On the 23rd of October 2020, a month in a period that saw several Nigerian artistes drop some of their best work, popular comedian and actor, Basketmouth, dropped Yabasi a refreshingly flavourful 10-track album to his YouTube series, Papa Benji. Many were surprised by the nature of the production; the Basketmouth they knew was a brilliant comedian, actor and show producer, most didn’t know anything about his music roots before Yabasi.
What they didn’t know is that prior to Bright Okpocha venturing into stand-up comedy and it’s many evolutions that came after, he’d been a rapper. His music had however not made much success as his brand of rap; a blend of hip-hop and afrobeats, was not well-received back then.
Two decades and some after that era, Basketmouth makes an entry into the Nigerian music scene but this time as an A&R with several badges of creative accomplishments. Notjustok had a sitdown with him to take a closer look at his catalogue of creativity and discuss his journey into the scene as an A&R which he unveiled on his Yabasi album.
You already have a reputation as a pillar in the comedy industry, you have a portfolio as a rapper as well but with Papa Benji and Yabasi, we see you doing creative work in a new light as an A&R, did you always have these skills in you?
Yeah actually music was my first love, I started off as a rapper then later on comedy just kept me up because what we were creating back then didn't make sense; was trying to blend hip hop with Afrobeats so it sounded weird. This was 26 years ago and people didn’t understand it. So I chilled and I just continued doing comedy which is just me. But music is something I love and A&R is something that I’ve always had. Like at times I listen to some music and I go like ‘So so and so would have done better.’ But most times when people hear me say it, they’re like ‘What do you know?’ And then Papa Benji came and I needed music, I needed a soundtrack because a pepper soup joint needs music. So I told myself that this was the best opportunity to create that album especially since music is not the way it used to be, so the world is ready.
So I got a producer who gave me what I wanted and we created magic. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do and have a passion for and because of the story that we already had it was easy to achieve this because Papa Benji already has a story.
How is it that with music being your first love and your rapper portfolio, you don't hit the booth for Papa Benji. Are you saving yourself for later?
I’m not exactly saving myself for later, it’s more or less like this; when we were creating the album, I didn’t hear myself on the album. Like when we were creating the beats, I could hear different musicians, but I couldn’t hear myself, and I didn’t want to force myself into it. And if I’d done it I was going to ruin it. I was like ‘Bright, except it comes from within, except you actually feel yourself on that song, don’t jump on it, this is not about you, this is about what you’re trying to create.’ So I took myself out of it, I had to be selfless cause it’s about creating.
But for the next project, I hear myself on a track or two or more. The next project is a soundtrack album for the movie I’m coming out with in 2021
We’ve never had a production have a total soundtrack album such as this in Nigeria. Other than deciding to create music suitable for a pepper soup joint, Basketmouth, where would you say you got the inspiration for Yabasi?
I don’t know, it just came. This was the process; when I was done creating the sitcom, I said "Bright you need music to drive the show, you need the kind of songs that people that come to beer parlour will like to hear. The kind of songs that will inspire them, drive them, and compliment their hustle, not just any song."
So I wrote a story which is where we got the visual album from. I wrote the story and when I was done, I infused the story in the songs. I made the story about a guy that’s struggling, who’s also a customer. It's this person’s struggle that I used in creating the album. That’s why you hear songs like Ride or Die, because he’s a hustler, he’s trying to get married and he’s looking for money. And the job he was pitching for, he lost it. So he had to go back to his girl to tell her that their marriage would have to be postponed. She was understanding of this, so ride or die. And that’s how that song starts. The December song with Ceeza Milli, is the wedding song. The Life song with Zoro, it’s their traditional wedding song that is why you hear the bus park in Enugu, because that was when they went to the village. The Hustle song was based on when he lost his job and he had to start all over again. Udo was when he started making money.
I don’t know how it came, I won’t lie, The idea just came and I followed it. I was just listening to the voices in my head.
The sound profile of the entire Yabasi album is highlife, how did you decide on taking that route?
I told myself that whenever I’m going to make an album, it’s not just going to be the normal sound that people are used to. So when I was creating Papa Benji and there was an Igbo man in that story, I decided to let the album be Igbo-based. I threw in some other elements, but it’s actually centred around an Igbo man. I however realised I couldn’t just make Igbo music because it won't blend with the now. So I decided to blend Igbo music and trap music. When I told Dr. Sett-- the producer that I wanted to blend the two, he was like ‘what are you talking about?’ But I talked him into it and when we made the first beats, which was Udo, that was when he knew we were about to make magic.
That’s my favourite song
That was the first beat we created and that was the last song we recorded. It was hard for me to get someone to jump on it. It was the hardest song, for some strange reason, I stopped hearing the voices. So I was forcing it and I had to tell myself not to chill. So I told Duktor Sett to drop it while we work on the rest. I then took my mind off everything and listened to it after like two days-- cause we created the album in two weeks, next thing I started hearing Peruzzi on it. So I called him, I said "I need you to listen to this beat." I drove to his house, played it, he liked it. But before we could record, it took forever. My friends even advised me to move on and it wasn’t till a day to my deadline that Peruzzi hit me up. Immediately, I drove to his house, and in less than an hour, he was done. I already knew who the rapper was going to be because his name had always been in my head; Illbliss. I sent him the song and told him, “Illbliss, this song, jump on it, it's for you.” When he heard it, he called me and was ecstatic.
Did you expect to get the reception it got?
When we created it, I was like ‘this is good music’ but because I’d tried hip hop and Fela afrobeat type of vibe in the past, I was scared. But the more we were creating the songs, the more I was getting more confident. I told Duktor Sett that I need us to create an album but beyond that, I want us to make every song our best song. So we did that and didn’t rush anything. When we were done, we knew we had magic but whether people would accept it was 50/50.
