#YNaijaEssays: Is Psquare’s split the end of Nigeria’s boyband era?

psquare

If you ever listened to the massive hit song ‘Shakomo’ in the late 90s, then you should be conversant with the Remedies, Nigeria’s first boyband. Remedies revolutionised the music industry and birthed the new sound of Afro pop of the present generation. It was only natural that the Nigerian music industry, like the rest of the country recently freed from an oppressive military regime would aggressively embrace the prevalent fads in America and Europe at the time. And the biggest, most defining fad of the 1990’s was the boyband and girlband.

Boy and girl bands made perfect sense in America.The Beatles were the first boy band to create mass hysteria as they grew to prominence in the early 1960’s, and since then record labels have sought to replicate that magic formula of talent and diversity, routine coupling young men and women of every generation and marketing them as a cohesive whole to adoring teenage audiences. The form reached its peak in the UK in the early to mid 90’s with bands like Take That that produced stars like Robbie Williams and Ronan Keating and N’SYNC that created Justin Timberlake who has turned into a solo phenomenon. A need to replicate this success in Nigeria led to the formation of the first Nigerian groups, under the guidance of Dayo Adeneye and Kenny Ogungbe.

The Remedies was signed on to the only thriving record label at the time, Kennis Music. Kenny ‘Keke’ Ogungbe and Dayo ‘D1’ Adeneye had gained prominence as authorities in the music industry following a successful run with AIT Jamz, a music video show that projected the Afropop genre to an audience that was newly coming to terms with the possibility of actively consuming music with a distinct Nigerian sound. AIT Jamz morphed into Primetime Jamz and on to a full blown record label that was known as Kennis Music. Adeneye and Ogungbe realised the influence they had gained on Nigerian radio and television could be parlayed into a vehicle to promote artists and the Remedies were a ready made package; a belligerent, narcissistic mouthpiece to drive controversy in Idris Abdulkareem Ajenifuje known by the moniker Eedris Abdulkareem, Eddy Asiedu Brown (Eddy Montana), the group’s talented bad boy who was entangled in a love affair with the record label’s co-founder’s sister who doubled as a struggling artist and Anthony Awotoye, otherwise known as Tony Tetuila, who was routinely dismissed as the least talented of the group but was instrumental to the group’s survival thanks to his mother’s wealth. Their debut album ‘Peace Nigeria’, released in 1998 and ‘Shakomo’, the album’s debut single became a nationwide anthem, ruled the 90s and brought them fame.

With that many volatile personalities couched in one group, the Remedies was bound to break up but no one could have foreseen that the group de-facto weakest link, Tony Tetuila would become the breakout star. Eedris Abdulkareem was the first to leave the group in 1999, on the promise of a solo deal with Kennis Music. Eddy Remedy, already assured support following the group’s demise thanks to his personal relationship with the Ogungbe leadership followed, and Tetuila was let go. Unfazed, Tetuila set up his own label, Tetuila Records, releasing the hit single ‘My Car’ while his former band members went on to spearhead individual musical careers under the watchful but suspicious mentoring of the Kennis Music duo.

But the success didn’t spread around. Eddy Remedy, trying to distance himself from his past with the Remedies changed his stage name to Eddie Montana. But he struggled to stay afloat. But what kept Eddie in the news was not his music but his personal life. Montana had married Kenny St. Brown, Kenny Ogungbe’s twin sister and a rising gospel artist at the height of the Remedies success, and post split, the stress of finding a solo voice, put significant strain on their marriage and started a string of public scandals and counter accusations of infidelity that would plague their seven-year marriage. While not substantiated, Kennis Records by this point, had gained a reputation for “using’’ artistes, and following the breakdown of the Asiedu-Brown-Ogungbe marriage, Eddy Montana’s career was essentially shelved after a solo album, “Leave Eddy Alone”. Montana would eventually be described in Keke Ogungbe’s words as in the category of “unsuccessful and failed artistes who are ever willing to blame his or her woes on somebody else”.

