Interview: Meet Elveektor, A Rapper Channeling Tradition & Winning On His Terms
An Overview: Meet Elveektor, A Rapper Channeling Tradition & Winning On His Terms
A great project begins on its terms. For Nsibidi 2 it's the speech that establishes its mission: Fight on, brave boys. Fight on. Zoom in; you see the lip pursed in bloodied anticipation. You see the eyes twitch, the buzz of a fly aiding cinematic detail. Zoom out; a voice, rapping: Elveeektor's. His words are concise; and the production, visceral and floated atop marching drums, makes it all come together.
Things have been coming together for Elveektor. He has Don Jazzy's cosign; iLLBliss knows and respects the hustle. Most importantly, respect from his peers and an increasing fan base. Some have mentioned him as the new face of Igbo Hip Hop, but why not just Hip Hop?
A slew of projects led by the Nsibidi tapes has been his M.O, a tireless work ethic founded on his domineering philosophy: Hard work. For Valentine Ogbu Tochukwu, nothing good comes easy. And when I talk about things coming together, I'm talking about years of falling and getting back up. Years of rapping in English, and upon the suggestion of Charlie X, adapted Igbo as his primary medium of expression. Hours trying a celebrity's phone, eager to learn the ropes.
A Sunday evening preens itself open for introspection, and I'd been connecting threads in my head as Elveektor spoke of his music. He'd seen the ugly side of label deals when he was asked to change his name. He knew sojourn when he came to Lagos in 2015 for the Hennessey Artistry Cypher. Brotherhood when Charlie X, after months of pitching, began to work with him, teaching Elveektor how to record music himself. He knows how to rap, and that's a given. But also, "that one doesn't have to be the best chef to have the best costumers."
Throughout our near-hour discussion, Elveektor is expressive, observing a child-like attention to detail. He provided names, places, and dates. Being so hands-on in his music has helped a great deal, and near the end of our conversation, he says: Imagine what I would do with a proper record label.
I'd been invited to his Lekki home a few times, but the schedule didn't align, and we were now speaking over the phone. As an Igbo man, Ogbu doesn't idle around the game of industry validation; Nsibidi 2 was released on May 30th, the Biafran Remembrance Day, and it's that Igbo-centric identity which informs, not just Elveektor's music, but his lifelong values.
When did you come to Lagos to do music professionally?
I came to Lagos towards the end of 2017. In fact, that was when my music started professionally – I would say that happened when I dropped Nsibidi 1 in January 2018. Before then I'd been recording o; I had singles but I didn't really understand the business. I thought it was just about recording and putting your song out on blogs.
But my narrative changed when I got to Lagos and I realized it's a profession. My first project was Sonrise. While I was working on that Charlie X called me –I'd been begging Charlie for an opportunity to work with him all my life. But he kept saying I'm not ready, and when he says that it's not like he's totally leaving you alone. He helps me, guides me through all of my projects.
Before Lagos, where were you based?
Around 2014, 2015 – I was serving in Calabar, after which I went back to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), for my Master's degree. So I came from Nsukka to Lagos.
On 'Igbo Landing,' you rapped about people who treated you some kind of way.
What I'm saying in 'Igbo Landing' is exactly what it is. I'd rather do it on my own than serve somebody for years. Cos if you check in Lagos, they're few Igbo artists who're really doing well. The narrative is that once you enter Lagos make sure those guys know you before you begin doing your stuff. (At a time) everybody was telling me "Guy you dun good o! Contact Phyno na, make Phyno just help you." You know, that kind of thing.
Then I begin to understand that this is a business. I don't have to be the best cook to have the best customers. So all I needed to do is standout on my own, and they'll be a reason everybody looks my way. 'Igbo Landing' is a matter of, I know you all think I'll come to your houses and beg for your help and all that. No, mehn. I'd rather build on my own and one day you're going to come, and it'll be business.
In 2006, I was a big fan of (the late great rapper) MC Loph. He was popping. So somehow I got his number –I've forgotten how– and I kept calling the guy. I didn't even have a phone. I was using my dad's phone to flash him. One time this guy got angry, he called back and I picked, and I was like "Yo, I'm a rapper too; I need you to help me become a very good rapper." He told me, angrily, in Igbo, 'Bia, iche no so gí na gudu egwu?' Do you think you're the only musician in the world? That if I feel my music is good I should go to Alaba, they will give me money and I will be my own boss. I don't fucking need anybody. You know, he was saying it out of frustration, but I was receiving it like Wow, what he's actually saying is true. Because if you have to pass through somebody to get there – it's always easier to get there yourself, and that person you would have passed through will respect you.
