Inspired by Panam Percy Paul, Jude Abaga, multiple award-winning rapper, Jude Abaga, popularly known as MI, in this interview with MOSES ALAO and SEGUN ADEBAYO speaks on his life, his rise to stardom and his latest album, among others. Excerpts:
WHAT informed your decision to go into music?
What informed my own choice in life is simply relevance. I know a number of musicians who have nothing to offer outside music, but I have always been very passionate about people. So when I sat down and I thought of what kind of music would be acceptable by people, for instance, if I want to inspire people to vote, what music can I make that would make them listen to me. I can’t sing like Banky W or Wande Coal, but I try to add one party track for the girls to ginger their swagger. In my album, from track one to eight, it’s either talking about the political situation of the country or our moral lives. Another major influence again is my father whom I can say was the pillar of my life, he impacted positively on my life and today I am happy.
Recently, you launched a new music album and a movie, what was the idea about?
It was a badly kept secret. Actually there was no movie. I only launched an album titled MI2; The Movie. When it was publicised, some people thought I had shot a movie. The truth is that we simply presented the album in a setting that looked like a scene in a movie. The reason why we did this was that at a point, we felt the album contained a message that was larger than life. The idea is that Nigerians sometimes forget that their lives are like movies and they are the stars. Considering the current situation in the country, we need people who can produce a Sarafina or Malcom X type of movies so that the country can change. We still intend to shoot the video of the album like a movie.
You were said to have been playing some musical instruments at a very tender age, why did it take you so long before you could be known musically?
I thank God for the miracles I have encountered along the way. Sometime ago, somebody gave me and my brother a studio equipped with a computer, mixer, keyboard and microphone. Those little things opened the doors and we became what we are today. Another thing is the timing. I went to America for my studies and I got a job with an IT firm in Jos. After some months, we had problems and I decided to go into music fully. I got a record deal and I started moving forward. Sometimes I wish I had started earlier but the opportunity did not present itself then.
Now that you have been established in the industry, what are you doing for talents out there so they won’t go through what you guys have gone through?
The first thing every artist must do is to be successful first, then you will become a source of inspiration and be able to offer people what money can not buy them. When people see you as a successful person, they will be moved and you will marvel at the number of people you have motivated because you have become a success. Nigerians really need hope because, as a country, we are very hopeless, and therefore many people in this country believe that Nigeria is hopeless. The second thing is for you to have personal platforms that you can help people with. But you have to be cautious, many people attach themselves to artistes just to make money.
You and some people recently launched a video against cyber crime in the country, do you think the project reached its designated audience?
It was very controversial when it came out. A lot of people were very upset and they told us that we knew there is poverty in Nigeria, and that Nigerians must survive, so we should talk to the government rather the people that are suffering. If you listen to my own part, I said my nation’s reputation suffers much condemnation because when they mention 419, people believe it is Nigeria.
You joined the industry when we had rappers like Rugged man, Mode 9 and others, and all of a sudden it is MI. How were you able to withstand them without being intimidated?
When I came to Lagos, I used to be very shy but one day, I set a goal for my self- I did a lot of collaborations with artistes. As a matter of fact, I worked hard, like a hungry man then, at every show. When people started shouting MI, I was not surprised because I had set a goal for my self. When I was at the MAMA awards, I was extremely happy and I looked at myself and said, is this me? What I have enjoyed so far is the grace of God, I am shocked at the way people talk about me. It has been amazing.
You seem to be very close to 2face, are you guys planning anything?
The greatest example of the favour I am enjoying is just like that of 2Face, the guy is enjoying an abundant favour that I have never seen before or heard. He keeps going places everyday, his music is getting better day by day and you know what it means to be what the guy is today. I just pray for that kind of favour, I really want it in my life.
What was it like growing up in Jos, compared to what we have now?
Jos has changed and this makes me sad. Those who are visiting the city now won‘t believe that it was once a beautiful and peaceful place. There wasn’t a lot of money in Jos when I was growing up there, but there was stability.I grew up as a pastor’s son. I am a privileged child. I had friends who struggled to survive, I didn’t belong to that class. Besides, my position as the son of a pastor gave me an opportunity to hone my skill in music. I was so obsessed with music that at eight, I was a great fan of Panam Percy Paul. Actually, he was the reason I fell in love with music. He is not only a great singer, he is good with the guitar and the piano.
