Ifeoluwa Florence Otedola, popularly known as DJ Cuppy, is the daughter of billionaire oil mogul Femi Otedola. In this chat with EFFECTS at her Ikoyi, Lagos home, the young music entrepreneur opened up on her skill as a DJ, her new debut song with pop star Tekno, life as daughter of a famous billionaire and her future plans to step into her dad’s shoes.
You recently released a new song featuring Tekno. What informed your choice of Tekno?
I am really excited about this my new song entitled Green Light. It is my first official single. Everyone knows DJ Cuppy, but it is a change in my position and a change in my creative content. I have decided to move back permanently to Nigeria. I have decided that this is the place I want to make a home. It has always been a home, but you know I have almost forever lived abroad. And as a DJ, I have been building my brand and I feel it is time to make my own original sound. Having Tekno on board is a great thing for me. Tekno is amazing and very creative. He has always been making great music and I value his talent a lot. Tekno and I have always wanted to work together and it happens to be on this my project. We have worked hard on the song and I can tell you that it’s a great song. When I woke up this morning and visited YouTube, the song has already had over a million views. That’s great and I really think more people will enjoy the song.
What informed the title Green Light?
Green Light signifies for me ‘Go’. It is an indication of moving forward and taking my career to the next level. The song is just to get the people’s attention and allow them to see a different Cuppy.
With this new song, are we likely to see more of the DJ in you?
Definitely. A lot of people might have observed that I sang a little on that song, but that’s just a way of expressing myself. I am still first and foremost a DJ and my plan was to remain a DJ. My plan now is to input my sound into my set and perform them at events. I haven’t actually really performed Green Light yet.
How would you compare this with your debut, I Love My Country?
My debut, I Love My Country, wasn’t my original song. It was a house music and a remix of legendary singer Tunji Oyelana’s song. When I looked back, I noticed that project was great. It was released at a time Nigeria was going through ups and downs and I think it was a great way to come out then. I really like to be different. But Green Light is my first original song. It’s a song that I really like. It’s an Afrobeat.
You are renowned for house music, how much of this will you still explore as you work on your EP?
Yes, I love house music and that comes from living abroad where I experienced different sounds. But in my recent years in London, it is more like everyone now loves Nigerian music. There has never been a time in history that Afrobeat has been on the pedestal it is right now everywhere. Nigerian music has so much light on it. When I first started DJing at 18, I used to be scared to play Nigerian music abroad, because they would have booked me for shows and wanted me to play their own music. But in the last five years, everything has changed. People abroad actually book me now and tell me they want Nigerian music. I am so proud of how far we have come and feel like now I can fuse both. Now I can play music I really want to play; I can play music from my country that are doing well and those from around the world.
How was it like playing Nigerian music at an international show such as the MTV African Music Awards in Durban, South Africa?
At that MTV Africa Music Awards event in Durban, I was a resident DJ. It was a great time in South Africa. South Africa loves Nigerian music, but they still have their own music. So I felt like I am there and have to represent Nigeria very well. Actually, I was given a list of music to play and I can’t play outside it. But I took a risk and everyone loved it. After the awards, a lot of people approached me and said that I represented Nigeria so well. Sometimes, you have to break the rule.
What is the unique thing about being a DJ?
The unique thing about being a DJ rather than an artiste is that you get a lot more of opportunities to express yourself. We are not restricted to our own song, so I feel like eating my cake and having it. I have more control over my creativity and I have a lot more catalogue. Artistes can only go and perform and do their own songs, but as a DJ, I can get away with doing other people’s stuff.
You recently featured in a BBC documentary. How has that impacted your career?
The documentary is entitled Lagos To London and it was a long time project where UK’s Channel 4 followed me and other great Nigerians. It was a big project broadcast globally. It definitely helped me and also makes it important for people to understand that we Nigerian are great people with great heritage. It’s most surprising that at times when I still watch television in some parts of UK and US, I see programmes and commercials depicting Africans as primitive people who only carry water on their heads and as if we don’t wear clothes. I felt it was important for people out there to know that there are new generations of Africans who are well educated and well spoken. That we actually have skills and have journalists who are doing great and can compete favourably with their peers anywhere in the world. The documentary helped to change the narratives that we are exposed people and not living in mud houses or on the trees. However, as much as I was happy about the documentary, I am not really happy that the producers didn’t focus more about my professional career as a DJ. It appears I am just a rich kid who does DJing for fun. But on the contrary, I took my job very seriously. During the production, I also did a lot of stuffs like taking them back to my hometown, Epe. I took them round on some school visits. They just decided not to show those very important grassroots aspect that I exposed them to. Nevertheless, that show really exposed me and showed that despite being from Nigeria and living in the UK, we still have our heritage and we are proud of what we do.
You also have a show dedicated to you on FOX TV. Can you share with us what it’s all about?
