Cuppy: The ‘Original Copy’ and a policy of excellence [Pulse Interview]
Cuppy tells Pulse about 'Original Copy,' finding music, 'Africa Now' on Apple Music, music production and more.
“Hi, Tolani...” she said in her characteristic, enthusiastic sweetness. She then jokes, “I’m sorry, the Pulse song isn’t gonna make my album…” Cuppy had been gracious enough to make a song for Pulse Nigeria in 2018 - at no cost.
When you know Cuppy, it’s difficult to do anything but like her. Her personality is amazing and her spirit is like Ice Prince’s - they feel like kindred spirits who make you feel comfortable, even when you’re meeting them for the first time. Cuppy is a people person and you can’t buy that.
“It’s just the way I was raised, I can’t seem to run past it, abi?” she warmly says about her alluring spirit - presumably with a smile.
On August 21, 2020, Cuppy released her debut album, Original Copy. The funny part is Cuppy had been in and around the Nigerian music scene with EDM records and different experiments for about eight years. She never released a project until now. Her response to ‘why now’ was, “I was tired of waiting joor [laughs].
“The album has been ready since March, but I had to put it on hold due to my Apple show. I’ve been working on it for a long time.”
As she took a bite out of her meal and her cutlery hit her plate, she called the process of making an album, “nerve wracking.”
In her thoughts, you can’t release an album that you are not comfortable with. Despite having a well-received single like, ‘Green Light’ with Tekno at the time, Cuppy - like any other creative - likes being comfortable with anything before releasing them.
She says, “You can’t just push something out because it’s time. Even though it might be time, there is the issue of readiness. Albums are a different ball game entirely.”
ALSO READ: DJ Cuppy speaks with Pulse [2019 Interview]
Dealing with criticism
The delay in releasing her debut album was also due to the recurrent hate messages thrown her way about her music. Nigerians would literally go on Twitter and bash Cuppy whenever she released a song between 2017 and 2019. At some point, Pulse Nigeria even had to put out an article in response to the constant barrage. Yet, she kept going - unshaken.
She says, “I had people tell me that my music was terrible - that no one would ever listen to my music or a Cuppy album. I’m a human being - constantly hearing that will make anybody think twice [laughs].”
While she appreciates some of these responses for constantly keeping her on her toes, she also says, “I like to experiment. I like to switch things up sometimes - it’s music. I can’t afford to stay stagnant. I also have to make music about things that resonate with me and about how I feel. That’s how I made ‘Gelato’ or ‘Charged Up’ or ‘Jollof On The Jet.’
“And sometimes, it’s better to experiment than to stay stagnant. Sometimes, I feel like people need to give artists a chance to express and experiment. The place of an audience is important, but the artist must also be given a chance to evolve. Sometimes, I feel like the criticism is because of my personality and the open, honest way I was raised to live my life. But it is what it is, right [laughs].”
Cuppy then goes on to joke about how people accuse her of being, “razz.” While she admits and even jokes about it, she feels like even though she was born into an affluent family, she shouldn’t be defined by it. Thus, she would rather be herself and be called ‘razz’ than be a snob. In her words, “It’s what makes me happy.”
Excellence: The Cuppy Policy
Cuppy was born Florence Ifeoluwa Otedola in 1992 when her grandfather, the late Sir Michael Otedola was still the Lagos State Governor. Her dad is also billionaire and oil magnate, Mr. Femi Otedola.
She says, “I am who I am and I wasn’t raised to judge people on what they have, it’s who they are. I was born into this situation, I can’t afford to only live a certain way. There’s more to life than our comfort zones and this mentality is down to my parents. Anybody who knows my dad would tell you that he’s also that open with life.
“His nature makes me and my siblings understand that we could have been born in any other circumstance. So, how dare I put myself on a pedestal because I was brought to the earth through somebody. I didn’t earn my background, it just happened. And unto whom much is given, much is expected. So, I must not forget that. How dare I?”
For these reasons, Cuppy feels like the pressure placed upon her shoulders might be fair sometimes.
“Who am I to let my people down? Who am I to not do a good job? If I’m on Apple Music and I don’t do a good job, that’s a bad reflection on me and my people.
“If ‘Jollof On The Jet’ is a good song, then it better be. I have everything to make it and there’s only one option - it must be good and I shouldn’t do less than that. My label, Platoon sends me great stats but I feel we can also do better,” she says.
The making of Cuppy
Cuppy’s family is from Epe, Lagos State. While there’s a history of affluence, everything wasn’t always in the billion dollars. Cuppy says, “I think my dad made money very quickly and our lives changed pretty quickly as well.”
Cuppy also feels like that political background she was born into meant there was no room for mediocrity.
Her mom is Nana Otedola, an entrepreneur who started Garment Care, a leading dry cleaning outfit in Nigeria before her husband started Zenon Oil. Cuppy says, “I think my dad learned a lot from her [my mom].”
Nonetheless, Cuppy calls her dad, “An original Lagos hustler boy who thinks outside the box and doesn’t like the easy way out.” That formation drove some of her life’s choices.
In that background, Cuppy found music early enough and she learned how to play the piano later.
