DJ Neptune… This Life Of Greatness
Within Nigeria’s crop of disc jockeys, Patrick Imohiosen is the gentlest one can ever meet. “Would you like something to drink,” he asked, calmly offering this reporter a seat. Across his tee shirt and baseball cap, the inscription ‘Greatness’ lay boldly.
For Imohiosen, better known as DJ Neptune, these are exciting times. While Nigerians are still savouring the groove from his smash single, Nobody, featuring Joeboy and Mr. Eazi, the award-winning DJ has stretched his Greatness series one level further, with his just-released Greatness 2.0 album.
For an entertainer with two decades of experience, it was intriguing to see his eyes lit up with childlike excitement as we spoke about the hit-laden sound piece. With a star-studded lineup featuring the likes of Waje, Zlatan, Laycon, Joe Boy, Patoranking, Rema, Adekunle Gold, Stonebwoy, among others, the 16-track album stands out as Neptune’s most electrifying project so far.
A no-skip album, drenched in easy-going groove, party bangers, and a ting of inspirational lyricism, it’s the pattern that has trademarked his projects, from his earliest stints with the late Dagrin, Naeto C and MI Abaga, to his Greatness series, among others. For the 31-year-old DJ, the assignment remains simple: steadily create timeless sound pieces.
Speaking with Guardian Music, the Edo native unpacks the groovy project, revealing the inspiration behind the melodies, his creative process and input, his journey to the top, as well as squashing rumours around his fallout with Rema, and many more.
What’s the agenda with Greatness?
It wasn’t originally planned. While working on my debut album, in 2018, I was going to name the project something else. On a particular day, I was taking a nap. It felt like someone was communicating to me that ‘you are doing great stuff; you are doing amazing stuff and greatness is all I see.’
It was so impossible to let go of that voice. I woke up and the word was still ringing in my head. I went back into the studio and started hyping all my songs with ‘greatness.’ That was how that word came to life.
You have been on this journey for quite a while. How does that feel for you?
I feel great, having been around this long. I have seen artistes come and go, and a lot of experience has been gathered. You know that experience is one thing you cannot go to the market to buy; you have to earn it. I might not get it right 100 per cent, but I mean there is a formula for me. I started pretty early and that is the luck I have. And we are still in business.
Looking at the body of work, you have a lot of A-list artistes on it. What’s the strategy for you?
When I pick an artiste to work with, it is just I having an idea in my head. I am always thinking of how two different artistes would sound like together on a song.
As a DJ, I work with a lot of music. While mixing songs sometimes, I blend two artistes together to create a refix and it sounds nice. I really don’t have any rules to my music. Music is spiritual. I might be in a particular place at a particular time and I try to create something out of that. Whatever collaboration I am trying to achieve, the end result has to be great sounds, quality music.
What’s your own input in the creative process?
For me, sometimes, I already have a theme I want to work with. I get my producer to make the beat, while I direct the sounds. I get the artistes to see what I have in my head and then they explore writing a song to it.
Most times, if we are in the same space, we join heads together in getting the right lyrics and melodies. Sometimes, the artistes could be very busy and then they record from where they are. I have been in situations whereby, when I tell the artistes my creative direction of the song, they also have another direction. Sometimes, their direction is better than what I was even thinking of. The most important thing for me is the end result; it must align with my brand.
Most people don’t know that as a DJ, our knowledge for music is very broad. We touch different genres, depending on the type of DJ you are. In the process of doing all of this, if you are open minded, ideas keep coming into your head. And then you create dope remixes.
One would have thought that you don’t even have any input at all?
I would give you an instance: in 2010, I released 123 Remix with Naeto C, MI Abaga, and Dagrin. And these three rappers were at their prime. And then, a couple of weeks after recording Dagrin, he passed on. Imagine if I hadn’t made that song as when I did, there wouldn’t have been that record at all.
What does the whole journey feel like?
The most important drive for me is passion. Even on days where I am tired and not feeling like working, I still get myself to do it.
Today, for instance, I have been doing interviews all day; I performed all night yesterday. I am supposed to be sleeping right now, but it is already inbuilt. I am used to the hustle.
Looking at the album again, so what vibes were you going for?
