by Chude Jideonwo
Since he took the name 2face in 1996, Innocent Ujah Idibia has led the way for his industry, for his peers, and for Nigeria. He has managed to out-last and out-shine without seeming to make an effort, and he shares a relentlessly inspiring tale.
I focused on producing better music and doing my work. Because after all, if the music sweet, you no go talk say because I give person belle, you no go listen to the music.
“Having kids has made me responsible. It’s why I wrote the song ‘Only me’. Every move I make can make or mar their future. I have had to restrain myself from so much and be more careful.”
And move on he did. The world agrees now that going solo in 2003, and ignoring the harsh criticism of ‘betrayal’ and its gossip whirlwind, was the best decision he ever made.
“Like that song wey Psquare sing ‘E no easy o!’”
It didn’t even matter to him – taking the first step out of a group that was doing very well – that everyone thought, with Blackface said to be the group’s ace songwriter, and Faze its most vocal, 2face was the one to fail.
“This chocolate I am eating, I have to be careful,” the stylist quipped as she picked another bar in between shoots at 2face’s expansive hotel suite. “I want to be a size 12 like Omotola, even after I’ve had my kids.”
2face listened carefully, a mischievous smile playing on his lips as he adjusted his belt and got ready for the photographer’s next shot.
“Mmmmm,” he replied her. “Okay, so when you are ready for the kids, let me know. Let’s make it happen.”
And with that one statement, 2face took control of the conversation; doing exactly what he has done throughout his career and his life – taking life easy, turning enemies to friends, and neutralising the negativity so that we can focus on the substance.
As you see me so
Not that the scandal matters these days, the issue of 2face, his many women and his many children – two girls and three boys at last count, confirmed by him – has already been over flogged. For one his attitude to the controversy went through a makeover.
“In fact you don get the story finish,” he tells me after a run-through his many public reactions. “At first I thought mehn I don ‘f**k up and I need to apologise to my fans, then the heat don come too much so I been keep quiet, but you know some people, dem come carry the thing put for head, so I said mehn, forget it, after all I didn’t commit any crime, and I am meeting my responsibilities to my children and have taken responsibility for my actions.”
Beyond that however, there were very many people who thought his career was over; even he thought so. And for a while, it seemed like it was.
“Me too I fear,” he confesses. “But what I did was I focused on my music. I focused on producing better music and doing my work. Because after all, if the music sweet, you no go talk say because I give person belle, you no go listen to the music. So I focused on that, kept my eye on the ball, and here we are today.”
He didn’t only focus on his music, he got the help he needed – securing the management skills of Now Muzik’s Efe Omoregbe who has overseen a complete overhaul, of 2face’s image as well as his music, and kept him on the straight and narrow.
“I definitely went looking for Efe,” 2face agrees. “Because I knew the kind of person I wanted as a manager. You no want person wey go dey club dey dance with you as you dey dance; then for morning na you go come dey ask am say ‘How far with that show?’”
It’s in fact the 2face’s story. At every stage, he has been at a crossroads – of his own making – and he has taken a bold step of moving himself to next level.
On the surface, 2face looks like that kind of guy that life happens to – who takes each day as it comes, doesn’t take risks or leave comfort zones, and waits for the good times. Of course, no one ever achieves his kind of trail blazing success that way.
It first started with Plantashun Boiz. “True, but that is how my life has been,” he tells me. “Anytime I think it is time for me to move to another level, I take the step and move from my comfort zone. It’s always about the next level.”
So, he takes the step, then – it’s a conscious decision to take a risk? “Yes, it is,” he nods. “You see, I am not afraid to fail. I have never been. When I took the risk to come to Lagos without the hope of earning any money, it’s because I was not afraid to fail. And so I always do what I think needs to be done. When it’s time to take the step, I take it, and live with the consequences.”
It didn’t even matter to him – taking the first step out of a group that was doing very well – that everyone thought, with Blackface said to be the group’s ace songwriter, and Faze it’s most vocal, 2face was the one to fail. The rumours remain in fact that 2face owes his glory to the songwriting skills of Blackface on the monster breakthrough hit African Queen which won him a long string of awards including the KORA for Best African Act and African Song of the Year at the Ghana Music Awards, both in 2005, as well as Song of the Decade at the Nigeria Music Awards 2007. The song also announced 2face to the world via being soundtrack for Hollywood movie Phat Girls starring Monique.
