Olanrewaju Fasasi, who most people know as Sound Sultan, has been in the music industry for more than a decade doing what he knows best. He’s a rapper, singer-songwriter, actor, comedian and recording artist. Regarded as one of the pacesetters of modern hip hop music in Nigeria, the man who loves to call himself Naija Ninja, speaks with SEGUN ADEBAYO about his career and life in this interview. Excerpts:
You have been around for a while and you have raised your game to a meaningful level. If you look back to where you were coming from, what would say has kept you going?
The only thing that has kept me in this business is passion and that passion is music. As a musician, you have to be able to know where to draw the lines between your passion for music and money. We all need money, but you must not allow money to encroach upon your passion for music. You have to place everything in the level of hierarchy so that you won’t mix things up for yourself and your crew. But you must be passion-driven regardless of money. I have always pushed my passion to where I would get the desired result. I don’t look at money, but I love money. We all love money.
In this industry, some people believe that having passion for music is not enough recipe for success. Apparently, you have made money from the business, how do you balance your passion to produce good music and the love for money?
Back then when we started music, we did it for the passion we have for it. I never even knew it was going to bring money, I just wanted to do what would make me happy at the end of the day. Along the line, I thought I was going to work with my certificate, but up till this moment, that thought never crossed my mind. At a point, when things were very tough for me, I thought whether this music was worth sticking to. But I said to myself, let me just do it, whether money comes or not, I wouldn’t mind. Like I said, balancing it is about discipline. You can’t handle your passion and lack of funds to push your music if you are not disciplined. One thing that I have enjoyed is God’s grace and my hunger for good music. You could see that over the years that I have been consistent.
I know you write songs, could you put a figure at the number of songs you have written since you started?
I have written over 90 songs for myself and I have written songs for a lot of people. So if I want to do the calculation, I would say I have written almost 150 songs.
What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you are about to write?
It involves different scenarios. Sometimes, it could be determined by the songs itself. I could just wake up with a melody or two in my head and I will start writing. Sometimes, it might just be something that happened to me and I would feel like writing a line or two to it. The most important thing is that I always ask God to give me inspiration to do good songs.
At what point did you decide to start signing artistes on your label?
From my University days, I had always loved to let other people get a chance through me. Apart from just managing artistes, providing for other people, has always been my joy. I had a female group back then in Lagos State University (LASU). From school, I had always thought about having different artistes under my own label to be able to construct their music, arrange and produce for them.
Having artistes on your label is one thing, managing them effectively is another thing as we have seen over the years how artistes ditched their label owners having risen to stardom. What will you like to say about that?
Are you talking about Sean Tizzle? The way you started the question, I knew where you were going to land. It has happened to me before and I have moved on with my life. The truth is that you just have to secure yourself, both the owner of the label and the artistes on it. You just have to prepare yourself for such scenarios. That’s why you have contracts in place, where you put your clauses right.
So how did you feel when Sean Tizzle decided it was time to leave you?
Sean Tizzle was my artiste. He was signed under Naija Ninja record label. Of course, he made some mistakes that really didn’t speak well, but we had since buried our hatchets and he’s now signed to different music label.
Are you saying it never bothered you when the song became a hit, especially when you knew you contributed to its success?
Trust me, I don’t see all that as something big at all. Those who know me can tell you that I am a free-minded person. I am business man but I don’t allow certain things to get to me or bother my head. I know that things come and go. I also know that everything will surely come around someday. I know the truth will always prevail, no matter how long you try to hide it. I don’t shake at any point in time. When people were even shaking on my behalf, I told them to let things be.
So what’s your relationship with Sean Tizzle now?
Oh! It is great. He’s on my new album. We have buried the differences. That’s why I featured in one of my tracks, ‘Follow me Go’. After that thing, I told him not to do that again. You don’t walk out of the contract that you signed. I might have been lenient with you on this; somebody else may not take it easy on you.
How do you feel when people say Sound Sultan is not a serious musician? I am sure you must have heard people say that before.
This is what I tell people, when they ‘stuffs’ like that. I tell them, I am a musician, but I don’t allow music to eat me up. If I had been too exposed musically, like people would have wanted me to, my career wouldn’t have lasted this long.
What do you mean by being too exposed?
