Leading Hip Hop Artist, Babatunde Olusegun popularly known as Mode 9 have been dubbed severally as Nigeria’s best Rap Artiste with lyrical depth and performance on any single song or album, with Awards to show for it. The England born artist and graduate of Building Technology has also suffered many ills, a dilemma he believes he attracted because of prowess as an MC, which made a lot of intimidated contemporaries envious of him and his achievements. In this interview with our correspondent, FRANCIS OGBONNA, he speaks of his life; career; many trials and other issues. Excerpts…
Can we meet you sir?
My name is mode 9, I have other Aliases but that’s the major name most people know me by in Nigeria. My real name is Babatunde Olusegun, I am Osun State; I was born in the UK, but I came back to Nigerian at a young age, in 1979, so I see myself as very much a Nigerian.
The name Mode 9, how did you come about it?
I wouldn’t call it a rap name, its just one of those nicknames I had while growing up, you know I was good with calculators, there was this day in school that I meddled with a girl’s calculator and she called me mode 9, which was just a functions of the calculator and it somehow stuck, so its just a nickname.
When exactly did music start for you?
It was really a planned thing, somehow one thing just happened which led to another and them I was rapping. It just kind of happened, somehow while rapping, I just said let me record this song, then I recorded another and then and I was asked do you want to record an album or go get a job and I said let me just record one album. So I recorded the album, got a job in a radio station, the album didn’t come up though, but I put one of the songs on radio and I just skyrocketed and became bigger than I thought and thereafter I went to Lagos and I’ve been doing that since then.
Can you tell us exactly when that was?
I came to Lagos 2003
What was your upbringing like?
I grew up like a proper “Aje Butter na”, went to schools in the UK, played in the snow, and did everything the average kid did. Then I came to Nige4ria and went to Olufunmilayo Nursery and primary school which wasn’t a “butty-butty” school (school for kids from rich homes) like that, though it was still good. Then I went to another primary school after that because we were moving around a lot…
You said you moved around very much, did your parents have a job that demanded that kind of sojourning?
I am not really sure, my Dad was an Engineer, but we just kept moving around, I think my dad really needed to make up his mind where he wanted us to stay (he laughs), I mean even within Lagos with did a lot of moving around. We first stayed at Agege, then we moved to Alapere, from Alapere we moved to Agboju and then to Okokomaiko. It was in Okokomaiko (then I was about sixteen, my early manhood years) that was where I started doing all the miming and then Ragger, because that was what was reigning at that time. Then in Okokomaiko, I did that with the likes of “Father U-Turn”; “Pupa P”, then there was a PKA Studio and Pupa P used to drive in from Benin and we would all go there to hang-out; listen to tapes and also do our own little recordings. That was where I met my really cool friends back then…
Who where your influences while you were growing up musically?
They are just too many and if I start naming them you will be shocked. For example, Bonny M, for me then Bonny M was everything; the black man in Bonny M, made me felt like if you are not him, then you were a” Jew man” (Rookie). “M” was so cool doing his “Plantation Boy” or “Brown girl in the ring”, I could remember his dance style, men that was the coolest dance in the whole world. Then also there was “Aerosmith”, I really liked him and a couple of other group. For pop, I have been listening to pop for a long time, even Gary Glitter, until I found out that he was a pedophile that I stopped listening to him, I can’t roll with none of that. I used to listen to a lot of white people music, of course because I was born in England and all that, so I was exposed to bands like the Beatles; the Monkeys, my dad used to have a lot of records and that was what he used to have. We also had some black artistes e.g. James Brown, the Temptations; and a lot more, so it was a mixture of everything. Now for Hip-Hop, the first rapper I actually started liking was Curtis Blow. My favourite rapper at one point in time (then no body could tell me nothing contrary) was Big Daddy Kane; then Kool G rap, (when I heard Kool G Rapp, then it became over, I got hooked). Heavy D too at one point was my favourite rapper. You also had Pete Rock & CL Smooth that was like another chapter of a book opening in my life. There was actually a song they did, that I felt they featured Fela in, yeah I before I forget, I actually listened to a lot of Fela while growing up.
So why Hip-Hop and not some other genre, say Ragger or even Pop, since you listened to a lot of it growing up?
Hip-Hop is my life. I had a special liken for rap music, back then, I used to rap to instrumentals, especially with Fela’s when I didn’t have money to pay for studio time, I had like 700 hundred raps to Fela’s “Palaver” (he laughs). So if you ask why hip hop, may not be able to tell, but there was this instance, that my big sister brought home one cassette. It wasn’t even a hip hop band, it was actually the Whispers and it had a little rap in it and I kind of liked the rap part of it. There was also another cassette, I think that was Dynasty’s “Cruise Control”, where at a point they had this rap part (then he raps) “If you think you want to move, Dynasty will get….”, you know it was a rap thing, though I was young then but I kind of liked it then, though they were short, they were actually the part I liked. As little as I was then they would call me to come and sing that part, so I guess it was supposed to be. You know, me rapping and the first person I heard rapping, that made me say “yeah, let me try and do this” was Eric B and Rakim. The first time I heard Rakim, he made me want to rap. Then there was Run DMC to, in fact the first rap I ever wrote was a run-off from Run DMC, it was called “Sucker MC” and it was very whack (the he laughed again) to me.
