Interview By Joey Akan; multi-award winning writer and music journalist based in Lagos, Nigeria.
In December 2019, I spoke to Davido about the making of his sophomore album “A Good Time.” Here’s how love and community influenced the creation.
With Davido, you never know what to expect. The 27-year-old Nigerian singer operates on a dynamic spectrum, relentlessly evolving faster than fans can keep up with.
One moment, David Adeleke is hugging his signed artists and pumping wads of cash into their projects, while looking away from the returns of that outlay. The next day, his goons are handcuffing and threatening clout chasers, who accused him of impregnating one of their kind. And on a trip to Dubai for a professional performance, somebody was reportedly bloodied because he tried to get a selfie when Davido was not in the mood.
This is the same Davido that recorded songs for an album, while his fiancee, Chioma, was pregnant with his kid. Who abandoned everything, and rushed to be by her side, beaming with love and pride at both mother and child. The same guy who’s offered scholarships to many, and has been the source of sustenance for an omnipresent crowd that seems as large as a small village. I once stood beside Davido in 2018, as he singled out his former classmate from a motley crowd of beggars who were crowded at his front door. He invited the guy in, welcomed him, and offered his near-limitless hospitality. This same Davido. Jekyll and Hyde all in one. Maestro, with a dash of madness. A rich asshole no doubt, but one that carries the gene of generosity and empathy. I hear he is his father’s child. Same MO. Same large heart. Generational winners, lovers and fighters.
His sophomore LP A Good Time, released as part of his RCA deal, is a reflection of his world, and a continuation of his winding story. It comes 7 years after he first promised to make it public. This was 7 years ago, when the news of Sony signing him and his friend and local rival, Wizkid, felt like the biggest move for African music. When it was a big deal. When Davido shelved his original sophomore album from release and sanctioned a crossover push that birthed this ‘Afrobeats to the world’ era. When Africa signified that it wanted new homes and spaces for its culture. When we collectively raised our hands for new money and expansion. Davido stands in the light as one of the luminaries of that era, and A Good Time dropped with ambitions to further the conversation.
It came a little packed with 17 songs, but older singles ‘If’, ‘Fall’ and ‘Assurance’ were thrown in with the Chris Brown masterclass on ‘Blow my mind’, and the saccharine ‘Risky’ which had Popcaan’s decent efforts. You’re really listening to 12 new songs, on which we get numerous versions of Davido and all his friends mid-celebration.
It feels like a communal project. One that we all aren’t just consumers, but active participants and stakeholders of the project. After all, he sits at the top of our cultural pyramid, and shoulders expectations that surpasses more than his personal dreams of success. Nigeria loves Davido. Nigeria wants Davido to be successful. And if Davido succeeds, Nigeria succeeds. Because in many ways, Davido represents the Nigerian dream. He is rich, takes care of family, helps the needy, and has a job that is successful. When his album art—which portrayed a familial celebration of Last Supper proportions, including a heartwarming nod to his late mother, and best friend, DJ Olu—was released, it confirmed to fans the importance of community on this project.
In December 2019, I spoke to Davido about the project. Calling in from the USA where he was on a promo run for the album, he sounded a bit exhausted from all the exertion, but even then, his happiness at finally completing this project could be felt from my end.
We speak on the creative journey of the album, the business behind it, and all the crucial participants that made it possible for the project to see the light.
First of all, why did it take so long between the first album and your sophomore?
People ask this all the time and I always say, ‘if you think about it, I have like four albums.’ But I just really never compiled those singles I was dropping in between into one project. Even from 2013 and 2014, I dropped ‘Gobe’, I dropped ‘Aye’, ‘Skelewu’ and like four other songs which I could have compiled into an album. I just felt like the attention span of people then wasn’t that durable so I just didn’t do it. But then, two things: right now Afrobeats is at a place where it’s like it’s growing but it’s just like it’s a few of us and a few songs that are really penetrating the American kind of market. It has always been when I go to American clubs and you’re just hearing ‘Ye’, ‘Fall’, or ‘Joana’, ‘If’, ‘Soco’ over and over again. It’s not that they don’t know it, some people can’t even find the music. So this year, I spent a lot of time in America and a lot of time inside of Nigeria which gave me a lot of time to really work things down and really balance and compile a project. Like three of those songs were recorded like two years ago. The rest—apart from the ones that came out a year ago—were recorded this year. This year was really the only time I had to sit down and really compile a project.
