Words by : The Waistbead Whisperer
“I’m not a celeb, I’m an artiste”, LadiPoe quips soon after I asked him to pick out a seat for our chat at Samantha’s bistro and grill. In a way, it reaffirms what one may presume about his persona, he shrieks away from public attention if his artistry is not the subject of discussion. For LadiPoe, his art comes first, before every other thing the public demands from him, and protecting the creative energy that produces his art is an utmost responsibility. No, Poe is not a recluse, he does well with social interaction, but his objective is to keep the energy that surrounds his art safe. He’s aware celebrity lifestyle defines culture today, and he’s expected to open up on topics unrelated to his art, but that’s not what is paramount now, his music is. Poe is not the type to hurry about releasing music, he takes his time to process his craft which many now love and appreciate. He understands that his journey might have been different as he took quite some time to reach this point, which is why he painstakingly keeps his craft within a protective bubble he stands as a guard over.
The air is cool and noise inside the bistro forces us to sit outside. LadiPoe easily has four inches on my frame. He’s wearing a blue shirt that’s firmly tucked into his black chino pants, dark shades, a gold chain, and a gold watch complete his look. A waiter greets him on recognizing who he is and follows us outside with a menu. Reclining unto the sofa, he gets comfy, and he apologizes for arriving late as the attendant drops off the menu and walks away. Poe is effusive in his apology and I sense it was genuine.
The last few months has seen top notch hip-hop releases in Nigeria; one of which was Poe’s Talk About Poe (T.A.P), while it might not have received universal acclaim, it made for a great listen and an impressive debut album. In my review of the album, there were certain songs that stood out, while there were some I felt had no business being on the album. I had my questions, and he was quite open to answering any question I threw at him.
ME: YOU ARE KNOWN FOR BEING RECLUSIVE, DOESN’T THERE COME A POINT WHERE YOU FEEL YOU HAVE TO LET PEOPLE IN?
POE: Depends on what you mean by reclusive, depends on what you mean by let people in. How reclusive is reclusive? Funny thing is I don’t really consider myself reclusive. Not really. I think being a recluse is someone who goes out of their way to avoid, they build several barriers and they don’t like interacting. I’ve always been the kind of person that does well with people around, but I do know one thing though, when you create anything, you do have to protect the energy that is required to produce that thing. This I know. And I think like in the Nigerian music industry particularly, it thrives on you being extra outgoing. So, if you are just a little bit underneath that threshold, you are a recluse and our interpretation of someone that is not at every event or not doing what everyone is doing is mainly arrogance or being a recluse.
ME: YOU OWE YOUR FANS PROJECTS, OR DON’T YOU THINK SO?
POE: my own personal journey to be an artiste took longer, and it represents itself in the number of projects I’ve released. I didn’t really understand what it took to make music or not just make music, I used to love making music. When I started making music, it kind of came easy, rapping came easy, I used to be in the studio a lot cos of that. When I met SDC, they invited me to the studio, rapped a lot, did a couple of things on their tracks, that was cool but that was their music. It wasn’t mine, it wasn’t my “Poe created” sound, they were the ones releasing. When they started telling me to release my own stuff, they were like bro you should release your own stuff. It took me a while to figure out fuck, what is my stuff? I started rapping in school in yankee and it was a totally different sound I was fucking with. SDC are a totally different sound so I was like the fuck is my sound? And also, what the fuck does it even really mean to release music? So that journey for me, I don’t know about anybody else, took a while for all the dots to kind of click. Usually, most people, when they realize they want to do music, they are releasing projects. For me, it took a while. I started one with Ikon, we called it above all expectations, we never dropped it. I had another one called the Icarus tape and I think it’s somewhere online. The producer I worked with, the first producer I worked with released it in some space. It exists in some space, but I never released it. Once I figured out myself, that was talk about Poe.
ME: I LOVED TALK ABOUT POE, ESPECIALLY HELLO, GOODBYE.
POE: I find it interesting. The reason why I find it interesting is because ‘hello, goodbye’ to me is the full idea and expression of because I am rapper doesn’t mean I always do hip-hop. That was the full expression of me making a distinction between rap and hip-hop. I feel as though hip-hop is something we extrapolated or took from another region and space and we all love it. Hip-hop is huge and so influential but it is a culture, a sound and everything but my point is that its not just one sound. Hello, goodbye is not a hip-hop song but I’m rapping on it and I wanted to do a project that had all of that. ‘Double homicide’ is hip-hop, ‘voices’ is hip-hop.
ME: RED LIGHT KIND OF FELT OFF, DID YOU SIGN OFF ON IT BEING ON THE ALBUM?
