After an hour of meandering through Lagos’ traffic-bedevilled roads alongside my videographer — and undergoing multiple security checks en route to the meeting point with Ric Hassani — I was soon shaking hands with the R&B star who surprisingly ushered us in at the gate himself. He had dealt with a lot over the past weeks, yet, maintained a straight face and composed demeanor. Even when his father breathed his last ahead of the release of his sophomore album, Hassani was professional enough to keep fans engaged. After he finished a live video session he was hosting, the singer re-emerged for a conversation in the sitting room of his Lekki home.
For Hassani, it has been years of back-breaking work since he moved to Lagos from Port Harcourt in 2009. Between then and 2021, he has gone on to release two well-acclaimed studio albums, ‘The African Gentle Man’ (2016) and ‘The Prince I Became’ (2021). The last of his collaborations was a feature on Waje’s ‘Best Thing‘ single, which had given rise to speculations that the duo was dating.
His social media activities haven’t come without downsides. As a deluge of admirers sings praises of his sonorous voice and lyrical prowess, critics make snide remarks about him, especially after an unexplained ban of one of his tracks by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC). In this in-depth conversation with TheCable Lifestyle, Hassani speaks on the issue as well as tons of other interesting topics.
A lot happened with you over the past weeks. How did you handle losing your dad at a time when you were planning an album release?
I’m doing my best. It was quite shocking. I didn’t expect it to come at that time. My father was the kind of person who always pushed us to work very hard. I live here in Lagos but I go to Port Harcourt within intervals to see him. He tells me, “go, don’t worry. I’m here”. He always wanted me to keep working, never wanting to interfere even on days when I returned from shows. And I’m proud of him. To a lot of us and those around him, he did well. It’s a sad thing we lost him, but again, death is inevitable. My pride in the life he lived is what gives me peace over his passing. Each time I remember it, I’d be like, “Ah, my dad was a correct guy”. That’s how I’ve been able to cope.
All I’m going to say is that Waje is my girl. That’s all I’ll say (bursts into laughter). That’s all I’m saying. If the fans want to know, I myself want to know the nature of my relationship with her. If you guys find out, let me know. Of course, Waje and I have worked on projects back-to-back. She’s also on my album. So, that’s all I’m saying.
Take us through the process of making the album, ‘The Prince I Became’. What was the experience?
It was spectacular because the time I started recording was during the lockdown. I started recording on February 18 (2020). I had this whiteboard on which I noted it. After then, the whole pandemic and lockdown situation happened. It was very difficult because I would normally have my choir come in. I get to go out and chill if the thing no dey enter and come back later to continue when it feels right. But it also made me really take a step back and really think about what I was doing. The downside of that was that I think it made the album a lot more emotional. It just made it really deep because I was stuck in my own space, thinking. That solitude affected the album. That’s why a lot of songs on it felt the way they did. But I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
You said there are stories behind the tracks? Which of them would you say is most personal to you?
Of course, all the songs are. But the most is ‘Back and Forth’, where I talked about a unique situation I was in with somebody. The same thing goes with ‘Thunder Fire You’. I wrote it and a lot of people didn’t understand. People were messaging and asking me — “are you okay? Who broke your heart?” — when the song dropped. I wrote that song two years ago at a time when I was very angry — angry that such nonsense would happen to me. I was pissed and wrote it to just release myself.
I didn’t really write it to sing. I just thought it was funny and made me laugh about the situation. But when I started recording the album, my guy exclaimed like “Man, this song”. I told him, “how can I put Thunder Fire You on my album?” and he insisted like, “Na the song be this!”
It just made me like it so much because it wasn’t even supposed to be on my album. The more we played it to people’s hearing; the more they admired it. I put the song out and it was one of the big tracks of the album. It’s a very real song. All the songs are real. ‘Korede’ has my dad’s voice on it. When you listen to his vocals, you’ll notice it was very hard for him to talk because he was already bed-ridden at the time. He had been falling sick and getting better repeatedly. It’s only tragic he didn’t get better this time around. It was great that I got to get his voice on that song. Now, that track is going to remain special to me till the end of time.
There’s also ‘Everything’. I wrote it about a dream I had where I was in love and I was getting married to this girl.
For the first time in my career, the response I got from a song was sharp. Until now, it was never a case of “I like the song” or “don’t like the song”. Feedback had always been vague and lukewarm, nothing solid. But then ‘Thunder Fire You’ really sparked a conversation. So, for the first time, it was either that you really liked it or you really hated it. I really love that. I feel like I needed this kind of record. I won’t say it’s a controversial song. It’s a song where you have the emotions coming so raw that it just sparks something in listeners, whether hate or love. It has really gone farther in Nigeria than any of my music ever has. None of my songs have gone that far here.
