When Skales tells you he’s seen it all at the age of 23, better believe him. The singer-rapper has been through the wire; enjoying fame and success but also falling into the pit of rejection from fans and the media at some point. But what’s that thing they say about what doesn’t kill only makes you stronger?
In this candid interview, for the very first time, Skales opens up on his leaving former record label EME and the controversies that trailed his exit, a look back on his come up years and how his birthplace played an instrumental role in his music career. He also talks about his ex-girlfriends allegations of releasing her nude photos, working as an independent artiste and signing a new recording deal.
It has been a busy year for you…
It’s not easy. A lot of things are just going on. We are good.
This year started with you leaving EME in February, how long were you with the label?
I think almost four years or more.
Describe your stay at EME…
It was a lesson, I learnt a lot basically, I mean music wise I became better. Now I know my sound and what exactly it is and I’m confident with what I am trying to get. I mean my exposure, how to run a business, how to do stuff and I learnt a lot basically on how to do the whole showbiz thing.
Tell us about your background?
I was born and raised in Kaduna state. Actually, none of my parents are from Kaduna, my father’s family has it roots from Cameroon, that’s why I have the name Raoul and my surname is Njeng-Njeng. My mum is from Edo State, I’m a Nigerian because I was born and raised here.
How was growing up in Kaduna like?
It was good and different from Lagos. I mean everything just goes calmly like everybody takes his or her time but when I got to Lagos everything was moving too fast (Laughs) everybody be in a rush.
When was the first time you got to Lagos?
I think 2008 or 2009; it was about the time I won the Zain Tru Search music competition. That was when I got into Lagos; lets say it’s like 6-7 years ago.
What inspired you to star making music?
I was surrounded by music. My mum used to sell CD’s, she owned a cassette store and sold gospel CD’s, every time I’d listen to music because I did not have a choice and. I missed a lot of shows when I was a kid because I’m always with my mum. So that’s probably the thing that inspired me then, my mum was forcing me to do so many youthful things.
When was the first time you wrote your first 16 bars?
The Kaduna Hip-Hop scene back from 2000- 2008 was dominated by the likes of Terry tha Rapman, Pherowshuz and Overdose
As at that time, how was the hip-hop scene in Kaduna?
The Hip-Hop scene has always been big, even before I started doing hip-hop. Shout out to Terry Tha Rapman who was one of my heroes in Kaduna back then, Mode9, Overdose, Six Foot Plus, Jeremiah Gyang, who really he wasn’t Hip-Hop but he loved the culture, and big ups to him too because he gave me my first studio session ever.
What motivated you to travel to Lagos for the first time?
I was a stubborn kid when I was much younger; I mean I was too ambitious for my age, so my mum did her best to control me. I wasn’t rude but I knew what I wanted and I don’t know why I was doing it but I was just determined to achieve my goals.
So what happened was I won the Zain Tru Search competition and the next thing people were just telling me was come to Lagos. I performed with 9ice and Nigga Raw that time and I killed it even better than they did, you know who 9ice was that time? But I killed it more than him, so I was just feeling myself and I was like okay ‘I can do this’. I told my mum I wanted to go to Lagos but she said ‘till you graduate from my SS3, you can do whatever you want to do’. I didn’t know anybody in Lagos; I just came into Lagos being very young.
Where did you stay in Lagos on your arrival?
I came to Lagos in a free ride, I wanted to come to Lagos and my mum said ‘No’ so one of my friend, Tee-Jay said he was moving to Lagos and he needed somebody to ride with him and I was like ‘Yo! I need a ride too’, so I got in the with him and we came to Lagos.
We drove for about 14-15 hours from Kaduna to Lagos in a small Toyota Camry, we went to Orile, it was good that I actually went to Orile because I had to learn the hard part before ‘enjoying’ so after a week Tee-Jay was like ‘How far’ and I told him ‘Honestly bros I actually don’t have anywhere to stay’ meanwhile, I always gatecrashing shows. I didn’t want to go back home because I wanted to prove my mum wrong. She was always like ‘okay go, don’t worry you will come back’.
