If DJ Neptune (real name: Imohioesen Patrick) hadn't arrived on the Nigerian music scene two decades ago, afrobeats might look a little different today. Despite his seminal role in pioneering the genre, the Lagos-born artist remains modest about mainstream industry accolades. And still standing as a staple in afrobeats ever since, the release of his genre-defining 2018 debut album, Greatness, has allowed him to achieve impressive longevity with a star-studded compilation that featured a heavyweight roster of African music superstars.
In 2020, Neptune scored his biggest career hit with the Mr Eazi and Joeboy collaboration, “Nobody.” Released days before the world shut down under COVID, “Nobody” took over social media like Triller, where users seeking to stay connected uploaded six million videos with the song. "Nobody" hit No. 1 on Apple Music in eight countries, ultimately scoring more than 150 million streams across digital streaming platforms. Nigeria's number one song, according to data aggregator Turntable Charts, “Nobody” was recognized as Song of The Year and Best Pop Song at the Headies, Nigeria’s answer to the Grammys.
Continuing to build upon his already concrete legacy as one of Nigeria’s most influential and in-demand DJs, Neptune has recently shared his sophomore album, Greatness 2.0. The 16-track LP is an amalgamation of influences that, in his own words, offers "a full blend of sounds from the new guys who are taking the mantle from the old guys" in terms of afrobeats. "It's a full body of work, well-curated, and I’ll say this is your go-to playlist," he says.
Below, PAPER caught up with DJ Neptune to talk about his love for music, growth since 2018’s debut and latest release.
What are some of your early memories of music?
Music has always been part of my life, from growing up and finding myself on the drum sets after church service to investing my money into buying those little radio devices back in the days. Indirectly, I didn't know I was investing in my career because fast-forward, I started knowing my sound and that of other artists. Then I really got into music and told myself I was going to become an entertainer. I didn't know what it was going to be exactly, but I just knew I wanted to become an entertainer. I had an uncle that was really good at singing. I can remember he was trying to train me vocally, but my dad wasn't part of that whole arrangement, so that had to slow down until I got the opportunity to attend a party and I knew who a DJ was and what they do. I fell in love with the whole idea and, right there, I convinced myself that DJing was what I was going to do.
Tell me about 2001, when you began your professional career as a DJ.
It was a year filled with emotions. I lost my dad and being the only son and the last child of the house, I needed to start making decisions for myself. I needed to make decisions that’ll see me through life and guide me even though I was still very young. 2001 was also the year I told myself that I was going to chase this career. I was still in high school at that time, so it was hectic going to school, coming back home and going to the studio to practice. I was a fast learner and I paid attention to everything my mentor, DJ Douglas, taught me. Equipments were very expensive at that time, so for DJ Douglas to allow me to practice with his equipments was such a blessing.
At that time, DJing was a very offbeat career. How did your family react when you told them?
The reaction was negative. I even had to sacrifice leaving my comfort zone for two years. That was how career-driven I was to become a DJ. DJs didn't make a lot of money back then, so it was just about passion. Something kept telling me that this was going to be my breakthrough to the world. I stayed focused and, shout out to the people who sheltered me when I needed it, and to those who I had around. I’m grateful to God because I did my part and he did his part.
"Afrobeats is what it is today because a lot of people have worked tirelessly to keep pushing the culture."
Now you’ve spent over two decades as a DJ who has put some of the biggest anthems out. How has your creative process evolved?
A lot has changed, from the sound to the culture to technology also coming in and playing a huge role, to social media also having its own share. As a DJ, I’m very calculative in terms of knowing when to switch and follow the trend. Of course, I’m still original to myself and my sound, but there’s always that time when I just go with the flow and be in the mix because I want to be around as long as I can.
Can you talk me through an actual mixing process?
For me, I have a studio set up in my house. I pretty much have all the equipment, from the keyboard to the microphones. I have an iMac and the software I use is Logic. I record myself with Logic and I use Waves to fine-tune my vocals. For the mixing and mastering, I have a sound engineer who goes through the process for me because I’m not trying to cram my head with all these things [laughs]. So it’s a fusion of everything.
