KCee: The journey to ‘Cultural Praise’ [Pulse Interview]
KCee tells Pulse about 'Cultural Praise,' E-Money, Igbo culture, his background and more.
Characterized by fast-paced percussion and the use of triangles, bells and sticks, Ogene is loved across the nation. A key example of the genre is ‘For The Money’ by Phyno featuring Peruzzi. All the while, KCee would be there to take in the moment.
In December 2020, as a veteran Nigerian artist and hitmaker, KCee made a surprising career move by releasing the now popular song, ‘Cultural Praise Vol. 1.’ It was a drastic departure from the Afro-pop sound, for which KCee is known.
“Everybody tried to discourage me; my team, OneRPM, my manager… everybody. The only person that believed in the idea was my brother [E Money] [laughs],” he says while sitting confidently in the restaurant of The Platino, his new hotel in Chevy View Estate. “The length was definitely a problem. I know that the current generation has a short attention span, but I chose to do it anyway.”
How KCee made ‘Cultural Praise’
In August 2020, KCee and E-Money were in Anambra, Nigeria. As usual, E-Money called a local band to come play Ogene for him. It was during that session that KCee had an epiphany.
“I thought to myself that Nigerians could love this. Especially since we are a religious nation. So I called [Okwesili Eze Group] to come record with me. We recorded Vol. 1 in one take,” KCee says. “I told my producer that I wanted the raw sound, with no digital effect. Everything you hear on the beat is raw instruments.”
Before KCee released ‘Cultural Praise Vol. I,’ he had completed his Dancehall-themed 10-track fifth solo album, he had given the album a title and had even shot a video. The album was going to drop on the day that ‘Cultural Praise Vol. 1’ dropped, but KCee changed his mind because stars like Davido, Yemi Alade, Timaya, Flavour and more had released albums.
OneRPM and KCee then agreed to postpone the album release due to saturation. That was November 2020… With Detty December looming alongside Onwa December, KCee decided to release something.
“I forced them to upload the song and three days later, they called me to express their shock at the numbers,” KCee says as he laughed hard. “I tried to stay calm, but I started getting calls and mentions from Nigerians across the world who expressed their excitement at the direction. I always felt that style was for somebody and they don’t even have to be Igbo.”
When the feedback became overwhelming, KCee decided to release the ‘Cultural Praise Vol. 2.’
“I felt like this was what listened to growing up. Highlife, Fuji, Juju, Afrobeats, Gospel artists used to give us long songs,” he enthused. “It’s not exactly a new idea. I just thought to revitalize it and now OneRPM wants us to record an EP with this style.”
Limpopo: KCee has been here before
He says that the lesson he learned from the episode is that sometimes, self-belief pays off.
“The first time something like this happened, it was with ‘Limpopo.’ We travelled to Spain to shoot a video for another song [titled ‘Totori’] which featured Harrysong,” he reminisces. “Harrysong and everybody got excited about it and we went all out with the set, casting and props.”
‘Limpopo’ was recorded just three days before that shoot. Throughout the journey, KCee played the song and he was convinced that it was the single, not ‘Totori.’ He then approached the director to shoot ‘Limpopo’ instead. Everybody got angry, but KCee didn’t budge.
“That was why there was only one girl in the video - the director didn’t really have time to prepare, but I was like ‘shoot it like that,’” KCee reminisces.
The song ended up becoming the biggest Nigerian song of 2012.
Strategy, Providence and Timing
Interestingly, KCee had nothing planned for the first volume because he didn’t expect the song to blow up on this level. He says that the song wasn’t even distributed to traditional media.
“Bro, I have been making music for over 20 years. My first album with Presh was Gospel because that was the path that birthed us. I also met Presh in church and my dad was a Pastor who owned record stores,” he reminisces. “Then I moved into rap and then into Afro-pop because I wanted to make money... I have seen and done it all. These days, I make music to satisfy my conscience and for my artistic side, not necessarily for ‘hits.’”
