Since he took the name 2face in 1996, Innocent Ujah Idibia has led the way for his industry, for his peers, and for Nigeria. He has managed to out-last and out-shine without seeming to make an effort- he shares a relentlessly inspiring tale with CHUDE JIDEONWO
“THIS CHOCOLATE I am eating, I have to be careful,” the stylist quipped as she picked another bar in between shoots at 2face’s expansive hotel suite.” I want to be a size 12 like Omotola, even after I’ve had my kids.”
2face listened carefully, a mischevious smile playing on his lips as he adjusted his belt and got ready for the photographer’s next shot. “Mmmmmm,” he responded. “Okay, when you are ready forthe kids, let me know. Let’s make it happen.”
And with that one statement, 2face took control of the conversation; doing exactly what he has done throughout his career and his life- taking life easy, turning enemies to friends, and neutralising the negativity so that we can focus on the substance.
AS YOU SEE ME SO
Not that the scandal matters these days; the issue of 2face, his many women and his many children- two girls and three boys at last count ( confirmed by him), has already been over flogged. For one his attitude to the controversy went though a makeover.
“Infact you don get the story finish,” he tells me after a run-through his many public reactions. “At first I thought mehn I don f**k up and I need to apologise to my fans, then the heat don come too much so I’ve been keeping quiet, but you know some people, dem don carry the thing put for head, so I said mehnforget it, after all I didn’t commit any crime, and I am meeting my responsibilities to my children and have taken responsibility for my actions.”
Beyond that however, there were very many people who thought his career was over; even he thought so. And for a while, it seemed like it was. “Me too I fear,” he confesses. “But what I did was I focused on my music. I focused on producing better music and doing my work. Because after all, if the music sweet, you no go talk say because I give person belle, you no go listen to my music. So I focused on that, kept my eye on the ball, and here we are today.
He didn’t only focus on his music, he got the help he needed- securing the management skills of Now Muzik’s Efe Omoregbe who has overseen a complete overhaul, of 2face’s image as well as his music, and kept him on the straight and narrow.
” I definitely went looking for Efe”, 2face agrees. “Because I knew the kind of person I wanted as a manager. You no want person wey go dey club dey dance with you as you dey dance; then for morningna you go come dey ask am say ‘How far with that show?’
It’s infact the 2face’s story. At every stage, he has been at crossroads- of his own making- and he has taken a bold step of moving himself to the next level. On the surface, 2face looks like that kind of guy that life happens to- who takes life as it comes, doesn’t take risks or leave comfort zones, and waits for the good times. Of course, no one ever achieves his kind of trail blazing success that way. It first started with Plantashun Boiz.” True, but that is how my life has been” he tells me. “Anytime I think it is time to move to another level, I take the step and move from my comfort zone. It’s always about the next level.” So, he takes the step, then-it’s a conscious decision to take a risk? “Yes, it is,” he nods. “You see, I am not afraid to fail. I have never been. When I took the risk to come to Lagos without the hope of earning any money, it’s because I was not afraid to fail. And so I always do what I think needs to be done. When it’s time to take the step, I take it, and live with the consequences.
It didn’t even matter to him- taking the first step out of a group that was doing very well- that everyone thought, with Black face said to be the group ace’s songwriter, with Blackface said to be the group ace’s songwriter, and Faze it’s most vocal, 2face was the one to fail. The rumours remain in fact that 2face owes his glory to the songwriting skills of Blackface on the monster breakthrough hit African Queen which won him a long string of awards including the KORA for Best African Act and African Song of the Year at the Ghana Music Awards, both in 2005, as well as Song of the Decade at the Nigeria Music Awards 2007. The song also announced 2face to the world via being soundtrack for Hollywood movie “Phat Girls” starring Monique.
KEEP ON ROCKING
Then, again, in 2007, he left Kennis.” I left Kennis because I also want to be a Kennis,” he said. ‘’Not literarily but I want to be a media mogul and entrepreneur too. I get to make my own mistakes and create a niche. Music isn’t all I want to do. The Hypertek for now has no artiste except me- it’s just an official medium to produce my songs. When we have mastered the act, we will begin to sign up artistes.”
His exit from then record label, Kennis Music, coincided with the scandals- the stories of children from multiple girlfriends including the constant Annie Macaulay, reality TV star, and Pero Adeniyi. Then there was the robbery around the airport that left him tied to a hospital bed for days. Then, followed the conspiracy theory that the robbery was in fact an attempt to assassinate him. It was an alvalance for 2face, threatening to exit him from the music scene. ‘’Yes,’’ he admits. ‘’I was afraid that this was the end- it was faith in God that helped me pass through those times.’’
