Artist: OJB Jezreel
Babatunde Jezreel Okungbowa aka OJB Jezreel
It would be mighty unjust to document Nigeria's urban music renaissance without a mention or indeed a celebration of its most consistent creative vanguards, a class with a membership of less than half a dozen including the object of this piece. Sadly, this has never been the case as music writers and presenters have continually shown preference for the musician over and above the silently assiduous boardsman. But not this writer though. Never one to pass over timeless and priceless ivory for overpriced platinum jewelry, yours sincerely sought a meeting with this phenomenally talented urban music impresario.
For Babatunde Jezreel Okungbowa a.k.a. OJB Jezreel music is undoubtedly the essence of his life and making beautiful music the purpose of his existence. Jigga, as he is affectionately refered to by his Gbaja Street homies has been the creative force behind the numerous hits of a countless number of artistes. Name them, from Ruggedman, 2Face Idibia, Jazzman Olofin, Nomoreloss to Raskie, K-Show & Six-O, C-mion, Abounce, Jafaar, Amah, Funke, the list is endless.
"How did it all begin"? is obviously the first question any interviewer will ask this soft spoken, unassuming father of two. OJB isn't so sure of when he caught the production bug but believes it started sometime in 1986. The artiste who confesses to having a rather uneventful childhood started making beats in backroom studios, first in his Surulere neighbourhood and later in other parts of the city. Inspired by music made by legendary producers like Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Dallas Austin, LA Reid & Babyface, Teddy Riley and later R.Kelly, he and his friends, Micheal Richman and the three Dairo brothers, Henry, Banji and the now famous Paul Play, scions of Nigerian juju music icon,IK Dairo, formed a production crew called Playground, House n Effects(PHE) and started making and offering Hip Hop/R&B beats to popular Nigerian artistes at the time.
But that was the late 80s and such sounds were alien to mainstream Nigerian artistes who were more into reggae, afro-pop, afro-funk and disco. Even their attempts to give the beats away for nothing except credit on albums were spurned. Rather than give up on their dream of creative fulfilment, the quintet restrategized, this time they learnt the polyrhythmic style of the time as pioneered by famous producers like Odion Iruoje, Lemmy Jackson, Laolu Akins, Emma Ogosi, Tony Okoroji and Harry Moscow which incorporated elements of reggae, pop funk, punk, disco as well as indigenous genres like juju, highlife and afrobeat. While their self re-education lasted, OJB kept his ears to the streets, across the atlantic that is, listening up to the works of emerging beatsmiths like Eric B, Dr. Dre, Erick Sermon, The Bomb Squad, Marley Marl and DJ Premier, knowing fully well that sometime soon the sound created in the south of Bronx will rule the world. OJB honed his singing and songwriting skill so much that he became as consummate a performer as he was a producer haven learnt how to play the drums, guitar and piano during the same period.
Their second attempt at industry recognition was a little more successful. Their beats made the cut on top artistes' albums but they still didn't get credit let alone cash. But they had put a foot in the door of recognition. Lack of income led to the dissolution of the crew in the mid 90s with some members opting out of music and others like Paul Play changing position from behind the boards to behind the mic. OJB wouldn't dettach himself from the boards even when faced with enormous personal and social challenges like a pregnant wife and family disapproval of his chosen profession. He also had to cope with the ignominy of being a school drop out. But the cast-iron resolve of this Agbor, Delta state native to make it as a producer wouldn't be broken. OJB had another idea on how to break through the industry's glass ceiling.
This time he focused on making beats for talented and determined groups made up of youngsters like X-Appeal, Harmony and Plantashun Boiz. This initiative, concretised and christened Silver Point Productions, coincided with the emergence of more privately owned radio stations in Lagos. The plan worked as joints from these young guns got appreciable airplay on the new stations. His name started making the rounds amongst music industry insiders, especially young upstarts in search of a distinct identity for Nigeria's hip hop generation. The money trickled in, enough for him to acquire basic studio equipment and a system.
Jigga knew music made from a computer software was the way forward. In the middle of all this he had his first stab at recording with the release of his debut album, Deep Light, on Ayetoro Records in 1999. The album was a commercial failure mainly because the label didn't know how to go about promoting a hip hopr&b album. It however announced the arrival of one of the most well rounded artistes of our time. His profile as a producer continued to rise with further credit for work on Baba Dee's hit single Governor's Daughter and Daddy Showkey's sophomore album. Silver Point grew rapidly with young production understudies like Jokaynie, Mr. Smith, Segzion and Niyex making the grades and becoming bonafide hit makers. OJB points out that his Surulere hit factory is the creative engine of their fledgling label, Point Beat Records, and they have already rounded up the usual suspects for their inaugural foray into the Nigerian music industry.
These days the self confessed studio rat lives under less socio-economic pressures, charging a handsome five figure for a beat and a king's ransom to produce an album especially when the client is a sexy but musically deficient screen godess looking to cash in on the loyalty of undiscerning fans. Make no mistake, Jigga hasn't lost his touch with the yes y'all. Still very much in the mix, the beatsmith still laces straight up, funked out hip hop beats for thoroughbred mc's (and the fizzy drink variant for air headed teeny bopper hip hoppers).
OJB recently took the business arm of his game to another level with the signing of a distribution deal with Kennis Music, the record distribution behemoth run by industry fat cats, Kenny "Keke" Ogungbe and Dayo "D1" Adeneye. His first assignment was to do an urban makeover of Ace, the classic album by juju music maestro, Sir Shina Peters. The charismatic entertainer had also signed a deal with the enterprising duo for the re-release of his 1989 classic. OJB has also just released his sophomore offering, a seventeen tracker titled Jah's My Lite. With an intriguing variety of styles and sounds, the album is one of the best hip hopr&b albums ever released in Nigeria. The album moved 20.000 units in it's first week, an impressive figure for an artiste more renowned for his skills behind the boards than behind the mic. His label has packaged a tour of the U.K. for the international promotion of the album. It is expected to commence in June 2005.
Beyond making music OJB is the creative director of an ambitious new multimedia outfit called One Beat. The company intends to run a TV programme of the same name to showcase the arts, music and culture of contemporary Africa to Africans at home and in the diaspora. It is expected to air first on local TV networks in selected African countries before going on cable TV.
With an astonishing number of competences, OJB seems destined to emulate his number one role model, the legendary Quincy Jones.
You can get OJB out now on Blue Pie Productions for MGN PRODUCTIONS Nigeria at all leading digital retailers around the planet.