It is early in the afternoon when we arrive at Dice Ailes’ Lekki residence. His manager, Samir, meets us at the gate, and we fist bump and exchange pleasantries through heavy grins that carry the weight of the endless phone calls we had shared. This interview has had to be postponed several times amid widespread COVID-19 health concerns, but here we are now, in Dice Ailes’ minimalist cosy Lekki duplex. Greeted by his three dogs, and seated in the company of his management team, Samir Sanusi and Oreoluwa Peters.
“No shoes on the carpet” Samir warns as we sit, waiting for Dice to amble down the staircase.
The walls are adorned with paintings that detail the kind of man Dice Ailes is. To the right is the painting of a woman, synchronised with a dog. To the left is a portrait-sized image of Dice Ailes, and just behind is a jargon painting that has a Basquiat-esque enclave. No sooner than I had sat down did a conversation about music spring up. Samir, Oreoluwa and I shared our thoughts about artists in various phases of their careers. Some trying out a different appeal, some struggling with promoting their music, and others collapsing in the shadows of the new school acts.
Dice Ailes swooned the hearts of music lovers across the country in 2016 with his smash-hit, Miracle, which featured then-rave-of-the-moment, Lil Kesh. Although Miracle came two years after signing his recording deal with Chocolate City, Dice Ailes embarked on a spectacular run of releases right after, that culminated in his most widely-accepted song yet, Otedola. Since his grand entrance, Dice Ailes – born Shasha Damilola Alesh – has garnered a catalogue of sleeper hits every year with his most recent being the Olamide-assisted, Pim Pim – a melodic rhythm that alludes to the power a woman withholds.
“ I ask if he has multiple girlfriends as the video portrays. He lets out a resounding “yes” …”
When Dice Ailes strides down the staircase in an oversized brown-leather shirt and leather white pants paired with the classic white Nike Air Force One, he is warm and he greets every single person in the room. Dice Ailes is flanked by his stylist and his sister, and his hands are bedazzled with shiny rings that attract more attention than any other clothing he has on. “What are we doing first?” He asks his manager, Samir
“It is the interview first, and then the photoshoot and video content later” I chip in and Samir agrees.
Throughout the length of his career, Nigerians have had a problem with pronouncing the name Dice Ailes. The problem mostly arose from the latter part of his name, Ailes. Some pronounce it like it is a homonym of Alice, while others pronounce it like it is a homonym of Hails. He quickly asserts that the right pronunciation is the latter. For the man himself, the name Dice describes his multifaceted self
“Dice basically describes that there are many sides to me as an artist, that I am versatile and there are a lot of dynamics to the type of music that I make, from afro-pop, to afro RnB, to Trap. Ailes I got that from my last name, Alesh, so I just put it together”
Born in Canada to a Ghanian mother and a Nigerian father, Dice Ailes’ roots are as diverse as can be. He has schooled in the Republic of Benin and Ghana and has lived in Nigeria and Canada. Dice Ailes wants this brew of diverse cultures to be evident in his music, and he wants his music to speak a universal language. In the video for his latest musical offering, Pim Pim, the lyrics to the song are subtitled in Spanish. The move was inspired by his trip to Madrid in January, although he subsequently adds that there is a target demographic for such a move, it comes across as an afterthought.
I ask if he has multiple girlfriends as the video portrays. He lets out a resounding “yes” followed by a peal of thick laughter. He soon goes on to promise another song with Spanish artiste, Kaydycain, on his forthcoming debut album, as well as other international collaborations in the near future.
For music lovers, the universality of Dice Ailes’ music was not the initial approach they had perceived. Dice Ailes started off as a rapper, his Afrobeats foray had come off an experience where he witnessed a performance by highlife artist, Flavour, at his University in Canada
“I saw him performing and all the girls were just feeling him and I am just like I have to top this shit. So Nyasha, my producer from Zimbabwe sent me this beat, and I was rapping. One of my bros was like “you have to sing”, I was like I didn’t know how to do this afro singing thing, I just went in and did it. The second one I did got me the deal with Chocolate City and I just realised I can do anything I put my mind to musically” Dice said sternly..
