Last year during the globally witnessed Nigerian youth-led End SARs revolution, a lot of things had banded young Nigerians together and most of them had been ugly and harrowing tales of oppression and extortion. Amidst that, there had however been a binder of a euphonic form and it had been Ajebo Hustler’s Barawo single. Inspired by the extrajudicial killing of four students of the University of Port Harcourt, since infamously referred to as the ‘Aluu Four Lynching,’ Barawo had found fertile ground in the agonised hearts of voices of the revolution, bringing them together in a bittersweet way as they marched, danced and chanted to the song at protest grounds.
The duo made up of Dandeson George– Knowledge and Isaiah Precious– Piego, soon proved to be worthy of the pedestal they’d ben placed on with the providential rise of their single, as they seized the moment to put out a well-received remix of Barawo with Davido. Subsequently, they’d had the nation in a chokehold with their smash hit single, Pronto with fellow PH city tastemaker, Omah Lay.
And while to outsiders their come-up may be filed under the category of overnight successes, this couldn’t be farther from the truth as the duo had been together for roughly a decade, officially making music since 2015. Barawo had simply been the duly deserved turning point of their Kpos Lifestyle movement.
Five days after releasing their debut album, Kpos Lifestyle Vol. 1, their grit and sweat was rewarded with an unequivocal co-sign from Apple Music Nigeria as they were announced as the cover stars of Apple Music’s Up Next campaign. The first of its kind in the country, the initiative would not only reaffirm their place in the swift-paced Nigerian music ecosystem but also launch them as an ambassador of their self-dubbed Katakata music, a fusion of sounds. Notjustok caught up with the stars for an in-depth conversation on how it feels to be the face of Apple Music’s latest initiative in the country and also discuss their debut album and artistry as a two-man led movement.
Congratulations, you guys have officially been making music since 2015 and got your breakout single last year, now you’re the Apple Music Up Next artistes for Nigeria which is the first of its kind, how does that feel for you?
Awesome, we feel great and elated and are grateful to God for everything.
How would you describe your journey from then to this moment?
It’s been quite an eventful one and it’s been a wonderful experience cause there’s a lot of things we learned on the journey; making music in Lagos. It’s just been a different journey and now we’ve adapted.
You’re PH City boys and you’ve mentioned having to move to Lagos at one point in your career, how’s that been for you? Do you miss PH or you’re fully Lagos boys now?
Yes o, we be Lagos boys now. We miss PH, it’s home but the way of life here is different. The places we hang, our friends, it’s all different and we miss them so much but we have to face the hustle, so that’s why we’re here.
Your name, ‘Ajebo Hustlers,’ is a paradox, who would you say you speak for?
We’re the mouthpiece of the people in the streets that don’t have people to speak for them, our music does that and we’re a bridge between the upper class and the middle class.
Why do you think it’s important to be these things?
Oftentimes, people that have come as far as we have often become disconnected from the realities of things because they aren’t affected by them. But we know these people ride for us and they really don’t have people to speak for them. So we’ve taken it upon ourselves to always have a conscious effort towards our music. Imagine making music for people and you can’t speak for them in times of despair and need, just like the End SARs, when it happened, a lot of people needed the celebrities to speak for them and show concern that they’re affected by these things too and our music was able to do that. So that’s basically what we stand for.
Did you ever foresee Barawo taking you this far?
Every one of our songs, we’re always looking forward for it to take us to the next level. We didn’t know it was going to be massively accepted but we knew it would make a difference because of the content of the song but we didn’t know it was going to blow the way it did because of the End SARs p.
We recorded it December 2019, it was just one of those ideas we had for a song. It wasn’t ever like we planned for it to be out during the protests, we just wanted to make a song that represents everything that’s happening, and our hard work and preparedness paid off. The song was there, and then we recorded the remix with Davido, and then the protests happened a couple of weeks afterwards.
Let’s talk about your debut album, Kpos Lifestyle Vol 1 that was dropped a few weeks ago. First off, what’s one thing you hope everyone that listened took away from it?
The message behind the music, because when you listen to a song like Oh My Home, you know we’re talking about societal ills and how we’ve all been praying for things like light, good water. So in as much as it’s good vibes, we still want the message in our music to be passed across to the people.
And then we shed light on some issues that affect us in romantic relationships, like on Symbiosis, we spoke about having a balance in relationships with the guy and the girl putting in equal effort to make it work.
Prior to the release, you guys however always made mention of the fact that you were working on an EP, but here we are with an album. How did that come to be?
The direction changed when we dropped Pronto. It became a smash hit the day it dropped and people just wanted more from us. We knew that giving them a 5 tracks compilation wouldn’t work so we decided to give a compilation instead of what we’ve been working on.
In that light, songs like Sophisticated Iyawo have been around for a while, so how did you decide on what songs made the album?
They were songs that were actually big back in the South and we felt that with the transition to Lagos, we had to introduce our new fans to the songs and take them through the journey of how far we’ve come so that they’re also properly updated on the journey of Ajebo Hustlers from Port Harcourt.
