For several years, Lagos has been the heartbeat of Nigeria’s social structure, establishing itself as the nation’s pride of pop culture as far back as FESTAC 77. From job opportunities to music, creativity and nightlife, the state has been the blueprint that others have followed, most times to lesser success. Its dynamism has led to the birth of several trends, sparked ideas and showed its people, as well as the ones looking from the outside in, that anything is possible. Now, we are witnessing the rise of a new set of people challenging the norm, rejecting outdated ideas when it comes to everything pertaining to human existence in Nigeria, and for once, realizing that there is absolutely nothing cooler than being yourself.
The rise of the alté scene (as it is popularly known as) didn’t start overnight. There were so many young people, who stuck out like a sore thumb whenever they tried to do things they actually liked, but went against the conservative nature of the Nigerian society. Always kept in a box, they were made to follow the “orthodox” mediums of self expression, dressing, career choices, and even sexuality. “People aren’t used to being free, they aren’t used to seeing expression, so they don’t know how to react to it”, said Odunsi, in an article for The Guardian in September 2019. This new generation of Nigerian youth are everything the average conservative Nigerian is not — rebellious, fearless and spontaneously creative, championing originality over tradition and a “self-first” mindset in place of what is considered normal by society.
It is widely accepted that the origin of the alté scene dates back to the inception of the Double R Boys, or DRB, a more familiar moniker. Rising through the ranks, they became popular initially amongst secondary school children who had a taste for the cooler things, and had their music shared through emails, in the absence of convenient streaming platforms. Their music, as well as their swag, was new to everyone; even more compelling was the fact that they always did as they pleased. As time went by, they achieved more mainstream success with their iconic single “Toyin” released in 2012. Subsequently, the collective continued to flood the internet with their music, including party starters “Shakara” and “Selecta”, as well as DRB pledge-of-allegiance “3 Kingz”, which were all part of the healthy list of singles released back in the day. These singles were eventually repackaged and re-released in 2018 on streaming platforms, to commemorate their 10-year anniversary as a collective.
Despite going quiet on the music front, the Double R Boys continued to extend their reach and solidify their influence on the Lagos pop culture scene. In that time, Teezee co-founded The NATIVE, as well as having a hand in putting together both Homecoming shows in 2018 and 2019 respectively. As well as being a talented musician, Teezee’s involvement in these culture shifting phenomena has helped to successfully champion the creation of the bridge that ensures Nigerians in diaspora and on home soil are never too far apart.
Boj has enjoyed a steady ascension in the mainstream market. His partnership with Ajebutter and eventually Falz for their Make E No Cause Fight series has him finely balanced as the link between the alté and mainstream scenes. Fresh L remains the most vocal of the collective. Apart from putting out his convincing solo effort See U Next Summer EP in 2018, he is known as the voice of the crew; making sure nobody forgets DRB are still on the scene, even though some of his thoughts are met with scrutiny and scorn. After all these years of doing a good job holding it down for themselves and the collective, they come together for their first full length project, titled Pioneers, after over 10 years in the game.
A robust tracklist was met with robust expectation from the anticipating listeners. Tems, Lady Donli, Santi, Maison2500, amongst others, were named prior to the album’s release. The release of a short film as part of the album’s rollout increased anticipation. Collective breaths were held. DRB’s PR team had successfully held our attention up until this point, the video dropping hours before the album’s release being the cherry on the cake’s icing. Fresh L called it a “cult classic” and “iconic” even though he was asked for only a single word to describe his thoughts about the album. The stage was set, and the wait was finally over.
Immediately the music starts playing from track one on Pioneers, we are ushered in with a sound that is very DRB, only this time, it’s more seasoned. The Pheelz-produced “Softly” was released as one of the singles off the album days before the album’s full drop, and it’s subtle bounce sets the tone for the rest of the album. “Ma Pariwo” sees Cash Mummy, Lady Donli serenade us with her soothing vocals and enjoyment-laced lyrics. Teezee is the sole host of Maison2500 and Santi on “Salty”. The trio’s cadence, coupled with Genio’s production is certain to incite a euphoric festival mosh-pit when coronavirus decides to let us loose from her clutches. On “Trouble”, Tems stands out powerfully. Boj describes it as his favorite song on the album in an interview for NATIVE Mag, saying, “Trouble” is just a hit song, and Tems absolutely killed it and over gingered. Her flow and texture is crazy, and Teez and Fresh really killed it”.
Another single off the album, “Shomo”, takes a slight detour into a more mainstream sound. Olamide’s hook brings the necessary street bounce, and Pheelz’s production is a wonderful fit. Higo makes a production appearance on the project for his work on “Next Gen”, with GMK and Adey rounding off a highly talented production cast.
It would seem that they needed that time apart, working on individual projects and just being their own selves, to come back and create this project. In the DRB short film, Boj said, “I think everything just aligned right now, everybody was in the same place, for once”. All their work in various fields helped lay the foundation up until this very point. Their influence transcends the music. DRB were able to pull the front runners of the alté scene onto one well thought out record, giving all their guest artists the allowance to fully be themselves; a perfect show of the hospitality that DRB — and the alté scene — stands for. The Pioneers album sounds and feels like one big celebration; a crowning moment for the legitimacy of the movement — and everyone is invited.
Staying relevant is one of the difficult things that an artist faces. Arguments that Blackmagic’s Version 1.0 should also be credited as part of the origin of the alté scene are quite valid, but that’s only for the music aspect of it. DRB have kept really close to the scene, grooming themselves from boys to men and studying the game appropriately. The result is a wholesome body of work, epitomizing everything that they claim to be about. They walk the talk, and walk it really well. Past jokes asking when DRB was going to blow have finally become irrelevant — seven years after Boj initially predicted in 2013. DRB are pioneers in every sense of the word, and the alté scene will finally pay them their respect.
Listen to Pioneers below: