“The short black boy from Jos” – this unarguably should be the most popular line used in describing him, he is one rapper who inspires a lot of veteran rappers, he has a knack for spotting talented acts with which he has launched and introduced so many acts into the Nigeria music industry. He is the Chairman and most recently he is the new CEO of Chocolate City.
Getting through to him was one herculean task but really he can’t blame, he is a CEO and one important duty of being CEO requires several meetings – which is quite understandable. Despite coming in behind schedule, MI Abaga made it a point of duty to greet virtually everyone at the office and it made me wonder if truly his humility can be matched. Even after apologizing at the reception, he kept apologizing till we got ushered into his modestly furnished office.
Settling down into his cozy chair, he looks up and says “I am ready for the interview when you are but there are just two questions I won’t answer; marriage is one, name of my girlfriend is the second”.
Interestingly we weren’t concerned about his relationship status except for the fact that being a CEO brings more responsibility, but hell yea! The CEO doesn’t want any of that. Read below excerpt of the interview:
TM: You’ve being an artiste all along with Chocolate City and lately you were named CEO, what then are your new roles being artiste and CEO?
MI: For me, being better in the music business is my top priority as CEO. Audu answered the business of Chocolate City for ten years which he has passed onto to me to further improve. Longevity is one important factor to consider looking at it from the perspective that the owner of the brand has moved on and passed on the mantle to me of which I would someday also pass the leadership seat to someone. I should be able to get more talents on board, get a structure to properly push out musical contents of our acts and make more money for the company.
TM: Talking about structure, Chocolate City seems to be the most structured record label in Nigeria. Why is that so and how can it be replicated in other labels?
MI: I would have to agree with you on that and I can beat my chest to say we are the most structured record label in Nigeria. We are building the most efficient label out of Nigeria and the point of having a structure is to make money even when you aren’t there. In any organized setting a structure is important because it makes people accountable, there is a law in economics that’s says “using limited resources to satisfy unlimited needs”- that’s what we do at Chocolate City.
TM: How differently do you think your colleagues here at Chocolate City see you, now that you are CEO?
MI: I don’t think anything has changed. People have always respected me because I have always respected myself and others. When I assumed office as CEO, some people suggested I do a photo shoot and all that but I told them, it’s a job for me and not an endorsement. I am here to do a job and that should be more important for me right now.
TM: As CEO, do you check the books yourself.
MI: Oh sure I do! I had to set up a new excel account not because the one there wasn’t working, I just wanted one I would be able to understand and operate myself differently. We do have a CFO who audits everyone as well, so of course I have to check the books myself to be accountable.
TM: Audu did a wonderful job with CC as CEO; in all honesty do you think you have what it takes to take CC to the next level?
MI: [Laughter] In all honesty if I wasn’t good for the job, I would have rejected it outrightly. Talking about the A&R part, I came to Chocolate City and brought along brought Jesse, Ice Prince and Brymo whom are all successful, myself included. I served as a label executive for a period in Chocolate City and I also had my label – Loopy Music running. So yeah I believe I have not just the intellect but also the experience.
TM: When you were VP, one of your duties is to listen to songs before they got released, with Ice Prince in that capacity as new VP, what is the MO between you two.
MI: Ice Prince has done a great job so far. He has successfully educated each artiste on which path to follow. From time to time, he schedules meetings with these guys and they’ve all returned a better act with much understanding. The way we work still stands, I have a one-vote count when it comes to selecting songs for each act.
TM: Officially, how many artistes and producers are under the Chocolate City umbrella?
MI: We have 13 artistes here while for producers, we have four producers working under a sister company called Lab House located within the office building. We also represent a group from New York here in Africa.
TM: Did you have any hint of becoming CEO before the actual announcement; seeing that you became CEO just at a time Jesse Jagz returned back to Chocolate City?
