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10Ten: Creating Safe Spaces for Artists by Being Creatively Active

10Ten: Creating Safe Spaces for Artists by Being Creatively Active

10Ten

Osagie Onobun, popularly known as ‘10Ten’ or ‘Ten’ is the Head of  Artists & Repertoire at one of Africa’s biggest labels, Chocolate City. The label is known to have discovered, signed and promoted ace African rappers, singers and songwriters. 

Appointed into the Head A&R position three years ago, 10Ten is credited for his works on Blaqbonez’s Sex Over Love and Young Preacher albums. He also scouted, signed and developed new artists Tar1q, Noon Dave and Major AJ to the label.

Ten produces, writes and hopes to help push African music forward both in his creative and administrative capacities. He has a keen eye for talents and loves to be in the studio. 10Ten is no stranger to making music that is timeless and accessible. 

10Ten
Image: 10Ten

He is credited for contributing to the production and promotion of BlaqBonez’s Sex Over Love (50 million streams) and Young Preacher (20 million streams) albums; TAR1Q’s Son Of The Moon EP (10 million streams) and Major AJ’s Retroverse EP (1.1million streams).

Following the successes of these projects after his announcement as Head of A&R and Artist Development & Liaison at Nutrybe Records and Academy by Africa’s top record company, Chocolate City, he has begun to curate Chocolate City’s collective album. 

The label, which has produced outstanding artists like Blaqbonez, Young Jonn, and Candybleakz, has once again demonstrated its steadfast dedication to breaking down barriers and developing the most brilliant entertainers and 10Ten plans to tap into these talents to cross their various audiences and maximise their potentials through the project.

‘Dealer’, the first single off the project was released recently and it features BlaqBonez and Tariq. John Eni-ibukun recently caught up with 10Ten to have conversations around his work with the label, his craft as a producer and other related topics.

You have built experience as an A&R in the music industry. You currently serve as head A&R at Chocolate City. How did your foray into the music industry begin? How have these experiences shaped the kind of sound you look out for in talent scouting?

I think my whole music journey started in secondary school. My brother said I could do whatever Michael Jackson was doing at the time and I believed him. So at first I was a dancer. I was doing all of Michael Jackson’s break dance moves. 

At a later point they said I could write like MJ too. That I could just pick up a pen and start writing songs like he did. I was told, really, that I could do whatever Michael Jackson could do. So, I’ll say my pedestal was really high. I started with Michael Jackson. And then after a while, I started playing in church, and then eventually learned the guitar myself. 

Obviously at some point I switched to sound production. I started producing because I couldn’t afford to pay for production. I’m giving this background so you’ll know being an A&R has always been a thing for me. I just didn’t know that.

Asides being a producer then I wrote songs too. I made songs by just working on it through the night, then during the day I would begin to think of the artist I thought would best fit in to record on the instrumentals I made. I’ve given out so many songs. 

Asides production and song writing I have also had a keen interest in artists’ trajectory. One time I was doing a little research on the music business and I saw what A&R meant, I thought it best described me. I like to help artists in the studio and outside the studio.

So do you still produce instrumentals?

Yeah, I produce. I produced my last release, Dealer. I also produced some records on BlaqBonez’s Young Preacher album. I did some production on SuperBoy Cheque’s project too. So, I still produce sounds. Although it’s quite difficult trying to combine everything these days, I try to make time.

With your vast experience as a producer and an A&R, how would you describe the changes that you’ve noticed over time while you’ve been in the Nigerian mainstream music scene?

One thing that is clear more than ever is the growth as regards sonic appeal and the quality of songs that’s being put out, because back then mixes were not so great. Artists were not so keen on the craft. I mean, not that they were not keen but they were not as keen as now. 

Right now we have so many fusions going on. There are just so many elements that are coming together, and it’s fast growing into becoming something beautiful. 

It’s so good right now, I can assure anyone that if they open the Internet to go through artists social media pages, three out of five of them will be sonically appealing. So to me, I would not say at any point that the transition of afrobeats to the centre of the world is fluke. I saw the growth in real time. Artists got better over time. Likewise did our sound producers and engineers.

So talent wise, we kind of upped our game. There’s also more awareness as regards the business side. Producers are really asking for their splits now. Everybody is more aware of the business side than ever before.

Do you think that this improvement is based on the fact that there is an oversaturation of artists presently, so it is making everyone trying to stand out by getting better with the quality?

I think the improvement started from when as kids watching TV, we see people we liked and aspired to be like them. So to me it started from way back. 

The pioneers of Afrobeats like Idris Abdulkareem – kids saw them and wanted to be like that. And it just kept getting better over the years. 

I don’t know if it’s a fact, but for the sake of example, let’s assume that 9ice watched Idris while he was growing, he must have been inspired to say, okay, I want to take my music career farther than Idris has. And if Dbanj watched 9ice doing his thing, he must have salivated at the idea of taking his career and the movement further.

And then there’s this kid saying, you know what, whatever D’banj has done, I can do it better. So people are getting inspired the more Afrobeats expands. It’s just a given that we are where we are today. 

