Words by Ehis “Combs” Ohunyon
For some years now, the Nigerian music scene has witnessed an explosion of talent with a lot of new names and fresh sounds emerging on a daily. The clubs and the streets are littered with hits upon hits but while the names of the artists who sang them ring off in every household, most people have no idea who the producer of most hit songs are, never mind put a face to them.
The singer or rapper usually gets all the credit with little or no mention of their producer. This has however taken a different turn with the likes of Cobhams Asuquo, Don Jazzy, D’Tunes, Shizzi, Pheelz, Legendury Beatz, Sess, Sarz, Young John, Mastakraft, Maleek Berry etc all becoming visibly prominent and taking their rightful place on the scene.
One name that in recent years is growing to become a force on the scene due to his relentless body of works, the unique sound of his production and his distinct brand is the masked producer, Charlie X. For lovers of American Science fiction movies, the name Charlie X would surely ring a bell in connection with the Star Trek series but in the Nigerian music scene, especially for the followers of underground music, Charlie Xtreme a.k.a Charlie X or CHx is fast becoming one of the most influential names in the hip-hop scene.
Charlie X, a Lagos-based music producer, song writer, singer, rapper and instrumentalist whose production tends to be characterized by good sampled loops and gritty sounds is the brain behind a lot of sounds coming from the underground but perhaps his most distinctive feature has to be his mysticism behind the mask. Many have worked with him without seeing his face and when asked why he wears a mask, he says, “I just want the whole thing to be about the music and not about me”, to which he claims no amount will ever make him take off his mask.
But whilst he may be almost anonymous with his face, the producer has been quite ubiquitous with his music following the recent release of his third solo project without a focal artist titled Trapped.
When urged to know if he thought the mask had limited his visibility on the scene in comparison with other producers, ‘Charlie the Phantom’ disagrees, “I doubt it cause what people complain about isn’t my mask, once you have hits people will find you”.
His first introduction to music production was back in high school when fellow producer E-Kelly took him to the studio for the first time, which led to the start of a journey from which he has not looked back since then.
“E- Kelly took me to a studio when I was 15 or so, and I have been producing ever since. I worked as a member of the Gospel Insanity group with Jesse Jagz and Kelly and I don’t know how long or short it has been but I refer to myself as an alien from Titan and Titan time is different from earth time allegedly.”
The producer, who first caught my attention on his collaborative effort with Paybac titled Broken Symphonies, has been involved in many other projects over the past years which include ‘It Is Whatever You Wanna Call It’ and ‘On The Other Side Of The Radio’, both with Paybac, “T.I.N.A.A” with Boogey, “Songs about her” EP with UK-based soul singer Tamaraebi and Young N Faded with Ame Jumar.
But perhaps the most critically-acclaimed of his works is Faceoff, a project he clearly has some affection for. Despite not wanting to name any favorite, he says, “I was done producing the songs before I told Boogey and Paybac, it was originally meant to be titled X-Games’, my initial plans was to make the project a sort of grimed out battle sounding production but I wasn’t connecting with the output, then I decided to make the dopest rap album of the year featuring two sides and that’s where Boogey and Paybac came in and gave birth to Faceoff”.
The unassuming producer is one who understands that his value is in the content of his sound, hence he doesn’t joke with his elements. Charlie X is determined to push out new music monthly but he also has a business mind as he compliments his nine-to-five with his production job.
According to the producer “to become successful, develop good relationships with visionary artists, the industry is all about forming and using the right relationships”.
The producer explains their relationship, “I just work with him because he comes to my place a lot and he is always ready to write, I will email him a beat and on the way to my place, he will be done with the song before he got here, I have no preferences”.
Despite having supplied his production services to a long list of hip-hop artists, Charlie is refusing to be pigeonholed into the ‘Hip-hop Producer’ box. “Truth is I am not a hip-hop producer, hip-hop just happens to be the music I’m recognized the most for, plus rappers in this country are easier to work with. Pop singers just want a producer that will give them a hit song, but I am not a beat maker, I make songs, period!”
The industry can be rather unfriendly to artists especially those who tend toward real musicianship and this has led to Charlie X putting a pause on his label Timeless Music – the ace producer takes huge pride in his work. ‘I am not bragging but the hardest part of my project for me is to start, as soon as I get myself to start an idea, I could be done with the basic production of a whole project in about 3 days”. He claims to have produced and recorded the entire Broken Speaker Symphony Project with Paybac over 2 weekends!
The producer enlists Pharell, Rick Rubin, Salaam Remi, Timberland and J. Dilla as some of is inspirations, whilst back home, his major influences are Don Jazzy, E-Kelly, Maleek Berry, Tin Tin and Ikon. When asked to name his top 5 rappers of all time, Charlie Xtreme replies, “I have no top 5 rapper list. That’s just how I feel, you go to different rappers for different things, plus some average rappers have made really dope records, so I could never make a list.”
For every rapper or artist who has made it to the mainstream, there is that producer who helped him carve that niche. So whilst we celebrate the artist, it is always fulfilling to see that young producer who helped make the music a masterpiece get shine time and reap some financial gains off his effort. Producers take a longer time to get that ‘big’ break and that’s why for Charlie X, his eyes is focused on the prize.
His latest project Trapped was released on March 21 on his SoundCloud page and it shows a producer/artist finally coming into his own sound with his distinct, eclectic, experimental and playful sound. CHx declares that he will continue to make music and hopefully a time will come when he will be in more demand than can be supplied.
Ehis “Combs” Ohunyon is a Lagos-based realtor, asset valuer and writer