MI: All I can say was that everything was deliberate and I was shocked at the offer. People saw Jesse’s exist in a different light and it wasn’t so cool. Jesse’s didn’t fight with Chocolate City or he didn’t leave for Iraq or Gabon; he was still part of the family. He is my brother and we talk as much as we can, we listen to each other albums. Jesse leaving Chocolate City was a business decision and his coming back was also a business decision. So all I can say is that everything was planned and deliberate.
TM: Being CEO, what is your relationship and responsibility to Jesse Jagz?
MI: Jesse is someone that doesn’t go out much often and been his brother I best understand him. There is something called the – Brand Principal. For Jesse, I’m his brand principal because aside being CEO, he is also my brother and we relate freely with each other.
TM: Are there any plans for the artistes and producers you earlier mentioned?
MI: Absolutely! There are plans, we are a proper company – we do budgeting and planning. Although our schedule for each of these acts isn’t chronological; when Chocolate City was formed, we came out as a group of friends coming together and we stayed together, so then it was based on schedules. But now that each of these acts stay in different places, scheduling has been scrapped. If you noticed most materials released lately have a close time interval or even on the same day which is interesting to find out.
TM: As CEO, there are a lot of responsibilities including pressure of marriage, would there be any wedding bells soon enough?
MI: May the Lord help us [Long laughter]
TM: How often do you read?
MI: Just now, a friend of mine sent in two books on management and creativity. If you check the shelf over there, you would find books centered on music business and management. I have learnt a lot this year and reading is one way I try to keep my game up.
TM: Lately, there have been endorsements and deals on the table for you; is that a source of revenue you want to focus on?
MI: I think I have been a very corporate brand from the get go. I don’t stay in the news for bad reasons because I tried keeping my business my business and it has helped me a long way. However more than that, I still work as hard as I can as an artiste in trying to balance both business and my music. I am not sure, if I am not doing business I would have put out more materials that now.
TM: How do you feel being a pacesetter at so many feats?
MI: Most times when I relived some experiences, I have this humble feeling but then again I just have to snap out of it because I have a lot of more to do. Dbanj is one artiste that has been successful in the corporate world, moving from one brand to the other with speed. At a point there was no desire anymore to chase because I was probably the most successful rapper so far but now there are the Iceprinces, the Olamides, the Phynos and so many others, so yeah, the zeal is back for me to chase.
TM: Aside the music business, is there any businesses you are involved in or capable of handling?
MI: I would be honest, nothing interest me apart from the music business. I want to be very successful in the music business and Nigeria music business needs to be watered. A Nigeria artiste becomes successful and the next thing he buys a house or a fancy car, moving the money to another sector and that’s why the Nigeria music industry would forever remain small. Imagine if half of the money made from the likes of Davido, Wizkid, Dbanj, 2face, PSquare and so on is re-invested back into the music industry and this is something we really need to educate ourselves on. An oil baron doesn’t make his first money and goes away to blow it; he puts it back into the business and extends its frontiers.
TM: Are you linked to the MADC platform?
MI: Yeah, that’s my company. Jason was the editor for 3 years and then move on to follow his passion. I don’t really understand the ethics of the online and publication business but I figured it’s something cool and worth doing.
TM: How often do you communicate with Jason and how best do you carry him alongside in the light of the stardom.
MI: Jason is living a completely different life. He is married and in my opinion, he is one of the amazing writers ever. I sort of envy his life because there is no spotlight on him which is one thing I can never have again. He is my brother, my younger brother and we communicate like brothers.
TM: What’s your schedule when you were just an artiste compared to now that you are both CEO and artiste?
MI: It’s been crazy. I could give you my schedules for the week. I make it a duty to be at the office everyday aside on Wednesday which is my free day. I come to the office and don’t leave until 6pm and that’s Mondays to Fridays. But in all, it’s something I enjoy and I don’t feel much burden.
TM: Thank you MI for your time, we wish you all the best in your reign as CEO.
MI: You guys are the best, I owe you guy bottles of Martell. [Laugther]
First published in Tush Magazine Issue 12