POE: absolutely. In fact, talk about Poe is a special because it consists of many sides and also the length of time it was created. ‘Voices’ is much older than ‘mood’, ‘Red light’ came around at the same time as ‘Voices’ so when we wanted to release talk about Poe, we had to go back, I had to figure out how I wanted things to sound and make changes. ‘Red light’ was one of the tracks that I was not able to make the changes that I wanted to in the space of time that I had. There were sounds in it, that if you break down, are sick, but I felt like it was wrapped in a package that was a bit dated. But besides that, I fucking loved ‘Red light’, I fucking loved what Seyi did, I think what Seyi did was amazing, but I wanted to slow it down. Slow down the tempo a bit, I wanted to make it a vibe.
ME: WERE YOU TRYING TO GO FOR A COMMERCIAL RECORD?
POE: that word (commercial) I find interesting cos everyone that uses that word almost always uses it differently. So, I have to ask you, what do you think is commercial? (I give Poe my definition of “commercial” before I tell him that I felt he was pressured to do a radio-friendly tune). Never, I don’t think there’s any single song that I’ve been pressured to do, ever. Maybe there are songs I might have been unsure about releasing. But there’s never a song that I couldn’t have said no at some point, in other words, I take responsibility for all my music. But in terms of that idea of “commercial”, before we even get to me answering any questions about ‘Red light’, what’s wrong with a song being played on the radio. (“Absolutely nothing” I reply). So, I think that’s one thing that every artiste at some point in time will face, either internally or externally. Internally, debating themselves or externally, people saying that sounded a bit commercial. That artiste might be like great, because it’s probably my most streamed song or my most downloaded song. But in the case of ‘Red light’, I think there is one thing that overtime, fans will either know or find out, which is that I love the idea of being able to do as I please. And I love the idea of being able to try different sounds. I don’t think I’ve ever released the same sound twice, I don’t think in my entire career, for better or for worse, I have ever created the same sound twice. From ‘Ko ye won’ to ‘Adore her’ which I think was a commercial sound but took off in its own way, to anything off talk about Poe, to ‘Jaiye’ to ‘Are you down?’, I’ve never released the same song twice. And that is because, from early on, I was like if I’m going to do this music thing, I’m going to do it on my own terms. I know that immediately they hear my voice they think conscious and introspective, I get that, and I love that sound too, but they are going to see that there is more to me. And some people will like it and some people won’t. Some people love ‘Red light’, some people don’t. Some people love ‘hello, goodbye’ and some people think why it is on the album? At the end of the day, I would look back from a distance at the two opinions and say two things have happened. One, they both have the songs that they like on my project, that’s a win. Two, there’s a debate going on about my project, another win. Thirdly, they are passionate about it. So, everybody has their roles, I create, and express and then other people name and categorize. Other people debate, and other people do this, and other people do that. So, I learnt a while back to let that happen, because if I get too involved in either role, the creative side will suffer. And that has happened enough, and that’s another reason why there hasn’t been that many projects. Perfectionism and over analyzing. It is terrible, I can imagine how many songs are on hard drives right now that will never see the light of day. And if you listen to them you’ll be like bro why didn’t you drop that song? You can’t help it, but one needs to grow out of it or at least learn to rationalize it.
ME: MAVIN SEEMS TO GIVE YOU A LOT OF ARTISTIC FREEDOM, HOW’S THAT JOURNEY BEEN FOR YOU?
POE: I like that word journey, it’s perfect because a journey is rarely ever starting and ending, and everything is just the same. It has had potholes, it has had sweet times, sweet highs and lows. All of those but it has been a huge learning curve for me. I feel one of the biggest or overriding feelings at first was that of we are worried. Like when a really good football player, top talent goes to a team and his fans wonder will you get playing time? Why did you choose that team? I know it is a big team bro, but will you play? That is the kind of energy that was there, and even Mavin felt it. And that’s why ‘Man already’ was my first single, cos it was rap. They were like we have to go with something that at least aligns closely with his fan base but also feels like something that he has never done before. I recorded a bunch of songs but to me, ‘Man already’ is new, I hadn’t tried that sound before but at the same time I dropped talk about Poe on Mavin. I mean in the history of Mavin, I don’t think anybody would say they would have anticipated an album like talk about Poe. Nobody on that label has released a project as multifaceted as talk about Poe to me. They’ve released a bunch of great projects that have been commercial successes and have been really radio friendly, but I like diversity in my music. I have ‘Red light’ which is maybe very radio friendly but then you have the vibe which is just what it is. The Mavin journey has been a journey, and I’ve learnt a lot. I’ve learnt that you need to have a strong team to survive in this industry, put your record label aside. If your team is not strong, you can’t grab the next rung of the ladder, if you do, you will eventually lose hold of it. The label is just there to amplify what it is you do, and if you see your label as an amplification, and not as something to change you, then you’ll survive.
