For someone famed as a ‘Rudeboy’, Paul Okoye is actually quite a humble musician. Sitting with the 39-year-old in his posh Ikoyi home, one couldn’t help but notice his penchant for white décor, which stuck from his interior design down to his grand piano in the living room. Yet, his warm gaze and soft-spoken voice presents a gentle side to him that stood out the most.
“He is also your namesake, Nonso,” his friend and colleague, Raji, announced, as the conversation began. And for the next half-hour, it transcended to an innate experience into the mindset and artistry behind Rudeboy’s work, which is evident in his just-released sophomore album dubbed, RudyKillUs.
What sets the album apart is far from the fact that it is from one of the former members of the moribund Naija favourite duo, P-Square; it is actually the intentionality from Rudeboy that manifests in the eclectic mix of rhythm – from Hip-life, to Afro-pop, to Reggae – in this project, as well as in the soulful lyricism that results in a pregnancy of various emotions for the listener.
Minus a track-listing (or arrangement) issue, which slightly affects the seamless listen of the project, the entire sound-piece peaks with a vibrancy that leaves you re-listening to it continuously. A plus for the summer! From wedding songs to a Christian gospel bop, to introspective ballads and pop-heavy love songs, the album has a mood for everything, another fingerprint of Rudeboy’s intentionality.
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Catching up with CHINONSO IHEKIRE, the father-of-one discusses the story behind the ‘Rudeboy’ movement, making conscious music, getting inspiration from the dreams, battling COVID-19, as well as making music after P-Square.
Congratulations on your new album. What actually spurred you to make this body of work?
It was more like doing me; if you have listened to the album, you would notice there was no collaboration. The album says that Rudy Kill Us. I wanted to show you people what my music sounds like; I wanted to stick to what I do. I wanted to do me, real music; I didn’t want to run away from that.
The body of work for this album was rooted in the fact that there is no way I can make a song without meaning. It is either it is touching you, or you are about to grab something. It is more of like a reality kind of album. There is reggae, gospel, highlife, hip-hop, dancehall, and everything.
Is this a thing that has always stuck with you from the beginning?
I don’t just see music as something that people listen to, because they want to dance; I just want to pass a message. I want you to learn something and experience what others are. For instance, when I did Reason With Me, it was like another version of my own story that I wanted to pass across. I used a carpenter, but I was there struggling when I was trying to sell my radio cassettes.
The message was that the women around you don’t want to know if you didn’t have money at all. Trust me, in the university where I went to – University of Abuja – if you didn’t have money, nobody knows you. Who is your father? That had been ringing in my head since then. So, I used it to pass my message in the song.
Apart from the songs itself, you had production credit on all the songs?
People don’t know that I am a writer and a producer. In fact, just the fact that I don’t want to be ‘know-it-all,’ that’s why I don’t talk about it. In the album credits, I didn’t write produced by, I wrote ‘beats by…’ for all the people who made the beats. I already had the melodies in my head; I show you what to play. Then afterwards, I allow you to feel free, while I am recording. I just didn’t want to be that jack-of-all-trades, but I still have these wonderful people around me.
Another thing people don’t know is that all my songs come from the dream, even from the days of P-square. I tell people that I am not talented; I am gifted. I fear that the day I betray God too much, he would just collect it; just like the biblical story of Samson. I don’t even pick biro and paper to write a song. When I wake up, I just record the melodies on my phone. Later on, I go to the studio to produce the beat and then I arrange the song. As I am recording it, it is even like someone is telling me what to say.
So, you never make songs in sessions?
Except they are collabos; maybe when people call me to make a song with them. Then, it is easier for me.
Looking at the whole Rudeboy identity, how did you come about it?
If you listen to the P-square song, Bizzy Body, you would hear ‘Rudeboy,’ it’s been existing; people gave me the name. When I was still young back in Jos, I was a producer. And while other producers were still collecting N3,000 – N10,000 per beat, I was still struggling to open a studio. I used to sing in the church. From there, I started performing at small gigs like school parties, church launchings, weddings and so on. While I was doing that, I was writing songs strictly for my mum’s church.
I wrote a song then in Jos and it became a bit big then. People started coming to me as a Producer. When artistes now came and I told them that my fee was N5000, they claimed I was too expensive. But I always insisted that it wasn’t about the money; I had to see if they had the talent before I could work with them. I turned down so many of them; I can’t be playing on G and you are singing on C. Even when I was offered N10,000 for a beat, I turned it down. Before you know it, talk went round and people started to say I was that ‘rude boy.’ So, me being honest made me rude. That was how I got the name Rudeboy.
The Rudykillus movement is Rudy-kill-us and my fans created it. Anytime I drop a song, they kept saying ‘eh Rudy, you wan kill us!’ There and there, some of them started using that hashtag. So, I looked at it and kept it when I wanted to create my album.
Tell us about those early days, how did you hone your skills as a musician?
When I was singing in my mum’s church, she was still using local instruments. I got in touch with a musician friend of mine; I used to do backup for him in Benson and Hedges competition. He didn’t win, but he had this keyboard and I used to borrow it and use it in my mum’s church. Then, I started going to the studio with him and I got into the studio and recorded a song. Then, everything was done with a keyboard and then saved on a diskette. You then insert into a computer and start voicing. Then, I started pressuring my mum to upgrade her church equipment.