10Ten
Image of 10Ten on the cover art for Dealer

Dealer is a song about coping mechanisms and navigating life as a young adult. That’s how I interpret it. What’s the meaning of the song to you?  How did the process for creating it start? 

I had the vision to create a project that is creatively reckless, where everyone just comes around to just do their thing. So in the presentation it’s like, come and make songs in that expression that probably made someone sign you. Come and be free on this project.

The artist side of me always wants to express beyond what the business has to offer. So, the project is really just about us being vulnerable. We’re just chilling. It’s really nothing beyond that. We don’t care who’s watching. That’s where it came out from because you wouldn’t ordinarily see BlaqBonez touching the themes he touched on that song (Dealer).

Dealer is just about being vulnerable. It’s like a safe space. The project is a safe space where artists come and vibe and just say whatever they want to say. 

The song is a single out of the project. The project is coming out on 10th of October. That’s my birthday. I have a couple of artists on it. We are currently in the mixing and mastering phase. 

About creating that song particularly with BlaqBonez and Tar1q, it just happened. I played the beat for Blaq a while ago and his original response to it was I wan vibe in this beat o. And that was it. 

I played the same beat at another instance, and Tar1q was on my neck for the longest time. Blaq had done his verse on it at that point. After a while I just decided to let Tar1q do his run on the second verse, and we worked on it together. So there was no particular “curation” of the song. They both just really liked the beat and wanted to be on it.

On the balance between being a producer and an A&R, people may be of the opinion that it’s an anomaly for a music executive to own a record, as you’ve just done with this particular song and the forthcoming album. Why did you find it necessary to put out the record and how would you make a comment on that opinion? 

First, there are no laws to creativity. There’s no law that says whether a person can do one thing or not. I’ll give you examples of executives that make music – Jay-Z. Jay-z is an executive. If he wasn’t behind the scenes before, he is now. He will still release music whenever he wants to. 

There are a couple of guys that were in the music business and still made music, but that’s not even the point. First, there are no laws. There are literally no rules. And I enjoy spaces where there are no rules.

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Secondly, before I dropped this song, I had been an artist all my life for the longest time. And the people that know me as an artist, they don’t even want to know me as anything else. Dropping this song as an A&R, some people don’t even know what an A&R is. They’re just happy like, Omo, Ten don finally drop something because it’s always been ‘When are you going to release new music?’

And I’m pushing this song like it is my song. I’ve had to put a statement out that this is an A&R project but people still refuse to see it that way. And that is because I have always been an artist. Even the people close to me at Chocolate City were asking me about it because they actually thought my voice was on it because they are aware that I am an artist. 

At the end of the day, I create. I am a producer, I am a writer. It’s just a given that I will put out music even if I don’t want to put it out as an artist, I will put out music one way or the other. 

And the whole idea of A&Rs putting out records is a global phenomenon. I will not carry last. DJ Khalid is releasing A&R projects, Basket Mouth likewise. So who am I not to?

10Ten
Image from ‘Dealer’ music video

How are you, as an A&R, positioned towards being a major driver to the changes that are happening in the African music industry right now?

Above all else, I believe in teamwork. I believe in collaboration a lot. I’m aware that in the music industry or jobs generally, it’s a thing that you move to help yourself, to help your CV grow in general. So the general idea is that it’s good to change jobs. 

Well, I’ve been at Chocolate City now for almost five years.

M.I said a thing some time ago that I really am in tune with. He said ‘Why are you going to build elsewhere when it’s so hard to build? It’s so hard to build. Whatever you think that is tough where you are? You are going to face it elsewhere.’ 

Building anything is a lot of work. There are times when nothing happens. Nothing just happens. But then you have to keep moving. What do you want to make sure of in times like these? You want to make sure that you’re with like minded people that you already know. You understand their weakness and their strengths and you know how to work around it, and you have a goal. 

For me personally, Afrobeats is growing at a fast pace now, and I’ll say that I am already well positioned for its changes. I mean, I was in the company when CKay went crazy with Love Nwantiti and it’s still within the A&R department that someone took that upon himself. 

Also, working with Blaq and signing these new amazing artists, nobody is thinking local. I mean, of course we want to survive and the talent is really made in Lagos, but the goal is the world. We want people to really want your music to hit the wall. That’s what we’re doing every day, grinding.

That’s the whole idea of me being on a checklist, staying back and deciding to go with the people that I know, the people I know that also have similar goals in mind. 

So for me, it’s really about loyalty and teamwork. 

What, in life, matters to you the most and why? 

Right now, two things matter the most to me – my time and energy. I’m very particular about those. I don’t spend one minute where business is done.

Every time you see me, there just has to be a reason. There’s no flexing. I mean, we can flex, but that also has to be planned. 

And my energy, I’m very much more self-aware than I was before. So I understand my energy. I understand what I want in a space. So I kind of protect it. And I’m specific as to who I give energy to. Do you deserve it? What are you bringing? What are we exchanging? So I’m very particular about my time and I think that’s it.

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