She says, “I probably started drumming and clapping before I could talk [laughs].” Growing up in G.R.A, Ikeja which she likens to “heaven,” and remembers fondly for the success of the Super Eagles of Nigeria and being able to buy “a ton of sh*t” with N100, she remembers just loving music.
With incredible nostalgia and a ting in her voice, she reminisces, “One moment that always stands out for me; my dad had just started his company, Zenon and he was showing us a depot he had just bought in Apapa after getting a loan. Me, my sister [Temi] and my dad were all in his CLK [Benz] - roof off.
“After buying Gala in traffic, we were cruising on this highway and playing ‘Yellow’ by Fela. Over twenty years later, that moment still gives me butterflies because it’s one of my happiest moments in life and music was attached.
“I also remember playing Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’ and singing along to it. My dad would be like, ‘No, no, Ife, you’re good, you’re good o.’ [Laughs] I was a very happy kid.”
At 12, her dad had made good money and he felt Cuppy had to go live in London with her siblings to attend school. She comments, “By the time I came back from the UK after I went at 13, I kind of had a love-hate thing with the change and moving to the island. Nigeria was also changing pretty quickly - this was like the come-up of ‘new money.’”
When Cuppy was in boarding school and feeling “out of it,” music helped her find an identity. The first thing she bought on that voyage was an iPod which she loaded with Nigerian music. She gave a shout-out to bootleg sites like Limewire, Bebo and so forth for helping.
At 16, she picked up music production and DJing while also aiming to finish her education on a high because she wanted to be a model child. She also jokes about how she picked up a more British accent around that time. In those days, her sound was more Electronic as she was more influenced by European music.
In between all that her dad was heavily preparing her for a career as an oil trader, but Cuppy’s love for partying and music helped to fuel her earliest career as a DJ. She jokes, “I can’t even lie, I used to love partying. But I was also a producer.”
As a music producer, she produced DRB Lasgidi’s first ever single. She says, “Teni [Teezee], Ladi [Fresh L] and BOJ used to come to my house every weekend. I would produce, play the piano, record their vocals and all that…”
After she returned for one summer at 17, her first show was at Rehab on Victoria Island, Lagos. She would hang out with Asa Asika who was learning the ropes around Storm Records at the time. Their mutual love for music brought them close and in those moments, they fell in love.
She says, “I thought Asa Asika was the coolest cat at the time [laughs]. Storm Records was the hottest label and he used to hang out with Naeto C after school, you know.” At 18, she started DJing big time because she found a way to party and make money at the same time.
Before she interned at Roc Nation, her dad prepared her to become an oil trader. With a degree in Economics and with a CV that includes employment at Trafigura and Glencore, everything was going well till music slowly became what mattered to her.
She says, “I literally thought I would f*ck up the whole industry and I was working towards it [laughs]. I worked on shopping desks, FOREX desks and even worked towards getting my high sea certificate to trade on the international market before fate had me fall in love with music [laughs].
“I still had my degree and experiences, but that career path became opportunity cost. [laughs] I knew this sh*t couldn’t fail because I had my whole life set up for me. Most things come with hard work, but I probably would be making millions now lounging on a yacht with my fellow trading husband or something, I don’t know [laughs], but I chose this more ‘stressful’ career.”
Cuppy was also wary of disappointing her family. Nonetheless, her parents were supportive.
Dropping the ‘DJ’
A few years ago, Cuppy dropped the ‘DJ’ from ‘Cuppy’ and took on the brand of an artist. She felt like her brand needed more flexibility in light of Calvin Harris, Skrillex and Diplo.
She had always wanted to be an artist after witnessing what Jimmy Jatt did with his album, The Definition. She says, “It was exciting to see a DJ make that move. Then, I saw Xclusive, Spinall and all of them do great things. I look up to them so much much.”
After dropping, ‘I Love My Country,’ she just kept going. Her sound also switched from Electronic to more Afro-pop. The moment she credits as her big break was, ‘Green Light’ featuring Tekno though. The song was birthed after she jokingly told Tekno, “Send me a song like ‘Pana’ now…”
After following Tekno to four countries to take in his work and build her confidence in the music, the song was made.
Earlier in the year, Cuppy was the only African to host a show on Apple Music. Talks for the gig had been on for about one year. She did a demo, sent to Apple and kept waiting. When her hope started fading, she got a call for the job.
She says, “I’m glad Apple took my ideas. The show has been going well and it’s helped me see myself as not just Nigerian, but African. I learn everyday to constantly be in touch. The job is a responsibility and I want to deliver everyday. People think things come easy for me, but they’re not entirely right.”
This interview was done a few weeks before Original Copy dropped. At the time, she felt nervous and excited about the album. However, with songs like ‘Litty Lit’ featuring Teni or ‘Feel Good’ featuring Fireboy or ‘54,’ she must be calmer these days. She said she wasn’t obsessed with numbers at the time, but her numbers have been decent.
Relax Cuppy, your album is good. Review out on Pulse Nigeria soon.
Recently, she’s been producing through programming, but her story continues. At the end of this chat, Cuppy then discussed some ideas before we abruptly drew to a close because Cuppy had another interview. Shout-out to Elizabeth...
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