Once upon a time, Reminisce’s dream was to make enough money for his next meal and save enough for a 2.2 Pencil Camry with air conditioning.
13 years later, he sits pretty in his home studio and one of the things he reminisces is the 2012 Oniru beach moment that he realized he might become a star, “E shock me, Tolani! I had tears in my eyes as n*ggas sang my lyrics [Laughs]. I never thought I’d achieve ⅓ of what I’ve achieved. I thought I’d only be close, but never blow up.”
That was five days before he released his fifth body of work, Vibes and Insha Allah EP. We were outside his gate when he personally walked to us in a pair of sweatpants and night jacket.
“I’m sorry to keep you waiting, guys… Where should we have the conversation? The studio or the sitting room? I’ve been kind of scared to go out of my house since this COVID business started. Currently, I have five kids in my house - including my niece and nephew so I can’t take any risks,” he says.
Since March 19, 2020 when the COVID-19 lockdown hit the Safaru household, Reminisce hasn’t smoked. The past four months without smoking have been his longest spell of abstinence in 18 years. This also coincides with an 11-month spell away from alcohol - which he stopped in August 2019, after he returned from Hajj.
“Let’s use the studio, baba,” I said. Lo, Reminisce doesn’t use hand sanitizers, he uses a big container of methylated spirit. He jokes that it is, “98% pure.” He continues, “I basically only live for my children and my wife these days.
“I’m 39 and fresh as a house husband. I love my family, I conduct my business, read all the books I want, play FIFA - the only way I piss my wife off [laughs] - and be happy. I gave up vanity and the superstar life to focus on my family because I didn’t want to be a polygamist like my dad. I can’t risk this virus.
“In 2012, eLDee told me, “Some people get carried away with this stardom thing and forget to live life.” Now, I’m living life. Before you guys leave, I’ll probably eat Fried Yam, crayfish and Akara [laughs]. I just want to be happy. Two days ago, Cabasa abused 9ice and I for playing FIFA at 3 am in the morning [laughs].”
This reality is exemplified in how his two daughters feature on and serve as Executive Producers of his upcoming EP - His first with OnePRM, an American digital distribution service, playlist marketing, rights management, advertising, branding and fan engagement platform.
Remilekun Safaru: Oko Sade, Baba Hafusa
Reminisce grew up in a polygamous family alongside 12 other children. Although he credits his dad for his exposed, versed mind and his will to constantly learn and evolve, he refused to follow the same path. He says, “Tolani, I can’t blame my dad. There’s a thing as time relatability and we must all learn it. Our parents grew up in a different time with different realities. Polygamy was an attraction of his time. I have to understand that.”
23 years ago, Reminisce met his wife during JAMB lessons and they’ve been together since. Together, they have two beautiful daughters. During one of the recording sessions for Vibes and Insha Allah, his daughters were disturbing him in the studio and asking questions. For respite, he sought to engage them. That session became the opening track to the upcoming EP.
The song talks about the struggles of creating through and dealing with fatherhood.
Learning as he grows Part I: Streaming and Ownership
While Reminisce speaks with conviction, he also learns through discussion and a lot of reading. He says, “You have to learn a lot. Osagie [Alonge] must have recommended six books for me and I read them. I also learn from random conversations and change is important.”
Over the past few years, Reminisce has been trying to evolve. After El Hadjj dropped in 2016, Reminisce got weary with chasing the next hit. So, he took a break from music and recalibrated for his current fourth wave as a top tier artist.
He says, “I didn’t release music for 18 months, so I used that time to know my Children more and study music streaming. The first experiment with streaming was ‘Ponmile’ which was very successful. Then, ‘Diet’ and ‘Problem,’ and it all shocked me because it was new [laughs]. I also realized that as procedural or bureaucratic as it is, it is also secure and beautiful.
“I also understood that it was more about strategy than quality music. I then studied roll-outs and also understood that as much as ownership is important, I'll sign a foreign or local deal that gives me freedom and money, even if it means foregoing ownership for some years. What is ownership without money?"
"You look at publishing and licensing and you get to a point where you realize that you might not be able to do it alone. It's the 'music business,' Tolani. Business is commercialism and money must change hands. If someone can help you maximize your potential, why not?"
Second, he cut off a lot business and personal ties to people he felt ungrateful towards his efforts. His theory, “You can’t keep bad energy. If they are truly great, they will be able to replicate it somewhere else. I wish everybody well and don't care about how they feel.
