The CEO: Remembering the legend of DaGrin, Nigeria’s first street superstar
Stories and quotes from Naeto C, Loose Kanyon, D-O and more
Stories and quotes from Naeto C, Loose Kanyon, D-O and more
In just over a year of prominence, DaGrin changed the face of rap music in Nigeria, and by extension, all of the entire musical soundscape in West Africa. Prior to his phenomenal and abruptly truncated run, there were rappers doling out their raps in their native languages and even scoring hit songs—Lord of Ajasa and Mr Raw (aka Nigga Raw) are two quick examples that come to mind. What they never managed to attain was a wholesome level of critical respect and commercial success that cut across the spectrum of music listeners. DaGrin reached those heights, and then some.
Today marks a decade since Oladapo Olaonipekun’s tragic passing, but his name has yet to be forgotten. He didn’t just attain success, he won the type of approval that was unprecedented for indigenous rappers at the time. DaGrin spoke the language of the streets, and told the stories of the majority who were routinely underrepresented in the mainstream; that’s the norm nowadays. He is the catalyst behind the movement that’s still sometimes shunned but has only continued to grow its impact on contemporary Afropop.
Sonically, DaGrin was stylistically different from the current crop of high-flying street-bred artists that he unknowingly paved the way for, and rightfully so—he came of age in the era where 50 Cent reigned supreme, and it influenced his own style. At that, the aftershock of his success and attitude has continued to directly and indirectly impact those who have come after him. You can hear the influence of his agile flow in a rapper like Zlatan, while his authenticity echoes in the irreverent but relatable energy of rappers like Prettyboy D-O and Kida Kudz.
Music from the continent is being consumed at a larger and faster pace than ever before. Due to streaming capabilities, social media and the general inter-connectedness of the world in the 2020, a hit record in Lagos is more than likely to be a hit record in London and New York, too. Although DaGrin was sadly not able to utilise the tools and reach available to artists today, it is without question that he paved the way for an entire generation of musicians from Nigeria, spanning multiple genres, to be true to themselves.
To remember him, we spoke to artists, label executives, radio owners and friends of DaGrin, about his rise, his legacy and what made him so special.
“The rise of DaGrin was really interesting to watch. He was one of those guys that had been rapping his ass off for a little bit, and you just knew that when he got that one record, he was out of here—which is what happened with “Pon Pon Pon”. Most people who heard that single thought that he was an overnight success, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. He had been killing the features and working his way up, he had “Efimile” with YQ, so when he got with Sossick, he was out of here. And the video also did justice to the song, it portrayed him in the most authentic light of who he was—he was a street dude and a proper Lagos boy. People gravitated towards him and his story.
Let me tell you this story. I started doing Wax Lyrical—a now-defunct bi-weekly hip-hop live show—at Koko lounge. At the time, Koko lounge was a buzzing joint in Lagos and artists used to come through and do whatever. DaGrin is there on the night I started doing Wax Lyrical, maybe on a date ‘cos he had a lady with him. He got a bottle of Guinness, sitting down in the corner and minding his business. The show starts, the DJ is playing the records and I’m rapping my ass off and stuff. Clearly, he wanted to be a part of it and he asked for a mic, and we started going back-and-forth. My Yoruba has never been great, but you could tell that this guy was just great at what he does, and he was electrifying the crowd. He did that for about thirty minutes, went back to his corner and left when he was done. It was so genuine and so original to me, ‘cos people were so hype about him.
It’s such a shame we lost him when we did, ‘cos he was just about to start properly dominating and killing the game. But, I mean, his legacy is forever written in stone, it’s not going anywhere. I hope his family continue to have the strength to deal with the unfortunate situation—I know it’s been ten years, but you still keep dealing with that kind of stuff. God bless him and may his soul rest in peace.
If I say I knew DaGrin personally, I’d be lying, but I did have the opportunity to work with him and witness the quality and greatness of his talent. Back in mid-2009, we’d just started Beat 99.9FM, so we decided to do a formal launch of the station in February 2010. I remember we had it at the GET Arena, and DaGrin really had a great performance on that night. You know that corny bit in movies where an artist is on stage and everyone just focuses their attention on the stage, that was how it was. Witnessing the rise of DaGrin was fresh—the way he flowed in Yoruba and street slangs in Pidgin English. It reminded me of when 50 Cent first came up, that raw energy, the grit and the attitude. It was all so infectious, no matter who you are.