Eedris Abdulkareem, who unsurprisingly is still relentlessly signed on to the remains of Kennis Music till date gained considerable grounds in his solo career,

With the departure of Tony Tetuila to begin his solo career, Eedris and Eddy briefly reunited to put out ‘Jealousy’, with fuji icon Pasuma. Tetuila recorded more solo success with massive hits like Omode Meta, Morning Time, Hit my Car and My Heart Go Jigijigi, Eedris stayed relevant with Oko Omoge, Mr Lecturer and Jaga Jaga.

At the height of his fame Tony Tetuila decided to release “Omode Meta”. He featured a then little known duo, 2Face (Innocent Idibia) and Blackface (Ahmedu Augustine Obiabo) and the super group Ruff, Rugged and Raw. Omode Meta grew wildly successful, becoming a crossover hit and providing the push that the boys needed to find a third member and form a proper group in 2000. 2face, Blackface settled on Chibuzor Oji who chose the stage name Faze , and together they became the Plantashun Boiz. Their debut album, ”Body and Soul” (The Beginning) was released the same year. Two years later, they released a sophomore album ”Sold Out”, which featured songs like ‘Don’t you know’ and ‘If life’.

In 2004, the group which was expected to rule the industry for a long time, split and the artistes pursued their solo careers. The same year, 2face released ”African Queen” of his debut solo album, which made him a national treasure and gave him international exposure. Three years after pursuing solo success, they came together to record ”Plan B”, their third album. While 2face recorded huge success with his solo career and Faze gained some middling relevance, and like Eddy Remedy, Blackface, the group’s ‘bad boy’ got bogged down by controversy and his career never took off.

In the case of the Plantashun Boiz, Eedris Abdulkareem called the catastrophe that befell the hugely talented trio, “…you gotta thank 2face. He’s the plantation y’all niggas are the boys’’, he said in a diss track, Wackawikee MCs. Although it seems convenient to heap all that blame on Eedris’ controversial statements, we must confess that line was purely word on the street. 2face was the most endearing band member who seemed grounded and more capable of holding his own in the event of a split.

Kennis Music made the move to poach him on to their platform as a solo artiste and that successful deal sealed the ultimate end of the Plantashun Boiz. His band members, Faze and Blackface handled the ‘betrayal’ differently with the former channelling all the energy into a relatively successful music career while the latter has attempted but failed to make a living off his self-proclaimed songwriting prowess.

Following the success of Plantashun Boiz and The Remedies, there was a rush to find the next it-group. To fill the vacuum these groups breaking up created, bands like Styl Plus and Zulezoo from Abuja and Benue respectively sprung up, each on one end of the pop music spectrum.

Styl Plus was originally formed in 1997 but struggled to escape the city’s underground music scene for a few years, until the boyband craze of the 2000’s finally caught on to Nigeria. The group originally had Shifi Emoefe, Tunde Akinsanmi, Yemi Akinwonmi and Lanre Faneyi as its members. Even then it took some major upheavals before Psquare became the group that took over. They later became three after Yemi Akinwonmi left the group to pursue another career and Lanre Faneyi died unexpectedly, leaving the band short of two members. Zeal Onyecheme joined to replace Lanre and the group formed its now iconic name, using the original band members initials and a ‘plus’ to represent Zeal Onyecheme. Once the band settled into its final configuration, it began to fashion itself after the predominantly popular R&B bands at the time, relying heavily on Yoruba lyrics set to auto tuned vocals and three part harmonies. The newness of this combination coupled with the collective attractiveness of the band mates (Styl Plus were the first Nigerian boyband to abandon the oversized hip-hop influenced costumes of former stars for sleeker, rock-pop inspired costumes) proved a recipe for success and ‘Olufunmi’, the band’s first single went viral before virality became a thing.

