Phyno: Master of Phyne Arts
There was a significant impact felt in the music industry when Chibuzor Nelson Azubuike also known as Phyno shot into the limelight in 2012 with the right level of energy, featured artist and visuals to go with on his hit track Ghost Mode. Soon he was the talk of the town and his album No Guts No Glory brought an edge to the music scene. Claiming the throne as the King of the East, he carved a niche for himself not just as an indigenous rapper but a force to be reckoned with on a global scale.
Phenomenal, the word which birthed the artist’s name is a characteristic he has exhibited in his career collaborations, sold-out shows and international reach. His success particularly relevant as Guardian Nigeria celebrates the 35th International Music Day, which addresses how Afrobeat and Afrobeats have graduated from an African sound to a global phenomenon and movement.
As I research Phyno, I realise that there isn’t a lot we know about the artist with the punchlines and fierce looks besides his dedication to music. Breaking the ice with Guardian Life, he reveals five things the public doesn’t know about him saying, “I have supernatural powers, I write all my songs, I bite my finger nails a lot, I hardly sleep and I don’t like food.”
Being grounded in music, many don’t know that he has taken a step further with Phynofest, a music festival he organises and started in 2015 and which has sold out stadiums in Onitsha and Enugu respectively with the support of his colleagues in the industry such as Onyeka Onwenu, P-Square, Olamide, Runtown, Burna Boy, Kcee, Ill Bliss and Chidinma to mention a few.
What inspires your creative process?
My daily activities inspire the music I do. That is why I try my best so my music is real and for people to relate with what I am doing because it is real life not make-believe.
You are a producer; how does this affect your music?
I think it makes me very picky with music. I don’t know whether it’s
good or bad but I know I have been grounded in the system for so long, I work not just to bring out music but to perfect it before bringing it out. From the instrumental, the vocals, the mix-down to the mastering, everything has to come out good because it is something I already know.
What inspires your presence on stage?
Well…nothing! Sometimes it has to be from the feedback you get from the crowd. We all have zones, if you are going somewhere to perform for the first time you don’t know what to expect. It’s a different thing when it’s somewhere you are familiar with and know how the crowd will react. I like being me before going on stage, no drinks, nothing, just say a little prayer and then go mash-up the stage.
How do you prep for your stage shows? Do you have a routine?
I pray. If my team is around, we pray together and then we go and do what we have to do. There is no particular routine, the best way to go on stage is being you.
From rapping to singing
Clearing the air on his transition from rapping to singing, Phyno clears the doubt with the Playmaker album which he did to introduce himself as Phyno, the artist with no barriers.
You came into the industry with tracks like Ghost Mode and Man of the Year and lately we’ve seen a softer side to your music in songs like Connect and Fada Fada.
How do you measure the progression of your music?
Like I said before, music has to do with the inspiration that you have at a particular time. What makes you a rapper is rapping, what makes you a producer is making beats, what makes you an artist and a musician is doing all genres of music. So, I am not a rapper. I sing, I write songs, produce and rap. Because I blew up in the industry as a rapper doesn’t make me a rapper, I do other stuff too. Before I became Phyno the artist, I produced songs for Timaya, Bracket, Flavour and J-Martins.
What was the inspiration behind the Playmaker album?
A lot inspired that album. I was really ready to show the other side of me and I knew I had to do it well. I knew that the same way I made rap hits was the same way I had to make mainstream hits. I think I achieved that goal because the same way I have rap hits in No Guts No Glory with Ghost Mode, Man of the Year and Parcel, is the same way I have mainstream hits in Playmaker like Fada Fada, E Sure For Me and Connect so I think I did what I’m supposed to do as a playmaker (laughs).
What album/single did you have the most challenge putting out?
I will say Connect because it was at the time of my life when I had to show people that I can make hits without rapping too. It was a bit difficult but I had to sing my heart out and it worked.
How many times did you work on the track?
I never did that. I know a good song when I have one. I knew it was good but convincing the fans to take this new me was all in my
head till I snapped out of it.
Collaborations and reach as an artist
Phyno has worked with almost every big name in the industry and says he will do it all over again. He is also open to any other collaborations given the right time, location and artist.
Do you feel like your features with Olamide give your songs more reach?
Talking about more reach, I think that is the essence of collaborations.
If that goal is not achieved, then why do the collaboration?
If I do a collaboration with 2Face, I am doing it to show myself to his fans and showing 2Face to my fans too, that’s exactly what it is with Olamide. The difference between Olamide and myself and every other artist is that our chemistry is timeless, it is something we both value and we love what we do. The essence of collaboration is to bridge the gap.
What projects are you working on this year?
I have recorded a lot of new music and I’ve dropped five videos for songs on the Playmaker album this year. I recently released my first official single for the year titled If To Say and plan to release more singles over the next couple of months. We are also planning Phynofest which should happen sometime in November.
Will there be a collaboration album with Olamide any time in the future?
There are plans in the box but we are so busy right now. We just need that free one or two weeks that we can be in the studio together and we will make it happen.
Being an international artist
With artists such as Wizkid, Davido, Tiwa Savage, Seyi Shay, Patoranking and Burna Boy being signed to foreign record labels, you might wonder why your favourite artist hasn’t followed suit. Here, he talks about the whispers that it revolves around having a local sound as well as the pressure of dialects in his music.
Do you ever feel the pressure to sing in another dialect, after having made your mark rapping in Igbo?
It’s like asking Drake whether he is getting the pressure to rap in Igbo? He is who he is and I am who I am, why will I change? There is no pressure at all, I am just living my life. If I really want to do music in English, I will. After all I started rapping in English but it’s not about the language anymore, it’s about doing what you know how to do, perfecting it and being known for something. You’d rather know me for rapping in Igbo than not know me at all. You have to stand for something or die for nothing, you make your rules you stand by it. I perform in African countries where they don’t understand the language and kill it. Music has no language; the barrier is in your head.
Do you think rapping in your dialect has limited your chances of signing a foreign record label deal?
These international deals have nothing to do with language. The music that got Wizkid his international recognition are tracks like Ojuelegba, he spoke Yoruba in the song, his main verse was omitted after Drake and Skepta rapped, but his part of the song that remained was in Yoruba. I do not understand why people make this about the language, it is never about the language, just make music.
Nigeria is a very big market when it comes to music. Rap music can come to Nigeria and be big outside the continent but check can come to Nigeria and be big outside the continent but check the few songs in the continent that made it as big songs in Nigeria, they are songs we don’t even know what they are talking about. From artists like Sarkodie, Mafikizolo to Cassper Nyovest, we don’t know what it means but this is music for you. Now tell me the English tracks from outside Africa that are big in Nigeria? Everybody believes in Nigeria that Phyno raps in Igbo but that is not the reception I get outside. Outside they see me as Phyno, that Nigerian rapper, nobody knows my tribe outside. I don’t think I am an Igbo artist; I am a Nigerian artist. You can’t count top five rappers in Nigeria without counting me or count top three big songs last year without counting my songs.
Do you think your language choice has been a barrier for you signing international deals?
These deals are your choice. I know the companies that have approached me that I have turned down. You have to be mentally ready and push your craft too. The same way they have Sony Music is the same way they have Sony Africa, Universal has their own platform in Africa as well. It depends on what you want to jump on.
What makes you an international artist? It is not singing in English, it is making big records that can cross over and people knowing that this is that big musician from Africa or from Nigeria, that is exactly how it works. For the record labels you are talking about, right now they are not in my plan