By Ore Fakorede
GameMan showed up for his interview alone, personal style defined by a custom-made snapback (emblazoned with his name of course), ankle-high sneakers and the requisite sunglasses ? overall, an everyday look that's the closest thing to a visual representation of his streetwise music. But the hip hop up and comer is far more than meets the eye, depth, empathy and a keen sense of purpose hidden behind his forbidding Ray-Bans.
Rewind. GameMan didn't start out on a street corner, freestyling in time to a friend's beatboxing while his mother waited for him to return home with the bag of pepper and tomatoes he was originally sent to buy. He first got into music ten years ago, cutting his teeth on the drums as an eager teenager in church. Rap, his current claim to fame, was a purely coincidental discovery that happened later on, coming after a stint as a singer in a little-known band. But that 'accident' set the tone for his musical future in a way that nothing had before or has since.
Arms resting lightly on a nondescript white table in the KFC outlet where we set up shop, the easygoing 28-year-old's kind eyes are transfixing as he confides that even though he is more than a little uncomfortable about being labelled a 'gospel' rapper, he's unequivocal about his faith in God and the need to express his beliefs through his music. “I come across as a rap artiste, but expect that you'll hear me speak about my convictions,” he says with a serious look on his face. “A whole lot is happening around me. I process stuff and come to a conclusion.” And as can be clearly heard in his music, that conclusion is unrepentantly biased towards the perspective and values of a Christian. Still, GameMan isn't afraid to collaborate with artsites/producers who don't share his faith. “There's no such thing as a 'gospel' beat. I work with who I'm cool with,” he declares.
More of a stage performer than a recording artiste, it took GameMan a while to break out. His symbolic Riverside EP
, a collection of seven tracks released only a year ago, was his gateway to mainstream reckoning. However, lyricism, no matter how brilliantly executed, isn't really something the wider Nigerian audience keeps a collective ear out for. It's a hard knock life for an up and coming rapper doing his 'upping and coming' here.
But the self-styled studio addict has a gold-plated ace up his sleeve. For several years, he has doubled as a producer, churning out beats for several artistes as GameMan Beatzjockey. His work producing, mixing and mastering songs is his primary source of income since, in his own words, “[his] music doesn't bring in much yet.” Even more beneficial to his rap career is his association with several producers and studios: it keeps the cost of producing/recording his songs down to a manageable minimum.
This year alone, GameMan's prowess as a lyricist has been acknowledged twice with Rap/Hip Hop Artiste of the Year nominations at the Crystal Awards and the National Gospel Awards. And even though he didn't win either award, the recognitions bolstered his confidence to continue along his chosen path. “If I perish, I perish,” he says without pausing a beat, and his stance is totally believable.
While he can hold his own as a rapper cum producer, GameMan has worked with several individuals over the years. His eclecticism has led him into video directing, collaborating with a couple of his friends to create E.C.H.O. Cypher
, a visual platform for emerging Nigerian hip hop heads to be seen and heard. He's also one-third of Groovement Minis3, working with singers Soul and Okey Sokay to explore new ways of spreading their faith through music. As a part of production outfit The Movement (in his GameMan Beatzjockey leotard), he crafts unusual instrumentals with notable gospel music producer V.C. Perez. Walking alone is a concept GameMan is quite familiar with, but he has come to find that 'alone' isn't a good survival strategy.
With more and more rappers diluting their flow in the struggle to gain mass appeal, one wonders if GameMan would do the same. “Rap isn't for everyone,” he says in a breeze. “It [rap] should be intelligent and knowledge-based, it should have a source and a destination.” But he promises that his forthcoming 16-track début album, Beyond Words will offer a multi-genre listening experience, touching on several of his musical influences.
GameMan is an inspiring example of a young person unafraid to take an unyielding stand for he believes in, daring to walk the tightrope of conviction across chasms of mass conformity and identity crisis. “I know where I'm at, where I want to be and I'm working,” he says, chin raised as if in defiance.
GameMan's first full-length album, Beyond Words
is scheduled for a late 2013/early 2014 release. Stay in the loop, follow GameMan on Twitter