7 Takeaways from Don Jazzy’s revealing interview on Bounce Radio’s Black Box Interview series
Hosted by Ebuka Obi-Uchendu
Hosted by Ebuka Obi-Uchendu
In the pantheon of Afropop production, few – if any – producers come close to Don Jazzy. Certainly, no one person boasts the mix of longevity, allure, critical acclaim, overall creative influence, and the well-stacked catalogue full of culture-defining moments that Micheal Ajereh possesses. Since stepping back on Nigerian soil in 2004, the music polymath has ploughed hard at creating an enabling environment for popular Nigerian music to thrive while simultaneously co-creating the music that soundtracked the upbringing of at least one generation of Nigerian kids.
Strangely, despite being attuned to the pulse of his music and the familiarity of his production, not many of his audience can claim to know Don Jazzy in the proprietorial fashion fans claim to know music superstars. For the longest time, it was near impossible to get a read on the man whose fingerprints are all over some of the body of works – Curriculum Vitae, The Entertainer & Mushin 2 Mo’ Hits – that have shaped contemporary Nigerian music, and global pop by extension.
In the early days, that mysterious air was engendered by the telekinetic nature of his relationship with erstwhile creative and business partner, D’Banj, as well as his curated public persona and the impressive composure he displayed when he did wander into the public’s eye. The rise in popularity of social media and a loosening of that guardedness has, over the years, opened up Don Jazzy to the generation that grew up adoring his music. Still, it has not been hard to clock that for all the access social media gave, fans could only see Don Jazzy through a smoky mirror and that the Don was happy to recede to the shadows when it suited him.
On April 1, online radio, Bounce, premiered the first part of an extensive conversation with Don Jazzy, as part of its Black Box Interview series hosted by Ebuka Obi-Uchendu. That opening part touched on Jazzy’s upbringing, his origin story, and the circumstances that set him on the road to becoming one of the most successful Nigerian music entrepreneurs of the 21st century. Days later, the second, concluding part was also released, and together those conversations represent some of the most insightful and contextual information on Don Jazzy. After listening, we have selected a couple of points from the interview that we find exciting.
Despite the popular conception that Don Jazzy grew up in Ajegunle, some of the most lucid moments of his life were spent in Egbeda and the Don attended the Federal Government College at Ijanikin where he was a classmate with Nollywood actor, OC Ukeje. The duo were also best friends and part of a musical group called the Ministration Voices before Don Jazzy broke off to form another musical alliance with stronger and more popular school colleagues. At a point, around SSS 2, Don Jazzy started failing in school work on purpose and that led to him not making the requisite grades to apply for university admission after secondary school. After leaving secondary school, he went to Lagos City Computer College and moved to Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma to study Business Administration.
When academics at Ambrose Alli University wasn’t working, Don Jazzy moved to London on the invitation of his uncle to seek alternate academic options and while there he worked as an office clerk, security guard, and music instrumentalist. He typically charged between £150 and £200 pounds per service to play at churches around London.
He met Soji Solek while playing for another musician, Jide Chord, and they formed a band called Solek crew with one other person called Micheal. Solek taught Don Jazzy how to program beats on keyboards and they played at restaurants and events like weddings. The band performed a medley of juju, R&B, and hip-hop songs and were making constant money, getting up to £500 at minimum per person from each show at the peak of their music venture. Over time, Soji wanted to form his own band and the Solek crew came to an end because Don Jazzy didn’t take the news well. That led to him meeting with JJC.
While he was in the Solek crew, Kas (of “Fimile” and “Wine 4 Me” fame) found Don Jazzy and was impressed with his skill level. He wanted Don Jazzy to produce for him and that was the first time Don Jazzy intently heard about the technicalities of production, as he only made his beats on computers. The first beat he made for Kas was made on a keyboard and Kas took the keyboard to a studio to strip the beat and record over it.