I don’t want to sound too confident, but I knew it was good music.
View this post on Instagram
Coming from you who has been stung in the past by the music industry, you know, not recognising your talent, what do you think of the music industry and the consumership now?
It’s getting better. There was a time when it was a bit shaky. Then during the pandemic everything slowed down a little bit and a new sound came because people were chilled and also Omah Lay’s sound started breaking in. We were not clubbing anymore and needed a vibe that compliments the mood. Because there was a time where it was just going fast and if you bring something slow nobody listens. But with the big shift, it's getting better and there are so many talented artistes like Oxlade and Cee Kay and the rest of them.
It’s crazy how you pair these artistes like how in the world do you do that?
The thing is, what we try to do, myself and Duktor Sett-- who’s a whizkid by the way, we try to make the instrumental beautiful first, like it has to be something that you can listen to even without vocals, so when I start listening to the instrumental, I start piecing voices, I don’t know how I do it I won’t lie to you. We’re working on one with a beautiful instrumental, and I got Johnny Drille’s voice and I wanted female vocals and I couldn’t hear any other voice, then the next thing I got Efya’s voice. So I just put on the headphones and listen and listen over and over again and then it just comes.
Basketmouth you just might be the best A&R in the industry at this point because the way you pieced the artistes together, Ladipoe and Waje, Flash and BOJ on Yabasi, we’re sure the two artistes working together won’t have seen it coming.
Funny thing is when Flash was done with his verse, I told my guys, this song is nice but something is missing because it was just Flash at first and then I started to hear BOJ’s voice ringing in my head.
We can share my royalties. 60/40 No higher pic.twitter.com/AsvNCZV2T4
— RAP SAMURAI (@LadiPoe) January 24, 2021
Are we getting videos though?
Yes, we’re getting a video for all 10 songs because it’s a visual album we have to shoot for all 10 songs. I was hoping to have started working on the visuals before now because there’s a reason why December is a track on that album. We were aiming to release it in December but right now it's not going to work so I’m going to change that narrative because we need a lot of time to work on that project, it requires a lot of travelling, a lot of casting because the drama that we’re placing in between each song has over 25 cameos and it’s like a movie.
It was really an experience working with these guys and seeing them create these songs. Like Ceeza Milli, he wrote that song in 15 minutes. He freestyled his first take then he asked for the mic and did the next take which was the final.
Did they also know they were going to be featured with any particular artiste and did you have to reassure them that the other artiste would deliver at their level?
No that never happened. In fact, when I told ‘Poe he was going to be working with Waje, he was excited and said he’d been looking forward to that and she also said the same. Everyone was looking forward to working with the next person so it was perfect. However, not many of them knew that I was going to be putting the next person on the same song. Peruzzi didn’t know the song would be done with Illbliss and for some songs, I just left them open. For instance the song with Umu Obiligbo, I didn't’ t put anyone on it. I wanted to put a rapper because it has that rap vibe but I told myself it was complete and not to force it. Likewise, Ceeza Milli’s because anything else would have been overkill. I didn’t force anything, I was just following what the song was telling me and that’s why it turned out this way.
It sounds like the album was birthed from instinct, what other factor would you say helped to bring it together?
I give props to Duktor Sett. This is how we met; I was promoting a show and he did a remix using my voice to create a beat and it was nice. I reached out to him and told him I'd like us to work together and asked him to make me a beat and he did it perfectly; I was giving him the hardest beats to do. Three months later I asked him to come over so we could meet. It’s hard for you to tell someone what you’re hearing in your head but I started to tell him what I wanted to create. He’s the person that actually did the most impossible thing which is bringing my imagination to life. There were even some beats that he worked on alone without me saying a word. It wasn’t just me and him, there were other guys and ultimately we had fun.
Baskemouth, you said Udo was the hardest to create, what song was the easiest to make on Yabasi?
It was December. The beats weren’t that easy but the vocals took 30 minutes. Other than that was Pepper Soup with Duncan Mighty, he sent it back almost immediately after I sent it to him. Initially when I sent it to him, he called me back 10 minutes later ecstatic and told me he loved it. He told me to give him a date and he stayed up working on it in his studio. In his words, ‘that song spoke to me, and that’s the reason why I brought out everything.” If you noticed, he sang a lot of parables.
Beyond the whole idea, the time was right, everyone was in the right frame of mind so I’ll give it to God because he made everything too easy.
What other artistes that are not on Yabasi would you have loved to have?
One person that was supposed to be on the album was Cee Kay and 2Baba and they’ll make the next one. 2Baba was supposed to be on Udo. If you listen to the last verse on Udo, Peruzzi sounded like him. That was the part where I wanted him on. I actually sent the beat to him but I couldn’t catch him.
I intend to work with a lot more artistes next, on a bigger project with about 20 tracks. We’ve produced about 7 beats already. I have Niyola on one already and it’s going to be a doper project.
So Basketmouth, will we be getting any shows from Yabasi?
Yes I’m talking to SoundCity now and we want to create a Yabasi experience; a concert that’ll feature all the artistes on the album. There’s recession so the budget is still being worked on. The idea is to have it after Papa Benji is released to make it a wholesome experience.
Well done with Yabasi, you’re the ultimate creative right now.
I try, the thing is, it’s like a journey for me, I’m moving from one point to another. I started with comedy, then sitcom, I then moved to the online series. But before that, I decided to move to music then the online series then movies and back to comedy. So in two years, I’ll be back to doing specials. That’s the movement and I’m playing you guys like chess.
But it’s a win-win for everybody.