Interviewing Chinedu Okoye, aka D.O.P.E was inspiring, illuminating and hilarious!!! We laughed up a storm I tell you!!! The award-winning Kingdom rap artiste, youth counsellor and power consultant is a rare breed of man with many, many parts. One minute he seems almost shy, and the next, he tells about rapping ‘I Surrender [to Jesus]’ in nightclubs; I mean, who does that?! D.O.P.E is who!!!
Enough with the exclamation marks though; I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed talking with him; tis not the same, but you will have to make do!
KA: Why D.O.P.E?
D.O.P.E: Well, that name was birthed from the influence of Hip-hop; we always had rap battles in the streets and whenever I delivered, my peers always hailed me and said I was DOPE! Dope means ‘on point’ or awesome in rap lingua, so it was their way of acknowledging the effect of my music on them.
However in later years, and given that dope in its literal meaning is not exactly positive, I changed it into an acronym, which is why it is always spelt this way= D.O.P.E. D=Don’t let the devil, O=Open up to God, P=Pray without ceasing, E=Encourage others, which encompasses the content of my kind of music.
KA: What is your kind of music?
D.O.P.E: My music is called Kingdom music; it’s music that will move you from where you are to where God wants you to be, or where you desire to be. It basically contains a lot of socio-political and Christian principles, which might also be referred to as gospel music. My music is Hip-hop rap with some fusion of juju music, high life, rock and makossa.
KA: Music as a way of life?
D.O.P.E: I never intended to go ‘professional’ so to speak with my rap. I have always had this side of me, but at some point, I made CD’s and gave to my friends, and they loved it! They urged me to take it to the next level and even went ahead to publish my music online to a lot of positive reviews and downloads. The calls started coming in from people who wanted me to ‘jump’ on their tracks and deliver, so I thought to myself, “Why don’t I just be a role model who will reposition music for the next generation?” at that point, I was also jaded about the kind of music which is now prevalent in this age.
KA: Where on God’s green earth does the D.O.P.E hail from?
D.O.P.E: I am from Anambra State, Njikoka LGA, Enugu Agidi town and from Achalla village; I am a deeply rooted Igbo man, IGBO KWENU!!! [Laughter] My father passed when I was in primary school and my mother passed in 2004. Did I feel the effect of the early loss of my father? Not devastatingly. I am the last of 7 siblings and my immediate older brother is 12 years older than I am. I was an uncle even before I was born!
Childhood was awesome for me; I didn’t grow up like most rappers in the ghetto or in gangster paradise. I grew up in Jos, and in my neighbourhood, music was the thing, which is why a lot of musicians today are either from, or grew up in Jos. There were a lot of diversified cultures in Jos, which might also have influenced the music of the town; all of these were in the heydays before the strife started to tear the fabric of that lovely town. That was the era when the FM radio was birthed, and we listened to the radio a lot, stoking the fire already within. I started writing poems and lyrics at the age of 12. I actually write a lot; I have written 3 books though they haven’t been professionally published.
D.O.P.E: Education-wise, well I did my best! [Laughter]
My primary education was at St. Paul’s Township school in Jos; Secondary education was at St. John’s College, Jos, and I studied Electromechanical Technology at Nnamdi Azikiwe University which started as Anambra State University of Technology [ASUTECH] before the creation of states. I earned an MBA from the University of Calabar, Nigera.
D.O.P.E: I have basically done the same thing for the whole of my career. I have always wanted to work in a place where I will bring solutions, and I am sort of obsessed with places that have been ‘written off’ so to speak where I can add value.
When I graduated I just knew that I needed a mentor, and since I was in the engineering field, I sought out people who could teach me things from the grassroots about the power sector. So I learnt how to install transformers, climb electric poles and run wires, how to install metres etc. that is what grew me, and now, I consult for the power sector. We initiated the prepayment metering to solve the problem of over-billing etc.
[We had more discussions about the power sector, but this is neither the time nor place! Laughs]
KA: When did you go ‘Gospel?’
D.O.P.E: I have always wanted to do conscious music because I had role models who were conscious about their music. However, I stumbled into the meaning of ‘secular.’ It is derived from the Latin word ‘seclorium’ which means ‘a place without God,’ so when you say you are doing ‘secular’ music, you are in essence doing godless music ;so you don’t blame them for throwing naked women in our faces.
KA: In addition to meaningless lyrics right?
