It was a cold Harmattan evening, some time around the Christmas belt of 1996 when the first encounter took place in Festac Town, Lagos. I was on my evening rounds, delivering personalized /designer seasons greeting cards for my elder brother’s upstart firm, African Sense. I was worn out to a frazzle and disappointed. I’d made a dozen deliveries but my clients just weren’t paying up. For the umpteenth time, I wondered, ‘Am I in the right profession?’
As I normally did every evening, I stopped at Laiban, a popular meat shop, bar and restaurant, located on 201 Road, Festac Town, for a stick of life.
The drone of generators filled the night air and yellowish filament bulbs dotted the streets like dying candles; but Laiban was an oasis of light in the surrounding gloom; its light beckoned from afar like a beacon.
I took a deep drag from my cigarette and savoured the nicotine as it travelled down my lungs and hit my bloodstream. It was an Aspen menthol. I felt relaxed.
“Ogaga, na wao, this man say make I give am money!”
I swung around and beheld this dark-skinned, handsome guy with Jerry Curls, clad in a dark top and a pair of matching pants. What struck me was the symmetry of his visage. Despite his mood, his eyes radiated an inner peace. On my delivery rounds, I’d made a number of acquaintances, probably this was one of them.
There was exasperation in his voice, yet the peaceful look remained as he complained, gesticulating: “E dey beg me make I give am money. Na me be im papa? Na me cari am come Lagos?” he queried in pidgin.
It was obvious he was getting some attention as a little crowd had begun to gather.
“No vex, 2face,” a guy sympathized with him.
“No mind am, na useless man,” another added in pidgin.
By now, we were standing next to each other and I extended my hand for a handshake. Meanwhile, obviously embarrassed, the man who had started it all quietly slunk away into the gloom. Thanks to power outage.
We shook hands and even as I felt that warm grip for the first time, little did I know that I was beholding the man that would inspire millions of Nigerian youths and rewrite the history of Nigerian music. His name was Innocent Ujah Idibia (2Face) of the now defunct Plantashun Boiz.
Even at that time, Festac Town residents already saw his light shining. He was already building a fan base, which would extend to the entire nation, Africa and around the globe within a few years when he would rise to become one of the most successful artistes in contemporary times.
When the future star was born 35 years ago in Benue State to middle class parents, little did they know that he would grow up to be a musical icon and would one day set the pace.
But as he marked his 10th anniversary in showbiz recently, it was a grill of mixed blessings. It was, indeed, 10 years of ups and down, trials, betrayals, scandals, romance and above all, 10 years of hard work and dedication.
In the beginning
If there was one thing that was never lacking in the Idibia household, 2face says it was great music. From Jimmy Hendricks to Bob Marley and Teddy Pendergrass, to mention a few, young Innocent was bombarded by the great masters.
“I grew up around music. As a child, I listened to a lot of old school stuff. I loved to sing a lot. My mum was a singer, so I guess I got the talent from her,” he once told reporters in an interview.
Ironically, his mum, a teacher, must have believed that Innocent would toe her line and pursue his education. But that dream crashed like a pack of dominoes when he got to Institute of Management & Technology (IMT), Enugu and discovered he was cut out for music.
Top comedian, Klint Da Drunk testified to 2face’s singing prowess when he opened up on how the future star killed his budding singing talent and put him on the road to comedy and fame.
“Back in the day, I was wondering what to do with myself. I used to sing and believed I was a damn good singer until the night I heard 2face sing at a show where I was billed to perform as the main attraction at the Institute of Management & Technology (IMT). Being a big boy on campus, the organisers pleaded that I should give this new kid on the block a chance. After his performance, I would do my stuff. When I heard 2face sing, I knew my singing career was over! That was how I found comedy,” confessed the rib-cracker.
Within a short while, the student of Business Administration made a major breakthrough doing jingles on the famous radio show, GB Fan Club on Enugu State Broadcasting Services (ESBS). Meanwhile, he became the favourite act on campus headlining most shows. From Enugu State University of Science & Technology (ESUT) to IMT and University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus (UNEC), 2face was the hottest and most sought after act as far as entertainment was concerned.
So strong was the attraction that he and Blackface (Augustine Ahemdu) dumped their educational careers and relocated to Lagos. That decision brought them to Festac Town, Lagos, where they resided for years at Blackface’s uncle’s home, a retired army officer in a move that put him on collision course with his parents.
Willie Worksman Okorie was one of the first people to work with them in Lagos. He introduced them to the Popular Rothmans Groove and Nelson Brown, the music producer who would bring then to national consciousness under his record label, Dove Entertainment.
After Nelson Brown heard them perform at Club Towers, Lagos Island, he decided to take them on. In 1999, Face (Chibuzor Orji), the third member, joined the duo and the Plantashun Boiz was born.
