FACE-TO-FACE: Jesse Jagz, the emperor of Nigerian hip hop

by

He had pulled an all-nighter and waited an hour for my arrival but the unpredictability of Lagos’ roads came into play.

I arrived late.

After waiting for some time, he went back to catch up on some sleep, I was told.

It was my turn to wait and while I sat in the deliberately dark living room, my thoughts drifted – back to my first encounter with him in 2008.

It was at Planet One entertainment center in Maryland, Lagos and the event was perhaps, the first edition of DJ Jimmy Jatt’s ‘Jump Off’.

He had attended alongside M.I Abaga, his brother. I had accompanied Denrele Edun.

As my thoughts darted back and forth and my wait stretched into hours, I opted to kill time by watching reruns of Blackish, which was showing on the only source of light in the room.

Just as I was getting a hang of the show, Jesse Jagz sauntered in and the first thing that struck me was his small, almost frail frame.

“This would be one of my best albums”, Jagz said, as I joined him in the adjoining room, where we were to have our chat.

“Even Jagz doesn’t mess with me and Jagz is the greatest” — M.I’s line from “I’m Hot”, a 2010 freestyle track, put Jesse Jagz on a high pedestal and many would argue that he’s managed to live up to the estimation.

A voracious and avid reader, Jesse Abaga hardly feigns humility at being regarded as one of the best rappers in Nigeria.

He knows he is and he’s ever-ready to embrace it.

CHOCOLATE CITY EXIT

When Jagz made known his intention to leave Chocolate City in 2013, industry watchers and fans were taken aback.

Only a few saw it coming.

Over the years, many reasons have been put forward as catalyst for his decision to ditch the record label, but Jagz says he was disgusted at the artiste he was becoming.

“Do you know what made me leave Chocolate City? “Jagz of all trades” album came out 2010.  I got tired because between three years I was performing the same album. I got sick of myself. I couldn’t climb on stage anymore, it was dishonest.

“I’ll hold the mic and be singing ‘pussy cat pussy cat’ or ‘wetin dey today’. I just went down like God! At some point don’t you want more? “

His 2015 surprise return, he says, is purely for “business” purposes and Jagz appears content with the new flexible arrangement which gives him a lot of elbow room and allows for his creativity to thrive.

SPIRITUAL PROCESS

Making music the right way is important to the rapper whose origin lies in Jos, a state with an abundance of music talent.

For the Jagz Nation emperor, making music requires optimum “focus” and this has prompted him to go into fasting-mode more than once.

“If you break your body, your spirit will come out. So you cut down the ‘comfortability’ around you. It’s like fasting. That’s the use of fasting. You cut down the amount of food, you sacrifice such things so that your mind is clear. So you are just clear, you are focused.

“My point is, I don’t live to eat, I eat to live. I eat to stay alive, Yes, there are some of us like that. I was just born with too much energy.”

‘PLEASE GIVE ME BEAT’

As if summoned, that energy descended upon him — he began speaking with increased pace and intense fervor.

The part time painter says he finds it difficult working with Nigerian artistes who come to record in his studio “without pre-written songs”.

“They come to the studio without a concept of a song and be like, “Jesse Jagz, please give me beat”. I shy away from producing for artistes because a lot of artistes I’ve worked with just want beats.

“For m, it works faster if you know what you want to do. For me also, I think there are some artists that are great at expressing.

“There are certain artists I’ve worked with that I know where their head is at. Brymo, Ice, you can name them. That’s what I mean. There are not many people who are Brymo and Ice.”

ABOVE THE FRAY, FOR THE SAKE OF ART

“How many people have the time to come to a concert and sit down for 2 hours and listen to Jagz?” he asked while complaining that the “typical Lagosian” has little time for his word play, metaphors and socially-conscious lyrics.

Obviously irritated by the situation whereby all Nigerian artistes are lumped together, he stressed the importance of not fitting into the box or falling in bed with a stereotype, especially if the artiste is of pure quality.

Charged with emotion and seemingly upset, Jagz said: “I’ve stopped playing my music for Lagosians. The typical Lagosians. There’s no time. You sit down and I start rapping, first thing they’re going to say is.. ‘Jagz! You dey rap oh, BUT…”

Still clearly miffed, the rapper flicked out a cigarrete, lit it, took in a deep drag and exhaled his frustration.

Then, he continued: “Now music is like yahoo, it’s the new 419. It’s the new means for people to making it. So there are people who just came into music and they don’t care about their art.”

Preaching the gospel of exclusivity, Jagz asserted that true artistes should cater to a select audience and not every Tom, Dick and Harry.

“I’m not going to invite you to a concert at Eko Hotel. I’m going to invite you to a concert that can take 100 people.

“I think the only way for artists who are that special to protect themselves is to become more exclusive. So the only way for Jagz to get better is for me to become more secluded as a human being”, he said, as excitement slowly seeped back into him.

THE ART OF SECLUSION

The artiste, who is reclusive by nature, has a “standing ban” on music-playing in his house for two reasons — when he has to record an album and also because present day music is not as deep as those of the past.

“I don’t think when I’m making an album I listen to something. There’s no music in my house.

“The only era of music I always listened to is the 90s. So I listen to everything in that era up until the early 2000s.”

“It’s tough”, he said pensively and took in another drag of the half-gone stick, as if to ease his ache over the wane of quality of music.

Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Afrobeat legend, is the only exception to the rapper’s rule of no music playing but he however wondered why people hardly “listen and appreciate” the message in his music.

“A lot of people like to call his name. Nobody takes the time to listen to Fela and sit down and appreciate the message of his percussions while he’s not talking.

“You need to understand why he used to do it and hear the different gongs and understand.”

PAY MORE FOR JESSE

Jesse’s countenance became much more agitated as he spoke with pain on the dwindling cost of Nigerian CDs.

At a time when the economic situation of the country is crippling, Jagz intends to make fans pay more for his music.

“I’m going to stop selling music cheap”, the artiste said matter of factly.

For his upcoming Odysseus album, Jesse warned that fans “might not find my album for 150. You may not find my album in Nigeria. Because it’s filled with music and empty CD is 200 naira.

“So by the time I’m done in the studio, by Nigerian standards, a CD that has content on it has less value than an empty original CD. I can’t work that hard for that. My album is great music so I always hope for the best. I’ve been working on this for a while.

“I want people to understand I am not making commercial music. When people say the music is commercial in this part of the world it means it’s trash. I never compromise in my art.”

ODYSSEUS

Earlier in the year, Jagz had announced on Twitter that he would release three records in 2016 and based on the listed dates, he’s in the race of his life to fulfill his public pledge.

“So hopefully this comes out August then the next album, November it should be out.

“I promised three albums this year. I’m back. If you go online, you’ll see fans going, ‘But you promised us three albums’. In this amount of time I have enough songs for the three albums.”

Stressing that not “everybody” must be his fan, he pleaded with non-fans not to buy the Odysseus album.

“If you are not going to listen, if you are not a fan of my music, don’t buy my albums anymore. I am not into that Nigeria craze of old anymore where everybody must be my fan.

“I make for premium music and it is going to be sold like that. If you don’t have time to listen to it, please don’t buy, I am begging you.

“I’m not a pop artist, I’m a true musician, I wear wrappers in the morning and I use chewing sticks. I live my life. I am below the regular human being. I make music that heals people’s pain. True art lies in raw emotion.”

Follow us on twitter @Thecablestyle

If you like this, please share!