Losing him so early was even more painful, ‘cos you have to wonder what could have been. But then, he inspired a lot of people. People now knew that it could be with talent and will, you didn’t have to copy, ‘cos he was a true original. He gave a lot of encouragement to what we’re seeing now, what we’ve seen over the last ten years. Street sound that was only appreciated by a few people has become THE mainstream. Sure, he’s sorely missed, but the thing about people like Dagrin is that they always leave a timeless legacy. If you play Da Grin’s music now, it still resonates with young people of any generation. His legacy is that, he’s left a sound that has grown and become embedded in Nigerian music.
For me, the first time I heard a Yoruba rapper was AY, and he was a dope MC but the timing just wasn’t right. Then Dagrin comes up, and I honestly did not expect him to have that much appeal at the time, ‘cos the year before he dropped “Pon Pon Pon”, M.I had just dropped and guys like Modenine and Ruggedman were still very much around. Then that single drops and, literally, everything stopped. There was instant shift in what Nigerians were being offered as the way to rap and what could be termed as our own way to rap. Da Grin was the guy with the voice that puts you on notice. He went from having a commercially quiet album to having a classic that influenced so many young rappers. He broke the boundaries, ‘cos he showed that irrespective of the language, as long as you were doing something people can connect with, you had a chance to succeed. I would be lying if I said that without Da Grin, street music would never have gotten this big—that would be unfair to those who did it before him and even after him—but I would also be correct to say Da Grin made it happen quicker.
I remember “Kondo”, that’s like the first song of his I remember. I just remember going to the club, that was Rehab at the time, and that’s what the DJs used to play. He’s the first voice of the streets, man. I love Baddo (Olamide) with all my life, that’s my Presido, but he definitely to the mantle—Dagrin ran so Baddo could fly. In terms of legacy, that’s Makavelli, like 2Pac. I say that ‘cause he was from the streets, the streets listened to everything he said, they related with him. He had everything—the attitude, the arrogance—as a Yoruba street nigga. As an artist, [he inspired me] with the attitude and the bravado. With Dagrin, I feel more of a sadness that he left too soon. Long live the legend, rest in peace.
When I first met him, he had just started working with Sossick. At the time, he had released his debut project and he had one song off it that had some buzz, “Rap Rules Anthem”. I used to record at a friend’s place at Ikotun, it wasn’t far off from Ejigbo, where Sossick lived the time, and sometimes we’d go there to listen to beats or just find out what people were up to. Seeing DaGrin a couple times, his confidence level was really high, he kinda knew he was going to make it big. I mean, there were many people around that area that rapped in Yoruba but he just sorta knew, you know, he had this 50 Cent delivery and he could even switch it up to English sometimes. After they dropped that first single off the second project, it blew up in our faces. At the time, Storms Records were doing their thing, M.I and his guys had recently blown up, but there was a difference when DaGrin came into the game. He represented something—the streets. For those of us that were not posh, DaGrin showed that someone from our kind of background could actually really make it big. Rappers blew up, but DaGrin’s was different, and he became something of an aspirational symbol; he became the standard, he became the bar.
First of all, I must admit that I am biased when it comes to DaGrin, because he’s legit one of my favourite artists ever. Everybody has their own perspective on hip-hop culture, but from my personal standpoint, I could identify with him as an artist, because his understanding of what hip-hop culture represented was spot on, especially in terms of authenticity. I met him in 2008 through DJ Neptune and YQ, and we worked on three records together. His album was one of the greatest bodies of work from a Nigerian hip-hop artist, in my opinion. That’s because, he pretty much had the right kind of ideology, and that’s what drew me into his artistry and made me a fan.
I remember working on a record with him on my second album, that’s the remix to “Ako Mi ti Poju”, and I hit him up to come to Dr Frabz’s studio in Iyana Ipaja to drop the verse. He came in, we chopped it up a bit and he went into the studio with no paper and knocked it out in like one take, which was really dope. Like, my first album, I barely wrote anything, so I admired that we were on the same kind of wave. He’s definitely an artist I enjoyed working with, the few times I was privileged to work with him. When he dropped that C.E.O album, I wasn’t surprised it was that dope to be honest. It was my favourite hip-hop album at the time, I was really excited for him.
I remember being in Dundee hearing that he’d passed after the accident, and I was very devastated, just like any regular fan. I rcback to Nigeria shortly after, on the day of his funeral, and I went to pay my last respects—which is the least I could have done. I really do believe he was a huge loss for Nigerian hip-hop, he is an icon, and what he represented for Nigerian hip-hop, I knew it couldn’t be replicated that easily. But if you look at where street music is in Nigerian music today, my perspective is that he is the template. To have that level of courage, authenticity and conviction at that age and in that time, and to reflect it in the music, it’s genius. From the artists driving Nigerian hip-hop and street music now, and you can clearly see that his legacy is still living on. I’m just appreciative to have had the opportunity to work with him. May his soul rest in peace, and I pray he continues to be celebrated forever.