“Anybody that says I gave the song to them for promotion should come out and say it. I do appreciate my radio friends though. They believed in my vision and picked the song up,” KCee continues. “I just believed God works in mysterious ways.”
While KCee gives all credit to God for the reception ‘Cultural Praise’ has gotten so far, he also feels like timing might have also helped the release.
“I made ‘Cultural Praise’ to go back to my roots, but I also feels like it came at the end of a year when people like Larry Gaaga, Davido, Umu Obiligbo, The Cavemen and Basketmouth released quality albums with strong Igbo elements,” he says. “I also think the pandemic weighed people down a lot and they needed something to believe in anyway. I don’t know how I got to put that together, but I’m glad I did [laughs].”
Due to his Gospel background and the familiarity of the terrain, KCee isn’t scared of being called a ‘gospel artist.’
He jokes that, “If dem call me make I come perform for church, I go go, my brother [laughs]. People might even be surprised with what I bring. My older brother is a pastor...”
Why Okwesili Eze Group?
According to KCee and a lot of Igbo people, Okwesili Eze Group isn’t even a top 20 act in Ogene music, yet KCee chose them for this song.
His reason, “I think God chose them, bro. Whenever my brother would call them, they would only do pure gospel - no vulgar language.”
He decided to work with them because the three-man group clicked with him from their first minute together in the studio. According to KCee, the group used to charge N70,000 before ‘Cultural Praise,’ but now they charged N500,000.
The rewards of background
KCee grew up as the third of six children in Ajegunle, Lagos. As noted earlier, his dad was a DJ who owned four record stores while his mom ran a restaurant. The bulk of the people who worked in these establishments were from the East. This helped young KCee and his siblings learn Igbo.
“I’ve been everywhere, but I love my culture,” KCee says.
His love for the culture drove him to make the 2019 album, Eastern Conference. He then embarked on a successful tour of the South-East with Nigerian Breweries.
“It was at that point that I decided that I wanted to make more traditional/Highlife music. This genre of music could be huge, but my Igbo brothers are not united,” KCee enthused. “We keep challenging and fighting each other indirectly. Davido posts stuff and Olamide, Wizkid, Tiwa Savage... All of them will post it. My Igbo brothers won’t repost anything for anybody.”
Who is KCee these days?
He is a father to two wonderful kids and a husband to his beautiful wife. He likes humanitarian causes and would rather use his tithe for a good cause than to pay it to a church. As an Igbo man, he also believes his mentorship and nurturing of youth.
While he admits that he got into investing in real estate around 10 years ago, he is now a core investor. Aside from The Platino Hotel, he owns a bunch of properties across Lagos.
“That’s the only thing we have; it’s not just about lavish spending. There should also be a place for savings. There is no point in being a hungry celebrity that packages with stardom,” he says. “Some of my guys who were investing before me are now billionaires in dollars. It’s not about buying a Lamborghini or Ferrari to show on the gram.”
“Seeing people succeed also makes me happy. Skiibii was here some days ago, he sat where you currently occupy. I saw the comfort and I was proud of him,” KCee continues. “I was just glad to be part of his story, you know.”
In 2020, Five Star Music wanted to sign new artists, but the pandemic derailed a lot of that. In 2021, we will definitely see some of that alongside his 10-track Dancehall album.
“I grew up with Dancehall in Ajegunle, it was my sound. I just want to express my versatility. I can do it all; Juju, Fuji, Afrobeat, Highlife, Dancehall… I just want to create,” KCee excitedly says. “Even if I can’t write it, I can deliver it with aplomb. After 21 years, I feel like freedom is the only way to be happy.”
He still feels like he’s underrated by Nigerians and still doesn’t rate awards, but he loves his fans. You can also anticipate newer versions of ‘Cultural Praise’ as well as a new video for ‘Cultural Praise Vol. 1.’
KCee jokes that he wishes COVID-19 away because he needs to go on tour. And more than ever, he is now nocturnal.
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