People call you MR Incredible, do you really see yourself as being incredible?
It was from my song where I said, “hey I am MI, MR Incredible, Most Immaculate, Microphone Inspector, Music Interrogator, the Master Innovator, Mankind Illustrator”, but Mr Incredible stuck with the fans.
It was reported that Ruggedman wants to quit the scene, especially following your emergence, as he can’t face the competition. Does he need to do that?
Ruggedman and the other rappers in the country are my friends. I was very sad when Da grin passed away because I was happy to see him come out. But as they say, life is in stages. There was a time it was Ruggedman, later it was Mode 9 and now it is MI’s turn. Whether I like it or not, I will leave the scene for another. As regards quitting the scene and all that brouhaha, Ruggedman has done enough for the industry. Don’t forget that the man is a business man, I really don’t believe he is going to quit. Once you are a musician, you remain one for life, you can’t run away from it. I know he still has a lot to do for us.
Is it true that your brother, Jesse Jagz, composes songs for you?
My brother and I do stuff together, I do the the production myself and he handles some aspects for me as well, but one thing that I do by myself strictly is my rap because it is impossible for someone to write your raps for you. A lot of people want to know how good you are, so, if you don’t do your rap yourself, you are going to look stupid. Jesse Jagz has done a lot for me.
You and your brother sing are on the same label. Has there been supremacy clash between you two as people say he sings better than you?
The emotions will always be there, you can run away from that fact. I will be foolish to say that we don’t have issues. In December, I worked very hard but Jesse’s album came out before mine. That has been perfect, we are all happy and we’ve been together for a long time. All the competition was before we started making a career out of music. I love him so much and I don’t think anybody has borrowed more money from him than me .
In one of 2face’s tracks, he was said to have hit out at Mikel Obi, why would he do something like that?
I love this question, I have heard people talk about the song but I have not asked 2face about it. I know that 2face is very humble. Even if 2face was referring to Mikel in the song, I am sure the problem didn’t come from 2Face because he is a peaceful guy.
How were your parents able to send you abroad if they were not financially buoyant as widely said?
It was on scholarship. I even had to work to support them over here because paying my school fee was not easy. Funny though, money was part of the reason I came back because I couldn’t afford to stay back.
What jobs did you do?
I ended up doing things I would never do in Nigeria. I washed toilets, worked in the restaurants and all sorts, but the beautiful thing about the place is that they will never look down on you because of your work. If you like, pack shits on the streets, they appreciate it because, to them, you are better than a rich man’s son on the street who does nothing, they hate laziness.
Why didn’t you complete your studies before you came back to the country?
I was about rounding up when I left. If I had finished, I would have stayed but I had to come down. When I came back and wanted to return, I was not given a visa, so I had to stay and before I knew it, the music thing started and here we are.
How have you been able to manage fame?
It was very tough. At a time I lost count of the number of girls I had on my phone. I don’t drink and I don’t smoke, when I say I don’t, I have never done it.
Even with your black lips?
Even with it. Many don’t believe I have never smoked cigarette in my life. I don’t act under the influence of anything to perform and it is by choice. One thing that I do is that I try to be very focus in whatever I do, because I don’t want to raise kids who will curse me when I start having mine. A lot of celebrities have had babies before they got married but they are not by any standard wayward.
Is it true that you planned to quit music for acting?
It was part of the promotion we used , there was nothing like that, not in the near future.
Is it true that you are dating your manager?
That’s not true. They are saying that because I made a girl my manager. I just wanted to have a change of hands because when things didn’t work out as planned with two managers in two years.
Are you sure no string is attached to her managerial role?
Haba bross, you probe too much, nothing of such can never happen, even if I wanted to, she is so professional that she won’t allow that to happen.
Don’t you feel intimidated by your height?
My height has got nothing to do with my flow. I have what it takes to stand among the crowd and say my thing, irrespective of anybody I am gong to face. In fact, it has been an added advantage because people tend to recognise me with my height. It is a plus, I have never felt intimidated.