Capitalising on the success of ‘Olufunmi’ which went on to become the most requested song on radio in 2003, the group released ‘Runaway’ and teased a debut album in the coming months. ‘Runaway’ proved an even bigger hit, the success of both singles spanning a three year stretch between 2003 and 2005. By the time Styl Plus released their debut album ‘Expressions’ in 2006, they were Nigeria’s biggest artists period, and the first and only group to draw Lagos’ celebrity elite to Abuja where their album was launched, costing them an estimated 10 million Naira at the time.

Zulezoo on the other hand took the polar opposite of the sleek polished, western influenced pop style that had made Styl Plus famous. They chose instead to appeal to the baser, more cultural side of our inclinations, heavily favouring traditional war costumes and singing in Tiv inflected with pidgin english. Micheal Aboh and Al-Hassan Ibrahim became known for their high energy dance routines, their elaborate sets that were often filmed in the heart of rural Northern Nigeria, their shots deliberately staged to emphasise their connection with the everyday man. The themes in their music too showed a preference for ‘traditional’ African stories of infidelity, familial strife and a deference for the Tiv culture. The duo who started out as dancers later moved to Lagos as artistes. They got recognition through their controversial song ”Kerewa” which was banned by the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC). Capitalising on their new notoriety, they released three more singles ‘Chin Kpan’ and ‘Angelina’ and released their debut album Chin Kpan which was hugely successful. Neither member could handle the fame that came with their success and quickly disbanded, each trying and failing to release a solo album.

Striking a perfect middle balance between the sophistication of Styl Plus and the energy of Zulezoo are Peter and Paul Okoye, twin brothers from Jos Nigeria who along with their elder brother Jude Okoye started Square Records, the label from which they would launch their duo Psquare. In 2000, Peter and Paul would release their debut album ‘Last Nite’ which, taking cues from Styl Plus and turning them literal, leaned heavily on extrapolations of hit US R&B and hip-hop songs spliced with heavily Nigerian lyrical interpretations to create instantly familiar singles. Their sophomore album Get Squared, however, was the album that truly catapulted the brothers into cross continental fame, spawning hits like the eponymous ‘Get Squared’, ‘Bizzy Body’ and ‘Omoge Mi’ which would introduce us for the first time to soul singer Waje. Perhaps, it was the fact that they had a familial bond, or the fact that the duo clearly defined their roles within the machine that was Psquare but they continued to thrive, outlasting, The Remedies, Plantashun Boiz, Zulezoo who all disbanded and moved on to solo careers within three years of gaining mainstream.

These bands and groups were largely male and from the North or Lagos. This was why the Desperate Chicks, from Enugu were the era’s biggest anomaly. Ursula Ice, Stormrex and Barbie were brought together by producers Dekumzy and rapper Dat Nigga Raw, the girl band began to make waves in the South East and South-South after their debut album Tell Dem was released. They went on to tour the region with Dat Nigga Raw and Dekumzy supporting them, even going as far as recording remixes to the band’s two biggest singles ‘Okpomekwe’ and ‘Who Get That Thing’. Desperate Chicks embraced the vulgarity of American pop at the time, owning their sexualities long before it became popular to do so. Their fame was, however, short lived as pressure to conform forced the band to split in 2011, Ursula Ice and Storm Rex pursuing solo careers.

As we witnessed the births and deaths of the bands that collectively define the nascent years of Nigeria’s hip hop journey, we learned that groups like this have their shelf life set at a maximum of 5 years. Call it preposterous but it seemed cast in stone that even success was not a strong binding factor for these bands.

The most successful band of that era, ironically was the band least interested in growing a Nigerian fanbase. Kinetically Ushering Salvation into Hearts and Homes popularly called K.U.S.H. KUSH was made up of a quad of Toyin Bello, Lara George, producer and multi-instrumentalist Dapo Torimiro and rapper Emem Inyang. After meeting at a musical fellowship in the University of Lagos, they decided to do music as a group.

