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eLDee: Using Music as a Tool of Social Change

Lanre Dabiri, better known by his stage name, eLDee, is CEO of Trybe records, rapper, record producer, pioneer of Nigerian hip hop and trained architect. He is clearly a leading light in the music and entertainment industry. Jobberman conducted an exclusive interview with him on how he is using his career to drive social change, his proudest moment professionally and what makes him tick.

AA: Tell me the origins of your stage name, eLDee the Don.

LD: My initials are eL and Dee, hence eLDee. I’ve been called eLDee from as far back as I can remember. “The don” came later as a result of my multiple roles in the business. I own a record label, shoot and edit videos, write and produce music, etc…I’m a one-stop-shop for entertainment.

AA: If Fela Anikulapo-Kuti were alive, how do you think he would assess the Nigerian music industry today?

LD: Im sure he’d be proud of what has become of this new generation. Here’s a generation that has paved its own path and is playing a key role in rebranding the image of Nigeria internationally. The industry has a lot of issues and Im sure he wouldn’t have missed those either. We still lack enforcement of intellectual property laws, due to the lack of interest by our government to support the industry. I’m sure a Fela would be highlighting these issues if he were still alive today.
AA: You studied Architecture at the University of Lagos. How did you know you wanted to work in Music? I guess Architecture has been helpful in shaping your career – you are an all-in-one pack (artist, song writer, producer, and video director)

LD: I’ve always loved music. I grew up listening to a lot of music and I had decided I was going to pursue a music career even before I went to college for Architecture. Architecture helped me develop my creative side and also taught me the art of problem solving. Without architecture, I’d be a different person today. I am basically self taught in all the areas. I have learned all these things and perfected them because of my analytical skills which I have to credit to the architect in me.

AA: Let’s talk about social change. You have your stamp on Light Up Nigeria, Enough is Enough, One day…How did you come to the conclusion that social justice was going to be an area of focus in your music?

LD: I’ve always been about social change. Ever since I moved to Lagos in the late 90’s, I began to experience first hand all the issues we face as Nigerians. I grew up a bit sheltered so my first few real encounters with social issues in Nigeria came when I got into University of Lagos. I am one to stand for what I believe in, whether its fashionable to do so or not. I don’t even feel like im doing much but speaking the mind of the people, really. Everyone understands that the situation in Nigeria is not great, I just have the platform to inspire people and spread hope, and I’m using it for that purpose.

AA: How would you respond to those critics who say the next generation isn’t ready to take up positions of leadership?

LD: I say they have lost touch with reality and they need to re-evaluate their position in our future. The sad reality of the Nigerian situation is that we have been ruled by the same crop of people unsuccessfully for the past 3 or 4 decades. It’s about time they all retire from running our affairs because they obviously have no clue what they’re doing. They are the ones who created and nurtured this free-for-all system, where nobody is held accountable for anything. The system where greed and corruption has eaten deep into the core of our society.

We have too many insincere people sitting at the helm of affairs and we need to rid ourselves of such elements if we want positive change. When people selected based on merit begin to occupy government offices, you will see change in Nigeria. Once we begin to enforce the laws of the land and everyone irrespective of religion, tribe, ethnic group, political weight, or background, is held accountable, people will begin to do things the right and proper way.

AA: You engineered what has now become the music genre most call Afro-hip hop/Afro-pop. Tell me about this.

LD: I had a vision for a sound that would be “Nigerian”, an identity we can own and be proud of, and I decided to express it through music. We are all a product of our experiences over time and I figured we could somehow change the course we were on in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Nigerian music had almost completely lost its identity to the western influences of hip-hop, reggae and R&B. All I tried to do is use those genres to turn the people back towards Nigeria and Nigerian culture.

I believe I am given credit for this mostly because of the success of Trybesmen as the first music group in Nigeria to cut across all classes of Nigerians. The first of the new generation groups to be accepted as “cool”, yet Nigerian, by all Nigerians.

AA: What’s been your proudest moment professionally?

LD: I’d like to think it’s the fact that I was able to facilitate the creation of a music distribution channel for Nigerian music, which now employs millions of people. In the late 90’s, I thought up a way to gut our music independently distributed by the music pirates through their network and the “Alaba” phenomenon was born. Some say Alaba is killing the industry because of intellectual property violations, but the truth is, what we lack is enforcement, which can only be blamed on a failed government. If everyone is forced to play by the rules, we can begin to see real profit from our works and the government can begin to generate revenue from the entertainment industry as well.

AA: What about your failures?

LD: I don’t think I’ve had anything I can consider as a “failure”. I have had experiences that were not favorable but I learn from every single one of them and it has helped me to be the man I am today.

AA: Do you assume song writing, producing and performing as a job for life?

LD: If I were to retire from active performing, I don’t see myself ever stopping behind-the-scenes production work. I believe I will still write songs, direct music videos, work with a video production company and maybe even movies at some point but I will definitely remain in entertainment.

AA: You always capture your thought-process in words, stirring ones imagination of the Nigerian experience. What is the writing process like for you? Is it work or play?

LD: I try to have fun with it. Most of the things I write about are very calculated and there is a purpose to every song but I do it in as playful a manner as possible.

AA: What was growing up like? I imagine your Mother played a critical role from your song, Mama.

LD: I grew up in Kaduna, very serene environment. It played a role in my creative abilities. My mom was very keen on supporting everything I laid my hands on because I was a brilliant kid. I was a straight-As student so I always got what I wanted. She’s always supported me through my every passion, from dancing, to architecture, to music. My mom was responsible for most of the financial support Trybesmen and Trybe Records received in the early years, so yes, she played a very critical role.

AA: You are operating in different functions: Husband, Father, CEO,  Role Model and a Celebrity. How do you keep your life in perspective?

LD: I am blessed with a woman that understands my passion and helps to keep me sane enough to continue to enjoy what I do. Not much has changed since the baby, my wife and I still hang out and do the things we did before. I always tell people, we are friends before being lovers so we work as a team always.

AA: You lived in the United States a bit to pursue a career in interactive media and worked with some Fortune 500 clients. What were the lessons learnt? Why did you move back in 2008?

LD: The reason I went to the US in the first place was to develop myself professionally. I had peaked in Nigeria and wanted to garner experience working with the best of the best in the world. The minute I figured I was ripe enough to float a full interactive media production company in Nigeria, I moved back.

AA: What makes you tick?

LD: Creativity, passion and purpose.
AA: Last word: I find your message of social change extremely powerful, clear and undiluted. I think you will make a great career in Politics (smiles).

LD: I have absolutely no interest in politics, my passion starts and ends with social change and the benefits of using my platform to contribute positively towards the development of Nigeria and Africa as a whole.

Nathan Jeffery
Notification Bell