The afternoon sun must have been 50 degrees when my friend Tope (not his real name) and I set out from Chevron to Ajah in 2021. He asked why we were headed that way since another mutual of ours was not in the State at the moment. My being on the peninsula had presented an opportunity to kill lots of birds with one stone – him being one and hanging out with Rik, another.
I’m introverted and somewhat close to a recluse; I barely go out unless it is inevitable or necessary to do so. Since Tope managed to pull me out of my mainland home to the peninsula, I might as well make good use of my “we owlcide” moment.
The details of how I got put on to Rik Artsenz are quite fuzzy. But I remember it was during the first 30 days of the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020. I reacted to his Hot Head Remix on YouTube, and ever since, we’ve been in close contact. Rik gave directions to a bar in his hood for the link-up. He came through like a proper host would; trees for the three of us, and we had pepper soup washed down with alcohol. We spoke at length about the state of hip-hop and possible moves to ease our (seemly different) journies in the industry. We would link up again when our (Tope and I) mutual friend was back in Ajah a month or two later.
Meeting Eric reinforced my theory that stupendously creative folks are introverted. His humble personality was something that stuck with me all these years. You listen to his verses, and then you meet him; two different personalities. The booth is his opportunity to pour out his mind, and he does that beautifully with his music. He cannot be boxed into one genre; a true definition of a Hip-Hop Artiste. Fluent with his delivery regardless of the BPM and bounce. Rik sings well (although he won’t agree with me on that); do not get me started on his writing.
For the sake of him telling his story himself, I must bring this introduction to an end and get you into the interview as soon as possible. Please note that the interview has been edited for clarity. Enjoy.
You’ve been in the game for more than a minute, and some folks would classify you as an OG! What first got you into pursuing a professional music career?
My story is not the regular ‘Ahhhh. I started in the choir!’ No o! My story is I’m just a die-hard music fan. I’ve always loved music from ye high [gestures a toddler’s height with his right hand]. My dad always played different genres, from Highlife to Reggae, Jazz, Rock n Roll, and Makossa. I guess I picked up from there.
After secondary school, I made friends with guys who loved music too. So we would go somewhere and freestyle for hours. It was then I realised how good I was because these other guys were older than me (at the time), and they respected me for my craft.
Another instance was when I recorded my first song. I recorded my first song before I resumed the University – Ebonyi State University (EBSU). When I got to Uni, I got into a professional studio and recorded my first professional song that blew everyone away. It was hard for people to believe it was my first song with a professional recording. But their encouragement and gassing made me look towards a music career.
We’re not going to skip your origins either. Tell us about the man behind the emcee.
My real name is Eric Rikilo Uchenna. I’m from Ebonyi State. I was born and raised in Cross River – my mum is a Cross Riverian, by the way. I’m the first child of 4.
I got introduced to hip-hop while watching TV. There were underground hip-hop shows on ChannelO back in the day – Basement and other programmes. I started there and was introduced to Nigerian rap music from the same station.
A guy called Bionic hosted a show back in the day called Rap Radio Nigeria on Radio Nigeria Enugu back then. The Rap Radio Africa you see today started way back. Anytime you meet Bionic and mention ‘Rik’, he’ll tell you he’s my mentor in the rap game. Yeah!
I learned a lot from that man! So you heard it first here! Bionic is my mentor and teacher in the rap game.
Now that all that is out of the way. Let’s talk about your come-up story in the industry. What was it like recording and promoting your first project?
[Smirks] Mehn! Looking back, my come-up story is interesting and sweet. At EBSU, I was the top rapper and artiste from my first year until my final year. Ask about me, bro! [chuckles]. While there, I travelled across the Eastern States, including Enugu, Imo, Anambra, etc., for features and shows. I wasn’t only known in the East. My songs enjoyed a bit of airtime on RayPower and Beat FM in Lagos while I was in the East. My move to Lagos was easy because I had people who knew me and my music, so I blended in quickly.
I actually released my first project (I Am) a year before I moved to Lagos. I came to Lagos in 2017 after my Youth Service (2016-2017). The promotion was basically media tours in the East, and when I came to Lagos, I began handing out my CDs. At one point, I had to sell some CDs just to feed.
Looking back, it really helped that I came to Lagos with a project. I wouldn’t have met many people if I hadn’t come to Lagos with my project.
Your sound is not the regular, traditional hip-hop. It enters the alternative realm. Do you mind sharing why you decided on this path and your musical influences?
At times, I listen to my song and go, ‘Ahhhh, what should I call it?’ I guess it’s a cocktail or combination of everything I’ve ingested musically. Whenever I go to the studio and I’m playing around with a beat, it just flows. You know. Whatever comes, comes. I try as much as to infuse… Like, you listen to it and go, ‘Yeah, that’s him. Rik Artsenz’ without being told it’s Rik Artsenz. I’ve honed my craft for so long that it just flows.