Proving that 2face is nothing if not a force, he hit the market with Unstoppable. He later released an international edition of the album to rave reviews winning several awards including the MTV Africa Music Awards for Best Male and for Artiste of the Year. He also became lead vocalist of the Sony All African 08 Project alongside seven other stars across Africa recording their first singles with R.Kelly and Prince Lee titled ‘’’Hands Across the World’’.
It’s a long way since the N5,000 the MOBO Best African Act and MTV Artist of the Year 2010 winner received for his first paid gig- or the first major show he did with Rothmans, where he travelled across the country, spanning almost 10 cities and got paid N330,000( “Mehn, that 300,000 to me than was like 300 million now!”) along with his friends.
“Oh, I still remember!” he exclaims. “N5,000! It was given to us by Jimmy Jatt. Such a great man! He didn’t know us from Adam. We played at a concert he came for in Abuja and when Black Face and I sojourned into Lagos we went looking for him at his Obalende studios. We reminded him of us by making reference to a show we performed at UNIJOS and the rest is history. He gave us that N5,000 after we had performed at one of his events, even though he initially hadn’t promised us a kobo! I remember the Rothman’s gig too; those were the golden days when every kobo mattered.”
”Family for me is the ultimate coverage”
ENTER THE PLACE
Despite his successful steps to disarm the interview on the subject of his many women and his many children, it has become a huge part of the 2face personality- whether as the butt of jokes from comedians or as a cautionary tale for young artistes who have to contend with the immense headiness of fame and fortune in Nigeria’s growing music scene.
It’s a long way from when all we heard about was the Jos-born 2face and Vien Tesola, former Miss Nigeria. Even though she has gone out of the spotlight, she was the rave of the moment in style and beauty industry, and he was the rave of the music industry when they hit the headlines as a couple. “Ah Vien,”he says with a smile and a slow nod. “She is a great person, and it’s a shame it didn’t work out. If there was someone I almost wanted to take to the altar, it was Vien. Those were good, happy times.”
So what happened? And does he regret it?
“Well, I go say na me mess up” he says, the smile still on his face- he almost strained at this time however. “ I go say na me f@#k up because she was a good girl. But I won’t say I regret it; I don’t use that kind of word. Everything happens for a reason. We are still friends and we still keep in touch.”
Then we ask about Annie Macaulay, who has been the one constant feature in his life for years now, and who, , on account of her relationship with him, has been the butt of many gossip columns and soft sell headlines. “Ah bros, make we leave that one,” he says firmly. Make of that what you will.
One subject he is not reticent about though is his children- whom he has become more comfortable speaking about in public, including drawing a huge awe from the audience at the hugely successful 2face ‘Live in Concert’ show at the Eko Hotel In Lagos last year when one of the singer’s daughters, the cutest girl you’ll ever see came on stage.
“I love those children die,” he says. “ Every one of them. It gives me joy to see them, and I am grateful for them and their mothers.” “My only regret is that due to the nature of this our work, and also because they are not all in Nigeria, I am not able to see them as much as I wish I could. But I am working on that.” He pauses as if he is through, but one can sense he is not, and so there is silence in the room for a while.
He continues. “ Having kids has made me responsible. It’s why I wrote the song ‘Only Me’. I realised that when they sneeze, I have to be involved. When they are sick I need to take them to the hospital. Every move I make can make or mar their future. I have had to restrain myself from so much and be more careful. Being a father has also made me respect women a lot. Ah, I hail them! I respect all their mums because taking care of kids is a full time job.”
That nucleus is very important to Mr. Idibia who says without hesitation, “ Family for me is the ultimate coverage. It’s the people that have unconditional love for you and who will be there no matter what happens. Like kids having unconditional love for parents- of course that’s until they grow out of innocence though (laughs). Anyone with such love can also automatically become your family.”
This year, there have been at least two rumours that 2face was dead- one spreading through social networks like, well, wild fire; another, from a fake news website, was taken as gospel by many who thought 2face had died in a plane accident in Hawaii.
“Na me dey see so o, I am still here; I am not dead,” He tells me shrugging. “I don’t understand those people carrying those rumours. Maybe na wetin dey for their heart wey dem wish for me. But God pass them, he has spared my life and I’m still here.” God is another important part of the 2face psyche. “One thing that I have strongly is faith in God,” he says. “ My faith in God that He has my back and my faith in myself that I can do whatever I set my mind to do has kept me going.” So, with career lasting 15 years, and having achieved more than most of his contemporaries, more than he himself dared to dream, what does he see in the future?
“If I no take my hand spoil myself- because I believe only I can destroy myself- I want to be known as the best producer of music in Africa. You know state-of –the-art studio, artistes on Hypertek- the whole works. Like that song wey Psquare sing ‘E no easy o!’ but we’re still here. We’re still here mehn!”