Source: http://nigeriafilms.com
Eldee the don
Eldee the don

Off stage, he is known as Lanre Dabiri but on stage his name is Eldee The Don. A founding member of the now defunct rap group, Trybesmen, he is enjoying plenty of attention these days, thanks to the success of his latest CD Big Boy. Correspondent, Kemi Yesufu caught up with the rapper, singer and producer in Abuja for this interview.

How would you rate your current album Big Boy?
I put a lot of work in this album and it has definitely received a lot of positive response at home, the United Kingdom and in the United States. It is a good thing for me because we are selling a lot of copies. We sold about 50, 000 in the first month. Also digitally, online, from downloads, we have been doing a lot of numbers. It has been very good and I feel positive.

You were away in the U.S. at a time, are you back in Nigeria for good?

Yes I am. I had a reason for going to America. It was not to remain there permanently. I left Nigeria to spend sometime developing myself with music, video production and so many other things I did back in the days when I was running my label. I needed to learn more to get it to the level where it is internationally acceptable, which is the reason I went to the U.S. Now I am back and putting to practice all I gained there.

Is this why your CD is titled Big Boy?
No it is not. When I returned it was an expression I heard a lot of people use when they described me. They would say "that guy na big boy." I figured it is a lifestyle thing and when people want to celebrate success in Nigeria they use the term. So I decided to do a song and album on the same thing. I was initially going to name the album Evolution, which means change depicting the fact that I left to develop myself. So I said if Big Boy works and that is what people's natural perception of me is then why not flow with that?

What would you say is the most important thing you learnt from America that you have brought back home?

Technical know how. If you see the video I did for the single 'Bo si gba gba.' I was able to pull it off because I spent time in the U.S. The people I worked with and the kind of things we did together. I actually went and had regular work hours in some places where I understudied the professionals just to learn these things properly. On production set I did a lot of things like directing, co-writing, producing and all that. I did things for CNN. D3 publishing, a computer games producing company and Cartoon Network. I worked in the actual broadcast and production side of the business and because of that it was easy for me to pull off those things even when I returned home. We do not have to go to America or South Africa to do those things anymore because as it is, we have people who have the skill and all the materials are here. I know I have to train others so we can get more quality stuff done and not have to go elsewhere to do them.

In your hit song 'Bo si gba gba' you did a lot of singing. Aren't you rapping anymore?

This is something I have had to address a lot of times. People are always saying 'you're supposed to be rapping.' The Eldee people remember is the Eldee that was in Trybesmen.

But I am the same Eldee who did (sings) 'whether you like am/ whether you no like am/ the thing be say/ you go still dey shake body.' I am still the same Eldee who did hooks (chorus) on songs like 'Plenty nonsense' and some others. So, I come back and do 'Bo si gba gba' and people are upset. The only difference with the songs I did with Trybesmen and "Bo si gba gba' is that Freestyle and KB who are essentially rappers aren't rapping on the song. What I am saying is that I have always done what I am doing now. It is just that the other guys aren't on the track. For me I have to focus on the parts where I have strengths and that is coming up with catchy hooks and new concepts for songs.

So, Eldee probably wasn't the big time rapper music fans thought he was?

I did rap a great deal in my earlier releases, but then I was in a group. I did write most of the songs we did then and I came up with the hooks. But I pulled back with rapping because I wanted to get a little bit more original with the things I was doing. I wanted to make my music more Nigerian. Obviously, after my living abroad, I came to understand that the hip-hop that we do is not comparable to what they do. Some people who are doing really good rapping but the essence of doing Nigerian music is bringing to international scene something that they see as original not what they do better than us. And since Nigerian music is getting more international by the day I think we should do music that will sell Nigeria and not continue with trying to do what the international artiste is already good at doing. I still have one or two songs in my current album where I rapped, my style is still influenced by hip-hop, but what I have done is to bring in highlife, juju and Nigerian flavour.

So your turning into singing is not a survival tactic?

Not at all, I have always been singing. I am sure the first song anyone heard from Trybesmen was 'Shake body' on which I sang the chorus. I lean away from rapping and people are saying "he just wants to sell his album", no, they are wrong.

What is your take on the music industry as it is now?

I am not surprised about what is happening right now because it is the vision we had a few years ago and see it happening. I feel good just to be able to tell people 'I told you so', 'I told you this was going to happen', because, this is exactly how it has been. This is how all the genres of music started. The R 'n' B, rock, jazz genres started like this; from some people who are relentless and putting in a lot of work and stayed trying to promote something. Some of us did a lot of work way back and people took notice of things and before you know it everybody is joining in try to invest into it (music business). Organisations call and say "we will give you N20 million so you can represent so and so brand and things like that. This is so because they see value in what we are doing and how strong the movement has become. But I am not surprised; I am just excited that it came through.

You and the Trybesmen crew like Sasha, Too Shotz and Freestyle are all doing very well right now. What is the secret?

I think very importantly it is dedication, people being dedicated to what they do. When I was starting Trybesmen I made sure that the kind of people that I chose to work with are people who had vision. So it is not just about now, it is about what can you be without this in the future. Seeing Too Shotz or Sasha being so successful I am not surprised. Freestyle, everybody else is doing his or her thing. These are people who first of all are educated and have strong intellect and vision who know that this music is not just about one person but a movement. This is something we all knew. We knew when we started that we needed to keep working hard and we did this for five years and did not make any money. Now people are making money and they are basically reaping the fruits of their labour. So, I am happy when I see the success that everybody is achieving now.

Still talking about Trybesmen, do you regret not organising the group with business on your mind?

Before now there was no industry! The only thing there was were a few artistes and radio stations. All the artistes from the 1980s who were doing it very big kind of faded to the background because the infrastructure to support them was not there. So, with what we have created now we have allowed room for things to happen. Distribution is one example. I personally started the whole Alaba distribution thing, I went there and asked them if they could distribute for us. For about 12 weeks almost on a daily basis I was going there until they finally agreed on the condition that it would be entirely at my expense. I agreed and put my money into it because I believed in it. So to see that the industry has reached where it is now and the industry is now in place and people are making a living from it because of the vision that I had for the business. To say I didn't do the business part of music is not correct. I am happy to see that today people eat from the music business. I too will benefit from something that was created. It is not like me wanting to take all the credit for how things are now. People never want to associate me with the beginning of the boom in the music industry but I know in my heart, where it started and I am happy about it. This is one initiative I took in 1999 that has become something that families get taken care of from.

You got married last year, how is it been?
Married life is beautiful. For me it is not really different because I got married to someone I knew even before Trybesmen. She has been with me through the whole process and knows what it is like to be fiancĀ»e to a celebrity and now a wife. Getting married now just means I am not dropping her off at home anymore. It is the same because we still do the same things basically. She is a little more reserved and is not the type that wants to be in the limelight and she is pretty successful doing what she does. Not much has changed as far as my lifestyle is concerned.

Are the ladies taking note of the fact that Eldee is married now?

Yes they are. And now! it is funny how this works. Apparently, when you get married that is when they want you because now I am having to deal with a lot of 'shebi you are married now, do not worry your wife wont know' type of situation, which I find kind of ridiculous. But I guess that is the nature of the business when people find out you are taken or may be they just like the whole one night type of situation with no commitments.

So, basically, you are saying girls ask you for one night stands?

It is just like a lot of girls come at you when they think you are taken so the only kind of relationship they can have with you is one that is temporary.