Does this mean you're not looking to sign to a record label?
Funny enough I used to want to sign to a record label. I used to beg Charlie X, like "Please sign me to Timeless Music." Charlie would tell me there's nothing like Timeless Music, just a bunch of people working together. I told him: Just sign me. He said he does not have money! When I understood the business I realized that record label is a whole lot of things o. A record label can either make or mar you. In the sense that I have people who are signed to record labels – like in six months they'll just drop one song. I don't want any record label that'll tell me 'Just go and keep recording; you're not ready.'
You wanted to manage your creative output.
I don't like to keep songs. Some of the songs I kept, that I thought I was going to release, and now Nsibidi 2 is out, I'm scared they might not come out anymore. Because I feel like once you get to a stage you've passed, you'll not feel as you were feeling when you made that.
I would like to be associated with a record label, but it has to really be a record label. Because no be these boys wey dun gather money now, wey feel anybody can have an artiste. It has to really be business. It's either the person has the same spirit – You know they say 'Iron sharpen iron.' It has to be that energy. It doesn't have to be just because you have one billion naira and you feel you can shoot one video for me and then keep me in the rot. I just don't want that kind of energy. So right now I'm very skeptic about them; a few record labels have actually contacted me.
In fact, when I came to Lagos the first record label that contacted me started with Ah, that I should change my name. I say Wetin? They say there's already a Victor in the industry, and I'm like 'Who's the Victor?' They said 'Viktoh YBNL' and I told the guy 'Please, my name is Elveektor. E-l-v-e-e-k-t-o-r. Google it.' I'm probably the only Elveektor in the world. It's a brand I carefully chose for myself, and you're telling me to change it to something else. I didn't like the idea so I stopped calling those people. The so-called record label sef has scattered. Imagine if I'd signed to them and changed my name.
There's also the historical angle of the Igbo Landing which happened in 1803. Why did you put this song on the project?
First reason is that a whole lot of people don't even know about the Igbo Landing. And I also put it there like Know who you are, mehn. You're not supposed to be doing some certain things because in the olden days our people didn't do like that. They're masters on their own –there's a saying 'Igbo enwere Eze.' I want to teach the history, to renew the history so that people will know about it.
When I did the first verse it wasn't really talking about [the event]. So I so happy when Bosalin sent me his verse and he told the story. But the main thing is that you should know that you're not a slave. Like, a Igbo man would rather die than be a slave.
The personal angle is that I'd rather suffer cos, it's not easy in Lagos o. I won't lie to you. Even till now mehn, I'm still eating crackers. That's why I'm always celebrating my numbers, no matter how small they seem. Like, I got 1400 Spotify streams in a week. To some people, that's nothing. But to me it's huge, mehn. Do you know what it is for Notjustok to call and interview? I've even contacted with Ovie (to get a song up), in 2014, but he wasn't feeling it. It was during Vector the Viper's King Kong competition. I made Top 10 in 2015. But they didn't announce it on time so we start campaigning to be able to make Top 3. People that saw their name started campaigning online but I didn't have a phone so it took a while to find out my name was there. But even at that Vector still called me, said he liked my submission, and that's how I made the Hennessey Artistry Cypher 2015. Everybody was there – that was my first time in Lagos because of music.
What was the impression?
That was when I came and I realized that I was not ready (Laughs). I was there with PayBac, who would take me around because I didn't know Lagos much. So I was just seeing these stars, it fucking blew my head. I saw Jesse Jagz, I was looking at him. Do you know I was passing weed with Jesse Jagz? I would never forget that shit in my life. Like, Jesse Jagz would smoke weed and give me. And I'm like 'Jesus Christ! I'm made.'
But content wise, I had nothing – even PayBac had CDs. When he saw iLLBliss he brought out one and gave him, and iLLBliss asked where mine was. I told him I didn't have. He said –he was telling me now in Igbo; I'm not sure he remembers this cos I was just one random guy– that Lagos is not where you come and be looking around. You have to be prepared. And I felt bad I didn't have a project of my own. It was an eye opener going back to Nsukka.
When I returned to Lagos in 2018, to me everybody here was not working hard. I was now the highest hard worker (laughs). I came with my own USB microphone; I didn't have a studio, it was the microphone I used in making all those songs. Most of the songs on my first EP was made with it. I was constantly recording.
