In this exclusive interview, we chat with the biggest African DJ, Cool DJ Jimmy Jatt. Knowing that he has been trending and replicating his success for over two decades, we paid keen attention to all he had to say, about longevity, what it takes for artists to succeed and so much more. In this interview, the legendary DJ even addresses a mentality problem that may have been common with of a lot of artists.
Howfana: You’ve been in the entertainment industry since the late 80s. And you have been consistently successful over the years. What is the secret to your longevity in the entertainment industry?
DJ Jimmy Jatt: I wouldn’t say that there’s a secret. I think it’s all about working hard at what you do and reinventing yourself. I move with time and I am just the kind of person who is eager to be fresher and I might get into a trend ahead of most people. And there’s the love you get from people and God’s grace. No matter how hard you work, if God doesn’t grant you that grace there’s nothing you can do. So it’s God’s grace, determination and the love I get from people.
No matter how hard you work, if God doesn’t grant you that grace there’s nothing you can do.
Is there a personality trait that artists and all people in entertainment need to develop in order to last in the industry?
I think that if you’re down to earth, humble and if you have a great personality and relate well with people, it will definitely help. A lot of people tend to step on the people that celebrate them. A lot of showbiz people tend to see themselves as superstars, but you are only a superstar because people say so. The moment you start to give people the vibe that you’re all that, they might turn around and say, I’m not with you anymore. You’re only as big as your fan base, so it’s the love you get from people that makes you a superstar.
A lot of people tend to step on the people that celebrate them.
I’m just a down to earth and normal person and I don’t think it hurts to be like that. Also, I respect and appreciate people; I don’t take people for granted. Love I get from people just keep growing, and as long as that happens you will always be in the mix of things. A lot of people get that love and take it for granted and assume their blood is blue or green and that that’s why they are special.
You have observed a lot of careers, has it become easy to tell if a new artist is going to blow or become successful?
I’ve seen a lot of talented people that never get off the ground, and I’ve seen a lot of people with not so fantastic talent that have risen to the top. It takes a lot; you need to have the right team, you need to have management, PR and you need to take care of every department. So skills and talent are just one part of the package. It’s not always easy to tell but as a DJ you probably have a 50 to 60 percent idea of identifying what can fly.
I’ve seen a lot of talented people that never get off the ground, and I’ve seen a lot of people with not so fantastic talent that have risen to the top.
Has there been any example, of an artist whom you saw and said, this person is going to be successful, and it ended up being so?
I am mindful of name dropping, I would not want to drop names [we laugh and after a while he gives in] …. Okay, let me give you three guys whose careers started in three different eras; Daddy Showkey, 2Face and Wizkid. These are all people that I met long before their careers took off and I could tell that they had something.
A lot of fans have this unreasonable expectation that their favorite musician should never retire. They get confused when an artist they love retires or steps away even if it’s temporarily. How do you feel when you see artists who are no longer active in the industry?
Daddy Showkey, 2Face and Wizkid. These are all people that I met long before their careers took off and I could tell that they had something.
To be honest, I don’t think artists retire. You might just not be having a great time and it will look like you’re not on the scene. There may have been a few people who deviated from music but artists don’t really retire.
These days, fans tend to buy into artists more than they do into their music. Sometimes people may love an artist so much; he’s not making great music anymore but they are still behind him…That could derail the artist and he stops focusing on the music. So if you love an artist, you could point it out to them, ‘listen, I love you but the music isn’t great at the moment. We love you and we’re still here for you’. Also, you know, Naija na use and dispose environment’. People could be vibing with an artist and showing him so much love – when they get a new guy that the love has been transferred to, no matter how great your talent is, no matter how great your personality is – when it’s time to shift to the next guy, they shift. We’ve seen a lot of that and I don’t want to give you names. We’ve seen a lot of guys who were on top and they still make great music till now… but no matter what kind of music they make it’s still not going to be a hit. Not because the music isn’t great but because the people have shifted to someone else.