“The things I spent on certain people, I can’t even tell my wife. She’s Ijebu, she’ll kill me [laughs]. People will get more about this on my upcoming documentary.”
In between that, Reminisce felt the urge to do something different asides from music. He connected with Kemi Adetiba - whom he calls, “a G” - on Hip-Hop and their mutual love for art. After one year, he finally accepted the script and did the movie.
“I had the script for four months, but I didn’t read the script till I got on set. Everyone expected the worst - being an artist. For that reason, I didn’t go to ‘King of Boys’ because I thought I f***ed up, but my wife came back and was raving. Kemi raked and I apologized,” he jokes.
Learning Part II
Reminisce was going to release an album. He had recorded a few songs, which he sent to friends like Olanrewaju 'El Bama' Onipede and Osagie Alonge for some A&R on an album. Alonge and El Bama felt something great was afoot, but an unconvinced Reminisce shelved the project. ‘OGB41G’ and ‘Oja’ were part of those recordings.
Then in December 2019, Alonge felt it might be time for a project and work commenced. Then, COVID hit. While at home and feeling an urge to record, for the first time in his career, a 39-year-old Reminisce took to YouTube to learn recording and sound engineering. He would also call friends like TMXO for directions as required, because he didn’t want anyone in his house.
With growing hair, Reminisce deleted earlier recordings and re-recorded the entire Vibes and Insha Allah EP by himself - there’s video evidence for every step of the way.
30+ Vibes vs. Vibes and Insha AIlah
Before it became Vibes and Insha Allah, it was meant to be titled, 30+ Vibes - an ode to fun adult contemporary Hip-Hop. However, everybody including Osagie Osarenz, Biola Kazeem and Osagie Alonge kicked against it due to fear of limitation. Inspired by his criticism of Liverpool FC’s style which he calls, ‘Cross and Insha Allah,’ he titled the project, Vibes and Insha Allah.
The 'Vibes' part was also strategic, to appeal to a younger - social media - demography.
Fireboy features on the EP on a song titled, ‘Ogaranya’ - he sent his verse back in four hours. He calls, 'Ogaranya' a "demography P," which is a strategy that he learned while studying music streaming. Tiwa Savage and Reminisce reunite two years after ‘Diet’ for ‘Eja Osan’ - one of the two unreleased songs they have together.
One person who could have featured but couldn’t due to scheduling was Wizkid - but that will happen sooner rather than later.
The idea was to talk about important things, not just randomness. One of the songs also takes aim at Nigerian Hip-Hop purists.
Grouse with Nigerian Hip-Hop purists
Growing up in Alagomeji, Yaba, Reminisce was a Hip-Hop head. He grew up listening to all the greats, KRS-One, Rakim, Talib Kweli, Jay Z, B.I.G, Nas and so forth. They influenced his thought-process and his lifestyle choices.
He says, “I think I became a rapper even before I realized [laughs]. I was listening to all these guys and I read about them religiously. I rate the new kings, but I also admit my obsession with the old guys [laughs].”
Reminisce was part of a crew called, YabTown Squad which became one of the three movements that formed the earliest days of Coded Tunes. He used to perform freestyles for DJ Funky Jay in front of Musiliu Obanikoro’s house, queueing up to get noticed by Kenny Ogungbe and D1 who recorded AIT Jamz close by.
That never quite happened, but he kept rapping in English and learning from ID Cabasa, upon introduction by Mo-Def.
He was then featured on 9ice’s Gongo Aso, on a track titled, ‘Bachelor's Life.’ Shortly after, he started rapping in Yoruba after his experiment on Klever Jay’s ‘Friend or Foe’ and Jahbless’ ‘Joor Oh’ paid off.
It was fortuity that came at a time when he had given up on stardom. His next act was, ‘Kako Bii Chicken’ on which he read out his manifesto to Hip-Hop and carved his own path. Stardom beckoned and he adhered.
By 2012, he realized that he was a star and he became resolute in his ways, even though he admits that his first album, Book of Rap Stories was him trying to prove something. By 2015, he fired a major shot at Hip-Hop purists on the smash hit, ‘Local Rappers’ alongside Olamide and Phyno. Things never remained the same.