The quartet of Toyin, Lara, Emem and Dapo were a whiff of fresh air at a time when we had developed a taste for global music with a Nigerian twist. There was an outpouring of music, (the genre was finally lucrative) but that meant a lot of lazy songs, much like the offerings of this present time. Although we were mostly oblivious to the crappiness of it all at the time, Eedris Abdulkareem’s endless babble and Zule Zoo’s lyrics about a bedroom tussle that ended up in what can be safely described as non-consensual sex had taken a toll on us.

KUSH offered us a new sound that carried hope and light without necessarily forcing spirituality down our throats. We accepted the entirety of KUSH and their Experience album that housed the evergreen track ‘’Let’s Live Together’’ was a resounding success in itself, yet the inevitable happened.

The split that signalled the end of KUSH was as uneventful as it was cordial. The members of the group moved on to clear-cut, individual career paths. Lara George who turned out to be a major force in the gospel music genre in Nigeria said in a 2014 interview with The Vanguard, that, “Music at the time when KUSH started was a very difficult thing to do particularly for three young professionals with so many career options. It was tough keeping things together at that time because the pressure the financial uncertainty brought took its toll on us as a group and everyone started to drift apart until we were no longer able to keep things going”.

Dapo Torimo, who had helped the group score an international record deal moved abroad, with Sokefun right behind him. Lara George returned to her gospel roots and released a wildly successful album and Emem Ema gave up rap for music management.

Nature abhors a vacuum, so with each group split, there was already some solo artist waiting in the wings to capture these old idols audience. Like Kefee, Samsong and Iyke Onka who hit the Gospel music scene just about the time K.U.S.H. called it quits with Christian rock/Pop and traditional Niger Delta/Igbo offerings such as Branama, Bianule and Another Miracle, whilst Maintain, Black Reverendz, JJC & 419 Squad, Zule Zoo, Mamuzee, Ruff Rugged & Raw, Terry Da Rapman, Lord of Ajasa, Mode Nine, Big Lo ensured that music lovers forgot the Nigerian backstreet boys (Styl Plus). As these groups congregated and evolved, it seemed the boyband format seemed less and less attractive to labels. Considering there are only a handful of Nigerian labels willing to take on the costs of helping a solo artist find an audience and mainstream success, the vast majority of Nigerian artists took on this job themselves, often holding on to other sources of income to finance their dreams, the odds of a boy or girl band being signed grew slimmer and slimmer, till it became a non-starter altogether.
Psquare remained the only exception, buoyed majorly by their willingness to adapt to meet the times and their exceptional stage craft and choreography, growing more elaborate with each album and era. Psquare evolved faster than the times and focused the bulk of their creative energies into touring, aping their creative idols, Usher Raymond and Michael Jackson and growing the kind of fanatical fanbases both men had cultivated in the past. However, Psquare’s promise was double the sex appeal, the choreography, the adulation for the price of one ticket. But cracks began to show in the duo’s near perfect facade after the death of their mother in 2014. It became apparent that it was her, not their elder brother and label manager Jude ‘Engees’ Okoye that had kept the boys together through 14 years in the spotlight. The bickering began soon after, spurred by familial rivalries and disputes about the level of influence Jude Okoye had over the duo’s finances and intellectual properties. The duo had its first very public split in 2016, causing continent wide despair and a petition supported by fans and other celebrities for the brothers to regroup.

The brothers bowed to pressure in early 2017 and regrouped, played nice for a couple of months, before their relationship fractured again in mid-2017, growing progressively worse as the year progressed and finally resulting in a second split in November 2017 accompanied by threats of a lawsuit. It seemed the brothers had held on this long only to give us the most spectacular of implosions. The brothers have quickly launched into solo careers that are at the moment at best, middling, though it might be too soon to dismiss either of them altogether.

Music today is far more sophisticated and solitary than it has ever been, there is an even greater pressure than before to go it alone, achieve success on your own terms. But in the wake of the supernova that was Psquare’s spectacular ending, it might be time to look back and marvel at the talents whose successes ushered the Nigerian music industry as we know it today.


P.S.: This post has been updated.

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