It’s called Cuppy Takes Africa. It is on FOX Life. My company, Red Velvet produced that show strictly for FOX when I went on tour of eight African countries in 2015. It was me basically telling my story. It is basically about my highs and lows. I am opportune to show that Cuppy is not perfect. Maybe because of my background, everyone assumes things run smoothly all the time. But sometimes, I don’t have a great day. Sometime, I could be running late. So, Cuppy Takes Africa actually shows the struggles and the perception. In the series, you won’t only see me performing at the show but see me practicing at home and when things are going wrong. It’s all about the challenges and the discipline that Cuppy faced. So FOX’s Cuppy Takes Africa increased my popularity across Africa.
Why have you not done the second edition of Cuppy Takes Africa?
That project was a big project not only cost –wise, but logistics. I did it in 2015 and there were so many financial challenges in between and things haven’t really picked up since then. That tour project is heavily dependent on sponsors and partners. I also felt that it was great going around Africa, but I needed a song to go with. But with Green Light I can do amazing things and go back on tour. I also have plans to drop an EP and with those in place, I am 100 per cent sure that summer of 2018, I will be in a great position to do the second edition of the tour.
How would you describe the influence of senior DJs like Jimmy Jatt on you?
Uncle Jimmy has been a whole lot of influence not only to me, but many others. He has opened doors for many as we now have many DJs doing great. We now have great DJs like Neptune, Xclusive, Spinall, and many others. For me though, I think it is important for me to play my own part. I used to say that I wanted to be a DJ that would open doors for many female DJs but I am taking that back as I wouldn’t want to restrict myself to gender. I want Cuppy to be the DJ that will push the button especially for a lot of younger people. I am turning 25 and I think I am reaching a critical point of my career where I also need to do more to encourage a lot of people.
Are you making money from DJing?
I am making money, but am I running on a profit? That I can’t answer, because I make a personal choice of branding myself. I have higher costs than a lot of people in the same business. I put a lot of my money into my business. The reality is that I generate revenue but I have a running cost that some might see as unnecessary. I am a kind of person that believes that anything you want to do, you have to do it well. So, while I might not been pricing my profit, my brand is rising in value every day. To me, it’s all about creating a name that has value, which can later turn into a huge profit.
You once said that people should not look at your father’s wealth and influence but at your talent. Has that perception changed?
I think it’s changing now with me actually producing my own song, which is turning out to be a good song. Working with an artiste like Tekno instead of Davido, it shows that I am a credible musician. This would make people understand that I actually understand music and I can make good music. So, I believe people will play less on me being Femi Otedola’s child. Of course, I am still working on my talents and skill, but definitely it’s changing.
Do you think you would have been this famous without the name and influence of your father?
I don’t ever shy away from the fact that my father helps me. When I was younger and less confident in my own skin, he was always there and I am really proud of him. He is a great guy and as an entrepreneur, he has done a lot for me and supported me not only financially, but morally. It’s so important to let people know that he is a great dad who tells me when I am right and when I am wrong. But as far as my DJ career, if I wasn’t my father’s daughter, I will still have my skill set and would be as passionate in making a success of my career. People would probably be less curious. But having said that, as his daughter, some people will still say let’s see what she’s capable of doing as Femi Otedola’s daughter. There are minuses and pluses. I think I am more prone to assumptions. Just that someone may have problems with my dad or just not be happy with him, they would have already decided what they feel about me.
You hardly talk about your mom, Mrs. Nana Otedola.
I have to be very diplomatic about this. Growing up, my dad and I share similarities. My dad and I share the same star signs; his birthday is November 4 while mine is exactly a week after, so, whenever we are having a family meeting, we are always in one corner, while my mom and my sisters bond together. Because we share similarities that also mean that we clash most times. Yet my dad is an amazing father, also my mom. Most people always talk about my father, but my mom is also an amazing woman. She has also molded me into what I am and molded all of us. She is also an entrepreneur. She owns Garment Care. She also plays important role in my career by advising me on how to run the business side of what I do. So, I hope I will be a good parent half as what my parents have been to me.
How long are you going to do this entertainment, because people are already wondering when are you and your sisters going to join in running the huge family Like I said earlier, I am turning 25 and I still consider myself young. I still have to make some decisions. Like my dad used to say ‘If you fail to plan; you already plan to fail’. For me, I think I still have a lot to offer, music wise, and Green Light has shown that. As it is, I think I need to drop an EP or an album that would just have a body of work that Cuppy can have, to say ‘this is what I did as an entertainer’. On the other hand, years back, before I picked up DJing, my dad has been training me on how to get my oil trading licence which I already have now. This means that if I wasn’t a DJ, I would probably be in an office now trading in oil at the same time complaining of how boring it could probably be. Of course, I could be making more money than I do now, but for me, I prefer happiness over money any day. For deciding not to be an oil trader at this point in time doesn’t bother me, because I can get involved at anytime I am ready. Of course, with time, I hope to get involved with my dad’s company, Forte Oil, particularly in the area of renewable energy. I have so much interest in that area. Things are no longer how they used to be, as you don’t have to sit in the depot and trade. There are so many other elements of energy business particularly in the renewable area whether solar or wind. I would love to get involved in power generation. I have a degree in Economics and I believe I am well equipped to do whatsoever I want to do in any area of business. I would love to be involved in that interesting renewable energy sector. Fine, my dad has built a very strong foundation and definitely his legacy must live on. We, as his children, would definitely help him to sustain what he has created with time.