Their debut album, released in 2000, was a runaway success which played a central role in triggering the Afro Hip-hop revolution begun by De Remedies in 1998 when they dropped their debut single, Shakomor.
Aptly titled, The Beginning (Body & Soul), it had tracks like Plantashun Boiz, a remix of Bony M’s Plantation Boys, Body Vibration, Ememma, You & I, Can Live, Ready and Iwo Ni Mo Fe (Baby It’s You). They stole our hearts and established themselves as a force to reckon with alongside Black Reverends of the Ayamgba fame and the De Remedies, to mention a few.
By 2004, the effect of their debut was beginning to wane and rumour was rife that the trio was back in the studio to record a sophomore effort entitled, Sold Out. However, 2face had other plans. He was on the verge of launching his solo career at the expense of the future of the group he helped to found.
At the time, in a chat with journalists, Blackface had declared that the album would be completely Sold Out. While Nigerians held their breath and waited, the trio got down to work.
Despite denials and counter-denials, the crack soon appeared on the wall and they began to drift apart.
“Going solo is something that I have to do. I have always told Faze and Blackface that I would have to do this some day. My only fear now is, ‘Will Nigerians accept me?’ Yes, as a member of the Plantashun Boiz I was already a brand. The question is, ‘Would they accept the transformation from 2face of the Plantashun Boiz to 2face Idibia?’” he had confided in close pals.
While Blackface took the news of the break-up with philosophical calm, Face was bitter! He packed his pain into a track entitled, Faze Alone, a Reggae number in which he expressed disappointment and took 2face to the cleaners, insisting the latter had betrayed him.
Meanwhile, Sold Out was later released, but it performed woefully in the market.
His joining Kennis Music confirmed rumours that Uncle Keke had been on his trail for a while. When 2face dropped his solo effort, Grass to Grace, Nigerians and indeed, Africans were receptive. Everyone, irrespective of demography, bought into the new brand hook, line and sinker and overnight, he became the hottest act in the country. Tracks like Nfana Ibaga, Ole, You No Holy Pass, African Queen and Right Here dominated charts.
However, African Queen, a song dedicated to the African woman, which he co-wrote with Blackface, remains his greatest hit ever. It was the track that transformed him into a super sex symbol as women threw themselves at his feet wherever he performed.
Was it charm or charisma? Or was it just raw animal magnetism? Whatever it was, 2face had it in abundance and he unleashed it on his female audiences; what with his super delivery and his innocent looks.
From Senegal to Tanzania, from South Africa to Liberia, from Ghana to the Gambia, women trooped out in their numbers to watch and to marvel at the new sex symbol setting stages on fire. He was adored by women.
So popular was the song that it became the major subject of discussion in Internet chatrooms. The video became a favourite on YouTube. There were reports of female fans trailing him across Africa while on tour. 2face succeeded in replicating the feat the late Teddy Pendergrass achieved in the US in the early to mid-80s when women threw underwear at him whenever he performed. Our TV screens were filled with pictures of excited, screaming and fainting female fans at his shows. There were reports of female fans breaking into his hotel room during shows or sneaking backstage to be with him.
Recently, a close pal had opened up on the challenges he faced and how they fought to protect him from these tigresses.
“They trailed us across Africa and would do everything under the sun to bed him. There was the case of a set of ladies who trailed him from Nigeria to Ghana and then to Liberia. And guess what? They were booked in the suite right next to 2face’s. When we discovered them, we were shocked! These girls would hang around hotel lobbies and staircases and wait patiently to pounce on him. For that reason, whenever we’re on tour, he always pleaded with us to stay with him in his room because if we we’re there, the girls would not be able to do anything.”
African Queen became a classic and overnight, 2face developed a cult-like following among women.
At the time, in an interview with a national newspaper, Orits Wiliki had described African Queen as Nigeria’s first national hit in a long time. Efe Omoregbe, boss of Now Muzik, had described him as the light of his generation. African Queen won the heart of women all over the world; both old and young, white and black.
Consequently, when MTV Base, a 24-hour music and general entertainment channel from MTV Networks International, decided to set up in Africa in February 2005, it needed a credible face to drive the brand and 2face, the poster boy of the industry, suited that bill. Overnight, he became a household name.
Recounting the first time he got royalties from Kennis Music for his debut effort, he said: “That morning, Uncle Keke called me to come over to Kennis Music Studios. When I got there, he gave me a cheque for a large sum of money. I was so confused I did not know what to do with it. He advised me to invest in real estate, property and stocks. That was the greatest advice I ever got,” he confessed a few years later in an interview.