It was created with the intention of being a no-skip album; I can’t pick any favourites right now. Every track on this album is dear to my heart. There are songs that didn’t make the final cut; there is a particular song with Zinolesky, which didn’t make the album. His fanbase has been calling me out on social media, asking me how I could dare to not include it in the album. I caused it; when we were recording the song, I put out snippets about five months ago. And people have been anticipating the song’s release.
I am not trying to get people lost in the process of listening to the album. There are other amazing songs that didn’t make the cut. I read a message on Instagram where someone asked me if I was insane for not adding the song.
So, for the songs that made the final cut, what were the vibes that were priority for you?
The opening song, Rise Up, features Waje, Ladipoe, Laycon and the Kabusa Choir. I had the beat for a while; it was produced by Reflex Sounds. When I first heard the beat, I pictured someone like Jay-Z and Kanye West on that beat; it had that vibe. I just wanted to create something timeless with it, something that everyone can relate to and still take something out of. It is Hip-Hop.
As a DJ, my craft is synonymous with Hip-Hop. Back in the day when Hip-hop started, DJ’s gave the MCs live instrumentals to freestyle. So, Rise Up meant a lot to me, knowing fully well that we are not in a crazy Hip-hop scene right now. People who have heard the song took the message that ‘no matter how down you are, keep your head up.’ The track with Lojay as well, Only Fan, was another crazy record!
How did the Lojay collab come about?
Before this year, I hadn’t met him. When he stepped out with his debut EP, I got the record and I took my time to listen. Luckily for me, around the same time, I was recording with Focalistic when he visited Nigeria, Lojay stopped by. That was our first encounter.
We spoke and I just told him that we had to work. Two weeks later, he came by the studio again and we knocked off four records in one night, and Only Fan was one of them. When we were creating Only Fan, I just put out snippets.
Zlatan lives like two streets away from my house and he saw that clip too on social media; he just sent text, asking if we were still around. And when I told him yes, he just pulled up and that was how that collaboration came about. It was meant to be just a Lojay record, but Zlatan hopped on it and everybody delivered. The video is coming out soon. There are really no rules for me; I just go with it.
You are 20 years in the game already. How did you start? What was it like for you?
I started in 2001; the major drive was passion. I was just actually in love with everything that had to do with entertainment. I didn’t know what aspect at the time.
I attended a party and I saw a DJ. I instantly realised that was what I wanted to do; it suits my cool and calm personality. I started taking lessons with DJ Douglas; I also checked a lot of tutorials online. I also have a book that Obi Asika gifted to Asa Asika who later gifted it to me. It is titled, How To Become A Professional DJ. We didn’t know what we were doing. This is a craft. It is a talent some are born with, while some others developed it.
What were your core challenges?
There were a lot; life is full of challenges. You just have to keep your head straight and realise that nothing good comes easy. If it comes easy to you, then it is a setup.
I have had my own fair share of trials. There were no digital streaming platforms at that time; we just had to put out mixtapes. I started spending my own money, shooting videos and promoting my work. The money wasn’t coming back, but the passion kept me going. There was the hope that one day all of these would make sense. And that is where we are now. The major goal is staying focused.
What was your first major break into the limelight?
The first stage is 2004; I got the opportunity to get on the radio, I got on Ray Power FM. It is the first private radio station in Nigeria. We were there for six years. In between, I started working with Naeto C in 2008, as his official DJ. The major break was 2004 and getting on radio. Everybody started hearing the name DJ Neptune.
Another major breakthrough was 2009 when I got nominated for the Nigerian Entertainment Award (NEA) in America; I won the award. That to me was confirmation that I made the right decision. Everyone around me had thought I was crazy. I left my comfort zone for two years; I was out on the streets. I told myself that I am not going back to failure. Gradually, it all started paying off.
Did you ever have any parallel ambition?
I once tried getting a degree in LASU; I was a part-time student. I had already blown as a DJ; I was studying International Relations. I was one of those kids that you would never find in school. I had to make sure that I got everything right. The focus was on the main goal of getting everything right.
Speaking of Neptune, how did that name come about? It sounds like something related to the solar system?
When I started, I didn’t have a stage name, because I wanted something unique. I had played around my name, Patrick. I started with DJ Master P, DJ P Mix, and many others, but it wasn’t sitting well. I just gave up on finding the name.
