The agony of juggling a 9-5 to fund a passion for creating art is a familiar situation for many artists that haven’t broken really big yet. Performing at optimum level at a day job to ensure that there’s food so the artist can survive and make money just to create more art in the hopes of soaring with your dreams.
With such a hectic schedule, 24 hours a day is barely enough and the mechanics of moving between day job and night dream can be very strenuous. The strain is what Alpha depicts on “Butterflies”, an allegorical tale using the crisis of a typical human relationship to portray the less than ideal situation. The thinly veiled scenario is immersive, with impressive writing to match.
Alpha’s brilliant writing and emotion packed cadence in service of his compelling story on “Vendetta” makes it not just one of the best replies to MI’s “You Rappers Should Fix Up Your Lives,” but also one of the best rap cuts this year. While the vengeance is palpable in his voice, “Vendetta” feels cathartic to Alpha, relating a story that needed to be told. And in the process introducing Alpha to more people to him and his music, myself included.
Being my first encounter with Alpha, “Vendetta” was a definite tell of talent, the type of eye-catching performance that moved me to trudge back to his older music. Multiple listens to his back material, and I can say it’s beyond talent – Alpha is skilled.
“My lines don’t punch no more, they slit throats” is an example of the gleeful quotables loaded into his mixtape, Road To R.U.S.H. The tape is a show-and-tell project which displays Alpha’s terrifyingly good skills as an MC, jacking beats left, right and center in original mixtape fashion. Recorded and released circa 2011, songs like Beyoncé’s “Countdown,” DJ Khaled’s “Take It To The Head,” Kas’ “Fi Mi Le” and J. Cole’s “Who Dat” amongst others get the Alpha obliteration treatment. Every borrowed beat serves as a dartboard to which Alpha confidently hurls lyrical knives.
While Road To R.U.S.H was meant to be a precursor to the now shelved R.U.S.H (Rap Until Something Happens), his follow-up, My Own Horns – The JazzRap Project – a 2014 EP – showcases strong rapping with overall growth in songwriting capability. Also of significance, My Own Horns is a testament to Alpha’s skill behind the boards, self producing and mixing the project excellently.
The advantage of an artist also being a producer is having the edge to craft the right sonic foundation for whatever lyrical monument is to be laid on it. Complementary to Alpha’s engaging writing, My Own Horns is characterized by a composite, maximalist sonic canvas, deftly blending prominent NOLA horns with Afrobeat and hip-hop into a delightful funky mass. “I programmed all the horns within FL Studio, I always aim to mix them in such a way that they sound as live as possible” was his reply when I asked if the horns on the project were played live.
On standout cut, “Rookie Music,” Alpha sublimely samples the serpentine keys and squiggly guitar riffs on Fela’s “Army Arrangement.” The sample is recognizable from a mile off, but the addition of a heavy bassline, dashing horns and fleeting violin strings adds richer hue to the song’s musical aesthetic. Conceptually, “Rookie Music” deals with the conundrum of being overlooked in the basement when you believe you have the talent to be at the pinnacle and overbooked.
Alpha’s journey to the top is gathering steam, with the recent release of the thumping, statement making “Ocean Boy.” The bass heavy jam knocks with the forceful nature of a siege, which is what Alpha is working on achieving with his next project.
While he didn’t give a definite date for release of his upcoming work (first half of 2018) during our conversation, we talked about Alpha’s artistry, musical influences and his plans for the future.
When did production start for you? And was it out of necessity?
Yes, production for me really began out of necessity. It was 2007 when I was in my first year in the university. Before then, I didn’t know music could be made on a computer. I watched someone do it and I was fascinated. So when I started writing my own raps later that year, I needed beats and I started teaching myself Fruity Loops. I’ve been self producing since then, yes.
Safe to say you started rapping in ’07?
Yes. With horrible lines.
How does being a producer help with your music?
It’s awesome for the most part, because I have the ability to accurately put down my ideas without having to explain them to anyone. From my brain to my speakers.
Caught a “focus” tag on “Vendetta” and “Butterflies,” I’m guessing that’s Focus Ramon (producer who’s worked with Show Dem Camp & Eva Alordiah). What’s the relationship?
“Focus” is my mixing tag or signature. It’s also the name of my self-established label, registered with the CAC. It’s actually an acronym I coined, It means “Forcing Our Critics to Understand.” Stylised as F.O.C.Us.
Who are your influences/favorite rappers and producers because you’re also a producer.
My ultimate idol is J.Cole, both as an artist and a producer. My rap style is now primarily influenced by him and Kendrick Lamar. Early on, I learnt a lot from Jay-Z and Kanye West. My favourite rappers are Cole, Kendrick, Jay-Z, Rapsody, and JID right now.
On the production side, I love sampling, as well as warm, full sounds. So right now, 9th Wonder is my production idol. But I have learnt a lot from a ton of producers, ranging from Kanye to our very own Sarz and Masterkraft.
What happened with R.U.S.H?
Let’s just say it didn’t see the light of day. Maybe if it had a different title, I would still have released it. As time passed, “Rap Until Something Happens” stopped seeming like a title I would give to a project. It was because of the initial delay in releasing this project, that I released Road to R.U.S.H in 2011. Though it was only a 10-track project consisting of covers only, most of my fans feel it’s one of my best projects.
Is there any project in the works with a soon to be released time frame?
Yeah. I am working on a new project from which I have put out two singles already. The first was “Butterflies” featuring Afro-house singer TOD, in April this year. The second was the most recent, “Ocean Boy.” I plan to release it within the first half of 2018.
What’s the next big move for Alpha the brand? Beyond the new music you’re working on.
Big question, man. The brand encompasses the producer, the rapper, a potential music educator, record label executive, and mogul. So the next big move, once I have achieved a certain level of success, with my music reaching mass consciousness globally, would be to contribute my quota to phasing out average music in Nigeria. I think by positioning my label to be the biggest and best structured, with real talents signed to it, quality music will gradually ease out mediocre music.