NATIVE Exclusive: Ajebo Hustlers want to be more than conscientious voices

An album that transcends social consciousness.

Two songs into the Port Harcourt duo, Ajebo Hustlers’ spirited brand new album Kpos Lifestyle Vol. 1′ is “Yafun Yafun,” a succinct bitter musing on the infidelity of a love interest spun over vibrant instrumentals. The subject matter is whimsical but it is delicately told via an achingly-sung chorus and an innuendo-filled verse. There is no doubt that the number is sure to become a radio regular and, perhaps even, a crossover hit.  

This is the vision that Piego and Knowledge, the two friends that make up the musical duo, Ajebo Hustlers wish for themselves. A desire to be seen as dexterous musicians capable of cutting loose when the occasion demands and topping charts from PH to the Six. 


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by AJEBO HUSTLERS (@ajebo_hustlers)

To understand why such a hedonistic outlook is important to the Port Harcourt-bred duo, you might have to cast your mind back to the tense weeks of last year’s October protests when young Nigerians converged at vantage points across the country to demand the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad and vent at the state of the country’s failing economy. While Piego and Knowledge were not on all the protest grounds across the country, their music was a regular accompaniment to the fury of the masses.

Their 2020 single “Barawo” was sung with gusto by crowds of young people from state to state who chanted its distinct refrain, “this country na wa. They utilised the familiar lyrics as a bite-sized invective aimed for the hearing of the authorities who were caught unawares by the ferocity and inventiveness of the young protesters. 

“That felt really emotional because that’s not something you can predict,” Piego, one half of the group, says when we get on a Zoom call the day before the release of Kpos Lifestyle Vol. 1′. “We weren’t expecting that. We just wanted to express ourselves and make the kind of music we want regardless of who wants to listen. So, it was significant that that song was there during a significant time in our lives as young people especially because we had never seen Nigerians that united before, it was really fulfilling.”

As fulfilling as that experience was for them, the duo are aware of the overwhelming power of assuming that narrative and wish to avoid being shoehorned as only social justice voices. With their music, they want to make you dance, they want to echo your hurt with pithy songs like “Yafun Yafun,” and, importantly, they want to be on your music rotation this summer with their debut album. “We’re not here only to make music for freedom fighting or conscious reasons,” Knowledge says from a brightly lit apartment in Lagos as our conversation progresses ahead of the album release.  “We can make love songs and when we are ready and we can still make songs that reflect on those societal ills too.”

In conversation, Piego, born Precious Isaiah, and Knowledge, real name George Dandeson, pass the baton to one another effortlessly, offering answers that are as insightful as they are grounded in their immediate reality, a sign of how in-tune they are with one another. The duo first met over nine years ago at a catering service based in Port Harcourt where they were both working. Even then, music had always been a common ground for them. “Music basically brought us together because even though we were actually working at that restaurant we just had a burning passion for music,” Knowledge confesses. “We just became brothers off listening to music together and just connecting. We made our first song together in 2013 (“Tombo Music”) and it just went viral.”

While they gravitated towards each other in the early days, they still valued their independence and worked on music as solo artists before circling back to each other to compare notes and areas for improvement. While they enjoyed their time as solo artists, they soon realised the power in the union of their voices and so did their growing audience. “We just figured out that people like it more when we made songs together,” Knowledge said. “So, we just decided to align and put our efforts together to give the people what they want because the way we see music, it belongs to the people and what they wanted at that time was us together.”

“We’re not here only to make music for freedom fighting or conscious reasons.“


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by AJEBO HUSTLERS (@ajebo_hustlers)

Together, they set about dominating music in their home city of Port Harcourt, pulling from the visceral reality of life in the oil-rich city or, at other times, singing about its cultural artifacts like they did on 2014’s humorous “Bole and Fish.” With each release, their profile was further burnished and by the time they collaborated with Kayswitch on “Buruku” in 2015, they knew their time in the city was coming to an end, according to Knowledge. “The song was really popular in Port Harcourt and other neighboring cities,” he explained. “We also did a show and it just dawned on us that there was nothing left for us to do in the city. It was time to move to something bigger and try out abilities there too.”

That next step, like many before them, was the inevitable move to Lagos, the city that makes dreams come true. However, they didn’t find it easy in the cultural hub as the pair didn’t have any contacts or a label structure to lean on. “At a point, we would stay in Lagos for a while and go back to Port Harcourt because we still had gigs in the city and we needed those funds to push our career and just keep going generally,” Piego admitted halfway into our conversation. 

One day in the last quarter of 2019, the duo were laying down ideas in the studio when they put down a sketch of the song that would earn them their big break, the 1da Banton-produced “Barawo.” The first part of the song to be completed was its chorus that referenced jungle justice and the decadence of government in Nigeria;  history and Port Harcourt were to provide an impetus for the completion of the song. The event shook the entire nation but particularly residents of Port Harcourt who recanted the tragic tale each year. 

To many people across the country, they were simply the Aluu 4, but to Piego and Knowledge, Ugonna and Lloyd were Tispy and Big L, budding rappers from the University of Port Harcourt that they regularly contested against at impromptu rap battles. The verses for “Barawo” were specifically crafted to preserve the memories of Ugonna, Chiadika, Lloyd, and Tekena. “It’s really personal for us,” Piego says solemnly, “and we felt like we needed to remind people about them because the hook already mentioned jungle justice and we wanted to honor their memory. I think one of the best ways we can honor their memory is to keep speaking against jungle justice and ensure it doesn’t happen again. That’s just one case that was popular, there are countless numbers of deaths we don’t get to hear about.” 


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by AJEBO HUSTLERS (@ajebo_hustlers)

Although forged by tragedy, the release of “Barawo” catapulted the duo to nationwide popularity. After the #EndSARS protests, they continued to release timeless music including the Nissi-featuring “Symbiosis” in November 2020 before the duo tapped another Port Harcourt-bred artist, Omah Lay, for “Pronto” in February. Between their distinctively southern Nigerian cadence and the breezy verses and catchy choruses that they have come up with, it is easy to see why many people are tipping them for imminent superstar status. 

‘Kpos Lifestyle Vol. 1’ is full of attempts to ensure that such predictions don’t fall too far off. Between the sappy songwriting of “Bus Stop” and the unencumbered indulgence of “Kpos,” the duo add more strings to their bow by showcasing their stellar penmanship and enviable synergy. It is an album that was being made years before we even got to this point, perhaps years before they even made “Barawo.” 

“This album is about solidifying everything we’ve spent our music career working toward,” Piego says. “We just wanted to give our fans something to make memories to. It doesn’t matter if you’ve only been a fan for three months or six months or longer, we want to show that we can do different things with our music.” Chipping in, Knowledge adds: “Most of the records are images of different times in our lives.”

As our time together draws to a close, I ask the duo how they feel about being mere hours away from their debut album almost 10 years after first crossing paths. After taking a moment to consider his feelings, Knowledge gives a simple answer that rings in my head long after our conversation and right through to my first listen of the album:

“It’s been a long time coming because being where we are takes a lot of work, so I feel great. I feel elated actually.”

Stream ‘Kpos Lifestyle, Vol. 1’ below.

Featured image credits/DeedsArt

@walenchi Is A Lagos-Based Writer Interested In The Intersection Of Popular Culture, Music, And Youth Lifestyle.

ICYMI: It’s Ayra Starr’s Moment Now