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Mode 9: My Life, My Music, My Dream Girl

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Call him a lone ranger and you will not be wrong. Rapper, Mode 9, for many has refused to 'Nigerianise' his style of rapping. The artiste who has won back to back the Hip-hop award for Lyricist on the Roll simply has no apologies for making music the best way he understands. Correspondent, Kemi Yesufu met with him for this engaging interview. Excerpts:

Many are of the opinion that you were the biggest artiste on Question Mark record label, but you were the last to leave long after other artistes jumped ship. Why?

The reason I left Question Mark was that my contract had expired and whether I was the biggest act on the label or not doesn't really matter. I did not extend my contract for personal reasons. I thought that I could swing things on my own. It is always good for one to grow. I decided to be my own boss. I wanted to have my own master tapes. I don't think it is wise for me to be recording so much music and I don't own them as intellectual property. So, now I am on Red Eye music.

Were you treated better than others who left Question Mark the way they did and is this why you waited for your contract to expire?

I didn't wait. It so happened that way. There was a lull as some point especially with regards to certain things that happened within the label set up. But at the same time I was working, doing shows and recording new stuff. People expect me to say 'Question Mark is bad,' and things like that. Honestly speaking, I don't regret ever being on Question Mark. Because whether you like it or not Question Mark played a major role in the success of Mode 9. Everybody knows that I am hard working; I spend a lot of time perfecting my art, but being on Question Mark, gave me leverage. People in this country like hype. So being on a record label gives you that hype that you need to be related with.

So maybe the guys at Question Mark are misunderstood by the other artistes who left complaining?

I did not say anything like that. I can't speak for anyone. I learnt a very important lesson in this industry: never speaks for anyone, they might misconstrue things. I am saying it again that if I am given a second chance I will do it again (being on Question Mark) because I know what I gained. I am not saying things were always smooth on the label, but life itself is not always smooth sailing.

How has it been running your own label?

It's been tough; there is a lot of work to be done. But I am built to work. I love working hard. The wise man once said you rest when you're dead.

Do you intend signing on other acts?

Yes, that is the plan. But right now, I am not going to lie to you. We don't really have the resources to sign and promote artistes. Some people say 'oh let me just be moving around with you guys,' but it is stupid to work that way. Once you sign an artiste it is like adopting a child, you have to take care of him or her. It takes a lot of money to promote an artiste.

Why the name Red Eye, could it be because you had a line containing this expression on DJ Jimmy Jatt's song stylee?

To be frank I got the inspiration from stylee because that was everybody's favourite part on my verse in the song. In Lagos most people have Red Eye. Do know what red eye means? It means doing things with all seriousness, doing things that you want to achieve something. When you really need something from someone you follow him with red eye. It is just like when you are in radio station the on air sign is red.

Some people say Mode 9 is a little too serious for the Nigerian music industry. Do you agree?

I totally disagree. It is just that I keep away from industry events or the industry lifestyle. I only go for events when necessary. But to say that I am too serious for the industry is something I don't understand. If busying myself with recording music is what you mean by being too serious then maybe I can understand. I can't be wasting my time going to the club every week like some artistes do. Some people are into music because they want to be famous; they want to have girls screaming their names. That lifestyle is not for me. I never wanted to be famous. I am just a guy who loves to rap. My (song) catalogue is crazy. I have my own studio so I work most of the time recording new songs. My songs are on the lighter side. A lot of people don't take out time to listen to my CD to hear what I am talking about. I should just call my kind of rap parable rap and that is why people say I am too serious for the Nigerian music industry. Some people say I do not play ball with some industry types and that is why people don't like me. When I first got into the industry some people said I would not sell and I told them there is no kind of music you can't sell, it matters on how you present it. So, I had my own plan and it's working for me, my music is selling.

When Jesus Christ spoke in parables his disciples asked him for explanation. Why rap in parables when you can make things easy for the listener?

What did Jesus tell his disciples? After some time his disciples understood what he was saying. The kind of rap I do is for intelligent people who after listening to my songs say 'don't mess with this guy he is saying some thing serious.'

You say your music is for the intelligent, is this why you have so many books on the cover on your Paradigm Shift album?

Most people do not like to read. So what do we do? We bring the books back in their face. You listen to some funny music, songs that you don't even have to think to understand what is being said. Every body is rolling up into the club in their songs both those that have cars and those that don't. But do you drive into the club?

The answer is no. That brings me to another thing people tell me a lot. They say I don't make music for clubs. But is Asa making club music, isn't she doing her own thing? Nobody is hassling her, and this makes me wonder why they are hassling me.

