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Tuface's Song Blew up 'Cause I Was Part Of It - Freestyle

This interview first appeared in National Mirror Newspaper in November 2006.

Tuface’s song blew up ‘cause I was a part of it - Freestyle

He began as one third of the group Trybe’s Men. Today, he is no longer a caged bird because he has broken out of the bounds of group fidelity that restricted his wings to fly, with his debut album Free at Last, to account for his creativity. And what’s more, with the rate at which his songs are receiving massive air play, he might be a true prophet who knows that his fate has indeed been long ago settled with God. Freestyle appears as one of those artistes with dual personality because what you expect due to his public appearance isn’t what you get one on one. Without one of his head wears, Freestyle doesn’t look too different from American Hip Hop star Snoop Dogg, with his big T Shirts and Jeans. Only the height and long hair separated a perfect clone. In this interview with Uzezi Ekere, Freestyle spoke on the days of Trybe’s Men, his new album, his relationship with songstress, Niyola and many others. Excerpts:

Let’s begin from the beginning, when Freestyle became a public name with Trybe’s Men. What’s happening to Trybe’s Men?

Trybe’s Men currently is on hold. We decided to put it on hold so we can work on our individual careers and as it is right now, the spotlight is on Freestyle. There are plans for a reunion, but that will be much later.

We always hear that whenever groups break up, but it hardly ever happens. Will this ever happen?
Well considering that Freestyle doesn’t control space and time, I can only hope, but if the pendulum doesn’t swing in that direction, so be it. Life goes on. We really do anticipate a Trybe’s Men reunion album, but if it doesn’t work that way, okay.

Since you guys decided to put the group on hold, we have heard a little from Eldee, we have heard you, what is happening to KB?
KB currently holds down a nine to five job with a telecommunications company and that seem to occupy him, and that is what he wants to do and he deserves to do what he wants. Maybe he is just taking time out. You have heard from Eldee and I, that goes to show that we aren’t hiding behind the group name, that even as individuals we do have talents and creativity going on and we are willing to express it and share it with the rest of the world.

Where did the decision to go solo come from?
At a point the whole Trybe’s Men’s thing seem to be getting in the way of individual agendas, so we decided to do something before someone would come and think we were hiding behind a group name. Personally I am not one to restrict myself. I didn’t like the fact that I was restricted to one third of the group. For me I decided to discover my strength and weaknesses. Let me see if I can actually do it on my own, let the critics criticize and tell me what they like and don’t like, so I will know how to improve. In that way I think when we do come back, if we come back as a group, we’ll be much stronger and we’ll be respected much more.

From what you are saying, you probably didn’t like the idea of being in a group. Then why did you join? Was it because of the opportunities it presented then?
Let me rephrase that – I didn’t join the group, I co-formed it. Initially we didn’t set out to become a group. We just had similar interest and decided to do things together, and by and by it became natural for us to come under a group name and be associated by that name so hence the group was formed. But, like I said, it actually did restrict a lot of things for me; personal and official, and I needed to set my priorities straight. At some point, it didn’t make a lot of sense anymore, so I decided to put it on hold to get some other things done. Come back to it later. There’s no rush in life.

I heard from somewhere that during the time of Trybe’s Men, you did almost all the work and Eldee took credit for them. Is that true?
Let me again rephrase that – when we were in Trybe’s Men, our works were portioned out. Eldee used to handle production, Freestyle used to write the hooks and most of the materials, and then KB coordinates everything else for example, when Freestyle and Eldee fought, KB will be the referee. Yes I did 90% of the hooks in Trybe’s Men tracks and Eldee took pros for that.

How did that make you feel?
At that time, it didn’t make me feel anyhow because at that time I was doing my part for the group. I actually was one third of the group and I had to play my position. I just felt like I was contributing the best way I could.

You are under the Westside Label. How does the company treat you?
The truth is that judging from when I joined the label to my current status, there have been a lot of improvement. The label in itself seems to have their own flaws like everyone else, but they have done tremendously well for me. They have supported my album immensely in terms of promotions, events etc. we are currently working on some videos. If there’s anything they haven’t done for me, they don’t k now to do that, so once they are pointed in the right direction or suggestions are made, they are quick to act on them.