When she raised some money, I made a list for her and the keyboard was in the list. Among all the instruments, that keyboard alone was about N40,000 and the total instruments were not more than N100,000. She didn’t want to buy it at first, but I convinced her that it doesn’t expire while the rest expires, even though it wasn’t true. I just wanted to get her to buy it. So, she bought it, alongside a drum set and postponed the remaining items for later. That was how I started reading the manual.
In fact, I still have that keyboard and I am still using it now. That is how I started using it to produce and record music. In fact, my first ever song I recorded was Say Your Love; I recorded so many songs that period with that keyboard. My friend advised me to apply for the next Benson and Hedges competition; by then, I had entered University of Abuja and we had created P-Square. My elder brother advised me to carry my brother to the competition and with the dancing and all, we were able to win.
How did you guys feel that time?
For the first time, I sat down with Tuface that time. He was even one of the first people that saw us and told me that ‘Bro, una big here o. People love you here o. Think about this and move to Lagos.’ He also schooled in Jos and came to Lagos.
How do you feel now after all these years?
First of all, I am very excited. From the singles I have dropped, I know what the results are; I am never in a rush. Even when I am releasing a song, I must have recorded about six or seven songs before I decide which one I am bringing out. People believe that it is when you feature other artistes on an album that you won’t make it to sound the same. But when you listen to this album, you wouldn’t even realise it was the same person all through.
I am very excited for this album, especially track 1, Nowhere To Go; it is just to let you know where I am coming from and where I am now. That song was more of freestyle; I know it would be talked about most. It is a love song, but it is words they know already; I am excited.
Apart from working alone as a solo artiste, who do you enjoy working with?
If I have a song now, I already know who I can place in the song. For example, when I wrote Possibility, I knew it was Tuface. When I did Together, I knew it was Patoranking. But if you ask me for two people that at any time you drop us in together in the studio, we would come out with 100 songs in 24 hours, just meet Tuface and Timaya. These are people I have sat down with and there is this thing that we love doing where we sing and hit our chests. It is just a thing we share.
So, among the newcomers, who do you also connect with?
Omah Lay. There are some people that you can predict them; you can’t predict him. In fact, he would sing and take you somewhere else. And as a musician, you would be hearing and hoping he connects back to another point he started with and he always gets it for me every time. I don’t like predictable artistes; I like listening to artistes and asking, ‘where did this person learn this from?’ That is what I love and he has it.
Tell us about Paul Okoye the businessman and label executive. How does it feel running things on your own?
I would just say it is still the same thing; it is still the same people around me, the same process. That support system is still the same thing. Trust me, if I change, it would affect me. I am speaking from experience for other artistes; you have to be in a particular mindset. The same spirit I have is what I am still making use of; the only difference is that I am now alone on stage.
Do you miss being a part of P-square?
I don’t want to say anything about that, because I want to respect family; I don’t want to hurt family. What I would say would be used by people to go and start tagging and insulting others; I don’t want that. Even the other day, I told my fans that they should focus on the music; it is because I know what would happen when the album comes out. I know what Nigerians can start saying, I just have to calm them down. As long as it is something that can hurt the family, I rather keep it private.
Speaking of family, you and your household were down with the COVID-19 at some point. How was that experience?
My family was in Dubai for Christmas when it happened; I went for a show in Bayelsa. Somehow, I knew I passed the crowd and there was too much of rubbing in the crowd. Somehow, I fell sick. I got back home, called my doctor and he told me that I had COVID-19. As I called my wife to tell her, she told me that all of them there too had COVID-19. So, it lasted for that period; it was about 20 days. It was very dramatic. Sometimes, I would be gasping for air. I would just hurry and take a cold shower, then stick my face into the AC. It was like everything I was breathing in was hot and blocked; it was a very hard time. Every other person got it in my house, but it was not as serious as mine.
So, what is the vision going forward?
We already had plans – concerts, tours, and everything. People have been begging for tours before now, but I didn’t want to do one without an album; all those Europe and American tours are cancelled this year. But I would do African cities; all other international tours would be next year. Business part is doing good; I just finished a new project.
Do you have favourites on the album?
I have four favourite songs. I am even arguing with my brother Jude, because we don’t have the same favourites. On his list, he has two of mine, and on my list, I have two of his. We both agree on the song Ego Nekwu, and Ihe Neme. Then, I personally like Ayoyo and Something Must Kill A Man. For Jude, he chose Nowhere To Go and Fall In Love. Those are my top-four.
Is there anything you would like to add?
I have what I call organic fans; I love them a lot. If I go wrong, they always tell me. But I want them to focus on the album and not start causing a war of insulting out of it. It might not even be them, but other people. People even criticise me for not changing my voice from how I used to sing on P-square. But it would be worse now, because I have an entire album of it. But people should stick with the music.
Could you share with us some things people don’t know about you?
One is the fact that all my songs come from the dream. Then, the second is that somehow, I hate eating outside. It would shock you that, if you give me food that is well arranged, I won’t eat it. Perhaps, it was because of the struggle and hustle of when I used to buy food from Nylons. Somehow, I prefer it looking like that mama-put way. Then, because of my voice, there are certain drinks I don’t take; there are some drinks that affect my voice.