They want to throw me off balance, work me up so I do something; 'wack' the so-called naija style rap and then they accuse me of selling out. My style is the true Nigerian Hip-hop for my song Lagos State of Mind I sampled Nico Baga. In plain and simple English I described Lagos but some people wouldn't listen, they go around confusing people about Mode 9. These people would rather listen to some fools, forgive my abusive language, but some people are just stupid. They go around saying that Mode 9 is difficult to listen to. Honestly people just need to listen to my music and make their own judgement, I really don't care if club DJs play my songs.

You sound like you see the music industry as 'me as against the rest of them'?

Yes, I am like Tupac (Shakur). It is 'me against the world.' There are some people who talk sh*t to me always. Meanwhile there are a lot of people who buy my music.

Nigerians are intelligent people so they listen to my music; they tell me "you know what you are doing." Instead of me to start doing funny music that I don't enjoy I will bow out. I am not the only person people criticise but some artistes would rather grumble but me, I fight them, I am a fighter. I am probably the only rapper who keeps things real. If you listen to my songs you will see that I talk about politics, the environment, relationships, girls, even things personal to me.

There is no other rapper in this country that you will listen to their albums and you think that you know them. There is this track I have called I still love you, outside in the rain. I have songs that tell people how I was born, how my mom struggled when we lived overseas because my dad was hardly around.

This is why I get really angry when people say things without listening to my album.

But there are people who feel that if you rap in Pidgin that you will sell more copies than you do.

Does MI rap in pidgin? Why is it a problem for me to rap in English? 'People should free me,' as Terry G would say. I am doing well. I 'm selling copies, people know my lyrics to heart. Do I need to change a wining formula and start rapping like some fool? I went to school, I was born in London, yes, English is a language I am strong in. I should keep with what I know how to do best. If it's okay for them to rap in

Pidgin why is not okay for me to rap in English? I think this is a conspiracy by people who can't understand the lines I drop. My lines are too deep for them. I even rap better than some of the American rappers. I have opened for Kanye West, T-Pain, Akon, Guru, Wordsworth in America and they can't all be lying when they told me that I was good. Talib Kweli after listening to my album told people that 'this guy Mode 9 is tight.' After all is said I would like to let you know that I don't hate the idea of rapping in pidgin. Some of my favourite rappers rap in pidgin. Da Green, Dat Nigga Raw, in fact Dat Nigga

Raw and I have been friends for a long time.

But in your song Bush Girl there is a line where you said the bush girl favourite rapper is Dat Nigga Raw. Weren't you taking on Dat Nigga Raw?

Yes, I rapped that the bush girl said Dat Nigga Raw is her favourite rapper. What is wrong with that? What I rapped about actually happened. I met an Igbo girl who told me that Dat Nigga Raw is her favourite rapper. She said the liked the way I perform but that her favourite rapper is Nigga Raw. In music you mix fiction with reality.

When I wrote the song I called Nigga Raw and told him I have this song with the line where I talked about him and he said 'no problem.' He even said if I wanted to do a remix for the song I should not hesitate to call him. I never said Nigga Raw was 'wack,' I only rapped that a girl said he is her favourite rapper. If you know the music industry well you will know that what I rapped was a compliment.

There are people out there looking for just one person to love their music but there is nobody to. We all have our niche market. Dat Nigga Raw is big in the South East, he is treated like a super star, and he drives a big car. Why should he bother himself with people trying to knock our heads because I did a simple line about him in my song?

Talking about people trying knocking artistes' heads together is it the same thing with your much speculated beef with Ruggedman?

Forget about that, I am not talking about any dude. I choose not to.

Listening to your album, you spent so much time though you didn't mention names talking about someone who seemed to be Ruggedman.

I am not the one who does such things. There are the ones who spend time on their album explaining why they sold out, me, I just rhyme.

Going back to your song Bush Girl you compared two kinds of girls. One is classy and the other trashy. One wonders the kind of girl that can hold down Mode 9?

Honestly I don't know. Some people will say I like my girl tall and dark, others will say I like light girls. But they are lying. I have gone with different girls and they don't look the same. I have been out with a model, a banker, and totally different characters. The only thing I know I need from any girl who wants to be with me is patience. We artistes travel a lot.

When do you see yourself getting married?

If it (marriage) comes, fine. I am not in a hurry. Some people rush into marriage and after some time they can't even look at their wives. The most important thing about getting married is making sure you marry a friend.

You have talked extensively about staying true to the Hip-hop culture and it is a lifestyle that has got a lot do with hard drugs and women. How far does Mode 9 go with women and drugs?

I only take drugs when I am ill. I don't smoke. I drink occasionally. I love women like the average guy not that you will see many girls jumping on my bed. I am just a regular guy.