What has made you so interested and invested in the afrobeats genre?
Afrobeats is what it is today because a lot of people have worked tirelessly to keep pushing the culture. I remember when I got into Ray Power Radio Station in 2004, afrobeats was just starting to gather momentum. There was a coalition of Nigerian DJs in America and they had a record pool at the time. Artists would bring songs to the radio stations, so they could get spaces. The more spaces these artists were getting, the more popular the songs become. Also, let's not forget that listeners at that time didn't have the luxury of Apple Music or Spotify or any of these digital streaming platforms we have now. Everybody was literally plugged into the radio stations.
When artists would bring their songs to the radio stations, I would upload them and send them to the Nigerian DJs in America. They would then upload the song to their Naija DJ Record Pool, so DJs in other parts of the world could also get the songs and play them in the clubs. All these things were adding up to the growth of afrobeats and it has added up to where we are now. The help of technology has made things fast in the sense that anybody can put out a song today and music lovers across the globe can consume that song almost at the same time. Shout out to TikTok and Triller for also playing such roles in the globalization of afrobeats. I’m very happy to be alive because, trust me, if you’re an afrobeats lover then this is the best time to be alive.
In 2018, you unveiled your debut album and it featured some of the big dogs of the Nigerian music scene. What was that like for you?
That album was long overdue. In 2016, I started working on my debut album, which was later released in 2018. That was like the soft landing for the beginning of Greatness, music-wise. I wanted a project that’ll be solid, something that’ll stand out in terms of collaborations. From working on that project, I gathered a lot of experience and so it was easy for me to implement all that experience in Greatness 2.0.
You’ve definitely become friends with a lot of the artists featured on your 2018 album, especially with Mr Eazi. How did your work relationship with him come about?
We connected in 2016. He shared his ideas of what he was trying to achieve with the African sound and the afrobeats movement. For me being a creative, I’ve always wanted someone that’ll just handle the business part of music for me, while I focus on creating the sound. That alignment between Mr Eazi and I was excellent and we ended up working together on my debut album. The execution and transparency were there, and I just told myself I was going to stick to this formula.
Last year you collaborated with him and Joeboy on “Nobody.” What was it like working with both of them?
I’m grateful for that collaboration and it just tells me I was able to achieve what I wanted. When I’m making my music, I try as much as possible to make timeless sounds — sounds whenever you play after five years or more, it’s still fresh and you can still connect to it. The song has done wonders and has also helped elevate my career with two Headies Awards for Song of the Year and Best Pop Single last year. I knew the song was going to do well, but I didn't know it was going to be this huge and I’m so grateful to everyone who played a major role on this project.
"I’m very happy to be alive because, trust me, if you’re an afrobeats lover then this is the best time to be alive."
But it makes me wonder, this song was released a few weeks before we went on lockdown.
That song was meant to be released within the third week of March, but the Distro came back to me saying Joeboy would be releasing a song in the last weekend in March. It was only advisable for us to give a little space, so then we agreed to release it in the first week of March. Little did we know the country would go on lockdown a week after, so at least I had one week to do all the necessary promotions and all.
Were you afraid that the lockdown might affect the reception of the song?
I wasn't afraid, but I was a bit worried in the sense that from the back end we could see that this was a hit on arrival. I was comfortable that my team and I had a hit song, but when the lockdown came I was feeling very skeptical. But then again, because there was a lockdown and everyone was at home, there was a lot of attention on the song and then there was the viral dance challenge that blew up on Triller, making it the number one most used African song and the third most used song on Triller. I would say the lockdown was a blessing in disguise, but it also wasn’t much of a blessing because the song became huge and I didn't get the opportunity to perform the song the way I would have wanted to.
A new year is around the corner, so what should we expect from you?
In 2022, we outside [laughs]. Hopefully, this new corona stuff that we are hearing does not affect anything. I want to be able to tour the world with this project so expect lots of shows. I’ve been getting the green light and the bookings have started coming in. While I’ll be doing all these things, I’ll also be working on Greatness 3.0. There’s no sleeping.
Photos courtesy of DJ Neptune