like singing more than rapping, that’s standard. They’re quick to compare, it’s like it’s a plague. There can only be one, that’s the syndrome. Back in the day when EPMD comes out with an album you buy; Harry Smith, you buy; Redman, you buy; Smooth the Hustler, you buy; LL Cool J, you buy ; Wu Tang Clan, you buy; Methodman, you buy; Mobb Deep, you buy; back in the day, people used to collect, they used to do it for the love of hip hop. Not only be a fan of one artiste but a lot of artistes that are talented, that are good. But nowadays what I see is someone says, ‘this guy is better than this, I don’t like this guy.’ And the guy that he’s saying I don’t like is okay. Like people say Wizkid or Davido? I think they met me somewhere and asked me, Wizkid or Davido? I said both. They said you can’t choose both, you have to choose one. I refused. Because they do different things, they’re different. These two boys are different; I knew them before, pre-fame. I knew both of them and I knew both of them were really talented, before they blew. How can you tell me to pick one? To me, I have no favourites between Wizkid and Davido. I like both of them. And if both of them are doing well, why can’t I be allowed to like both of them? But the kids nowadays they only want to choose one. If it’s rap, they choose one person and the other people, go to helL. Singing, the other people go to hell. We need to change our ways and give other people a chance because there’s a lot of music out there; more terrible music but a lot of good music.
Sabinews: There’s a lot of your music online for free. Don’t you see it affecting the sale of cds?
No. There’s so many people that don’t use internet on their phones. They don’t have Blackberries, they don’t even ping. Have you travelled around Nigeria? There are so many people that just believe in cds. So many radio stations, na only cd o. They don’t care about all these online things. You put your song online and it trends for five days, you go to that state and nobody knows your song. They don’t care. So different strokes for different folks, it doesn’t affect anything. Some of the songs I put on my album, I put online even last year. But guess what? When people buy the album, a lot of people, to them it’s going to be new, so I’m not even worried.
Sabinews: Do you rap in anything besides English?
Yes. Pidgin English.
Sabinews: Besides Pidgin?
No. I’m not good at it. This is how I see it. If I can’t do better than Olamide and Reminisce and I can’t rap in Yoruba better than those guys. Those guys have mastered the art. There’s no way I’ll drop verse on a track and try to rap in Yoruba. When Olamide and Reminisce are still around. Props to those guys, they’ve taken it to the next level. But my best foot forward is rapping in English.
Sabinews: Do you have any young artiste you’re grooming?
I had a few but you know what, I’m not going to lie, a lot of young guys, the game is crazy. People just expect to blow immediately. A lot of them are not patient, especially in rap. To hone your skills in rap you have to go to open mics. You have to go everywhere. There’s no use having someone who can do tracks and when it’s time to perform, you can’t perform the songs well. There’s this nurturing period when you just have to hone your skills and get better at the art form. A lot of them are impatient, they just want to be like Wizkid, like Wizkid is young. I’m like no. Wizkid actually paid his dues. He started very very young. He’s been doing it. He’s been in studios, jumping on tracks and everything. He was on Kel’s album, who knows that? I’ve got a young dude now, I call him Tall Shawn. Any time he needs help, he’ll holla at me and I’ll straighten him out.
Sabinews: Aside from rap, do you listen to any other type of music?
Sabinews: After rap, what’s your next favourite genre?
You can see my records. 70s soul. I have The Temptations, I have Fela. I like Fela’s music, Afrobeat and I also like a lot of dancehall, reggae. In fact, I listen to more dancehall than rap. I listen to some real love songs. It just brings me joy to listen to something different.
Sabinews: What comes first for you? The lyrics or the track?
If I hear a beat that I like, I can write to the beat, my lyrics are beat driven. If I feel like writing I can just play any instrumental and start writing and it will go on. If I don’t like a beat, I might just pull up something that I’ve already written. Just try it and see if it works.
Sabinews: Aside from being Modenine, who is Babatunde Olusegun?