Naija na use and dispose environment.
You used to be a rapper before you became a DJ, what is your take on the current state of Rap music?
Sadly, I think our environment is being unfair to rap music. I won’t say our people don’t love Rap music, but people love rap music from elsewhere; places other than Nigeria. People are still buying Jay Z as old as Jay is…they are buying rap music from everywhere not Nigeria, and I think that’s unfair for Hip Hop artists in Nigeria.
I think the media and the music platform in Nigeria are not supporting Hip Hop enough. Let me not use the term ‘Hip Hop music’ because that term has been misused a lot. When you say Hip Hop people just think you mean youth music.
…they are buying rap music from everywhere not Nigeria, and I think that’s unfair for Hip Hop artists in Nigeria
When you see great rapper come up, he releases his first singles and everybody is saying, ‘this guy is awesome’. By the time he is going for his second album, he then waters down his lyrics and waters down the music in terms of it being rap music. Because if he makes it rap music, first of all, his record label will tell him it’s not selling. Then the radio isn’t going to play it; the same radio that’s playing all the top rappers in the world, Nas, Kendrick Lamar and so on.
Also, the event and concert organizers don’t encourage enough of the rap artists. And in Nigeria people don’t make money from selling the music, they make the money from performing the music. If you don’t get booked for the major shows you may not be making the right money. I’ve seen a lot of rappers become singers. It’s not because they can’t rap anymore. They have put in their best and they’ve seen other people do some other kinds of music and make all the money. I think the environment that we’re in is not allowing rap artists to grow.
What do you listen to when there’s nobody else there?
I am an all round music person. Except when I’m preparing for an event or preparing my playlist, you won’t find me listening to the big party songs or big hits because I get enough of that in the course of work. I listen to everything, from R&B to Hip Hop to Jazz, old Nigerian songs… I’m just like a music encyclopedia, I go round everything. Sometimes while listening to all this, I might come up with music ideas for other people.
Even some who are not even involved in it, sing about it and glorify it because they think that’s what people want to hear.
What aspect of the entertainment industry do you not like?
Drugs and substance abuse. A lot of people make it look like it’s the norm. Even some who are not even involved in it, sing about it and glorify it because they think that’s what people want to hear. And you have a lot of young people buying into this. I don’t use drugs and I don’t encourage it.
At some point, it seemed like a rite of passage, for a Nigerian artist to feature an artist from America or some other country. These days, it seems like less of a big deal to feature these artists. It actually seems like it’s now a big deal for the foreign artist to feature the Naija artist. What do you think about the trend?
That to me is like ‘surrender to colonialism
A lot of artists feel that if they are able to feature an artist from abroad it would be a dream come true and it would mean that they have made it. That to me is like ‘surrender to colonialism’; like you cannot be respected or regarded until that happens to you. I think that’s an insult to you as a person. Collaborating is a good thing, but don’t ever feel like you cannot get to where you are going until you feature X artist from X country. For a long time, a lot of Nigerian artists were at that point. A lot of people are like, someday I’m going to feature this artist or win the grammys but whatever happened to someday I’m going to win the Headies or someday I’m going to work with the biggest artist around here? But I think we’ve passed that stage already. Tell me the biggest song that features an artist from somewhere else.
I might say, Come Closer by Wizkid featuring Drake… but you know even Daddy O is bigger than that song.
That song [Come Closer] is not even in the top 5 biggest Wizkid songs. I feel like ‘Feeling The Beat’ is bigger than that song. So we should understand the strength that we have as a people. We are the biggest gathering of black people in the world. And we have a whole continent of about a billion people to worry about. Let people out there understand the strength that you have. Don’t submit to them like, look I can’t make it if I don’t get you on my record. That was the signal and the statement that was being sent in the past.
We are the biggest gathering of black people in the world. And we have a whole continent of about a billion people to worry about.
What do you do for fun? Although your job seems like a lot of fun.
My job is fun. When I’m not working I just want to be alone and lock myself away somewhere.