I was with a friend of mine in Lagos Island. We stopped at this Ghana High Restaurant. When I stopped there, the woman said, “I love the song”. She was losing her mind over it. A lot of people just related to it, a thing that never happened to me before. I understand where NBC is coming from about the song, but the way I see that song is from a clever, sarcastic sense. It’s just making a song out of ‘Thunder Fire You’, a witty and dismissive slang Nigerians are familiar with. It’s a breakup song. Nobody had thought of doing that before or going that deep.
But NBC saw it as a curse word. Everybody says “thunder fire you”. We’ve said it so much that it doesn’t carry weight anymore. It’s just like saying “you dey mad”. There have been songs that said this. But I understand their reason. I just don’t feel that was the correct way to look at it. I didn’t respond to the ban because it was not presented as a conversation.
Seeing what played out on social media between you and critics over the past few months, one can’t help but wonder how you handle such situations.
What do you do? I’m hardly shaken. It takes a lot to make me vexed. If you see me angry, the person involved tried.
So, it took you how long to complete the album?
We started on February 18 and finished sometime around November 2020.
You seem to pay a great deal of attention to your lyrics. What’s your idea of the ideal songwriting?
(Laughs) I guess it has to rhyme. Nice rhyme junctions, I guess. And, it has to have a nice story kind of flow. That’s pretty much it. I mostly write my own songs but I work with writers. I dwell on the theme of love because it’s what excites me the most. That’s the story I’m more excited to tell and that’s what I feel I know the most about.
You’re an independent singer. How do you survive without a record label? What’s the strategy?
Honestly, it’s been a lot of insanely hard work. When you’re independent, a lot really rests on you as an artiste, even if you have a team. People don’t understand; they just want to blame somebody else. It is up to you. It’s not up to your video director or manager. You have to take all those cards you’ve been dealt and all life has thrown at you and make something for yourself. It was a lot of work growing without a label. That’s why you have to work harder than the next guy. I sought a record deal but it didn’t work out. I came to Lagos in 2009 when I graduated. The idea was, “Omo, make I find who go sign me“. I was trying to get signed but no one was coming.
I tried from 2009 to 2016 and there was still nobody. At this point, I felt I was getting older. I’d left Port Harcourt, moved to Lagos, sleeping from this person’s floor to that person’s studio. I squatted in my friends’ houses. I had already told my people in PH that I was going to come to Lagos and blow. I couldn’t go back. My father and mother were mad at me, including my whole family. I was vexed also, telling them, “You’ll see, I’ll go to Lagos and make it”.
I had already told everyone those kinds of things so I couldn’t go back and swallow my words. I decided that if no one wanted to sign me, I would sign myself. I called one of my guys, like, “how far, wetin you dey do?” He told me he had just left his job and he’s trying to come up with what to do next. I told him, “from now on, this is what you’re doing next. Me and you. We’re the label”. That’s how we started, not knowing much. We just started working together and we’ve progressed greatly. We still have a lot of work to do and, trust me, we’re on it.
Before creating Riverland Records, you tried prominent labels. Which ones did you reach out to?
Man, I think I sent emails to everyone at the time. But the only person that wanted to sign me was MI. I don’t know how it really happened. I think we were going back and forth with the contract. MI would bring it, I’ll point out to this or that. He changes it. We were still negotiating to get the contract to a place where both of us were comfortable. The last time I responded, there was more work to do. But I just decided, “You know what? Give me the contract make I sign am”. That day, I was calling him, he just wasn’t picking his phone. And I’m happy about that because I was at a very down place where I would have signed anything anyhow. And that’s not really a good place to be when you want to make a life-changing decision. At that time, owu don scatter me (I was flat broke).
I wanted to tell him to bring the contract and I’ll sign it that way. That was at night. The next morning, I boarded a bus to PH and called my guys, and decided to do an album. “Oya, we go do album now,” I told him. He said, “album ke? Who know you.” I’d retorted, “Ehn, na the album them go take know me naa.” I did the album for almost one week.
After a while, MI called, saying, “what’s up? I missed your call. Why were you calling.” I said, “me, call you? I didn’t call o“. At that point, I had already decided I was doing this music thing on my own. I was so soaked in my own vision. He insisted I called and I told him, “no problem, I just wanted to hail you“. That was how I ended up not signing with Chocolate City, the label he was running then. I don’t think I have ever narrated it this way before.
You were a rapper. Based on your stint with that niche, what’s your assessment of the scene now?