The song you did with Blaze is a good one. It makes me wonder to what extent you work on a song to feel it is good enough to go public.
Thank you. For me, I actually work based on my gut feelings. I have lots of critics who listen to my songs and say oh I think you should put a bit of salt here, a bit of pepper here. Foremost of these critics are my brothers – elder and younger, Emmanuel and Ini Essien. They have always listened to whatever I have to offer, be it a chorus, a rap or an instrumental, and say do this here or there and nine out of ten times they are on point. The song ‘Bragging Right’ with Blaze, I did at home in my studio. For me, it was how I was feeling at the time; from the instrumental to vocals to the lyrics. I had started out, then felt I needed someone who would interpret the bounce of the beat properly. Someone who would hold her own next to me and the first name that came to me was Blaze. I gave her a call, she came and we worked.

What inspired the track ‘Celebrity’, where you sang about someone wanting to eat your money with you, and asking if you brought the person to Lagos?
That for me depicts my everyday life. I am a very spontaneous writer. I try to draw inspiration from occurrences around me and that song in particular was an offshoot of the fact that 20 out of 24 hours, there’s some girl somewhere wanting something from you. It could be physical or financial. For me it was like, what’s the point of singing about the incarceration since Mandela has been released. This song here is something that happens very often and I am sure I’m not the only one going through it. And I wanted to make it as practical as possible so it would have a much wider audience, listening range and so far so good.

What do you think of the success of the album ‘Face 2 Face’, considering the fact that you were a part of it?
That was Tuface Idibia’s debut album. It’s gratifying being a part of that project. Tuface is a friend of mine, and apart from that, he is someone whose talent I respect immensely. He has lots of charisma in his voice. His profession is simplicity. When he called me and asked if we could work on the song, I said okay. He actually sang the song for me over the phone for like three times, beginning to end. And that was a trip because I saw he was really serious. We got together, did the song and it was a huge success. The album itself, I think it was a colossal success in terms of financial returns and that just made me feel good that I was part of that project because I was actually the only rapper on the album apart form Black Face who was like an ex group member. So I think that shows the kind of respect Tuface himself has for me and for my talent.

And the song went on to win the MTV Awards.
Oh yeah! That goes to show that I sprinkled a bit of my goodwill and blessing on that track. The thing with Freestyle is, once Freestyle is a part of anything, it will succeed because it has already been settled with God and it’s just a matter of time before it shows. As far as Freestyle is a part of it, it will blow up 100%. The reason Trybe’s Men blew up was because Freestyle was a part of it. The reason Tuface’s song blew up was because Freestyle was a part of it. It is the grace of God in my life. In that same way, with time, ‘Free at Last’ and any other project I will involve in will blow up. Even this interview, you will find out that your ratings will go up because a lot of people are going to read this particular interview because you are interviewing Freestyle.

You also had Tuface to feature in your album. Is it a form of pay back?
Yes and no. yes and no in the sense that when I did his song ‘Ole’, he actually offered to pay me. I wouldn’t call it payment but appreciation.; financial appreciation, but because he was my friend, I refused and turn him down. I didn’t take any part of the money or anything. I was on hand for everything including the video shoot. I supported him fully. So in my case when I was recording my album, when I wrote the song, I knew it had a reggae feel and I wrote the chorus and I was thinking whose vocals will best interpret the song the way I wanted and Tuface came to mind, and I was like why not. We have a crazy chemistry when it comes to working together, everyone else just stands back and watch us do our thing. So I called him and told him to pick a date; Tuesday or Thursday, and he was like what’s happening? I just told him to pick a date ‘e get one song we suppose do’. So he picked Thursday. And we hooked up. I played the instrumental, taught him the hook gave him pen and paper. He wrote his verse and we recorded instantly. From there I new it was going to be a radio favorite. Yes you could call it pay back, because he also didn’t ask me for a dime. He didn’t stress me. If anything else, he bought drinks while we were recording. That’s how it went.