He’s just a gentle guy that likes to be left alone. When I’m with my friends I can be talking a lot, playful and everything. Someone will be like, ‘Modenine, you talk.’ Because when I’m in my little cave I don’t want to see anybody, I don’t want to talk to anybody. I could go a whole week without talking to anybody, probably just a little chat with my kid sister but sit down and be talking? I do very little of that. But when I’m with people I’m comfortable with, yeah. Easy going, I’m like a brick wall. You throw a ball softly to the wall, the ball comes back softly. Throw it with force, it comes back with force. I have a little bit of a temper but I thank God I have not been using it for a while. Trying to take it easy because if you’re in this industry a lot of people are going to piss you off a lot of times. People can be very awful, very spiteful. Even your fans sometimes. They might just say, ‘Let’s make him angry and just see how he’ll react.’ Like you’re some sort of guinea pig. They just want to see you angry. It’s not a good thing. I don’t try to bear anybody in mind. I won’t do that. I’m just comfortable with myself. If I’m not feeling you as a person, I won’t talk to you. If I don’t like your music, I won’t go listening to your music. Even when I wasn’t fully an artiste I never used to go on sites of people I don’t like or go on message boards and start insulting them. I never had time for that. There’s too much good music for me to focus on bad stuff. A lot of people do that on Twitter now. Just go around insulting people, dissing people for no reason. Anything you tweet, they just insult you. I don’t answer. I am too busy to start answering tweets. I’m not a tweet gangster. I don’t do that. I won’t answer you, I’ll just block you.
Sabinews: Where did the music start from?
I always liked music but I got my first chance to record a long time ago. I wasn’t even sure I was going to do it; I was more of freestyle, just play around. So when I got to the studio, my first few recordings were not very good. But my friends were still encouraging me like, ‘You’re okay, you can rap, you can rap.’ But within me I knew they weren’t very good because I used to listen to rap. But as time went on I got better and better. First I didn’t use to rap with punch lines. Then I met people like Eldee XL, Six Foot Plus, people that were more advanced than me. So I just learnt from them.
Sabinews: What keeps you going, what keeps you doing this?
When you say what keeps me going, I’d rather say, what keeps me like still neck to neck in the mainstream, almost, even though we don’t really see Modenine on mainstream shows any more. Last year, I had a couple of videos but the main video for last year was Let It Go, that was a really dope video but it got slept on, a lot of people slept on it. We don’t have the force, the financial backing that a lot of other artistes have. We don’t really have that push, but it got on MTV, it was on Soundcity, it got on Channel O, the song wasn’t an unknown song. I went to the East and I performed it and they went crazy. Performed it in the north, in Jos and they loved it. It got some love I’m not gonna lie. I’m not going to say tv didn’t show it or radio didn’t didn’t show it love. So I’m not even complaining. It’s just that people’s love for hip hop is just diminished. That is why a person like me has to do an album that is more radio friendly. A lot of my core fans are going to be angry somehow like, ‘Why are you doing this kind of music?’ You are trying to survive in the industry doing nothing but making music, you better get with the program or find another thing to do. I’m the kind of person if I find another job, I won’t be able to fully do music because I’ll be doing two things and I don’t like that. If I find a job, I studied Building Technology, I might be on site, I might just gradually drop out of music. So, if I want to drop out, I drop out as, ‘I’m done, I’m not doing this.’ I said in an interview somewhere, I’ll stop doing this music when I have a feeling that the people don’t wanna hear Modenine anymore. Even though of recent, that feeling comes up, but I just said no, I have to drop this album. I almost didn’t drop it. I just dey force myself to drop the album. It depends on how the album does, that’s when I’ll know if people are rocking with me because my last album didn’t get marketed well at all. This one, I have the same people marketing Jimmy Jatt’s Industry. I know they’ll do a better job.
Sabinews: Final words?
I’m just glad that I’m still here in 2014. I don’t care if you like me or hate me. If everybody likes you, there’s a problem. It means you’re not real. You being you will always be a problem to somebody, that’s just the truth.