Going back to the Ph to Lagos move, does it ever bother you how you have to move to Lagos and then carry the scene along. What do you think could bridge the gap in a way that artistes don’t necessarily have to come down here to ‘blow’?
I think it’s the right thing to move to Lagos cause just like in the US, New York is the hub of entertainment so you have people moving there if they want to hit it big. So Lagos is like that place in Nigeria so it’s only right to move at some point in your career cause it’s really hard to break into Lagos but when you’re here, you can break into other states and markets. It’s the right thing to do when you get to that stage where your music has gone past your city. There’s nothing wrong in leaving your city to come to Lagos to chase your dream.
Other than Omah Lay on Pronto and Nissi on Symbiosis, there were no other features, was this deliberate?
Yes, it was. There are no features in the album cause we wanted people to really understand the music and the strengths we have in our craft. We felt like the songs with Nissi and Omah Lay were enough collaborations and for every other song, we wanted people to listen and vibe with us properly.
A lot of the songs are love centred and from different angles, being PH boys, this level of vulnerability wasn’t typically expected, how did you decide that this theme was going to be the introduction to Ajebo Hustlers?
It wasn’t planned, cause our music is based on experiences we’ve had. I think it’s just the timing, the music we’ve made over the years were about our relationship experiences. Yafun Yafun, for instance, was done during the lockdown and it was based on what we were facing then, cause we weren’t close to our girlfriends, they were in Port Harcourt then and we were in Lagos so the disconnect was there and it just affected the music.
You know when you’re trying to make a conscious song but you’re just thinking about a woman, that’s where your creativity is at.
Given the vibes of the album, should we view you guys as the Ph City loverboys?
Nah, we should be seen as the worldwide loverboys.
Speaking of the Port Harcourt heritage, it’s birthed quite a number of awesome artistes. From Timaya to Duncan Mighty, Burna Boy, Omah Lay and you guys as well. How does it feel to be from the same heritage and would you say it makes you feel pressured in anyway?
No, we don’t feel pressured at all.
It’s just us making the same music we make and keeping the same energy and vibe. Cause music is spiritual and it’s way beyond putting yourself under pressure or unnecessary competition. And we’re constantly learning from previous records so as to keep evolving. And just put out the music, if you have it, you have it.
KNOWLEDGE: I’m not seeing it as pressure but as motivation, cause it’s usually hard for people to make it this far coming from where we are. So I see it as motivation that being at this place, I know that I have to double up and do more than what I’ve always done.
When you describe your sound, you call it Katakata music and on the album, there was a fusion of sounds, can you please tell us more about the description?
So Katakata music is something we came up with. It’s not one genre and involves a touch of different sounds. It might be Afrobeats, Grime, Highlife, or Jazz. It’s just a way of saying how versatile we are with the music. From songs like Barawo down to Bus Stop, they’re very far apart. So it just shows that we can really make different types of songs.
So how did you strike a balance between the love songs and sociopolitical messages?
That’ll be our management, cause all we do is just record songs. And when it’s time for a project to come out, they just make the selection. But it’s also a collective thing.
What then would you say is your favourite song off the album?
Well it depends on how I’m feeling. I can wake up and be in the mood for Bus Stop, some other time, it could be Zamo, or Oh My Home. So it changes. I could be in love with one for a few days then it’s on to the next one.
PIEGO: For now it’s Bus Stop for me. I love the fact that it’s calm and very expressive. It’s something you can just wake up in the morning and put on repeat while you’re going about your chores.
It’s interesting that you guys are a duo in an era where they’re being phased out, and especially here where they’re not so popular. But you guys have been together for a decade. How has that been for you?
KNOWLEDGE: I think it’s a learning process for me cause I was used to doing things my own way. But getting to work with Piego makes me see life from a different angle. Like we could agree and disagree but we still have one common goal. And it’s really helped me see that in life, things don’t have to go South all the time cause we could come to a common ground and why are we fighting?
So how do you guys iron out disagreements?
The fact that it’s for the betterment of Ajebo Hustlers, we always handle it and come to an understanding no matter how hard it gets.
And has working together made creating music easier or is it a more cerebral process?
PIEGO: It’s a lot easier cause basically, all I have to do is come up with the hook and he does the verses. So I don’t have to stress myself by going in deep to write a verse. All I have to do is listen to beats and make a hook and I’m good.
Piego was once a rapper and rappers also sing these days. Do you ever think of switching positions as a rapper and singer?
It’s possible, as long as it happens cause we’re very open to new things.
Let’s talk about your fashion– you guys have similar style, it’s edgy with a mix of the new school and old school, was it always this way?
Yeah, there’s a way we’ve always dressed then in Port Harcourt, with these native print shirts and chains so we’ve always added culture to the urban in our fashion.
What’s one thing you’ll want people to know about the Kpos Lifestyle movement?
That our music is unique and it will always tell a story and pass on information. And everyone should support the movement cause it’s going to get bigger.
So what next for Ajebo Hustlers from this point on, any visuals to expect?
We’re shooting visuals for the album and Solace’s coming soon. After that, we might do Bus Stop but we’re just promoting the music and making videos right now.
Listen to the Apple Music Up Next playlist here.