What challenges do you face in the industry as an artiste?
Currently in the industry, there’s a lot of bad publicity going on, a lot of misrepresentation going on. A lot of people think that as an artiste you are to be irresponsible and lead an irresponsible life, be into women, drugs and drinks, clubbing and be irresponsible with your spending. Freestyle doesn’t represent any of that. I wouldn’t call myself an artiste. Sometimes I describe myself as a talented person showing what I’ve got, displaying my creativity. For me my greatest challenge as an artiste is that I want to prove that you can be 100% creative and commercially successful and you can also be 100% responsible in the sense that you hold certain fundamentals close to your heart – an education, a sound education is very fundamental. I always promote that. I try to downplay any form of irresponsibility because at the end of the day, life comes with a trailer load of crap e.g HIV and the rest. As an artiste I know I influence a large number of people who listen to me, so if I can influence them positively and show them what I represent and make them identify with my value, then in my way, I have contributed my quota in trying to make the world a better place. So for me, that’s my greatest challenge.

Who are the artistes you look up to in the industry?
I respect a couple of people for what they do. I am not a big fan of mediocrity so if I respect you, there’s a particular thing I respect you for. Even if there are other things. I respect Tuface because I think he has made something out of nothing with his career. He is as simple as I knew him to be before he became so successful. I respect P Square because they are great choreographers. They put in an immense amount of time, planning and strategizing for anything they do. I’ve seen them do it, and its amazing the time and energy they put into what they do. I respect King Sunny Ade for his consistency because over time he has remained relevant. He’s tried not to fade away with time. I respect people that hold down their sectors – be known for one particular thing. I respect myself because I’ve been able to make a difference from my group, been able to make a difference as a producer, as a solo artiste and I think that is a very commendable feat.

Rapping in Nigeria is growing on a fast lane. What do you think of the tension existing between Ruggedman and Mode 9?
Well, the tension between Rugged and Mode 9, I think – if it actually exists, I think it is very petty, unnecessary and immature because you have one life to live and life is short as it is, so why spend valuable time doing unnecessary stuff? It is petty. They are both very good at what they do and I respect them for different things. But, if there is a tension between them, they need to sort themselves out. I don’t take sides with anybody. But personally, when it comes to rap, I think I am my favourite rapper. I don’t put anyone else on my level.

What’s up with your album?
The album is a coupe of weeks old now and its doing well so far. It hasn’t been formally launched yet. We are working on a couple of videos before launching on Television. Working on four videos which includes, ‘Bragging Right’ and ‘Celebrity’. The album is a 20 tracker, it has 16 songs, an intro and outro, 2 skits, and I featured a couple of people. Tuface, Sound Sultan, Sasha, Niyola, Blaze, Simeon and my critics; my brothers, Emmanuel and Ini.

What’s with the story out there about your relationship with Niyola? Are you guys dating?
There’s a good working relationship between Freestyle and Niyola. We’ve been friends for a while. We are very good business partners. We are label mates as well. I produced a couple of tracks for her on her forthcoming debut album which I think is self titled. Other than that, we are great friends. She respects me a lot and the feeling is very mutual. On dating, when it gets there, you will be the first to know.

What are the other things about Freestyle that people don’t know?
My name for one, is Mfon Essien. I am from Akwa-Ibom state. Ikot Abasi local government. My native language is Ibibio which is how come I rap so fast. I bet you didn’t know I run a production outfit. It’s called ‘Make Some Noise’, and I have produced for some people. I bet you also didn’t know that Freestyle loves pounded yam. I bet you didn’t know Freestyle is into IT, which is actually my first love which I had to let go of to face music as a career. I’m rounding up my first degree programme at the university of Lagos where I am studying Geography. I didn’t have the time to finish my Engineering course. It was time consuming so I switched. I’m in my late twenties. I’m not a very outgoing person. There’s a difference between Freestyle and Mfon. Mfon likes to stay home in front of the PC. Freestyle is the outdoor person and outgoing, a very social person. I wouldn’t regard myself as been proud because I am very down to earth. So if you see me, feel free to holla.

Considering that ‘Celebrity’ song, how do you handle it when your fans want to take the relationship further?
At the end of the day, I never try to judge anyone without adequate cause. So I wait for them to actually make the move and in a very mature way, let them know it’s not healthy for both parties because of so and so. It’s all right for people to get close, but when a handshake passes the elbow, it is not a handshake anymore.