You seem to be more of a non-conformist, a crusader of some sort. You don’t do what others call “Commercial” Hip Hop, I wouldn’t want to call what you do hard core rap…?
I think people just get me mixed-up. I think people should just learn to appreciate good music and stop worrying about whether it is commercial or hard core rap. Let me ask, what is commercial music? I tell people, define the word commerce? Commerce simply means the buying and selling of goods, so if I sell one or two CDs then my song is Commercial. I think people just use that term to try and block what is good, a height they cannot get to or reach; or be able to raise the bar above. So what they try to do is just label it, its just music. I make music, whatever you call it, hard core or commercial or what not. I was the same guy that did “Cry” and “Nigerian Girls”, don’t these raps have a fusion of what people term commercial, I do what you call world rap, you actually can’t label my music, I might do reggae or do a ragger song, but people say Mode 9 has sold out. I had a song back in the days called “Whitewash them” and it was Ragger, I have reggae songs and recently did a song that I fused with Reggae. I do it because I make music from the heart and someone that makes music from the heart, makes ever green music. People who don’t sing from the hearts don’t do ever green music, if they like let them make all the money in the world, but in just a few years their songs would have faded. I am not predictable, today I may do an album that would make you think; tomorrow I may do something different, so it depends… Right now I am working on another album “Top Ground Level”, that’s what I am working on right now. It features Don Jazzy; Phyno also has a track he produced there, so he is supposed to be on the hook. Reminisce is on it and this are the son called guys doing commercial music in Nigeria. Even Ice Prince is on it, so I wonder why people try to put me in a box. My latest single is “Dobale”, with a new act-Gentle, who sounds like Tuface, (Tuface is like his idol). I have actually rapped in “Pidgin” before; a lot of people haven’t just seen me do it. I use to call myself the “Versatile MC” back in the day. When I was rolling with SWATROOT lead by Solo B (he was kind of my mentor), back in the days, me and Six-foot plus were known as the “Versatile Ones”. We could both switch and do a lot of things, Six (Six-feet Plus) could sing, I never sang, but I could do Ragger. I could rap in Pidgin (because of where I grew up-Okokomaiko) and I was good at bring choruses out. Even at that “Six” could rap in Pidgin more than me. “Six” is arguably the most versatile artists I have seen, because he could play instruments as well (him and Sound Sultan) Sound Sultan can rap, both in English and Pidgin; he can play musical instruments and he can also do Comedy, all of them very well. I have always tried to be versatile, but people in this country just try to put me in a box. But every time they try to put me in a box, I escape.
Sometimes when I listen to you I wonder where the lyrics come from…?
I read a lot! Like right now I am reading a story about World War 2, you know, about England and the 1940s and that gives me crazy imaginations. I remember back in the day, when our television got spoilt and my dad was in some kind of militant mode, saying “I am not going to buy another TV”, we had to arm twist him with our make-believes. Then we would sit right in front of him and start acting out some scenarios for example Teachers we don’t like in school, we just go ahead and mimic them…it was all about imagining things and I grew up with this mindset. It is just like when I am telling a story or writing a song that I am writing a book, it’s like an audio book. It’s just like when I wrote “Cry”, Cry is not a fiction; it is about me writing events that have actually happened, but just changed them a little.
Did they happen to you?
Not really, but they were things that happened to people around me. for example, the case of the guy who was drunk and got killed in an accident happened when we first came back to Nigeria. The second one was recounted to me by a friend who saw it happened in 1996, while he was at the university. So there are several songs that I composed both from the things that happened to me or reflects what I am going through. I have a song called “Enemies”, I might just put it out next week. It is actually about my struggles as an artist in Nigeria, where people try to run you down. This is probably the reason why I don’t get a lot of show no more. We have to struggle before we get on shows. You know what, nobody can say that Mode 9 doesn’t do good music; nobody can say Mode 9 can’t perform again, however, a few people (they are probably not more than 15 persons), who don’t want me to advance, I think those are my enemies and I know every single one of them and they are not only antagonizing me here in Nigeria, they have actually extended beyond our shores to other cities of the world. I used to be respected very much in South Africa, but something happened, I don’t want to call names, but I know all the actors involved and they are going to get theirs soon from God. I found out that people here have been bad-mouthing me, telling people in South Africa who wanted to do stuff with me that Mode 9 isn’t heard no more in Nigeria, which is a lie.