I didn’t know Lagos well but I was lucky to connect with some people; I met Koffi and Owen G, they showed me a lot of love. I was pushing hard, meeting people, then; like Jeremiah Gyang and M.I who showed me a showed me the way like he led me to people, hooked me up with shows.
I met my first manager Novo at the Dynamics award show in 2009. I was kicking freestyles with Vector, General Pype and a guy called Ben Foster when he noticed me.
I returned to Jos to record ‘Heading for a Grammy’ and came back. I performed at the Sound City pre-award show; that day I suffered before I performed, it was Jeremiah Gyang and Novo that hooked me up. I trekked from CMS bus stop to Ocean View. When I got there, I looking so messed up, Jeremiah gave me his jacket to wear. But it didn’t matter at the end of my performance; I tore the place down. Anybody who was there will tell you the same thing.
How did you hook up with your long-time manager Osagie Osarenkhoe?
I met Osagie in 2009. I used to go to KnightHouse Studio back then when I wanted to record my first single. She saw me rapping and asked me to give her my number. We started talking, she hooked me up with stuff and helped out but she wasn’t managing me, so I begged her to manage me but she was busy with Kel and Wizkid at the time.
I think I went to perform somewhere else again then, Banky W, Segun Demuren, saw me and they were like ‘Who is this dude, we just keep seeing him, who is he with?’. They became interested and began making enquiries about me, I went to another show where Banky performed, I killed it but nobody knew who I was, they don’t even know my name. It was only Wizkid who knew me because we met at KnightHouse. Wizzy started talking with me and we became cool friends.
One day I got a text from Wizzy, it read, ‘EME wants to sign you’. I asked him if it was a joke but he said ‘for real’ that I should hit up Osagie. I hit up Osagie and we started working together. It took us like almost six months to negotiate because I was scared, I don’t believe in depending on anybody, I do things myself.
Skales with EME label heads – Segun Demuren, Tunde Demuren, Banky W. Photo: Instagram
So would you’d agree you signed with EME because you didn’t have the financial capacity to move your career forward?
That’s what happened at the end of the day, that’s why I had to, like I didn’t even have a choice. But it took us time because we had to negotiate, then I had issues with my old manager and I had to let him go, then I begged Osagie and finally she agreed. That was how we started working till now.
We are told it was EME co-owner Segun Demuren that was really interested in you…
I actually signed because I met Segun Demuren. It was after I got signed before I met Banky.
Was Banky a fan of your music?
Well… of course he was because he was working with me, so I guess he was, he could sing my songs so definitely he was, but one person I know that was really crazy with my stuff was Segun Demuren. That’s how it all started for me and ever since then we’ve been working and musically I’ve been growing and I have known more.
Public opinion has is that Skales joined EME as a rapper but when Wizkid blew up, he felt pressured and started making Pop music like his label mate. What inspired you to start making Pop music?
I think people didn’t know that I could sing. On Wizzy’s debut album I had songs that I co-wrote with him. Even before I started rapping, I was singing. The environment I grew up in got me into Hip-Hop; everybody knows how to rap in KD, even if they don’t know how to rap they just have an idea.
I didn’t want people to see me as that artiste that just raps; when I got to EME, I told Osagie that I was trying to model my style after Drake who was hot at the time. Before ‘Heading for a Grammy’, I had other songs that I sang and rapped. I know that there is a Hip-Hop community but I’m trying to do mass music, music that comes across people that don’t even like Hip-Hop. See somebody like Drake, dude is a rapper but because he sings, he’s branched out to some white people who don’t like hip-hop. That’s how I want what people to see me like. I am a very talented person because I’ve spent years sharpening my skills, I don’t sleep, I keep getting better, I keep listening to other people learning from them, I just want to know things that I don’t know and I want to be seen as a diversified artiste.
EME wasn’t trying to re-model you into another Wizkid seeing his success has gone so far?
No, they didn’t.
Did EME really pass a message to you that they want you to stick to rap rather than sing?