ME: HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE NOW BEFORE WE GET A NEW POE PROJECT?
POE: I will put it like this, I don’t see myself dropping an album a year, but I see myself dropping a project a year. And to be honest with you bro, it’s fun. Think about it from my perspective. One is an album, it’s over ten songs or whatever cos I don’t call talk about Poe my album, I call it my first conversation with my fans, but technically its ten songs, its over thirty minutes so it’s an album. It’s an LP. But then I can do an EP that’s a particular kind of mood and say yo, this is this and this. I call it something, allows me to do something that is more conceptual that is an EP, another one is a project, then the following year I’m like my album is coming out.
ME: IS THAT WHAT THAT NIGERIA’S BEST CHANCE OF A RAPPER WINNING A GRAMMY WAS ABOUT?
Poe and I share some laughs about the video which he shared on twitter and the funny lines in between. He tells me he has gotten a lot of responses especially because of a line where he compares Igbo women in contact lenses to Puerto Ricans. This is what endears us to Poe, he can deliver intuitively funny lines that despite being humorous, hold a perspective of real life within them. His casual manner of rapping us through real life issues while shedding a nerdy humorous light on the matter is why we have a soft spot for him. He tells me that “there are a lot of great rappers within the country and everyone wants to rap with the energy that I am the best and it comes with being a rapper. And he believes if you want to say that, “there are minimum standards you must set”. “You can’t be below a certain standard if you want to represent us” he says. I tell him about a story from my interview with Boogey and Paybac of The lost and found and how they both mentioned how every rapper has to maintain this energy of wanting to be the best. Poe acknowledges this characteristic in every rapper and believes it is necessary to drive one to be the best they can be while not losing their originality. “I know the kind of music I love to do, and I will consistently be doing that, I am the leader of the revival and I stand by that”. “Everytime I put down a verse, you will know it” he says. He believes the fans will always have who their best is and the thing with it is that the goal is always shifting so basically what you try to do is make sure that on more days, you are considered the best but if you want to be acknowledged as the best all the time, you’ll die of resentment because you will never get it. KEEP TRYING TO SCORE THAT GOAL RASHIDI YEKINI.
ME: I FEEL WITH THE ATTENTION NIGERIAN MUSIC IS GAINING GLOBALLY, THIS IS THE BEST TIME TO DO INTERNATIONAL COLLABORATIONS. DO YOU SEE YOURSELF DOING ONE ANYTIME SOON?
POE: I think at this point, it is inevitable. I feel even if I do something with somebody in Ghana, that’s international. But really at this point, yeah. I have a team for a reason, so I let the people that work on those things, work on those things. I know I really want to do a collaboration that is a collaboration. I really do. I see the benefits for both sides, I am happy now that the conversation is such that there is benefit for both sides not just as one sided as it used to be. So, I think now is the best time.
I suggest to Poe that I think a collaboration between him and Childish Gambino would be awesome to which he replies, “speak it into existence bro”. We talk about rumours on the internet claiming Childish could be considering quitting music and how it’s usually difficult to trust those rumours. He tells me about the obsession that stems from creating.
POE: it’s a difficult thing, the addiction is real. I don’t know if it’s an obsession or a passion. I think when you are good at something, you always want to do it cos it brings you immeasurable happiness. It brings so much happiness. To me though, few people are lucky enough to do what they love and be very aware of the system they find themselves in. Because if you can do what you love and also work the system, then you can really survive. The thing about some of us, even the really dope ones is that we are reeling off passion, but you really have to figure out how the business works. You really have to know when not to be an introvert or a recluse, you really have to know when to hide your face, you really have to work the system. That’s at the heart of it. One has to be at it consistently.
Poe knows the fans deserve more music and more projects. However, it has taken him a while to find his sound, to find out how the system works, working around it and working with it. He opines intelligently, and you can see the methodic application of his analyses to his music and general way of viewing life. He wants to be able to deliver his very best and what fans want while also not neglecting his own essence in a bid to cater to demands. He is not a recluse and he’ll fight that opinion anytime. He is fighting to protect his virility, his freedom to expression without the inhibition of the industry’s nuances. He knows what the fans want but he doesn’t always want to be a subject to the fans wants which he believes is ever changing. The goalpost always shifts when it comes to opinions about what artistes should be doing with their art and he knows that if he keeps trying to make the shots, he’ll still never satisfy everyone. His fight with his perfectionism and over analyzing is one he believes he is winning as he suggests that he is letting go of the habit that’s a prevalence in the lives of many that create. He is still figuring out what versions of himself he will be putting out for fans but whatever it is, we will be listening.