“Yeah I heard it; you know people like to talk,” he shakes his head and sighs. “Like during interviews, na me go take my mouth talk say Blackface is the songwriter of the team, everywhere we go. Blackface and I wrote the song, and I wrote the bulk of it – and people forget say na me mention Blackface. But how many people will you go to and explain that we wrote the song together and I did most of the work. So I just forget them and move on.”
And move on he did. The world agrees now that going solo in 2003, and ignoring the harsh criticism of ‘betrayal’ and its gossip whirlwind, was the best decision he ever made. African Queen was a hit beyond anything Nigerians had seen, pushing him into continental reckoning and cementing his image as an industry leader.
Keep on rocking
Then, again, in 2007, he left Kennis. “I left Kennis because I also want to be a Kennis,” he said. “Not literarily but I want to be a media mogul and entrepreneur too. I get to make my own mistakes and create a niche. Music isn’t all I want to do. The Hypertek for now has no artiste except me—it’s just an official medium to produce my songs. When we have mastered the act, we will begin to sign up artistes.”
His exit from then record label, Kennis Music, coincided with the scandals – the stories of children from multiple girlfriends including the constant Annie Macaulay, reality TV star, and Pero Adeniyi. Then there was the robbery incident around the airport that left him tied to a hospital bed for days. Then, followed the conspiracy theory that the robbery attack was in fact an assassination attempt on his life. It was an avalanche for 2face, threatening to exit him from the music scene. “Yes,” he admits. “I was afraid that this was the end – it was faith in God that helped me pass through those times.”
Proving that 2face is nothing if not a force, he hit the market with his 2010 smash hit Unstoppable. He later released an international edition of the album to rave reviews and winning several awards including the MTV Africa Music Awards for Best Male and for Artiste of the Year. He also became lead vocalist of the Sony All African 08 Project alongside seven other stars across Africa recording their first singles with R.Kelly and Prince Lee titled “Hands Across the World“.
It’s a long way since the N5, 000 the MOBO Best African Act and MTV Artist of the Year 2010 winner received for his first paid gig – or the first major show he did with Rothmans, where he travelled across the country, spanning almost 10 cities and got paid N330,000 (“Mehn, that 300,000 to me than was like 300 million now!”) along with his friends.
“Oh, I still remember!” he exclaims. “N5,000! It was given to us by Jimmy Jatt. Such a great man! He didn’t know us from Adam. We played at a concert he came for in Abuja and when Black Face and I sojourned into Lagos we went looking for him at his Obalende studios. We reminded him of us by making reference to a show we performed at UNIJOS and the rest is history. He gave us that N5,000 after we had performed at one of his events, even though he initially hadn’t promised us a kobo! I remember the Rothmans’ gig too; those were the golden days when every kobo mattered.”
As he offers me a cigarette and apologises as he settles to drag, welcoming a stream of friends and colleagues who drop by to say hello, and as he trades jokes about everything from sports to relationships, playfully arguing with the team over wearing shorts and finally giving in, it can be difficult to remember that this young man who dipped into the bag of ice cream [what is “bag of ice cream” and how does that signify humility?], who graciously declines any offer to be assisted in doing the little things is the 2face.
If there is any part of his persona that has won him the greatest number of fans, it is his legendary humility. There is not one person who has a negative story to say about 2face – not an instance where he cussed someone out, or shouted at a fan, or fought a colleague.
How can this even be possible?
“It’s just the way I am mehn,” he says with a shrug. “I no fit say because people think it’s an act or because I don’t want them to say ‘Oh, he is pretending’ that when I get into a place, I should not greet people who I see, or I should go to a corner and be a star, or I shouldn’t interact with people and play as I want. It’s just me. It’s how I’m made. I don’t have airs; I don’t believe you need to prove any point. People tend to take advantage of it a lot though, typical “give an inch, take a mile” situation and I get quite irritated so I try to say my mind and they go ‘Oh, but I thought you were humble.’ I just laugh because I’m thinking, is it because I am humble you should practically shit on my head?”
Then he adds: “That doesn’t mean that sometimes I don’t show myself o. Me sef get my own times when I do show diva behaviour, once in a while, but it’s all good.”
No it’s not—no one in the room can believe this, sorry. “Give us an example; any example,” someone says. “We want to know when you have been a diva.”
2face demurs. “No, no need. But it has happened before,” he says. Needless to say, none of us believe him. And it’s just as well, the world likes the fact that our biggest superstar is the one with no chips on his shoulders, armed only with a healthy dose of self-esteem, a proper understanding of his talents, and a determination to do better.
