Tobechukwu Melvin Ejiofor, popular with the moniker Illbliss is a rapper, hip-hop recording artiste and stage performer. In this interview with Independent’s Lukmon Akintola, he talks about his latest album ‘Illygaty 7057’, his wife and life as a family man.
It’s being a long and eventful career thus far, what has sustained you?
I keep listening and I keep trying to reinvent. I am never comfortable with just being in a position. I am never comfortable with just a particular sound. In as much as I am a rapper, but there are so many ways to exploring that same art. So, I keep listening and I stay in touch with the youth segment.
Are you saying that your relationship with other youthful musicians have kept you going?
The fact is that they keep you updated on where music is going to. That is how to stay relevant. I mean Fat Joe for instance is a rapper that I grew up listening to and he is in his forties. I am not in my forties, I am far from that, but Fat Joe made the song “Am All The Way Up” and it is the biggest Hip hop song this year. He found himself again. If he probably didn’t have French Montana on that song you probably wouldn’t have heard it, so it is all about collaborations and believing.
Talking about collaborations, your first single from the latest album is titled “Jawonlaya”, what inspired it?
The song featured Reekado Banks and Mr. Eazi. I call them the leaders of the new school. In this new album that just got released, it has a lot of collaborations. I have Mayorkun on a song called ‘Pere’, I have Vector and Phyno on a song called ‘Hustlers Footstep’, I have Lola Rae on “Without You.” It’s a long list. I have Runtown on another song titled “Can’t Hear You”, I also have Falz on the song “Ayakata.”
Were you scared that this album won’t succeed, hence the need for collaborations?
The album also has solo songs that I put out alone. For me, hip hop is whatever you want it to be. It is important that an artiste has solo songs. On my last album, I had a song called ‘Bank Alert’, it was just me. I also had another one called “WTF”, it was just me. Before that, there was another called “Chukwuagozigogi”. I mean I have put out songs by myself, but I just felt that on this album I needed to tap into fresher and younger energy. I wanted to work with a lot of young people that look up to me and I look up to too. I needed to tap into their vibes and learn from them too. So, this is like an experiment for me. The next album is going to have lesser collaborations.
Are you insinuating that work has already started on your next album?
As a matter of fact it has.
Is Chidinma on this album?
No, she is not. She is no longer on the label.
You have Phyno on this album, hence it is only natural to ask why Chidinma is not on it, don’t you agree?
Chidinma had left before I started working on this album. Chidinma left around February and I started working on this album in March or so. We just didn’t get a chance. The last song we made together was titled “Powerful.” However, she is not on this album.
Is there a specific reason?
Not really. I also needed to look outside the camp. I also needed to look at the circles of other artistes and see what they were doing.
‘Illygaty 7057’ is the title of your new album, what motivated it?
Illygaty is my nickname. It is what people who respect me in the business call me. It comes from the word ‘Illy’. The 7057 by Illygaty is my National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) number, when I served in Lagos that was my tag number. It shows you the number of people in the camp the year I served. I came from the East from that town called Enugu to serve in Lagos.
Enugu has produced some of the best artistes from the East, what is the secret to this?
Enugu is the most vibrant town around, so everybody sort of ends up there. Even if you are from Onitsha you end up in Enugu because you think that is where things will pop up for you. Enugu has produced top artistes such as Phyno, Bracket, Nigga Raw, Stormrex. The list is endless. It has even produced Jay Martins.
Tell us about your label Gorretti, how did you come about the name?
It’s actually my wife’s name. It’s a baptismal name, Saint Maria Gorretti. It’s catholic; there is a Saint Maria Gorretti. I had been looking for a name that I was going to use. I wanted a name that would be unique. So, when I met my wife several years back I decided I was going to use her name. It’s not that deep. I didn’t coin it out of something. I am catholic and catholic has its root in Rome, but the truth is that I like Italians for one thing. A lot of people are amazed by Italians and their mafia life. I like Italians because they are very family-oriented. They eat together, they do their business together, and they even raise their children together. That is how I am with my friends and my business associates. We look out for ourselves, fight among ourselves and we resolve it together.
