Audu Maikori is the founder and CEO of Chocolate City Music Group. Established in 2005, the music label nurtured the careers of rappers, MI, Ice Prince, Jesse Jagz and singer, Brymo among others.
Recently, Chocolate City announced that Mr. Maikori would step down as CEO in June. The label would also merge with MI’s Loopy Music.
PREMIUM TIMES talks to Mr. Maikori about the future of the label and the return of Jesse Jagz, who had previously left the label after his contract expired.
Mr. Maikori also talked about the possibility of Brymo, who had left the label prior the end of his contract and was sued for his troubles, returning to Chocolate City.
PT: Ten years after, how does it feel to have run one of the more established labels in Nigeria?
Maikori: It’s been very exciting. I feel very fulfilled when I see peoples’ dream come true through what we’ve been able to create, which is a platform to promote, manage and add value to the artiste and the music industry itself; helping to set up the structures and I think the organization is a model for many people to copy. So, I’m very excited and pleased.
PT: As Chocolate City merges with Loopy, both labels already have a number artistes on their rosters; do you think you the new company would have the capacity to nurture the growth of all these artistes?
Maikori: Yes, the label has the capacity. I think there is something we need to understand about growth; if you start up with one artiste 10 years ago, you must improve on your capacity to handle more artistes. We can’t still be handling five (artistes) after 10 years; that doesn’t show growth. I think we have have been able to do that because all the artistes have all done stuffs individually. If you look at what Chocolate City’s model is, we never promoted our artistes at once. They do different project by themselves then together we do a project and that’s not going to change. Already, every artiste on the label has put out a single, so I’m not worried about that. I think the model we are trying to create is such that it is artiste focused, where the artiste is at the centre and in control of his career albeit with the guidance and collaboration of the label.
PT: How did you get Jesse Jagz back to Chocolate City?
Maikori: Simple, when Jesse left, nobody knew he was trying to do that. He wanted time to find himself but I think the difference between Jesse and others was that he had a conversation with us after and said, “Look, I’m sorry but I want to do my own thing.” For us, we were like, go do your own thing, Chocolate City is family. You see, it’s not new for people to have worked with other people and come back or kept close affiliation. Partly everybody we have worked with in the past 10 years, Jeremiah Gyang, Djinee, Asa and others, we have kept communication with them. So coming back, I think it’s natural. He wanted to try his own thing, looked at it and found out, ok, I have made my point, but I still need the team. I think it just emphasises how important management is for artistes. You can’t do it all yourself; people think you can but no. When Jesse left Chocolate City, people appreciated him more than he was but the point is there is a need to promote and to manage. At the end of the day, management and talent must meet together to make profit.
PT: Will Brymo also be coming back to Chocolate City?
Audu: Like I said, it’s an open conversation, there is no… Look, at the point these things (artistes quitting labels) were happening, you find it strange in Nigeria because our industry is quite new. In other places this thing happens all the time. Labels and management fight but the point is that, as long as there is no enmity, no personal beef. For me, if Brymo had come in and had a conversation and said, look this is what I want to do, it would have been different. Remember Jesse left after his contract had expired. People forget that and think the cases are the same thing. Brymo had an existing contract and he left. So, the point is we just want to make sure our investment do not go to waste.
PT: It seems American rap star, Jay Z, is trying to set up his music streaming app, Tidal, in Nigeria. Do you think our industry is at the stage where fans will pay for streaming music when it can be downloaded for free on blogs?
Maikori: We are not there yet but it doesn’t mean we can’t start a conversation about it now. Many people are excited about Tidal coming to Nigeria. I think it’s too early to say yes to it because it’s only new in America. Even in America it’s basically struggling to get acceptance. So, I think we should work towards adapting those services. We are also doing our own local things like 5 Music, Cloud 9. Chocolate City is part of these digital platforms which will create more revenue for artistes. We are excited about the competition but it’s more important that we adapt to such services and who are better to run it? People who are here.
PT: Rumours have it Ice Prince has a deal with Roc Nation. Can you tell us what kind of deal it is?
Maikori: We had a long discussion with Roc Nation for about a year now, and it has to do with strategic partnerships in terms of promotion across the continent. I can’t reveal the details right now, but let just say as far Chocolate City is concerned, we have that relationship on the label side. There are many other deals we have signed you won’t have heard of.