“People also jack the style and act like they never saw it from us and they don’t even give credit but it’s all good.”
Teenage pop stars are no longer a rarity in the Nigerian music scene. There is a global awakening of African music, and now more than ever, music seems to be a pretty lucrative vocation given the country’s economic woes and the exorbitant amount music superstars make per gig. At the time when Dice Ailes signed a record deal with predominantly hip-hop based record label, Chocolate City, he was 18 years old and only Wizkid and Davido bore the flag of Nigerian music talents rising to acclaim within their teenage years.
“When I signed the record deal, it seemed like an accident because I was just recording and just being myself. There was really no pressure because that was something that I found very natural, making music that people enjoy so the first song we put out when I signed the deal was something I had recorded a year before the deal” Dice says assuredly “the main pressure would come from the moment when you have your first breakout single, your first national hit and now you have actual people listening to you” Dice maintained eye contact throughout his speech, he is a man that is aware of the weight his words carry.
His first major hit song would come two years after signing with Chocolate City in the form of the Lil-Kesh assisted Afro-pop ballad, “Miracle”. Almost like a prophecy, Miracle took Dice Ailes’ career to uncharted heights. Dice was nominated as Rookie of the Year, Next Rated Artist the next year and he won the Best New Artist award at the Headies Awards, Nigeria’s seasoned music awards ceremony. Off the steam and acclaim, he built off “Miracle”, Dice Ailes recorded a song with Wizkid, and had studio sessions with UK-heavyweights such as Skepta and Tinie Tempah and toured with now-prominent Nigerian artists Zlatan Ibile and Naira Marley.
After Miracle, Dice Ailes released a love-ballad, titled Ella. The song sampled the late reggae legend, Majek Fashek, and the video was shot in faraway Canada. Although song did not accrue as much success as Miracle, it features alongside Waterman, and Zombie as Dice Ailes’ personal favourite records
“ We did so much with Ella, we travelled like five hours from Toronto, I broke my wrist and at the end of the year, I didn’t get nominated for video of the year. I felt like the video was ahead of its time. That was shot like four years ago, I haven’t seen any video that has topped that. No disrespect to anyone” his tone is even and plain “I feel like we put so much work into these videos, and people just act like they never saw it. People also jack the style and act like they never saw it from us and they don’t even give credit but it’s all good.”
His response is chorused by laughter from his management and a few people around. It seems to be a topic that has been discussed internally. I also laugh a little, but I do not press further. I know it will be futile, and names would not be dropped.
After striking out with Ella, Dice Ailes happened upon what is his magnum opus yet in “Otedola”, a breezy track characterized by wordplay and loosely-fitted lines that are easy to remember but not impactful enough to hold as punchlines or quotables. Dice readily concedes that Otedola is his magnum opus
“My biggest moment has to be Otedola, the reason it was my biggest moment is that when I recorded the song, no one understood it around me. Everyone thought it was stupid, they were was like what kind of beat is this? What are you saying? Why are you calling out all these people’s names? The beat is so empty” He is assertive now, and he speaks like he is reminiscent of a turning point not just in his career but in his life “Everybody didn’t think it was the right song to release, even the guys that shot the video were not happy shooting the video, you know what I’m saying, so the reason it’s big for me is that I believed so much in the potential of the song, upon releasing it everything just skyrocketed so that’s why it is big for me.”
“When I want to make a song, I like for the lights to be off. I like for the place to be cold…”
Before the interview, I had been informed by Samir during a casual chat that Dice is very hands-on with his brand and creative direction. He goes as far directing his production, handling casting and selecting locations during video shoots. “I learnt from one wise man, he said if you want anything to grow in a place like Nigeria, you have to manage it yourself” Dice says about being hands-on about his brand.
“What’s your creative process?”