We know Illbliss the rapper, what are you like at home?
Illbliss the rapper is not far from the one at home. The truth is that it is always difficult to balance your private life and your life as an entertainer. Entertainment life has demands, but there is still something that I enjoy in this business. It is a subtle anonymity. I go into a place and the respect I get from people scares me. I try to come to their level because I realise that the respect almost leads to fear. I don’t want people to fear me, but to respect the work that I have done. At home, I am the man of the house. I play my role as the head of the house. I never let the industry come into my house. So, if I have a billion you won’t know and if it’s a kobo you also won’t know. I feel that the more you put your family out there the more the chances of destroying your family life, exposing your kids and your family. So, I just keep it low-key. I am lucky I have been scandal free, it’s because I behave myself. I just try and make sure that I do the work and go home.
What is your opinion of Iyanya’s move to Mavin Records?
Nobody knows the real contract between Iyanya and Mavin Records. It might be a partnership. It might be anything. I think that it is a smart move; I don’t think it’s a dumb move. I think that the industry is growing everyday and people need to start to synergize, to build alliances rather than be in the shadow and work alone. Build pockets and pockets of business everywhere then synergize and keep the money coming. I think being a Mavin artiste empowers him. Starting his own thing, he might still learn one or two things from Don Jazzy. Apparently, learn, then start up his own thing. I am sure that it is a partnership and there is Iyanya’s label somewhere and management and there is Mavin Records. Either way, it is beneficial to both of the parties involved. So, I think it’s a great move.
Which of the songs in the album are you drawn to?
Interestingly, the songs that I am attracted to are not what people are listening to presently. They are drawn to the club songs. There is a song in the album titled “Dear God”, it was inspired by a real life experience. On the street I reside, there is a hospital. On a particular day, I watched a woman lose her kid. I think her child had an accident and in the process of checking him into the hospital the kid died because there was delay in attending to them. Her wailing woke me up from sleep, as she asked God why things like that happened. I picked up my pen and wrote “Dear God” from her experience. The song is titled “Dear God”, in my native language, (Nyelaka). It’s a sober song that reflects what is going on in the country. The leaders don’t have an answer to what is going on. I love the song personally. I think it’s an awesome song. Another song I love is the one titled the “Life of Claudio”. The “Life of Claudio” was made after a certain man named Claudio Ranieri who happens to be the coach of Leicester City in England. I was in England, I was at the train station and I went to WH Smith, the book shop and bought his biography. Nobody had ever cared to write anything about him because he had never won any major trophy from the Serie A League in Italy to England till he took an underrated and underpaid Leicester City put them together and won the English Premier League and all of a sudden the world started to buzz. I look at myself as an underdog. That is how I see myself because I am always a step to a hit. People always have the tendency to look at you like you are not there yet; you are not part of the elite. So, every single day of your career you live to correct that notion. That is what “Life of Claudio” is all about. I love the song because it is confidence for me. It is me talking about the things I have gone through in the industry. It is an inspirational story because it is from nothing to something. The best message I have to share with people is to never give up on themselves. A lot of rappers who started are no longer in this game. They dropped by the way, but I am still here, I am dropping an album every year, I am stubborn.
At some point you retired from music, what was the real intent, was the buzz to promote your latest album?
No. It was to reposition the brand. We had to rest the ‘Oga Boss’ brand, so that ‘Illy’ could take flight. It’s still the same guy, but different approach. It’s about you, your songs; it’s about the fans, its more engaging now. ‘Oga Boss’ has gone; he is chilling in his country home. If you listen to my new songs you will understand what I am saying. I had it all worked out. I knew when to rest it because the ‘Oga Boss’ was more executive, all label minded and organisational. Now I have people who have adapted that role and I can now do what I really want.
At what point did you decide there had to be a change?
I always knew that my music wasn’t getting attention. I wasn’t giving it all the attention. Now, I am building a band. I couldn’t do that as ‘Oga Boss’. I have a hip hop band, I have a DJ that is attached to it, I have a drummer that is lovely. I can put up a performance for two hours straight. I am going to do more. That is what I want to do, I am a lyricist and the world should listen to the music.