African Queen was adapted for the soundtrack of a Hollywood movie, MO Fat Girls, earning the artiste millions of naira. The high point of that period was his endorsement deal with Guinness as it moved to unleash a new brand on Nigerians. The brand decided to buy into his brand credibility by making him the face of Guinness Extra Smooth. According to unconfirmed sources, the deal was worth millions of dollars. It was the first of its kind in the country.
As a testament to the fact that he had arrived, 2face acquired a Lincoln Navigator, which was a status symbol SUV at the time.
Still basking in the euphoria of success, he moved to release his sophomore album, Grass to Grace, which was another huge success. It had tracks like
One Love, No Shakin, I Dey Feel Like, See Me So, E Be Like Say, True Love, 4 Instance, If Love Is A Crime, Ocho and My Love, among others. He was the first to win an international award and after him came the D’banjs, the 9ices and others. This was an attestation to his pioneering role on the contemporary Nigerian music scene.
If he had a penchant for making hits, he also had a penchant for attracting men of the underworld to himself. Within a span of three years, he was attacked three times.
Just as his debut album was picking up in August 2004, Nigerians awoke to the shocking news of his attack by armed robbers and how he sustained serious injuries from machete cuts inflicted on him in his home in Amuwo Odofin, Lagos. For weeks, the nation held its breath as rumour spread that he was in critical condition and might be flown abroad for treatment. In a show of love, Nigerians reached out to him and women openly wept. Fans besieged and camped outside Cedar Hospital, Festac Town, for days waiting to catch a glimpse of their star as he lay recuperating from injuries sustained during the attack.
However, it was a blessing in disguise as this soon transformed into sales of over a million copies of his debut effort.
Again, in October 2007, he was attacked by gunmen as he returned from the UK having clinched the MOBO Awards for Best African act for that year.
The media was abuzz! “2face Attacked by Armed Robbers, Armed Robbers Open Fire on 2face, 2face Dodges Armed Robber Bullets and 2face Escapes Death” dominated newspaper headlines the next day. Worried, friends and fans had tried to reach him in vain and a new dimension was added to the drama when it was reported that the singer was seriously wounded and might even die! Some sources even claimed that it was actually assassins that attacked him. There was an overwhelming outpouring of goodwill messages in newspaper reports. Ex Vice President, Atiku Abubakar reached out to him and prayed for his quick recovery. On his part, Lagos State Governor, Raji Fashola is rumoured to have picked up the tab for his treatment at an expensive hospital in Lagos. It was another blessing in disguise as this transmitted into sales running into millions of copies for Grass To Grace, his sophomore effort. The artiste couldn’t have had it better as Kennis Music smiled to the bank. Only an icon could have evoked such outpouring of love.
Hell was let loose again in Lagos on the night of January 31, 2008, as he was again a victim of armed robbers who dispossessed him of his Range Rover SUV. Unlike past experiences, where he was shot and badly injured, he only got a couple of slaps!
The way the cookie crumbles…
By the end of 2007, 2face was as fit as the USS Missouri and it would seem like nothing could sink him.
However, the very forces that made him went into reverse thrust. With the fame came women in their numbers and Innocent Idibia was a sinner! With irresistible looks that could kill, these girls were not only attracted to him; they were ready to do anything for a roll in the hay.
For these women, 2face was an obsession!
As much as African Queen saw the mighty rise of 2face, it could also be said that it was the bedrock of his fall! Women wanted to have him for their own; for keeps! They would do anything to touch his sleeves or have him spare them a glance.
With a number of women claiming to be pregnant for him, 2face, who had once been linked to actresses like Vien Tetsola and Caroline Ekanem, raised the bar when he got three women pregnant at the same time! And the media, always looking for sleaze, latched onto it.
Beginning with Sumbo Ajaba, who has two kids for him, the attention shifted to Pero Adeniyi, who had a daughter and a son for him. Nigerians had scarcely taken in the news when it emerged that Annie Macaulay was heavily pregnant for him. Though she lost the pregnancy in a crash, today, she is the proud mother of his daughter, Isabella.
This triggered a series of negative reports in the media depicting the singer as a flagrant skirt-chaser.
Mothers who once sang the praises of 2face began to warn their daughters against being obsessed with him and men of his kind. The man once referred to as a gift to women became a curse to them.
Overnight, he became the butt of jokes as comedians cashed in on the situation to sell themselves to the public. The name Innocent became a synonym for bed-hopping, and the popular pidgin saying on the street was: ‘If you dey look for pikin, go meet 2face.’
According to unconfirmed reports, though he was the most popular Nigerian act in the world at the time, he lost out on Glo Ambassadorship due to his bedding prowess.
