Bunk bed, dull light pouring in through the windows, that’s how it started. I’d just read Frank E. Perettis Piercing The Darkness. I was in Abuja, but a girl had a crush on me in Lagos. Somewhere deep in my psyche these two unrelated occurrences inspired me to pick a book – one with blank pages- and start writing. I haven’t stopped since.
Poetry came first. Suddenly I was wistful for affection. In my young mind I knew words could make things better. That feelings made meaningless by distance, could be made meaningful by words. So I wrote, and those rhyming verses of history will probably never be found, but they facilitated the future. When I eventually got back to Lagos I was enamored by Eminem, nostalgic about music from my past, and discovering the vocal styling of the Ushers and Chris Brown’s. I wanted to make songs too. So I wrote lyrics. And they were pretty good ( they must’ve been, because over a decade later, musician Johnny Drille would laud this particular strain of my talent). Mostly I wrote about love, and sometimes ambition.
“You’ve gone from mild, to a wild flower/And I’ve gone from sweet, to really sour/And our love was a storm, now it’s a shower/So….goodbye my lover, hello stranger”.
I’ll never understand why love lost offers itself as material more eagerly than love found. Love in the 21st century is a low burning introvert, whilst heartbreak is the life of the party . Anyway, I digress. In an era where every producer was trying to turn you into the next Terry G, a poetic soul such as mine quickly lost interest in the music scene. Then came rap. Rap to me was always a competitive sport. I did Facebook texts battles, I did freestyle battles at school and I wrote punchlines just for punchlines sake. This explains my natural -if helped- evolution into slam poetry. It oft gets to the point in my pieces where I must restrain myself from breaking out into full on flows (see Bogeyman’s Melody and Tony Stark).
I think even from day one I was always winning things. A poetry prize at UNILAG. A short story prize at UNIBEN. I was convinced the only way to know you were really good was to beat everyone else. This was one of my first mistakes, believing that winning competitions is a sign of legitimacy. That’s what it is ideally. But you will often find yourself selling water to birds and clouds to fishes. Your work wouldn’t always be what the judges want at a given time. Grammy winning songs from 10 years ago would likely tank in today’s music landscape. You can’t blame yourself for a judging panel’s tunnel vision and in some instances, oversight. This is especially true of Nigerian competitions, where in worst case scenarios you are judged by people who flap about in the shallow end of the literary pool. But there’s a balance to this. Sometimes you have to admit to yourself that you didn’t put in the work, or your piece downright sucked.
The longest leap you’ll make as a writer, is realizing that writing is only 10% of the job. It doesn’t matter if you’re Shakespeare meets Tolkien, without a system to back you up, to publish and distribute your thoughts, to maybe monetize it, you are nothing. Your mistake is believing your talent is for you. Talent, like any resource (including money) is given to you for stewardship. You are responsible for it, not the other way around. It is meant to be used for the betterment of mankind. You are very likely a better writer than Olorisupergal, Linda Ikeji, Bella Naija, Wizkids songwriters and anyone else that impacts Nigeria by means of “elevated” language. You’ve found your voice, great. Now be a dear and find your audience, find a mic, find some speakers, and climb unto the stage. Your talents aren’t like your skeletons, they weren’t made for closets.
Platforms. I’ve won so many things on so many platforms, that I have a hard time picking and choosing when asked to “send in a short bio”. But I haven’t won enough, and in my achievement addicted mind, I may never. As such I challenge myself to enjoy today as much as I would the day I win a pulitzer. In 2019 and beyond I intend to wean myself off of platforms. Like Beyonce, Apple and the Kutis I intend to become The Platform. To be my own system, because I’m tired of middle-aged men and women in suits who do not understand the value of talent, until the talent becomes self-made. I’m tired of putting my career in the hands of people who may or may not know what they’re doing . The only way to do the undone, is to do it yourself.
Finally, there will be so many motivational speeches, so many people telling you that you can do it. But it isn’t always true. Maybe you can’t do it, or shouldn’t. Only you can know for sure. It’s so easy to be gassed up in this industry. How many times have you seen what you thought was a mediocre piece of writing get rave reviews? Your closest friends and associates will almost have you convinced that you’re the second coming of Edgar Poe. So always take praise with a pinch of salt. Resist the urge to call everyone who doesn’t like your work a “hater”. Because there’s a lot you can learn from them. Embody the entirety of the American high schools you watched on TV growing up. Be your own cheerleader. Be as competitive as a jock. Be the class clown and don’t take yourself too seriously. Be the mean girls when you need some criticism. And never, ever be the jealous one trying to steal Zac Efron from bae. Selah.