Second thing is, of course, you know I have to deliver an album for my label as well. They are just trying new things. And that’s one thing I never did was drop an album under them. So when we came to the office and it was a thing of, ‘you guys want an album , you guys have to deliver your part as well.’ Maybe most of my singles that I had dropped were self-promoted by me and the culture as a whole, not really the label. So that was another aspect of it. They needed to know that if we are dropping an album they are going to be hands-on, and all other aspects of the thing has to be going on at the same time. You know, when you’re dropping an album of this magnitude you have to plan very well. You can’t just say you want to drop an album. There are so many other things that come with it that’s not even the album. The paperwork I think even took longer than even recording the album. It was even so bad that like two days before we dropped, they almost shifted the album to next year because of three signatures. Because you know over here everything has to be cleared. They don’t want anybody to come and say ‘this song I didn’t get paid o.’ Do you understand?
Even me, if I do a song for somebody, before that song is released, I have to sign the paperwork releasing the song. So imagine all those artists I brought together and how everybody’s busy schedule was at the same time. But I just thank God for their respect for me, they came through for me, everybody delivered, a night before the album came out all the signatures were in, so we turned that in. So when we say ‘album’, there are so many aspects to it. It’s not just ‘let’s go and record’ and drop. I had to make sure I selected the perfect songs. I was even listening to some songs yesterday that didn’t make it and I was like ‘ah why didn’t I put this one?’ But at the end of the day, there is a reason for everything.
Great work, man.
Shoutout to all the producers and engineers, one person that really sat with me when I was recording this album was Dremo, surprisingly. A lot of people don’t know that. Dremo was really by my side during the whole album because he has very good engineering skills. Shizzi and Kiddominant were like the head producers. They overviewed all the records, even the one they didn’t produce. Yonda and Peruzzi did writing on the album. Amazing work, especially Yonda. Me and Yonda wrote the intro together in Ghana, funny enough. It was crazy. Me and Peruzzi recorded ‘Disturbance’ at 8am after Quilox. This whole album was not really like planned. The records just came together, and I was like ‘you know what?’ I think we’ve got the songs. You know, there are some things we are doing next year and it would be stupid of me not to put the songs I’m known for in America on the album.
There are conversations asking why ‘If’ and ‘Fall’ made the project.
Yes, of course. Because they had to be on an album regardless. So that’s the reason for putting those songs on it.
You leaned on ‘community’ to make this album. How important is community to you?
Collective effort is very important. I don’t think I’d have been able to deliver this album solely by myself. Look at how many things I’ve already told you went. Even to clearing the album; that took about four lawyers working on that alone. Asa (my manager) handling so much. Bro, the stress was crazy. At the same time, I’m trying to record my album. At the same time, I’m trying to keep my family together. At the same time, I’m trying to make sure communication with my father is on point. My wife was also pregnant during this album. I cant even explain how many times I was like ‘Bro, what’s even happening?’ People don’t even know what internally goes on in an artist’s life. Over here, you sell a million records and things would change for you. But when you’re in a genre like Afrobeats, they love it, but it’s like they are sure and they are not sure at the same time. We the ambassadors are doing the extra work, spending our own money. Till today bro, most of my money is coming from Africa. My big money, any day, any time. So I know how much of extra money that I’m putting in to just hope that ‘Omo I don spend this one-point-something million dollars, how is it going to come back?’ If it’s going to come back, it cannot just come back the normal ‘go Naija, do African tour come back with two million.’ It has to be a thing of ‘I want America to pay me.’ As I spend my money, America must pay me. That type of thing. So there’s a lot of promotion, a lot of behind-the-scenes work.
You’ve grown so much between your debut and sophomore. What’s the difference for you?
I was very young. I was 18 or 19. I feel like that my first album was rushed because at that time, the thing was just to blow up. Do your Eko Hotel show and just drop album and use the album to collect big money from the marketer. That was just like the blueprint of every big artist that just came on the scene. And I was just all over the place. But at the end of the day, I still listen to the album and I love it. I’m happy that that’s part of my growth. We did a lot of amazing records on that first album. Imagine I had an album before this one and all those other songs I dropped were on it, that would have been like an amazing album too. But like I said, a lot of things transpired in these seven years. I lost friends, school, my children came. And again, let me even say, before I signed with Sony I had an album ready to go and I’m happy I didnt drop it.
