It takes weeks of several phone calls and texts, to hold 2face down for an interview. Oddly, when his manager, Efe Omorogbe, finally schedules an interview, 2face is only a few blocks away.
He is looking at his phone when I meet him, waiting in an inner room while preparations for a photo-shoot ahead of the release of a new single go on elsewhere in the building. A boy and a girl play in the room, with the girl coming to Tuface and then running away delighted. I greet him, ask him if he’d like a look at my questions. He says to never mind.
“Make we just dey go.”
He looks young, and younger laughing, especially when he recalls an ancient detail. His sparse sideburns thicken moderately as they approach his jaw then transform into a minor goatee. As we speak, he keeps rubbing his eyes like he is trying to stay awake, or responding to an allergy.
Much has been made of the humility of, perhaps Nigeria’s greatest pop star, and sitting beside him it is immediately clear it is no PR stunt: if one didn’t already know his name and face, he would be the guy next door you bump into and walk on. But that may be same for every celebrity—they are all human, cut them and they’ll bleed. Only in 2face’s case, it seems if you do walk on, he’ll call out an apology.
I realize the playing children and bustle of arranging a photo-shoot mean the interview will be conducted in less than ideal conditions. People enter, reenter the room at will, one of the kids snatches my glasses where it lies, and runs off. An adult returns it. The child waits for her moment and picks it again until I plead to have it back.
The second time it happens 2face laughs and says “this your glasses dey attract this pikin. Inside all these things wey dey here,” he says pointing at the table, “na dis glasses she come pick.” It takes me a while to ask if the girl is his. She isn’t.
Throughout, 2face laughs, charms, connects like we are old friends as he certainly has with interviewers in the past, who it must be said, are fans first and perhaps foremost. Like every star, he must recreate, replicate good humour for everyone brandishing a recorder and questions, but with Innocent Idibia, connecting always is sincere. Or he is as good an actor as he is a singer.
The interview starts.
Hello 2face. Is there a new album coming soon?
What’s the title?
So what’s the inspiration for your titles?
Na as e take happen o.
Your first few titles rhymed: Face2Face then Grass to Grace and then you released the single, Enter the Place. Was there a conscious decision to have the titles rhyme?
Most of the names had two meanings, Face2face, because that was the first time I was coming out, so na now I wan introduce myself, so everybody face me. And it also meant face to face. Then Grass to Grace you know, the first album took me to another level. So from where I was coming from, it was basically the story of my life: Grass to grace.
So was it a conscious decision to make it rhyme or it just happened?
It just happened, it was not like I wanted to make it rhyme. It just happened.
It wasn’t intentional?
No, no, no. apart from all that. But na as e rhyme, na im make I come even like am. You understand what I am saying? It was just looking for meaning that would tell my story of where I was at that point in time. Face 2 Face, Grass to Grace, okay, okay; it wasn’t like I sat down and said I must look for a name that must rhyme. It just happened and it rhymed. And then, even better. I was aware of the fact that it rhymed. But the next one didn’t rhyme.
Yes Unstoppable, what was that about?
That was I don go, nothing, nobody fit stop me again. No shaking. As I don come face una face to face, and I don grow from grass to grace, now you can’t stop me anymore. Make we dey go like that.
And the next one was now…
Away and Beyond be say…
I’m not here?
…Make una just leave that thing like that.
And now Ascension?
Ascension be say, so many new school stuff, so many young cats, so many… but me now, na to go higher, higher than where I am right now.
When is it due?
A couple of weeks from now, but I haven’t fixed a specific date. I just need to get one or two last touches.
So this is 10 years after your first album, right?
How does that make you feel?
For me it is, wow, God is on my side. For me, it is like okay, we don try small.
Ahead of the release, will there be anything?
Definitely. There is going to be like a grand introduction of the album.
Like I said I am putting some finishes touches, what I’m even doing here today is part of one of the finishing touches for the album.
So the album is ready.
How many tracks?
Erm. I wanted to do 22, but my people said no, that we should just do 16.
Was the 22 supposed to be symbolic?
No. I just say make I just give them enough music at…at once. (laughs)
So this 16 tracks, has anything changed?
No, nothing really. It is just basically good music.
Your first two albums had many songs in pidgin, but on the 3rd one, Unstoppable, you seem to have gone all English.
Na, na, na. I don’t think so.
But it happened.
I don’t think so, I don’t think so. I had a couple of songs that were English, English, but I don’t think the whole album was, because even in my first album, I had songs that were English, I mean, completely English songs. Even the biggest track on my first album, African Queen was completely English.
Yes. Your first single Nfana Ibaga was pidgin, and then Ole…
I understand what you are saying.
It seemed to me like there was a change in that manner, but if it was not conscious…
Na. It was both ways. It has always been both ways. I have pidgin English songs, I have my language. It’s always been like that. But I dey try feel your point sha. But I don’t think it was like that.
Maybe it’s a case of the ones you pushed?
Eh-ehn! Maybe it’s a case of the ones I pushed.
Ok. The songs on the first album were they all written by you? On the CD pack, OJB had credit for writing Right Here. What about the other songs?
I welcome write-ups from people. African Queen was written by me and Blackface. U No Holy Pass, Odogwu co-wrote some part.
Where is he these days?
He is more in the background.
You guys are still cool?
So, you wrote Ole?
Ole was me. Erm, most of the other songs were all me.
But Odogwu had a hand in U No Holy Pass.
It was still co-written by you.
Na me write the majority. He just added some. And I always give credit. Like you know because of the way the album pack was, you don’t write the whole credits, but the whole credits is there if you check…like for publishing purposes and all that, everybody that contributed, their credits.
The way our CDs are packed there’s never any space, but a few albums have had credits in small print, but that has never happened in your case.
Yeah. The first CD that came out, which were the plastic ones, had it, it was when it came out in paper pack that’s when we let go.
So this new one, is it all written by you?
Erm…no. A couple of songs were co-written by, you know, a number of people. Even my manager, Efe Omorogbe, co-wrote some.
And he gets credit?
Definitely. There’s even a song I wrote with Blackface as well.
On this new one?
Yeah, on this new album.
But we hear you guys aren’t cool?
Na people dey talk that one.