They didn’t really pass that to me, when I said the whole Drake thing to them we all agreed, whatever statement they are making now isn’t true. They seemed to be all right with it and approved video shoots for the songs.
In 2011 when Wizkid dropped his debut, did you feel pressured at that time, knowing you were next up?
The funny thing is I never ever felt pressured, the only time I felt pressured was when I was being delayed. I was just worried that a lot of people were waiting for me to get out there. I dropped ‘Mukulu’ after Wizzy’s album and got buzzing, I wanted to drop another single to support an album release but what I heard was ‘Yo! You need to wait, EME album is next’. I wasn’t cool with that but I didn’t have any option. I never actually felt pressured when Wizkid was succeeding because I knew that if he made it, I could make it too.
Some people think Wizkid could have use his position to help you better. You guys didn’t collaborate on any official single, why didn’t Wizkid jump on a Skales song and do a hook?
That’s something we are working on; Wizzy and I right have worked on so many songs that are about to be out. Like on the StarBoy album, there are 2 or 3 songs that I worked on. On my own album we’ve been working on a lot of songs. We aren’t done yet, because I know Wizkid is busy.
When did the cracks start showing while at EME?
I think it all started at the beginning of this year, I just wanted to do my own thing because I was putting my career in somebody’s hand and nothing was happening. So I felt like doing something on my own to make more sense and that way is the best move. People respect me more seeing that I decided to move on and do my own thing and I’m not trying to do it in a small way, I am trying to make it bigger. You can see what’s going on with the songs; see how ‘shake body’ is so big. The song is massive; I keep seeing tweets from Francophone countries, and that was the dream when I was doing the song, I wanted to reach out to African countries, I wasn’t even thinking about Nigeria only, I was trying to just get out there, I am grateful peoples have been showing love too.
Do you think EME signing Niyola, Shaydee and DJ Xclusive was a wise executive decision at the time, when you and Banky hadn’t dropped an album?
I won’t lie, I’m not in the appropriate position to say this but in my own opinion, I don’t think that was a smart move, but no offence, it is like you just have to finish with the people you have first before doing other things. But they know what they are doing; it’s their plan, maybe they had their own plans because people think differently, so I don’t know where their own thoughts were going.
How was Segun Demuren’s reaction to letting you go?
I have not spoken to him in a longtime, the last time I spoke to him was when I graduated, we never actually even see when we were in because he is always busy, it was only Banky we always talk to and Tunde Demuren.
When you left EME, it was big news on Twitter. In fact, it was a trending topic. A lot of people didn’t give you a chance…
First of all I’m not trying to come has been arrogant, but because I know the kind of music I piled up for years, I wasn’t bothered. Kanye is my hero ‘heading for a Grammy’ was inspired by his ‘Jesus walks’ so I’m trying to think like him. I didn’t care, of course I saw so many things, sometime I woke up and saw Skales on Twenty Naira note (Laughs).
Over the years I’ve learnt that people enjoy to hate you, but at the same time you need to prove them wrong and that was all I was just living by, like every morning I woke up praying, waiting for the music to drop, I kept on telling Osagie because she got scared as well. So I told her ‘let’s drop this song’ and she was like ‘No, let’s drop the hip-hop song’. I just watched because I knew what I was talking about. We were supposed to drop it on my birthday but I was like ‘No’ let’s give them ‘shining’. Then I told Osagie that I wanted my own label; I had been looking for a name and then decided to call it ‘OHK Entertainment’. First of all I tried to build a team; I had bunch of friends that I have grown up with and do stuffs together. We are team OHK for now
You had some controversy with your ex-girlfriend last year, what was that all about?
I will say up till now, I am still confused about everything. It was a misunderstanding that blew out of proportion and went to another level. When we broke up, she thought I was somebody insulting and being mean to her.
Why did you guys break up? You were so fond of her.