Was there any difficulties that trailed the decision to rap mainly in Igbo?
Yes na. We do not say this, but being an Igbo guy is like being a black guy in America. In Nigeria, everyone knows that; it's the psychology. It's also an effect of the war.
So you had a whole lot of people telling me, 'Bro, you sabi rap o, but try and be putting a little English.' I'm like, 'Bro, we're in Enugu and listen to O Fo Ka Si Be.' We don't even know what it means but we we're vibing to that shit. And when it gets to my turn you're telling me to put a little English so that people understand me. It was difficult o, cos I was really forced to put English.
And again, it's always easy for everybody to compare you to Phyno. Once you just rap in Igbo, they say 'Guy, you dey rap like Phyno' and it was really tiring. I understand that, cos he's the first to ever do it like that. But I needed to be myself.
Which rappers influence your style of rapping?
Mr. Raw, and Phyno – I won't lie. Cos, you know, when they were doing it and getting reception it's just like making way for every other person that will probably try and do it like them. In the traditional scene these are the two people that influence me.
But I'm also versatile. Charlie X has taught me to listen to a lot of people. So I could be listening to Kahli Abdu, Clipse, Eric B... In my older laptop I have over 20,000 songs. All rap songs. At a time I was into Talib Kweli and Mos Def; I was worshipping them. Then at one time in my life it was just Chance The Rapper. I could remember that Drake was my mannest man too at some point.
I listen to everybody. iLLBliss, Zoro – but do you know there's a disadvantage to listening to these people a lot? Next thing you start stealing ideas. They call it 'Mindless lifting.' You'll not even know. You'll carry someone's line and put on your song, and that's not good for originality.
We haven't spoken about how you met Charlie X.
Charlie graduated from UNN. I didn't know him then but I was always hearing about him. There was this group in Nsukka that I loved so much cos they were living around me; ODC and Xploit, they called them X n O. I was in secondary school; this was in 2006 or 2005.
So one time Xploit –he now shoots documentaries and is also a radio presenter– took me to a studio in Abuja. At the time I hadn't met Charlie, but when I was listening to their songs it was always made by Charlie X. When M.I. dropped his first album and on the shout out he said, 'Charlie X what's up?' I'm like 'Damn, he worked with M.I. too?' I started inboxing him on Facebook, begging, Send me beats, do that. In fact, the first beat Charlie X sent me he charged me 5,000 Naira, in 2013. That song never came out. I think he was trying to know how serious I was, but I was willing to pay. I paid from my alawee. When I came to Lagos in 2016 for the Hennessey Artistry Cypher, the minute I called him and asked 'Can I stay in your house?' he said yes.
Charlie X is a very different person. If Charlie X tells you anything, mehn, he's not lying to you. There's nothing he has told me that has not checked out. I was always arguing with him like 'Mehn, I need to blow, I need to blow.' He told me that it all depends on me. 'If you chase it for the short term and you get tired you might not do it anymore. But if you chase it for the long term you might see small wins that will help you towards the end of the whole game.'
So after he let me stay in his house – for three days– he paid my transport when I was leaving. We started bonding, through BBM then. He helped me; I got my first USB microphone. Then I would do a cover song and send to him. He would tell me what I needed to change; through the phone, he was teaching me EQ, reverb and a whole lot. When I came back to Lagos in 2017, it was now easier. Charlie X was already my boss so there's no going back.
What moves are you making after the release of this project?
Well, I'm still searching for investors. We're still waiting to see where the record goes. I can't really do much cos I don't have money but I want to put it on radio, especially back home in the East. They're local radios I'm chasing right now. As from tomorrow (June 8th) it'll start playing on Dream FM, which is the biggest radio station in the South East. Marcswagz plays the evening show, and everybody listens to him in Enugu – he shows me love. Organically, everything is just looking nice. But I know I still need to spread my tentacles. And whatever it is; everybody's expecting musicians to just bring money, bring money.
You didn't ask me about this, but there's also the Elveektor Freestyle Friday, where I cover a song and talk about societal issues. It started as a rollout for my second project, Before The Sonshine, and it helped. I shot close to 70 skits, rapping and acting; the "Odogwu" cover included. It was a movement I carried on in 2019, because I couldn't fund videos.
I'm bringing back the Freestyle Fridays soon. I've been shooting with my iPhone, and I edit with inshot. But I've ordered a tripod and other gear that will help me shoot more.