But why would they want to do that?
I don’t know, it beats me, but before I could come out and say this, I have done my homework and I know 100% and have confirmed it.
I once talked with an upcoming artist, who during the interview mentioned something about a Cabal running the industry, are you making reference to this same set of people?
He is not wrong, but then again I see it from another point of view, you can’t just sit down and resign to faith and cry that there is a Cabal. You know what? The Cabal can only block you in say 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 ways, but there are like 1 million and five other ways. The Cabal can only block 5 ways. I don’t care about none of them. In fact sometime, I meet some of the members of this Cabal and I just shake then. I don’t care about them because they can’t stop the work of God. It is not possible, so you can continue doing what you are doing as a Cabal, they started somehow and formed their own, we would form our own too. There are other ways available, if you decide to go to South America to do stuff, will the Cabal go to South America too? No! so position yourself with the people you know and the relationships you have developed over the years, then you start networking, you know? Get your network tight. There are Cabals everywhere; in the Radio; TV; Advertising industry; oil everywhere, but its either you form your own Cabal or find the one million and five other ways…for example “Ekwe”, his video is not played on Channel “O”; it’s not played anywhere here, but Ekwe has found a way. Ekwe has been in more countries in Europe than any other artist I know in Nigeria. He has been to almost every single country in Europe. He did it without any backing whatsoever, I have never seen any of his videos on TV, but it is on VCD/DVD and his marketer told me that was the highest selling VCD/DVD in Nigeria today. Now to the Cabals, if they are reading this, they should stop, because God is not happy with you. If somebody wants to put you in a show, and ask what about this person, don’t try and block the other person’s way, don’t say the person isn’t around. If the person asks for this other person’s number, give it to him, especially if you are on the show. If you are not on the show, you have the right to refuse to give them any other person’s number. We need to hold it down for each other, its wrong when you do otherwise. We are all human beings, is it after aliens come an invade the world and kill a lot of people, that you will now look at the Chinese man and say he’s your brother. We have to learn to be good to ourselves.
Is Rugged Man a part of this Cabal?
I don’t even remember him, in fact he does not have any place in this discussion we have had so far. He is struggling too. The enemies are not artistes that are one thing people don’t know…it is about the business politics, the people who move the chess pieces on the board; I don’t want to mention any name…
So what is it with you and Rugged Man?
He is like old news. I don’t know what he’s doing, whether he is in town or not, I don’t know.
Is it that these enemies have their own artistes that they want to project above others?
I have already said what I want to say, and it is that a lot of people consider me a threat, but I don’t really care about them. I know that there are 1 million and 5 ways and the can only block one way.
What is your relationship with other hip hop artistes?
I am cool with everybody. I haven’t got any problem with anyone. Like what happened at the last “Fire of Zamani” concert put together by Ice Prince, he brought me up stage to represent and Ice Prince on my current album. I am happy for people doing their thing. The moment you start hating people that is the time God starts bringing you down and I have no hate in my heart. If I heard issues with Ice, i9 wo8uld have gone up stage or at least I would have asked to be paid, but I support the Ice Prince Movement. We are cool.
What has been your biggest platform yet?
I don’t know. I have performed outside the country. I have performed in Asia; Germany; Italy; Ghana; England; South Africa and a host of other countries. I don’t know. What I would say is that, my biggest moment was when I performed with NAS (the American Rapper). I never felt I would ever perform with him. So that was a very big platform for me.
What show was that again?
It was Sound City Awards.
Has doing music paid off?
It has not fared badly…
Would you say Modo is rich?
I am not rich, but I’m a multi-billionaire with God blessed me with.
Are you married?
How soon do we expect your marriage?
I wouldn’t want to disclose stuff about my private life. I tell people I am an artist not a celebrity. A celebrity is one who does things so they could be seen or recognized, but me I like my private live to remain private. I don’t want people who are part of my life to be talked about all over the place. Its like having their lives invaded. Yeah, I know the fans want to know…
How do you handle your female fans?
Like I told you, you won’t find me in every single club in town; I am mostly in the studio working. I am not that kind of guy. So I manage my female fans like I manage every other person. You have people asking and begging you for money everywhere you go to, you know?
Do you have any regrets doing music?
No! Music makes me happy. If I wasn’t doing music I would probably have been a miserable guy.
So if you weren’t doing music what would you have been doing, in terms of profession?
I don’t know, I probably would have be on site somewhere building, because that was what I read in school-Building Technology. Music is like an Elixir, it keeps you young and happy; vibrant and active and helps you travel and meet people. I like travelling a lot and have met people have been good to me and have heard my music long before they met me in person.
Thank you for your time sir.
You are welcome.