“I left School when I couldn’t pay my tuition” — M.I
By Ogbonna Amadi, Entertainment Editor, Opeoluwani Akintayo and Ayo OJueromi
The story of M.I as Jude Abaga is more popularly known, is one that could win top prize if turned into a movie.
What is it about you that your fans don’t know?
One thing my fans always find hard to believe, is that I love sports very well. I’m a good footballer and basketballer. Aside that, I’m an introvert of sort. I’m a down-to-earth person and that’s why you’ll never hear or read any bad story about me.
But you’re too short to play basketball?
Unless you’re a professional basketballer, I don’t think height really matters. There was even someone who won the dunk contest and he stood at 5.6feet tall.
What was growing up like?
It was very simple. I grew up in Jos when it was still beautiful and peaceful. Then, Jos was the home of music. I knew Panam Percy Paul who’s a musical legend as a kid at the early stage of his career. For a long of time, we didn’t have TV. I think we had one initially, but it got spoilt and my parents refused to buy another one for a long time. And before we knew it, we became used to not watching TV. And what we did was to read books, play and before we knew it, we’d started learning how to play some musical instrument. So all the time we’d have spent watching TV, we spent being creative.
Who and what influenced you?
My early influences were gospel musicians like Ron Kennoly, Integrity music and Panam Percy Paul. And before I became involved with Hip Hop, I used to also listen to Fela and Bob Marley.
When did you make the switch from gospel to Hip Hop?
That was way back in my high school days. For a while I didn’t listen to any form of circular music.
But gradually, I embraced hip hop because I could identify it with what I went through while growing. I remembered D.M.X debut in 1997 influenced me and I wanted to be like him. I never knew I’d end up doing music.
Later I traveled to America for my University education.
Did you also drop out of school like your brother Jesse?
No I didn’t drop out of school. But I didn’t conclude my studies there because I couldn’t afford it after a while. What the school does, is that if a student can’t pay his tuition fees, he’ll be dropped from status. So I was out of status and it became tough for me to get back. I had to withdraw and return home. And when I returned, it became a long process and in that process, I started doing music again. That was how M.I emerged.
So how were you able to travel abroad?
It was a lot of hustle and a plenty of God’s love. God provided everything I needed to go there. But when I look back and remember what happened, I know that if I had stayed in America, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
God wanted me to come back. So the circumstance which brought me back was unique. Now I’ve no regret.
What do you have to say about the Chocolate crew being University drop outs?
Well, I think Jesse dropped out but I didn’t. Jesse had a choice. And the definition of an unemployed person is not someone without a job but one looking for a job and couldn’t find one. So I wouldn’t say I’m a drop out, I didn’t conclude my programme. Ice Prince was in the process of getting into school when his career took off. But I look forward to going back to school.
Two things I want to say here is that, when you’ve discovered your passion in life, you should go for it but education is important too.
So when you came back from America, what was it like?
When I came back, realised I’m meant to do music. There were many challenges. And once in a while, some people don’t just like you and would do everything to stand in your way. But it makes it good when you do what you love even if there’s no much money in it.
What was the experience like when you left Jos for Lagos?
First, I give credit to my big brother, Djinee. I met him and he asked me to come to Lagos, that he has a place for me to stay. So we lived together, six of us lived in a room.
To me this was a challenge and I enjoyed that part of my life like I’m enjoying it now because I’m doing what I love to do. All those tough times are part of what makes up the success story and everyone must be happy going through those times because it builds personality and character.
So that was how we came and stayed in Lagos. Sometimes we would have only N50 to feed for two days. But at the end of the day, I don’t think what I’ve done is anything different from what most Nigerians youths do everyday-we follow our dreams, work hard at it and we’re successful.
So how did you get in touch with Chocolate City?
When my father was young, he had a friend called Gyang Dung. Both of them got married at the same time-they were best friends and are both pastors. And each gave birth to a male child. My father’s son was born on October 1, 1981 and he was named Jude. Gyangdung’s son called Jeremiah Gyang was born on the 13th of October, 1981. So I’ve known Jeremiah Gyang all my life. When I came back to Nigeria, Jeremiah was already signed on to Chocolate City. And the first time Chocolate City came to look for him in Jos, at that time, we look at him like a god.
At that time when he gives us twenty thousand Naira, the money was like gold to us.
But gradually, Jeremiah became a star and he brought me to Lagos and Abuja for shows. I met Djinee in Enugu and that’s how I met Audu and I kicked up from there.
So what’s the experience with Chocolate City like?
It wasn’t easy at the beginning because every artiste once they get signed on to a record label expects to start making money immediately. But it’s not like that. And a lot of time, artistes have the wrong idea because they think of what to get and not what they can give.Its about what I can give. And if you’ve noticed, every artiste signed on to Chocolate City has an M.I connection because I make suggestions about who to be signed.
So I give more than I get from Chocolate City. But I also give credit to all the Chocolate City guys.
Rap music is evolving in Nigeria and where do you place Mode 9?
Well Mode 9 is a legend and I respect him. And in terms of the history of rap in terms of lyrical content, Mode 9 is a genius. Ruggedman is probably the closest I can link my rap to because he came out of nowhere, worked against the system and became successful.
What’s the life span of rap in Nigeria ?
I think rap is a continuos thing. More rap artistes come out every year but it isn’t so about R & B, Highlife, Juju and others. Rap is growing and last year, we had a rap artiste who had the biggest song in Nigeria, Ice Prince’s Oleku. My album M.I also sold well and it grabbed one of the biggest deals from Alaba.
What has changed about you?
For me, I think nothing has changed. I’m a happy person. And if you’re not a happy person, money can’t make you happy. I also save a lot. But I think the greatest thing is being able to see some of those dreams of yours come to pass.
Most challenging moments with the girls
It was at a show last year. A girl jumped on me and laid flat on me. But apart from that I really appreciate my fans.
How did your parents react to your new found fame?
My parents taught me a lesson which is: you have to live your life and allow others to live their lives-you can’t live other people’s lives for them. My father doesn’t bother about what I do because he knows that I have to live my life. My parents are my biggest fans and my father calls me M.I. They are kind and I bought him a car(Camry 08/09) last year. My mother’s car(a jeep) is ready but we haven’t presented it to her yet.
One day I travelled home and changed all the furniture and things in the house. My mother started complaining that I was wasting my money, but my father asked her to let me to do what I want to. And that also taught me a lesson that I need to give so that more can come.