WPGM Interviews: YCEE – Omo Alhaji, Rookie Of The Year And Repping Nigerian Culture

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YCee is the Lagos-born rapper and songwriter who in 2015, re-invigorated the Nigerian music scene with his gritty street anthem “Jagaban”. Recently crowned ‘Rookie of the Year’ at the country’s biggest award show, and all without an album or EP to his name, YCee is fixed on setting 2016 ablaze. Guest contributor and UK tastemaker, Verbal Vixen caught up with YCee on his recent trip to London where he made his British debut…

WPGM: So how does a Marine Biology student become the hottest thing in the Nigerian music right now?

YCee: Right from when I was a little kid, music was always something I enjoyed listening to. One way or the other I found myself trying to make my own music. I always had dreams of living that life as a rapper. So when I finished Secondary School, I didn’t write the JAMB exam for university immediately, so I had like one year of free time and I found myself growing musically in that one year.

I actually saw that I could do it as a profession and I got a record deal… though I still had to take time off to finish school but in 2015 I started recording a different kind of music that I felt it was time to push. I feel that 2015 was the best year for me professionally. I put out three singles, one of the hottest songs of the year and got “Rookie Of The Year” at the most prestigious Nigerian award show, The Headies. So I guess we made the right moves.

WPGM: How would you describe your sound in three words?

YCee: Versatile, different and addictive.

WPGM: Before you released “Jagaban” you put out the single, “Condo”. There’s a distinct difference in the sound. Why did you switch it up?

YCee: What I was trying to do was differentiate myself from every other Nigerian artist out there. I think with “Condo” I was a bit too far out and foreign. People would listen to it [the track] and ask if I was American and if I was actually born in Nigeria or lived there. So it was confusing at one point.

I needed a way to balance my American influences, I listened to a lot of American music growing up, but I also needed to cater to the Nigerian fans. With Jagaban I was trying to put out a record people could relate to and understand that I was actually home based and at the same time just stake my claim in the industry. I pretty much saw “Jagaban” as me marking my territory trying to get people to pay attention.

WPGM: You mentioned that your music had a heavy American influence. Which artists have made an impact on your style?

YCee: Growing up it was Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Fat Joe, Ludacris ’cause I had two uncles. One of them was into a lot of rap music and the other was into R&B and Rock ‘n’ Roll so I was exposed to diverse genres of music. I just took a liking to rap because it was something I could see myself doing. At the time when I started looking to music as a profession, Kanye West, Drake and Lil Wayne’s music was what influenced me because that was what I was listening to at the time.

There was a point when I even started sounding like Lil Wayne even down to the texture of my voice but I started learning that I had to fuse the Nigerian culture so that I could be accepted by my own people and that’s when I began listening to African music. I was listening to D’Banj, Wande Coal, Wizkid, Banky W and M.I and 2Face. I just listened to everyone that was making waves at the time and I think that helped.

WPGM: You’re from Festac (a popular area in Lagos) and when “Jagaban” gets played, it really goes off in the club. How has the hood reacted to your success?

YCee: It’s been wonderful. I went from that kid who most people thought was wasting their time doing music and now that I’m attaining a certain level of success they can now come out and say he’s from our community, he’s our own. It’s really good when people where you’re from are behind you and proud of you. That just goes to show you’ve made the right decision. As a young artist in the industry after one, two, three, four years and you haven’t attained a certain level of success you begin to question yourself if you’ve made the right decision. It’s also a driving force.

WPGM: You recently performed in the UK, what was type of reception did you get?

YCee: It’s been mad. People have come out to support. That’s the best feeling ever when you’re performing to people that are actually fans and they’re singing every song back to back. It was fun and great exposure. I’ve been able to tune in the kind of sounds that they listen to, so I know what the next step for music is going to be and I’m already working towards that.

WPGM: Have you got an EP or an album lined up?

YCee: I’m definitely doing a lot of recording and I’m looking at shortlisting about 15-20 songs. Hopefully, I get the go-ahead from my label to put out an album. It basically depends on whether there’s a demand from the people.

YCee’s latest single “Omo Alhaji” is out now and available on iTunes. Keep tabs on him on Instagram, Twitter and Soundcloud.

Words by Verbal Vixen

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