That continued for a while until they met with JJC. The first time JJC heard a Don Jazzy beat was at a Nigerian wedding where Kas was DJ-ing at. At the time, JJC was looking for a producer and told Kas to come to his studio with Jazzy. That meeting was the first time Don Jazzy made a beat with a computer, but it wasn’t a great beat and he left JJC’s. Two weeks later, he returned and kept practicing and within two days he had gotten the hang of it. At that time, he contributed to a soundtrack for a Scooby Doo movie. For close to a year, he worked extensively with JJC but when a contract was presented to codify their relationship, it didn’t reflect what Don Jazzy thought was a partnership and that led to him leaving the JJC and 419 squad group.
After picking a name for Mo’Hits and returning to Nigeria, what followed was an intense period of Don Jazzy’s life where he had to balance creating music with worrying about the financial implication of pursuing music. At a point in the early years, Mo’Hits was almost sold to Storm Records for about N1 million but the deal never happened. Shortly after, D’Banj got his first endorsement deal for about N20 million from Power Fist.
One of the most intriguing details about Don Jazzy in the earliest years was his mysticism and he said that came about from a conversation with DJ Tee and a conscious decision to allow D’banj be the face of the label. As the label expanded, they signed more artists like K Switch and D’Prince who had been with them since the beginning, Dr Sid was a close friend of D’Banj’s, so it was a natural evolution to him being on the label.
The relationship between Don Jazzy and D’banj started to falter before the G.O.O.D. Music deal happened because of a build-up of some unresolved issues that Don Jazzy didn’t touch on. They went ahead with the G.O.O.D. Music deal because they felt it was a great opportunity and that their relationship would survive the fallout of the deal. In Don Jazzy’s words, the deal elongated the inevitable.
During the interview, he clarified comments D’Banj made about him being scared of the G.O.O.D. Music deal and said he was calculative and saw that the market was not ready for Nigerian music at the time. Don Jazzy had created an initial beat for “Lift Off”, a song on Jay-Z and Kanye West’s joint album, Watch The Throne, which was stripped off and refurbished, so he figured the market wasn’t ready and he couldn’t abandon the business and artists he had in Nigeria like Wande Coal and Dr. Sid.
Don Jazzy was signed to G.O.O.D Music as a producer for a deal that was supposed to last five years and after he saw the climate, he returned to Nigeria and ghosted them till the five years ran up.
After Mo’Hits broke up, Don Jazzy avoided making music for a while because he was scared that the music he’d make would not live up to the standard of the Mo’Hits era. He was rushed into making the Mavin announcement because there was an imminent media leak about the label and he wanted to get in front of that. The label’s debut compilation project, Solar Plexus, was recorded and ready to go with the news of Mavin’s formation.
A few years after the label was announced, Wande Coal left and it’s a move Don Jazzy blamed on Wande having people in his ears and telling him things. The nadir of their relationship came when Don Jazzy called out Wande for re-recording a song they had originally made together and it is something he says he regrets doing. After they broke up, Don Jazzy kept reaching out and told him there was a place for him at Mavin.
While Don Jazzy does not necessarily have regrets, he wished he had signed a number of artists, one of whom was Falz. There was an opportunity to sign Falz, but he already had an existent label structure that would not have fit in with the overall superstructure of Mavin Records, so that deal never happened. With Simi, Don Jazzy did a Twitter competition, Journey of a Thousand Miles, for a D’Prince and Wande Coal record. Simi participated in the competition, she didn’t win but she was high up there and he wished he’d signed her. The last person he really wished he signed was Teni, she was a student in Atlanta at the time and he didn’t have the option to work closely with her and get her signed. Don Jazzy never really wanted to sign Davido but he knew he was going to be huge.
One thing he does wholly regret is the Olamide incident at The Headies because he understands the passion of where Olamide was coming from, but he was upset at the thought that people felt he paid for awards. Don Jazzy explained that had his award not been called right after the Olamide outburst he’d have been able to control his reaction. They did meet up the next day and buried the hatchet.
@walenchi Is A Lagos-Based Writer Interested In The Intersection Of Popular Culture, Music, And Youth Lifestyle.