It might be easier to do a song with the legendary P Square these days but it hasn’t always been that way. Back in 2007, the Square Records team – who did everything in-house – was notoriously stingy with their guest features so seeing them on J Martin’s “Good or Bad (Owey)” was a big deal.

P Square’s brother and (ex)manager Jude ‘Engees’ directed the video, in line with the twin’s insistence on doing things their own way.

That song worked wonders for Martins – he and P Square had established a professional relationship behind the scenes but the twin’s presence as guests, as well as the presence of the freshly bubbling Timaya, helped to catapult an unknown producer from the East into an artist worth noting. Martin’s style of groovy motivational highlife was to be copycatted several times by his peers, “Good or Bad” even won Hottest Single of the Year at the Nigerian Entertainment Awards in 2009 and also became a hugely popular song on music channels and radio stations across the country.

The mid-to-late 2000’s was an important time for music coming out of Enugu state – Flavor and Mr. Raw had risen from small studios in the Coal City to nationwide acceptance, J Martins and Bracket were late, but important, additions to that the rise. Just like Flavor, Martins played the brand of urban highlife music that was popular at night spots around the city but whereas the Eternally Shirtless One employed vulgarity and a cavalier attitude as his own style, Martins favored a more measured, message-centered approach.

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Martins always had something uplifting to sing about, you almost felt like he could consider a career in motivational speaking when his music career wound down. The producer-turned-singer sang like he was talking and while sing-talking, it sounded like he didn’t want you to make out everything he was saying even though it was obvious that he put a lot of thought into it.

In that time, J Martins would also become something of a visionary, collaborating with the likes of Phyno and Runtown very early in their careers, long before they became the superstars that they are today. 10 years and 4 albums in, J. Martins is still putting out quality music and giving younger artists like Zoro a platform to get their music out of the 042.

The singer recently announced that he will be going on a media tour to commemorate the 10th year of “Good or Bad”. He’s also released a new single “Ring the Bell” and is doing promo runs for that as well.

Baby ring the bell oh
Cos e be like say you be figure 8 oh
Abeg i make we do the dance oh
You look so fine with your busy body eh

J. Martins has evolved over the years, he has transitioned from mellow urban highlife music on “Good or Bad”, and on his debut album Get Serious, to more rigorous Afropop sounds with sprinkles of Francophone music, anything from coupé-décalé to soukous. Little wonder that he’s won awards in Francophone countries like Cameroun. His last album Authentic had the likes of Ferre Gola and Koffi Olomidé, “Ring the Bell” too has a French-speaking guest named Sakora. The man from Abia state has been a quiet pacesetter in his time in the music business. It might be fashionable to be one right now but over the years, and on his own terms, Martins has become a truly pan-African artist – embracing sounds from across the continent and mixing them with his.

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“Ring the Bell” was produced by ace producer Masterkraft and Waje and vocal engineer George Nathaniel are also listed as contributors. Interestingly, Timaya contributed as well – 10 years after he, P Square and J. Martins made Nigerian music history.