He says, “One of the reasons why I left Coded Tunes was because I was rapping in English. The initial ‘Book of Rap Stories’ was being recorded in the mid-2000s, but it never came out. 9ice had to go because he had ‘Little Money’ and I decided to make a change. I was way better than a lot of people, but it will forever be a game of numbers. What would you have me do?
“It was about demography and money. Do you want me to be poor? Sarz also asked me if I was sure about Hip-Hop reps, I was like too hell with that, let’s light it. 10 years later, guess who’s in this motherf*****r? [laughs]. I don’t want to be the greatest, but I love money. I do this so people can have opinions, I just want to make money.
“People are better than me in a lot of ways. If I’m better than you somewhere, look for what you do better than me. I’m a ‘lambarist’ and a ‘tungbaist,’ I learned to blend in. It’s like football, there’s nothing like a striker anymore, you gotta be a forward with multiple functionalities. That’s why I have a problem with ‘Hip-Hop’ purists who have never paid one million for a beat.
“You must adjust to what’s going on or you’ll get left behind on 500 streams... You can’t be stagnant and this Hip-Hop isn’t for us… Point me to a Nigerian rapper that was huge in ‘95. You must be able to appeal to your local audience - the grassroot people - like Fuji artists can and ‘lamba limbo.’ You can’t come to Ojota and have people looking at you.
“The Americans you want to impress think you have an accent. It’s okay if you do that, I have no problem with the way people feel comfortable to make their music. Where I have a problem is when you criticize people for making rap music in a different way or a different language… I can probably do what you do better than you and still lamba limbo, you know [laughs].
“And what’s indigenous rapper? Who’s now international? Rap is rap… Don’t take the piss o [laughs].”
Reminisce is still a Hip-Hop head though, he spent a night watching Snoop Dogg Verzuz DMX.
Relationship with other rappers
Nonetheless, Reminisce is cool with rappers like Falz, Vector, Ice Prince, his brother, Olamide and more.
He says, “I don’t have problems with anybody, but apparently they have problems with me because of ‘Local Rappers.’ Some were calling me to retract my statement. Retract what? [laughs] In a democracy? It’s fine though. Don’t posture online and then send me DM for a verse - it’s not nice. You want the lamba that you criticize?”
Do awards matter?
Reminisce says that as much as awards represent “mileage,” you can’t also be stuck on them. In Yoruba, he says, “If awards matter, I’d be livid - with all the losses. My Egbon, Ayo Animashaun, called me recently to come get all my plaques from him. My wife and my kids want them, but I’m never bothered. You have to accept that some other person has also been excellent.
“At the AMVCA, I stayed at home because I knew I wasn’t going to win. Real recognize real. I have a lot of them though - even with the awards I’ve lost. In 2014, iLLBliss told me that, “Rems, you are only as good as your last hit,” that’s why I keep going.”
Two more EPs in 2020
As we set up in the studio, he was also talking business with someone on the phone. The surging price of the dollar annoyed him, he had to go upstairs to change clothes for the interview. On his way back down to the studio, he says, “This year, I have three EPs for you guys.”
After our conversation was over, we stayed over to watch the two beautiful videos for, ‘Ogaranya’ and ‘Gbedu’ before listening to a beautiful song with Adekunle Gold. On that studio system are 100s of songs, including about 13 with Olamide, his brother. Vibes and Insha Allah drops on Wednesday, July 29, 2020.
Reminisce runs six kilometres with his wife every night. The aim is to be slim like 9ice… Curiously, he doesn’t have the urge to smoke at this time, but he misses smoking and drinking. Everyone around him smokes and drinks.
As much as he knows that he worked for this, he knows that he’s also lucky because he understands people work harder.
“I’m not Reminisce, looking for Wizkid numbers, no. I’m maximizing and improving Reminisce numbers,” he says. His fans understand him and his brand. He’s also a sex symbol - not that he cares though. A documentary is coming, but having already ticked event host and acting off his bucket list, the next thing to tick off is sports analysis on a big platform.
Blame Biola Kazeem when you see Aga on your favourite sports channel.
When this writer asks him why he doesn't let people see more of his vast mind and bougie side, he simply replied in Yoruba that, "Tolani, how much time do we have on earth? I like speaking Yoruba. I recently made it compulsory that my kids start speaking it. When it comes time for the bougie side, we'll show it. Until then..."
Is Reminisce still a rapper?
He replies, “I don’t know.” He thinks of himself as an artist who expresses through rap.