So, during my plays, I always played a particular record that was produced by The Neptunes, that is, Pharell Williams and his band. The artiste that sang the song is Busta Rhymes. There is a part of the record where Busta Rhymes gave The Neptunes a shout out; that was my favourite part of the record. And being that hungry DJ back then, I was always scratching and mixing that part.
So, some people who were regular at my parties in the community I lived in then were already familiar with my routine of always playing that song. So, one day, they walked into my party and were like ‘this Neptune guy is here again.’ And I was stunned. At the end of the party, I did my research and found out that there is no DJ in Africa that answers that name; that is how that name stuck with me.
So, I recall that your song, Nobody, was the jam of 2020. What was the secret behind that track?
Nobody is already a year and half old. Trust me, it still sounds fresh. It is still competing with the hits today; that’s the magic of the song. That is the type of record I want to make. I want to create music that people can groove to in 10 years from now. There are other records like that. 9ice’s Gongo Aso, Olu Maintain’s Yahooze, 2Face’s African Queen, and many others. That is my aim as a creative; I want to make timeless music.
Social media has been agog with the debate on what influence do DJ’s have on the industry. With your wealth of experience, how do you affect the music scene here?
In the early stages, before social media, people mostly consume music from radio stations, and DJ mixtapes.
And DJs were present all through; they were the bridge between the artiste and the consumers. Now, artistes are now independent. They can publish and promote their own music. They can even promote it to a particular demography and region.
However, DJs are still relevant, because they still affect the way you consume music. People would always prefer DJ mixes to a playlist. They are also very relevant at shows. Can you use an Apple Music playlist at a show? DJs bring added value. We are like public relations experts for music.
Do you think breaking artistes is also a role for DJs?
I mean, I have already done that. Last year, I worked with Runda; I heard his stuff and I reached out to him. We did a song titled Bembe. It grew his numbers, basically rubbing off my own digital numbers. Next year, I will be doing more.
There is a project that I am working on that would spotlight emerging acts. I am not going to be here forever. I want to be remembered as someone who put out amazing music, but also broke out dope artistes.
On the controversy between you and Rema, there are rumours that your colleagues are peddling a vendetta against Rema. What’s the situation?
So, on the Rema situation, he reached out; we have settled it. Everything is good on both ends now. So, what really happened was just pure miscommunication. I have had that record since last year, at the same time when Nobody was buzzing. With music, there is no perfect timing; but when the time is right, you would know.
So, that was not the time for me to put it out. I held on to it. So, when they wanted to retract the record, the word didn’t get to me on time. I understand that everyone is busy. Unfortunately, a few hours to when the album was going out, that was when word got to me; that was way too late. It would have affected the whole project.
The conversation moved to how we could salvage the situation. However, Rema and myself hadn’t spoken directly. I had just gotten back from London and was making plans for the release of the album, while Rema was in Sierra Leone. Could it have been handled in a better way? Yes. Do I feel offended? Yes. Am I mad at Rema? No. He is a creative as well. Sometimes, we can be in our feelings and do things sometimes.
When all that happened, I just reached out to the team and sought a solution, while everyone was out in their feelings on social media. Now, some people started saying they were told to cancel Rema; I don’t know who called who. However, I didn’t get any calls. Me being the calm and gentle guy I am, knowing that I didn’t steal Rema’s record, I preferred to face the solution than go on social media. That is why I took my time to release statements; due process was being followed.
Shout out to everyone who caught feelings. I don’t know what their objective was, but at the end of the day we would be all right. I have never ridden off bad pr. It has never worked for me. I don’t want to start now.
It was just pure miscommunication. It is all peace now. For those that said I cancelled Rema, they should know that the following day I played Rema’s record at a gig.
So, what’s the vision for DJ Neptune?
We would keep churning out the hits; we want to choke people with good music. I shall start working on the next album in January. I would focus more on dropping videos for the songs. Only Fan video would drop in a couple of days. We have taken off; we can’t crash land again.
So, finally, if the world was ending and you were to play one last record, what would it be?
I would just be biased and choose my record. The song, 123 remix is an iconic song. It has been around for 10 years now and people still love it. It is dear to me, because my friend the late Dagrin who was on the record, had been discussing the plans for the video shoot with me. I was in Malaysia then when I heard he had passed on. Flying back to America, on that trip, everything was stuck in my head.