Will you ever drop it?
No. I think the only song that was on that album that made it to this album was ‘Get To You’. I recorded ‘Get To You’ like four years ago.
‘Get To You’ is one of my favourite songs on this project.
I kept that song for about four years. I even saw tweets like ‘this is Davido’s submission for Lion King.’ And I’m like nah, I kept that song for myself for years. Shout out to P2J, the amazing producer.
How hard has the transition been moving from Africa to the US with plans of domination? What are the changes you’ve experienced?
I can’t even calculate how much I spend on flight or making sure my presence is seen everywhere. If I’m in America, it’s either I am recording the album or I’m with my kid or I’m going for a show or a festival. If anything else, I’m making money. So it’s not like I’ve left Africa, I’ve actually just been on like a festival run or I’m working on the album. Nigeria is cool, but headache dey Naija o. Ah, one week in Naija like this. I just like to breeze in and breeze out. And you know how after my uncle’s election petition thing, I didn’t just want to be in Nigeria, so I just left.
This album, “A Good Time,” what does it mean to you?
Exactly what the title is. Another thing that held the album was I didn’t have no title. I feel an album title is very important. We were just having the time of our lives and my manager was like ‘yo! We are having a good time,’ and we were like ‘that’s the name of the album.’ And I knew that it was something everyone could kind of relate to. Whatever situation you’re going through, you have to make the best out of it. So we just called it “A Good Time,” like that’s going to be the subject and theme around the whole project. Just have fun. Even the show we are doing this December, the tour we are going on, everything is just based around fun and having a good time and just plain happiness. Because the place we come from, there is not much to be happy about if you think about it. But entertainment has done a great job. That’s Africa’s biggest export now.
What are Afrobeats chances in the US?
I don’t even know why they say chances, Afrobeats is here already. Everyone is making a living for themselves. We are selling out large arenas, what else could people really ask for? The other thing is that if they want to, it’s America bro. They can make Afrobeats play from seven in the morning to seven in the night and nobody would complain. It’s not about chances, but it’s about ‘are they going to let this music that is obviously everywhere into the systems?’ The music is already everywhere; on the phones everybody is streaming, we are selling out shows that American artists are not even selling out. So what is the wait for? Trust me, it’s not even a thing of chances, it’s a thing of let’s do it. It has proven to be a genre that’s sold out so far.
You’re generally regarded as having a good heart. You’re generous and you’ve put a lot of people on. Why is it important to you that everybody around you is successful?
I think it’s something I learned from my father. That’s just how he was growing up. From everybody in the family, to his friends. I don’t know man, it’s just a natural thing for me. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t help everybody. There are people who do come to me and I’m like: ‘look, right now I just did this thing for this person, so just wait one or two months. And they might feel some type of way. It’s not everybody that feels that way, but I do the most I can do. But I won’t lie to you, God has blessed me that I’m able to take care of my friends, my family and also spoil myself, spoil my woman, etcetera. We are not complaining, but I do what I can for the community, I do the most I can.
A very strong theme here is love. You are married, you have another child…
I’m engaged, but I’m getting married soon (laughs)
Love has been at the centre of Davido for the past three years. How important was love on this album or what role did it play?
Omo, I can’t even count how many times my woman was in the studio with me. I needed peace of mind to record this album and that’s what she gives me. When things are not going my way, when I’m not happy. I call her, we talk, she’d come around. She just makes things feel better. She’d cook for me, I’d eat the best food in the world. We’ve known each other since like 17/18, so it’s nothing new.
Is there any song on this project you wrote with her specifically in mind?
Obviously, ‘Assurance’, ‘Get To You’, ‘1 Milli’. Honestly, we are planning a nice video for ‘1 Milli’.
What do you want all this to be remembered for? How does it all make sense to you?
Just happiness, man. Just like leaving a blueprint that would be used by generations of artists coming after me to see that OBO did it this way and it worked for him. I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon, but I definitely want to do a movie about my life because there are a lot of things people don’t know about me and my journey. But it’s something I feel like I can do later. Not really now.