I mean, I am a silent but active musician and songwriter. I might not have been at every major gig in the country, but trust me, I know my onions. I am sure you know what I am talking about. When it comes to good music, you will always find Sound Sultan there. You need to understand the rudiments of music and make sure that you are very relevant. I am like a footballer in a team, if I am there, people will query why I am in the team when there are other players outside, but let them remove me from the team, then you will know that I am invaluable to the team. I don’t blow my trumpet. When I write hit songs for people that you know, I don’t blow my trumpet, I just collect my money and I move on to another fresh job.
You seem to be comfortable with writing hit songs for people rather than producing same for yourself…
The way I have crafted my brand over the years, there are some things I can’t do. But I am a business man, if anybody demands for it, I will write it for them, but I won’t be the one to sing it.
So if somebody pays you to write songs that could spark off violence, you would because you are a businessman?
No. I won’t write any song that preaches violence even if you pay me handsomely. That’s why I tell a lot of people that you really need to understand your brand. Even if something is very commercial, you need to understand when it will affect or contradict what you stand for.
A lot of your colleagues that you started together back are nowhere to be found today, what has kept you in the game all these years?
I tell people that it is not about good music at all. It is about level-headedness. The secret, to me, is that you have to be very humble so as not to get tired of what you are doing or be distracted. You have to understand how to be your own reminder and your own personal manager. A lot of artistes are not disciplined. But thank God that is changing now and I am so happy about the new development.
We have seen some of your colleagues do collaborations with foreign artistes, but investigation revealed that nothing tangible came out of the deal at the end of the day. We also learnt that some of them actually did it to fool people back home. Do you subscribe to this?
The truth is that I don’t fool people. I don’t like misleading my country or continent about who I am. When everybody is running abroad because they want to break into their industry over there with one thing or the other, I just look at them. I have been opportuned to travel many times and I had seen how these things work over there. Whenever I am in the United States, especially in New York City, I am always in the studio with Jerry Wonder, Wyclef Jean and a lot of international artistes.
We have heard about Nigerian celebs going over there to pull crowd and recording songs with some of these international artistes, are you saying all these are fake?
I know where Nigerian musicians belong as far as music is concerned globally. If you like, feature the best artiste in the US, it does not translate to anything for you in that country. Whatever noise you make, it is basically for your people back in Nigeria, not for the people outside here. No radio station in the US will play your song, even if you feature their artistes. There is a system working there that is not made for you. You just have to come back home to where you belong and make your music more organic to make sure the growth is not artificial.
Some people believe Sound Sultan is broke, that’s why they don’t always see you around?
Over the years, a lot of people don’t know how much God has blessed me, so they tend to say all sorts of things. I am the only one who knows what I had gone through to get to this level. Half of the people that are in this industry might have been successful because they had people who supported them. I have been a one-man soldier. All those people that are making noise here and there, with due respect to them, know that I belong to the world of my own that was built through personal struggle. I know that I am one of the most reputable artistes in Africa. The truth is that most of our artistes are pretenders. They love to fool the people just to score cheap popularity.
How do you manage to produce good songs despite the proliferation of unsavoury songs that some producers now do because they want to be paid or famous?
You have to embrace what the people embrace. Somebody told me recently that Sound Sultan, you are a smart guy, you always use their tools against them. Then I asked him what he meant by that, he said you still do your music like others but you try to pass your message across. I told him you can’t fight the system because at the end you just look like that mad man on the street that is always carrying placards that are meaningful, but because of the way he is, nobody wants to associate with him. I will rather not fight the system but use it to pass my message.
You are popular and famous in the industry, but you have not been able tie down any major endorsement all the years. What do you think you are missing that others have got?
I don’t worry about that. That’s why I am always looking young because I don’t disturb myself about things like that. You will agree with me that I am a sought-after musician in the country, which alone is a blessing for me. I have a family with two lovely kids. What I appreciate are those places that had been turning heads towards me. Like the United Nations and OXFAM. I have been decorated as OXFAM ambassador for Food security in Africa, alongside 2face. These are important positions that I appreciate because that’s what really matters. If multi-national companies in Nigeria approach me, I will gladly take it, but what is more important to me is to use whatever situation I find myself to touch lives positively.