DJ Neptune Surveys the Sounds & Genres Running Africa In His New Album
Transitioning from a DJ to an artist is no small feat. Nigeria’s DJ Neptune has always had good ear for what the people want to hear, but in past years he’s also shown his skill at assembling hitmakers to make a hit and earn a spot on any afrobeats playlist.
Neptune has been dotingly described as “Africa’s DJ Khaled” for his ability to bring the continent’s top names together in musical harmony. His 2018 debut album, Greatness: The Album, pulled from his extensive contacts and years of experience as one of Nigeria’s most influential radio personalities to create a star-studded compilation with features from Burna Boy, Davido, Yemi Alade, Mr Eazi, Efya, Kizz Daniel and Olamide, to name a few.
In 2020, during the pandemic, DJ Neptune endeared himself with his intimate live sessions with Neptune Isolation Radio, where he constantly entertained people during the lockdown. After more than a decade as a DJ, and also one of afrobeats’ most influential personalities and curators, he has assembled some of Africa’s hitmakers for his sophomore album, Greatness 2.0, which he describes as “a playlist with Africa’s favorite artists.”
Artists on the truly pan-African project include Nigeria’s Mr Eazi, Rema, Patoranking, Yemi Alade, Stonebwoy, Joeboy, Omah Lay, Simi, Adekunle Gold, Laycon, Ladipoe, Blaqbonez, Cheque, Peruzzi, Bella Shmurda and Phyno, Ghana’s Stonebwoy and Kofi Jamar, Harmonize and Anjella from Tanzania, South Africa’s Focalistic; and UK rapper One Acen. Collaborating with Neptune on production are Magic Sticks, Dëra and MOG, among other afrobeats hitmakers.
Greatness 2.0 is a survey of the sounds and genres currently running Africa —from afrobeats to amapiano and asakaa, Ghana’s thrilling new take on drill.
In this interview, we speak with DJ Neptune about DJ culture in Nigeria, working with some of Africa’s biggest superstars, and his new album.
Photo courtesy of the artist.
How did you get started? Tell us about those early radio days.
I listened to a lot of radio shows and DJ mixes growing up in the cassette era. A friend’s father who works at the radio station told the general manager about this kid who was obsessed with DJing. I was invited to play for about fifteen minutes. The first song I played was Bubba Sparxxx’ “Deliverance.” About seven minutes into my mix, people in the studio were dancing. I imagined the thousands of listeners across Nigeria dancing too. I got employed as an in-house DJ and a music librarian. For six years, I was part of the DJs defining the sound of Lagos — and Nigeria to an extent.
Which DJ did you look up to, and what’s your influence on DJ culture in Nigeria?
I understudied DJ Douglas. I walked to his studio one day and told him about myself. After a few trials, he was convinced of my abilities, and made time for me.
Before us, there were the likes of DJ Jimmy Jags, DJ Humility, Snoop The Damager, and a whole lot of others who paved the way for them too. The culture has evolved and now DJs are getting endorsement deals, having their own concerts, making music, scoring movies. I’m inspiring a new generation of DJs and some of my colleagues with how far I have come.
Let’s talk about your quarantine Neptune Isolation Radio. What did those intimate moments with fans mean to you?
Almost the whole world was on lockdown, so I decided it was right to use my talent to entertain people while we wait for whatever is at the other end of this chaos. People were losing their families, their jobs, their sanity, but the music gave some of them some hope. Fans looked forward to my Isolation Radio. Having that intimate session from home was great my way of staying sane, but before I knew what was happening, brands were interested in coming on. I was cashing out in a global pandemic.
From your first collaboration with Mr Eazi, “Marry to Forever,” to “Nobody” to being signed to emPawa. What gives you and Eazi such great chemistry?
There is respect, transparency, and the drive to push ourselves to be better. Mr Eazi is a smart businessman who understands the business of this industry. Being signed to emPawa has taken a lot of burden off me, so I can concentrate and create more number one records like “Nobody.”
Photo courtesy of the artist.
Greatness 2.0 assembles some of Africa’s biggest artists. How tiring was the process?
I knew the direction and sound I wanted for this project so I took time to assemble some of the best people. I started working on the project immediately after I dropped my debut, Greatness, in 2018. That project took me almost three years. Working with superstars means making time to accommodate everyone’s schedule. This is not just an album, it’s a playlist featuring all your favorite artists in the industry.
In 2019, you complained of a lack of respect for DJs. Two years on, is your experience the same?
I have worked hard toward being that DJ who moves the audience on the radio, the crowd at parties and onstage at concerts both home and abroad. I have worked hard to not be boxed as just an afrobeats DJ. Things have changed, I’m more popular, the bookings have increased and my price went up. All of this wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t put in the extra work. I fought for my space. You need to be as hungry as when you started. The moment you’re chilling, someone else is working .
After two decades, what are some of your most memorable achievements?
I have seen artists come and go. The industry evolves and doesn’t accommodate those who can’t evolve with it. Being relevant in the industry after twenty years is my greatest achievement. Also when I got nominated for Nigerian Entertainers Awards in 2009 in America. It was my first time travelling abroad. In fact, it was my first time getting on an airplane. When “Nobody” won Best Pop Single at the Headies in 2020, it was a feat no DJ had ever achieved. I don’t talk much about these moments, but they’re enough to make every young DJ believe that if DJ Neptune could achieve this, then they can too.
If all goes as planned, what’s the goal for DJ Neptune?
In a few years, I should retire from active music. I will be handling other disciplines of the industry like owning studios, a record label, and putting a lot of young talents on. As long as there is music, there will always be space for me in the industry.