In an attempt to take advantage of the negative hype, he did a song, Enter the Place, in which he urged girls to enter the place with their big behinds and see if they wouldn’t get pregnant. He went on to release an experimental album but it was a massive failure and the star’s fortunes began to dwindle despite getting sustained airplay.
As the controversy gained momentum, 2face parted ways with Kennis Music and set up his own label, Hypertek. At the time in a national interview, while justifying his decision to quit Kennis Music, he had declared: “For me, this is about personal development. Hypertek is a move I have to make.”
As early as late 2007, he had recruited his backup singer, Natzi (Wale Owoyemi) as his manager. He went on to sign on his siblings, Hycinth Idibia and John Agon (Da Natives) and, despite the poor showing of Enter the Place, he went on to drop the full album entitled Unstoppable, which faced distribution and sales problems.
Meanwhile, Hypertek had become a drainpipe. Insiders say he splurged millions of naira on the label, yet it failed to grow. All the while, the industry was watching. The Star who was used to getting nominations and clinching awards had been neglected to the back burner as the nominations stopped coming and he was in the cold. Things got so bad that there were reports of South African girls claiming that 2face fathered their kids. This he denied vehemently.
One embarrassing story, which was widely circulated on the Internet, had the headline: 2face Idibia, AIDS is real! A reference to his sexual escapades.
Ironically, the man who had advertised condoms on TV was obviously not making use of them. In some Internet chatrooms, Nigerians even described him as a disgrace. His image as a role model took a serious bashing and it was becoming too much for Nigerians who expected their Star to be perfect.
Overwhelmed by the negative press, the act had diplomatically apologized to Nigerians, saying that he was sorry for his conduct. However, he insisted that he was only being human. He even announced plans for a wedding, but refused to disclose who the woman was and to this day, his marital status is not defined.
In an interview at the height of the scandals, he had stated: “I know people’s expectation of me is obviously not having kids from different women. But the fact is that I love my kids, and I’m just going to take care of them. I’m going to turn whatsoever bad situation to a positive one.”
Rather than distance himself from his many women and kids, he stuck to them and at any opportunity, told Nigerians how much he loved his offsprings and how he intended to turn a bad situation into a good one.
Things got so bad that in late 2008, it seemed the end had come. Indeed, it could have been the end of the dream. Unstoppable 2face was becoming stoppable!
And the rise again!
Just when it seemed 2face had become stoppable and the media were ready to turn their back on him, unless the issue revolved around his liter of babies and his women, he proved that he was too legit to quit. True to his words, “…I’m just going to turn whatsoever bad situation to a positive one.” Nigerians woke up to discover that he was unstoppable indeed!
The nation watched with skepticism as he moved to re-strategize and re-brand. First, he shut down his label, Hypertek and fell out with his back-up singer turned manager, Natzi.
It was obvious that the singer knew he needed professional management and so he hooked up once more with Now Muzik, the midwife of the transformation from 2face of the defunct Plantashun Boiz to 2face Idibia in 2004. He charmed his way again into the hearts of Nigerians and returned with a bang!
When Implication, the single from his repacked Unstoppable album hit the airwaves, it was obvious that the master had returned to claim what was rightfully his. The airwaves were filled with his voice and images. He rose to th top and dominated the charts. Those who wanted to ignore him could not as he was literally everywhere, on radio and TV.
According to unofficial figures, Implication has received over 500,000 downloads and still counting.
Last weekend marked a climax of sorts of his return when his show tagged: 2Face LIVE, held at Eko Hotel & Suites, was completely sold out. It was a feat! For the first time in a long time, a show of that magnitude was built around the brand credibility of just one artiste, 2face and it was a resounding success. As a build-up to the event, 2face had seized the airwaves for weeks as his videos and songs reverberated across the nation.
Once more, he is blazing a new trail and other artistes are rushing to duplicate his efforts and success.
Until recently, CDs sold for a N100. But his new repackaged CD is going for a whopping N1,000 and reliable sources say that it has gone Gold, hitting the N50,000 mark.
This has kick-started what has been christened the 2face Revolution. As at last count, 9ice, OJB Jezreal, D’banj, among others, are wrapping up plans to jack up the price of their CDs to N1,000. In fact, 9ice is gunning for an ambitious N1,500 thus breaking the myth that CDs could not sell for more than N100 in Nigeria because of the activities of pirates.
Lately, he has been a special guest on a number of A list TV shows, including Teju Babyface Show. His recent success was recently reviewed by Femi Johnson on his TV programme, Brand & Marketing Network on TV Continental. Indeed, 2face has proved to be Unstoppable!
As he returns to centerstage, the women are back and idolizing him, the media are again waiting, watching and stalking. But is 2face the wiser? Does he know that this is another chance? Implication? Only time will tell.