My first hip-hop influence was Nas, then Eminem… The Marshall Mathers LP… Mehn! It opened my head. I was like, ‘FUCK!’ – I don’t know if I’m allowed to cuss [chuckles]. I was like, ‘Damn! What!’ He showed incredible writing skills where you’re rapping as a third person, rapping as yourself, creating scenarios and giving the listeners something to think about. That’s basically my style.
Later on, I dabbled into Gangsta Rap – G-Unit and 50Cent. Modenine, later on, M.I Abaga, and Bionic were pretty much those that influenced my style and skill. I also loved Ludacris and Busta Rhymes (Busta Rhymes). Yeah
I chose this path because it represents who I am. You can know I’m chill, laid back, urban and intellectual from listening to my music. Get me? Also, good music wins any day, anytime. Some songs I dropped in my 2019 project (A Federal Smoke) were as old as 5 to 6 years, but folks listened to them and were like, ‘Uhhmmm. Fresh!’
How about nominations and awards so far?
I don’t have any awards and I feel I deserve one. I’ve been nominated once for Student Entertainer of the Year (2014). I’ve forgotten the body, but I was nominated.
It is only proper to talk about your fashion influence right after your musical influences. Who are (and were) your fashion influences?
My fashion is pretty much between Crazy and Cool. Between Jaga-Jaga and Decent. I don’t have anyone I look to as a fashion influence. I just dress well and look good.
You are currently an indie artiste. Have you been signed to a label or close to signing a deal in the past?
I’ve been approached but I haven’t put pen to any deal before. I’ve had stuff with an outfit. I’ve had… No! I’ve had a management deal but I’ve never been signed to a record label.
These indie labels want to invest N10 and make N20 million in five days. It doesn’t work like that. If I’m going to sign a deal, it has to be with someone patient, has a plan, and has a vision. And not someone who will put in 2 Naira today and wants results tomorrow. When the results don’t come, they blame me as an artiste for not working hard. It’s really messy.
For now, I’ll just keep working on myself, putting out music and doing my best to promote it.
How do you think the Internet has impacted the music business?
Broooo! The internet has levelled the playing field. The internet has shown us that you can be 50 years old or 2 years old and still go viral. The internet has given a lot of us the required leverage. It has given us access to tools and tutorials. You can literally make a world-class hit from the comfort of your cubicle. You can have 2 followers today and a million-plus the next morning.
I came from the era where artistes clamour to get their songs in the Alaba mix. That was the viral media back in the day. We went from that to NotJustOk, 360Nobs days when as an artiste having a song on these platforms proved you were a big boy. Then from that to Soundcloud, then to Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and Snapchat, where you make a song today and can distribute it all around the world the next day.
I think the internet is the best thing to happen to the industry. It cuts out the middle man and you can be your own label. It’s pretty much the best thing that has happened to the industry.
If you could change anything about the industry, what would it be?
If we’re talking about Nigeria, I’d say labels and brands should invest in hip-hop and rap. Rappers like Payper Corleone, Paybac (Iboro), and myself have deals with Etisalat, Glo, and Martell; not just Hennessy.
I want more brands to be involved with rap and hip-hop. It will really help the industry’s growth because we need funds and exposure, but we aren’t getting either. The comedians are racking up the endorsements [laughs].
I will like foreign labels and brands to come into Nigeria and invest in rap music.
Ever been in a ‘Beef’ and controversial situation?
Naah! I can’t think of any. I’ve not been in any beef or controversy. Do you think I need to? Do I need to be controversial? Do you think it is going to sell me?
If you had to sacrifice one skill, which would you least like to let go, and why?
Before we go ahead, let me list my skills. I know graphic design, video editing, motion graphics, recording myself (music production), singing – a lil bit, and I know how to rap. If I’m to let go of one, which will it be? [stares into space]mmmmm… This is really hard. Can I pass on this question? Can I take a pass on this one? I can’t… It’s hard!
Should I let go of my graphic design skill? It gives me joy.
Should I let go of my singing? I MEAN! I really want to improve my singing, so that’s a no-brainer.
I’m also a photographer. This is really hard! I can’t let go of my babies. I’m sorry, I can’t.
What are your plans and the one message for your fans?
I got big plans! I’ve got plans to put out a lot of content this year, both visual and audio. I’ll like to give my fans a whole lot to listen to. I want to do a show, a headline show this year. I want to do a big collaboration this year. I want to release music that will cross borders this year. So help me God!
My message to my fans will be to keep supporting me and keep streaming. I’m building something, but not in a hurry. I am building something that my fans are going to be proud of. It takes time and I want you all to trust the process, follow me on this journey, please. I love you guys so much.
Thank you for sticking with me through thick and thin. [Blows a kiss]