MI remains king. Period. I’m in my house, come and beat me. MI is the greatest rapper to come out of Nigeria. He has discography. He’s insanely intelligent. No rap songs have done as good as his. No rap song has been as consistently relatable. MI has been dropping hits from ‘Number 1’. I get mad when people just talk anyhow about him. He had been a low recently but he doesn’t even need to put out anything. He’ll still top. After he went a bit quiet, nobody has really rapped in Nigeria. When he returns, rap will. Vector is good, still, nobody is touching MI.
With the pandemic taking its toll, musicians have become more of recording than performing artistes. What has it been like for you to earn from streaming platforms alone without the shows?
Of course, I would have made a lot of money; a lot more additional money from shows. The good thing is that, as there have not been shows, streaming numbers went up. People used to stream songs once and, as they’re going to work, they hear it radio or at parties. Now, we can’t go anywhere so they stream it repeatedly. I can’t complain.
You created a fashion line just after your album dropped. What’s it about you and fashion?
Yeah, I started putting it together in February 2020, just around the same time when I started recording my album. I’d always wanted to do something fashionable. The thing with male clothing is that there’s not much you can do with them. E no go pass shirt and trouser. But if na babes, you fit do short skirt, gown, strapless, one hand, two hands. Guys don’t have much, just either short sleeves or long sleeves. I wanted to create a line where it’s still the regular shirt and trousers but with something extra. It’s not to be dramatic but in a way that makes you look cool; different.
On February 13, you bared your thoughts about insecurity in Nigeria while also recounting your experience with robbers who disguised as soldiers. Can you tell us about this?
It was a very stupid situation. I don’t know if you saw the tweet. I didn’t want to talk about it before. People were going on and on about the state of the country and I thought to point it out that this thing has gotten really bad, where people dressed like soldiers can rob me in broad daylight. It was 1:30 pm along Freedom Way, Lekki Phase one. That place is always busy, never free. Yet they robbed me in traffic. At the time, I was just on my phone and my manager was busy talking to them. Before I knew it, they jumped into the car and told my manager to drive somewhere.
I asked, “what are you doing in my car? What’s this? Drive to where?” And he said we mistakenly hit him and his phone fell off his hand. I said, “you don’t hit people in the traffic because the cars are barely even moving. Right? For you to be hit, it must have been a moving car. We didn’t hit you, bro”. He made a scene, saying his phone fell off. I’m like, “It’s your phone that fell from your hand. That has nothing to do with me”. When he got frustrated about how I outsmarted him, he came out of the car and started beating my manager. I’m like, “why are you hitting my manager?” It was so stupid to me but I wasn’t scared. While he’s still beating him, somebody came from the other side to take my phone and my manager’s. He took the car keys. I couldn’t leave the car. It’s not like I’m super famous but you don’t want observers to just pull out their phones and start making videos of what was happening.
I no wan enter Instablog say dem see me dey fight for Freedom Way. Confrontation hasn’t just been my kind of thing. So, my manager goes to talk to them and comes back without the phones. I had a lot of information on them but I had to get another. You see, I’m not scared about my life neither am I ruled by fear of unfortunate situations. Maybe it was meant to happen that way. I got another phone the next day but those guys couldn’t have been more unfortunate. They probably don’t have money. You met me and the first thing you do is steal instead of thinking up how you can connect. Just like me meeting MI and stealing from him instead of asking for a link-up with Wizkid. I feel bad for them so much so that I’ll want to help them if I see them again.
In what ways do you see the insecurity situation in Nigeria stifling showbiz and entertainment?
It’s limiting lots of things, not just showbiz. It bad, bro, only that we’ve become used to it. You can’t walk down the streets. I don’t know how we can change that. Even those who go around robbing people, the country isn’t probably favouring them. Nigeria is at this level where fixing it would demand more than just protests. It’s going to take a lot.
Many have a story relating to the #EndSARS protest that played out in 2020. What’s yours?
I was there a couple of times, if not every day. It was just incredible seeing the youth come together to control that environment and treated one another with deep love. Imagine if the whole of Nigeria was like that. Someone would buy N40,000 worth of food and just decide to share it with the public. People were free to be themselves. If Nigeria was like that protest ground, it’ll be better.
On the night of October 20, 2020, when the Lekki shooting happened, I was at a friend’s place, in tears. I went to Tike’s place to eat fish. I broke down crying like, “Nigeria is too much. I just can’t take this”. It was heart-breaking. On reopening the tollgate after that, I’m no longer bothered. Nigeria can do anything she wants. It almost doesn’t bother me anymore. Naija don cast. I don’t let this thing stress me anymore. I’ve just accepted the way Nigeria is.
Copyright 2021 TheCable. All rights reserved. This material, and other digital content on this website, may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or in part without prior express written permission from TheCable.
Follow us on twitter @Thecablestyle