Things weren’t moving cool anymore so we decided to go our separate ways. I was hurt because before I actually broke up with her, I was hurt and I wasn’t happy, I mean she did something that I don’t want to talk about, so she thought it was me and took it personal, she had a fight with someone else, so I think the person posted something and she thought it was me, because of obvious reasons. I don’t blame her, if I were in her shoes, I would think the same. But I was just angry that she didn’t try to reach out to me, because I was trying to explain everything, so I blocked her from all my social media accounts because I didn’t want to see her messages, I sent her an email that this person wasn’t me, before I woke up in the next morning and I saw ‘Skales’ everywhere. I have gotten used to that though because anything I do, I just see it everywhere. (Laughs).
Do you think the media is a bit harsh on you?
Last year and beginning of this year, they were harsh but now the media is showing me a lot of love. I think I have won a lot of people’s hearts, so they’ve been showing me love.
Do you also think right now the industry has turned its back on you?
At all, I think people kind of respect me more now, I feel like the respect for me just went to a whole new level. Before I use to go to club a lot, not like I party every time, but I go to club just to promote my music, now I don’t have to go to the club, my songs play every time. Like last week I went to club with Timaya, before we got in, they played it twice.
There was a rumor that you were going to sign with Timaya?
Timaya is like my big uncle. I call him my daddy because he’s part of the people that advice me, he always looks out for me. He’ll just call me and be like ‘I saw this thing, but don’t do that again’. He just puts me in the right direction, wanting me to be better. He’s a very close person to me. I used to always be at his house, so I guess people saw the Instagram photos and guessed I had signed with him.
If Timaya offered you a very good deal, would you sign?
I wouldn’t mind, because we already had the chemistry, so everything we would move smoothly, but I just wanted to do things differently on a bigger budget and apart from that, honestly I don’t want to sign a contract.
What is the difference with you being independent and under a label?
I think now I make my own decisions and know that this is actually what I wanted to do. And not wait for somebody to actually say ‘No, change it this way’, or do something that benefits them more than me. You see, now I just drop a song and I am confident of the song because this is exactly what I wanted it to sound like. I want to make my own decisions and face any consequences that come with it. But right now since I started my stuff nothing has actually gone bad.
You recently signed with Baseline Records, tell us about the deal
I have grown to be a businessman and I still own my label ‘Okay Entertainment’ by the way, so basically what we are trying to do is we had a budget and we can’t make up to it for the kind of project we are about to do, but right now I am been realistic, I need people to see me in a different way.
The label currently has upcoming singer Saeon signed to them, do you think if they sign any other person after you, it might just end up being like the whole EME situation again?
That’s the thing about the industry; well my team is still my team in Baseline, Saeon has her own team that handles her project and my tem handles mine, so there is no way they are going to put a hold on my project. It’s more like we are running ‘independently’ but Baseline is in charge of everything, we are all signed under Baseline and represent the label right now.
What does the label provide you?
What a label should do for their artiste. I am actually now a recording and a performing artiste under the label line but also a CEO of ‘OHK Entertainment’.
When is your album coming out?
I’m not going into much detail on that, but let’s look at September-October, 2014
What is the relationship like between you and Banky W? You both hung out at Wizkid’s birthday gig.
Well…we are cool, as a matter of fact I was supposed to go cash a cheque last week and I needed a reference, I just walked into Banky’s house like I used to and I told him that I need his help in signing a referral form. He jokingly said ‘you are going to give me a cut after you cash this cheque o’. (Laughs).
I didn’t even see the hanging out a big deal because I don’t really notice what’s going out there, I am just all about the music. I didn’t really take it as a big deal; before I knew it cameras where just showing up around us taking a lot of pictures of three of people and us were like ‘three of you have to be together’. The next day we saw it had made the news.
Would you run any of your music by him before you release it?
Definitely! Of course, I even have a song that I want to put Banky on my album. So expect that to happen. One person I really respect when it comes to writing in Nigeria is Banky. Banky is a badass writer, when you listen to his music you will know that this guy get sense well well.
You have a new girlfriend, you recently showed her off on Instagram
We are all cool, but right now I want people to focus on my music because it is music that matters to me now.