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Comedy great Basketmouth gets back to unfinished business with his first love, music [Pulse Interview]

Basketmouth sits with Pulse for an interview and speaks about his business with music.

Basketmouth speaks to Pulse about his journey from music to comedy and back to music again (Bella Naija)

“I started working on the project called Papa Benij, it’s an online comedy series and it’s situated in a beer parlour and one thing in a beer parlour apart from beer is music, so I started running around meeting artistes telling them ‘I need your song’,” Basketmouth told Pulse in an interview.

Although still early days, critics have praised Yabasi for its perfect blend of hip-hop, Afrobeat and traditional Igbo sound. For this solid work, Basketmouth showed top A&R abilities with the way he curated features from the likes of Duncan Mighty, Ice Prince, Oxlade, Show Dem Camp, Flavour, Phyno, Perruzzi, iLL Bliss, Waje, Bez, The Cavemen etc., to create Yabasi.

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I didn’t want limitation to where I could take songs to. So what I did was I decided to make my own music and the great thing about it is that I always wanted to create a new kind of sound.

“My first attempt was in 1995. That was my first attempt. I tried it with one of the old PSR but l needed to disk to save files so it was really hectic.

I always wanted to blend the Igbo music with Hip-hop. When the idea came, I was like this is the perfect time to do it. So that’s what made me do it. That’s the core reason. Apart from that music was my first love.

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Music was indeed Basketmouth’s first love. He fell in love with hip-hop as a teenager in Kirikiri neighbourhood of Lagos. He and his friends then created a six-man rap group called The Psychopaths.

Heavily influenced by the legendary American hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan, The Psychopaths went around their neighbourhood battling other rappers. Basketmouth remembered a particular battle in Festac which his crew finished second.

We did a lot of stuff. I used to open for Plantashun Boiz,” he added.

Aside from some underground buzz, Basketmouth’s rap career never took off. He spoke of a bad stage experience that changed the course of his journey in entertainment.

“I was on stage, I like to be creative with some stuff. So I went to the DJ and so we worked on a beat, you know the song by Fela ‘Everybody run run run’.

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We made it into Hip-hop. So I created the beat and told my guys and they loved it. And when we got on stage, they were not ready for that. This was 1998, they were not ready for that.

“This was hardcore, it was too confusing. What will happen was that anytime we said ‘everybody run run run,’ they said ‘get out’.

When I knew it was ‘get out’ they were saying, I was very upset. So I told the DJ, ‘let’s stop I want to face these guys’ and I started firing them.”

In a move that birthed his comedy career, Basketmouth faced the dismissive crowd and returned with verbal violence, using his wit to get back at them.

I started entering everybody, one after the other. For straight 30 minutes, I was on them and after I was done, one of my guys, Ena Ofugara he walked up to me and was like ‘Bright, you should do comedy’.

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Then Samson Ehimohai, he’s late now, was one of the guys that also influenced that idea. He was like ‘do it’.

He then did another gig, and someone just walked up to him and said; ‘you get basket mouth o,’ and boom he got his moniker with which he has attained legendary status in Nigerian comedy.

Basketmouth called the switch was divine.

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“Cause it was a new idea, everything ‘just happened real quick too and that’s how music just stopped. It was so divine. The way the name came, the way the crowd responded. So I was like ‘maybe it’s not music, maybe it’s comedy, so I faced comedy.

Studying comedy greats like Eddie Murphy, Basketmouth quickly began to learn the ropes. In the early days of his comedy career, Basketmouth felt useless without hecklers as his comedy routine was based on him trash talking people. It was difficult for him to hold down a set, so he got his friends to sit in the crowd and act like hecklers. He needed to do more, and in need of inspiration, he discovered Ali Baba, one of the pioneers of the Nigerian comedy industry.

Basketmouth started to watch Ali Baba. Anywhere he could get to know about the man, he did from newspaper interviews, magazines, TV Shows etc. He watched his idol for the first time in a show at the University of Benin after a friend helped him pay the gate fee of just N5.

Ali did like an hour, 30 minutes. He killed it. So after he left school, all I said to myself; ‘this guy needs to see you perform’. So I started working, writing material. I had one year cause he announced he was going to be coming back.”

Within that one year, Basketmouth said he started working to be on the bill of performers the next time Ali Baba visited Uniben. So for that one year, he performed everyone on campus, trying to make his name known to all promoters.

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He eventually succeeded. The promoter for Ali Baba’s next show included Basketmouth for the show, but there was a snag. His slot was too early in the show, and with the knowledge that Ali Baba wouldn’t be there at that time, the young comedian manoeuvred his way into a better timeslot.

My slot was like two spots before Ali Baba. I got on stage, performed and while I was performing, I did one very funny joke and saw someone stand up and I looked it was Ali Baba giving me a standing ovation and everybody could see him and everybody stood up and gave me a standing ovation.

That was another pivotal moment in his career. He got to meet Ali Baba, who gave him his card. Long story short, Ali Baba introduced Basketmouth to Opa Williams, the filmmaker and producer who conceived and executed the idea of the legendary Nite of a Thousand Laughs.

Nite of a Thousand Laughs is a comedy special, the biggest in Nigeria with top comedians on the bill. But it was the distribution model that made it the comedy Special so successful. Like the music industry at that time and for a long time after, Williams put his show on a CD and distributed all over the country via Alaba.

With this exposure, Nigerian comedians exploded into nationwide fame. Basketmouth was one of them. After getting to meet Williams through Ali Baba, he auditioned with the likes of I Go Dye, Igosave, Teju Babyface etc and got selected for the show in Lagos.

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I nailed it unarguably one of my best performances ever,” he told Pulse.

Since that big break, Basketmouth’s exploits are well-documented. With his brilliant satire, witty storytelling abilities, the 42-year-old has been able to held audiences spellbound from Lagos to London, New York, Johannesburg, etc.

Basketmouth’s exploits also go beyond the stage. He has acted in films and produced TV series. Now in this stage of his veteran days, he has returned to an unfinished business with his first love music.

Over the years, Basketmout has played around the music circles. He delivered a verse on Nutty Pin’s 2003 Naija rap classic, 'Living it Up' which had hip-hop heavyweights like Ruggedman, Mode 9 and others.

He once freestyled on Dj Jimmy Jatt’s Jump off and in 2012 dropped a single which featured Wizkid.

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Yea, I thought I was ready. I dropped the song and I didn’t even push it,” he said about that record.

“I didn’t make a video for it and immediately I dropped it I was like ‘I don’t want to do it’. I felt I will rather make it and be behind the scene than be in it.”

It is what he did with Yabasi, an album he A&Red, working behind the scene putting together some of Nigerians best to delivered a contender for Album of the Year.

Watch full interview below.

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