Not even when the guy who sang ‘Just because say I no finish school, some people take me for a fool’ had people look down on him.
“I have had people look down on me because of my job,” he recalls. “One guy told my babe, ‘Wetin you dey do with this reggae boy?’ When I got my Navigator, I drove somewhere and a guy was like ‘All dis small boys wey dey carry their father moto!’ His friends then told him ‘You know that boy? Na 2face be dat na, the musician! Then he replied in Igbo and very heavy accent, ‘Tah commot! Wey musician wan see money to buy this kin’ moto!’ But I’m still here.”
It has surely served him well as he has released album after album and every song has been a hit. What does that do to a man’s ego – surely he must take some credit for this phenomenal achievement. He pauses and holds my hands. “Bros, make me sef boast small,” he takes my bait. “E dey my body! Ahn ahn!”
Enter the place
Despite his successful steps to disarm the interview on the subject of his many women and his many children, it has become a huge part of the 2face personality – whether as the butt of jokes from comedians or as a cautionary tale for young artistes who have to contend with the immense headiness of fame and fortune in Nigeria’s growing music scene.
It’s a long way from when all we heard was about the Jos-born 2face and Vien Tesola, former Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria. Even though she has gone out of the spotlight, she was the rave of the moment in the style and beauty industry, and he was rave of the music industry when they hit the headlines as a couple.
“Ah Vien,” he says with a smile and a slow nod. “She is a great person, and it’s a shame it didn’t work out. If there was someone I almost wanted to take to the altar, it was Vien. Those were good, happy times.”
So what happened? And does he regret it?
“Well, I go say na me mess up,” he says, the smile still on his face – almost strained at this time however. “I go say na me [email protected]#k up because she was a good girl. But I won’t say I regret it; I don’t use that kind of word. Everything happens for a reason. We are still friends and we still keep in touch.”
Then we ask about Annie Macaulay, who has been the one constant feature in his life for many years now, and who, on account of her relationship with him, has been the butt of many gossip columns and soft sell headlines. “Ah bros, make we leave that one,” he says firmly. Make of that what you will.
One subject he is not reticent about though is his children – whom he has become more comfortable speaking about in public, including drawing a huge “awww” from the audience at the hugely successful ‘2face Live in Concert’ show at the Eko Hotel in Lagos last year when one of the his daughters, the cutest little girl you’d ever see.
“I love those children die,” he says. “Every one of them. It gives me joy to see them, and I am grateful for them and their mothers.”
“My only regret is that, due to the nature of this our work, and also because they are not all in Nigeria, I am not able to see them as much as I wish I could. But I am working on that.” He pauses as if he is through, but one can sense he is not, and so there is silence in the room for a while.
He continues. “Having kids has made me responsible. It’s why I wrote the song ‘Only me’. I realised that when they sneeze, I have to be involved. When they are sick I need to take them to the hospital. Every move I make can make or mar their future. I have had to restrain myself from so much and be more careful. Being a father has also made me respect women a lot. Ah, I hail them! I respect all their mums because taking care of kids is a full-time job.”
That nucleus is very important to Mr. Idibia who says without hesitation, “Family for me is the ultimate coverage. It’s the people that have unconditional love for you and who will be there no matter what happens. Like kids having unconditional love for parents – of course that’s until they grow out of innocence though (laughs). Anyone with such love can also automatically become your family.”
This year, there have been at least two rumours that 2face was dead – one spreading through social networks like, well, wild-fire; another, from a fake news website, was taken as gospel by many who thought 2face had died in a plane accident in Hawaii.
“Na me you dey see so o, I am still here; I am not dead,” He tells me shrugging. “I don’t understand those people carrying those rumours. Maybe na wetin dey for their heart wey dem wish for me. But God pass them, he has spared my life and I’m still here.”
God is another important part of the 2face psyche. “One thing that I have very strongly is faith in God,” he says. “My faith in God that He has my back and my faith in myself that I can do whatever I set my mind to have kept me going.”
So, with a career lasting 15 years, and having achieved more than most of his contemporaries, more than he himself dared to dream, what does he see in the future?
“If I no take my hand spoil myself – because I believe only I can destroy myself – I want to be known as the best producer of music in Africa. You know state-of-the-art studio, artistes on Hypertek – the whole works. Like that song wey Psquare sing ‘E no easy o!’ but we’re still here. We’re still here mehn!”