“When I want to make a song, I like for the lights to be off. I like for the place to be cold, I like one light in the background like that lamp over there” He points to a lamp just beside the staircase “Back in the day I used to write a lot, but now I’ve grown lazy. I sit in the bathroom sometimes and just compose stuff, I think that’s the only time I get. When I am out of there, I am probably on the phone going over something, or sending emails or something related to the business, wherever you meet me as long as the lights are off and there is a beat playing, I think I can make a hit record.“
“I almost got kidnapped two years ago…”
Fashion is a huge part of Dice Ailes’ brand, it serves as an extensive arm of his creativity. He alludes to the big brands in his lyrics stating that
“You can only drip in Versace or in Margiela”.
I ask if we would see an intersection between his fashion and music, perhaps some merchandise. He instantly agrees “Definitely, part of the plan is to put out merch, to get more involved in the fashion industry because that comes naturally for me” His stylist keeps trying to pass a message across but he doesn’t seem to get it. When he eventually clocks it, he asks me to backtrack
“Shout to my stylist, A and O. They are always making me look good.”
Another chorused laughter. Everybody present joins in the laughter. There is a buzz of positive energy flowing in the room. This positive energy is soon altered by two of Dice Ailes’ Pitbulls engaging in a grisly fight that leaves one of the house attendants mildly bruised in an attempt to separate them. Now, there is a bit of anxiety swirling around, and Dice is still in shock. This experience feels totally new – for both the residents of the house and us, visitors.
“You have three dogs, how did that start?” I asked out of curiosity.
“I really love dogs. At some point when I was younger, I had like seven dogs. I have four dogs, one of them just died a couple days ago. I like big and really rare dogs, I have got two Pitbulls and one Dogo Argentina”
“Is that you compensating for a lack of many close physical relationships?”
“Kind of. I find that dogs are really loyal and they are loving. Regardless of what you do to them, they just want to show you love, that’s all they know.”
“So loyalty is a big thing for you?”
“Yeah, loyalty is a big thing for me. I have seen a lot of stuff in my life, in the industry and generally as a human being. Human beings in comparison with dogs are really different, I think I love dogs more.”
“What’s the craziest thing that has happened to you in the industry?”
“I almost got kidnapped two years ago.” He looks around before continuing. Everyone seems well aware of this experience and how much it impacted him.
“I went to Warri to do a show, some of my friends said to go to the club afterwards. We went to the club, they had security in the van and everything, and on my way back to the hotel, two cars ambushed us. One from the front and one from behind and the security they provided us just drove away. Then the guys came out with AK -47’s and tried to get me out of the car, we sort of found a way to get out of it” He laughs as he speaks of the event but it is clear through his eyes, the memory of this is still freshly ingrained in him.
“ We were driving to the hotel and these guys were driving behind me, it was like an action movie. I got to the hotel, left my shoes in the car, jumped over the fence, it was really crazy for me. Every time I see a car drive funny in front of me, I am traumatized. Because of that experience. I think it’s because earlier in the day I went to the market and I was throwing money in the air and I think maybe cause of the many Otedola with the money shouts”
“Did the show promoters and owners ever take responsibility for that event?”
They called and said they arrested one of the guys or something, I don’t know if they really did, but I felt like it was an inside job. The security guards drove off, and the guards knew nobody was in the club. It was just me, my guys and some girls. The club wasn’t operating that night so how did they know I was going to be there?”
“…This year, if not for Corona, there would have been a lot of stuff that came out. The album is supposed to drop this year…”
For fans of Dice Ailes, they know his song releases are fewer than that of other artists within his category but they are assured of quality anytime he announces new music. For Dice Ailes, he knows he has to level up with the quantity of music he puts out to the public
“In the past years, we have not really put out like a body of work or anything, we have just been focusing on a lot of internal stuff. This year, if not for Corona, there would have been a lot of stuff that came out. The album is supposed to drop this year, I don’t know if that’s happening.”
“What is TMM and what does that mean?”
“You’ll find out soon”
“What type of music are we getting on the album?”
“Diceeyyy music” He says with a burst of resounding laughter that tells that he is happy with the music he is making.
Dice Ailes is on a mission. He has tasted widespread success within the music industry, and now he is aiming for the summit of it. He has matured through the industry. He has navigated the insincere waters of the music business and he is aware that loyalty is at a premium. For Dice Ailes, this is a journey of a man and his dogs fighting their way to the top in a business that is often always unforgiving with second chances.