Okechukwu Ukeje, popularly known as Mr. Raw, tells ’Nonye Ben-Nwankwo about his career and other issues
My new SONG
It is titled Timboli Mboli. M Josh features in the album. He was the same guy that featured in Spiritual Congi. I like to work with him. This single is still my usual kind of song, but I had to inject the new ‘azonto’ beat into it. The single is doing very well in the market. Since Nigerians want to dance, we give them what they want. The response I got in a few hours I uploaded it on the internet, I never got such a response on all the singles I have ever released. It was incredible. I hope to drop an album before the end of the year. I released two other singles which didn’t do well; I don’t know why.
Competing with younger artistes
I am not scared that younger artistes have come on board. That is why I need to work harder. I have my fan base and people still send mails to me asking when I will come out with something new. The younger ones in the music industry still respect those of us who have been there before them. It is always like that. When I came, I met some people and I respected them. I try my best to maintain and protect my spot. They need their spots, too. The sky is big enough for all the birds to fly. All I need to do is be myself and work harder so as to entertain my fans. Even if they need to listen to other people, I still give them reasons to listen to me.
My love for rap music
Rap is what I know how to do. Do you want me to use this voice to sing? Wetin I wan sing? With this ‘olu awo’ (frog’s voice)? It is true. I don’t have a good voice. I still rap in Igbo and Pidgin English. That is why I tell you that I have my own fan base. I tried to rap in English, some people told me to drop it. They actually begged me to forget that style because it didn’t suit me. They told me that acting like a foreigner was not my style at all. I had to respect myself and continue with what I do best. I was rapping in English before and later, I added Pidgin English to it. I found out that people loved the Pidgin. Then I added Igbo and I saw the reaction was greater. That was how I started rapping in Pidgin English and Igbo. It is not as if I cannot speak English. At least we are having this interview in English language. Somebody actually told me to my face that he never knew I could speak English very well. He said he thought I rapped in Pidgin and Igbo because I couldn’t speak English.
Performing with a live band
I don’t mime on stage. I try as much as possible to perform with a live band. Ras Kimono actually encouraged me to start doing it. I have performed with a live band before, but I wasn’t serious with it at the time. Ras Kimono told me that he noticed that many artistes come on stage with their CDs and they still get paid more than what he got when he was playing with a live band. I tried to explain to him that most times, promoters want us to come with a CD because they wouldn’t afford to pay you and your band. They wouldn’t afford to give them accommodation and all that. He told me that I should not allow a promoter to decide for me what I should do. He advised me that I should use the money I am being paid to get a live band, hire instruments, and give the people a quality show. He said that it shouldn’t be about the promoter, but about me and my performance. I thought about it and I loved the idea. And since I started playing with the band, I am more organized as a performing professional artiste. The 30 – minute performance you see on the stage takes several days and weeks of hard work and rehearsals to achieve.
Married life has been wonderful, but it has its challenges. My wife has to cope with the kind of job I do. It is where the money comes from. I have explained to her. I even told her that she should be praying for her husband not to be sleeping at home. If I am at home, that means business is bad. I cannot send people to go and collect money for me. I have to be there myself. I have to be the one on the stage. That is the nature of the kind of business I do. I try hard to explain to her. I love what I do. But I had to learn to manage the two. It is not all about me alone anymore. I explained to her and she understands sometimes. Sometimes she gets scared about what is happening out there. I make sure I prove to her that everything is okay.
It is just by God’s grace that I have been able to avoid controversy. It is not as if I am righteous or a saint. But I try to respect myself and respect my marriage and my family. I put a lot of things into consideration before taking a step and I have to respect my background. My parents love what I do now. People show them so much love just because they are Mr. Raw’s parents. They didn’t discourage me before. But they told me that I shouldn’t disgrace them. I don’t regret being a musician.
Why I changed my stage name
I was formerly Nigga Raw. The change of name actually came about because on air personalities could not say my name on air because ‘Nigga’ is a swear word. It was affecting information about me. Some foreign stations like MTV Base couldn’t play my music until I removed the word ‘Nigga’ from my name, even in the lyrics of songs. I had to do it. But what actually gave me the push to change my name to Mr. Raw was when many people complained that they weren’t able to buy my songs online. I had to search for my name online and I didn’t see it in one of the popular websites. But I searched for one of my songs and it popped up. I saw that they censored ‘Nigga’ and replaced it with five stars. So if you search for Nigga Raw if you want to buy my song, you will not see it. It was really affecting my business. Nigerians outside the country buy songs online before they get the hard copy. So I had to change the name. Then again, if you are going to foreign embassies to get a visa, the promoter is usually scared of telling them at the embassy that a ‘nigga’ wants to go to their country. But really, the ‘Nigga’ in my name wasn’t like the American Nigger. Mine is actually an acronym NIGA which means Nigerian Guy Anakpo Raw (Nigerian Guy who is called Raw). But how many people will you be explaining this to?
It is going to be music for me. However, I am trying to put one or two businesses together. I have done some stuff in case I bow out finally. I hope to rap for a long time anyway. I love to do it. But I have to do some other things by the side.
I know that I sing against the government, but it has not put me in trouble. I don’t really abuse the government. It is just that I tell them what I think they should be doing for us. They don’t meet our expectations. I don’t point fingers at anybody. I don’t mention names. I don’t even think they listen to what we sing. It is good to be on the side of the people. I have performed at so many government functions and I still perform my songs.
Connecting with the crowd
I don’t do any particular thing for the crowd to love me. I just think that they love and flow with me because of the things I say. It might be my Igbo accent. I say something and they scream and shout. Without them, I don’t think I would have gone as far as I have. I love my fans and I don’t run away from them. I appreciate them the way they should be appreciated. It is actually the female fans that appreciate me more. If you have female fans, then you will make it. The men only care about drinking. But the ladies encourage their guys to take them to events to come and watch you.
Star Quest and I
Klint the Drunk and I featured in Star Quest in 2002. We came second behind KC Presh. We used to answer The Comedians. Klint was already a comedian and people said my rap was funny. So we decided to use a name that comedy would be infused in it. Before Star Quest, we had already won the Benson and Hedges open mic competition. P Square won it before us. The Benson and Hedges platform exposed me, but it was Star Quest that professionalised what I was doing. I don’t throw away anything that brought me to this level. Star Quest made it bigger for me.