D.O.P.E: That too. That’s why I think it is very important for artistes, especially rappers to do a lot of reading. I read a lot, research my topics, and get all the details I need. Education is not restricted to the four walls of a school; read, read, read. Be versatile. In music, we need to discern between fantasies and reality, and between lies and the truth. No matter who or what you are, what you see every day will influence you and what you become eventually. If we always embrace ‘wack’ –things that are not right- sooner or later, there will be disorder in society –violence, moral decadence etc. Things have to be put in the right places; we need new role models that will fly the banner. I grew up in a Christian home, I was in the choir and the Boys Brigade, and I think that before anything else, that background gave me some sense of value and direction; in fact I think most of my decisions are guided by the Holy Spirit and my mother’s voice!
KA: When and why did you decide to resurrect music after the time-out spent in other pursuits?
D.O.P.E: Back then, most parents didn’t support such dreams, and mine were no exception. They didn’t even want to hear it, so I never thought of doing it professionally although as early as 1990, I was going from campus to campus, doing shows, representing rap and Hip-hop music-thank God Mummy didn’t hear that!-
However, in 1993, I just decided to concentrate on my education, and after that I started working. In 2007, I discovered that I couldn’t listen to MTV or watch Channel O anymore. Back in the days, rap music was intellectual; a weapon of activism, but now all you see is the ladies, cars, the tattoos, the ice and blings; nothing substantial, no front liners, soldiers or ‘wordites’ out there. So I thought, let me start doing this again, and I did. I started doing ‘clean’ music, not strictly kingdom music but clean music which talked about genocide, injustice, and unemployment.
When I moved to Rivers State later on, I had friends in the media there, who knew about the D.O.P.E part of me, and called on me to send some materials. I did, and it was well received.
To backtrack a little, in 1997, I joined a youth ministry, where I did a lot of training and counselling; I also started growing in my walk with God, so when I decided to ‘resurrect’ music again, I knew it had to reflect my faith and beliefs. I refer to my music as kingdom music because it is meant for everyone, not just Christians, which I hope answers your previous question about when I decided to go Gospel.
KA: It seems as though the Gospel music industry is plagued by poor production/quality of Gospel music/videos?
D.O.P.E: I know, and that is what I have come to change; that is what I am changing, the perception that if it’s godly, it must be sub-standard. I do my music videos in Nigeria, and they are different; in a good way. There are a lot of terrific video crews in Nigeria; I don’t know why artistes take that part of business outside Nigeria; it’s a problem. I think most musicians forget about their content and focus on blowing the mind of their audience with hype; interestingly, when you see the video in question, it becomes obvious that it could have been shot anywhere! I would really love to communicate with the media about that.
When I threw out my first music video ‘Fed Up’ -for which I had to go and knock on doors and beg people to come and support- 084, one of the biggest programs on local TV in Rivers State played it 32 times out of its 54 episodes. It stayed 4 weeks on number 1, and was constantly on request; that is the power of lyrical content.
I have since done 8 videos, over 60 songs and a mix-tape. I will be dropping an album soon. In early August I dropped the second edition of my cypher-a cypher has 10 rappers on one beat- entitled Sons of God. [I listened to it, twas amazing!!!]
KA: Production Crew
D.O.P.E: My Producer is TR in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. I have also produced in Lagos and Ibadan, Nigeria. I also have a production company; Dope Beyond Rap Entertainment [DBR] which basically means what it says: this crew goes way beyond rap.
KA: D.O.P.E’s challenges…
D.O.P.E: Well, that’s one reason I am glad I decided to go full throttle with my music now as I have the resources to put things together, and I am tutoring a lot of kids that want to do good music.
KA: Do share about your work with young people.
D.O.P.E: I run a Foundation called, ‘African Youth Development Initiative.’ I have worked with the World Bank and the British Council in the past; was awarded the Youth Ambassador for Peace at some point. Why did I start it? I saw a problem with leadership, and I knew that if something is not done with the crop of young people we have, there is going to be a collapse in the area of leadership and a disorder in followership. So I decided to put an organisation in place which I thought would have become a youth organisation of the African Union by now, but… [Laughs]
On the other hand, counselling youths is fulfilling. In the youth ministry of Family Worship Centre, where I was, at some point no teenager was failing the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board [JAMB] examination. The Bible says ‘Occupy till I Come’ and that occupation means taking over every industry and authority. That is the mandate for Christians and I teach my teens to aim for the top wherever they find themselves. Above all, we make them see that Kingdom things are not boring. I am so hype; I wear my Guccis and Versaces, and my denims. One of my songs, ‘Young, Fly and Saved’ also communicates my feelings on these matters. I believe that there is a revolution going on right now though, hard as it may seem because people are resistant to change. Christians and Christian products should not be substandard or archaic.
KA: Rap in Christendom
D.O.P.E: Rap is still making its way into Christendom and only a few Pastors ‘who know what’s up’ will invite a rapper to minister on their platforms, especially if the rapper is from a different denomination; it would be a hard sell.
KA: Live Performances, any butterflies?
D.O.P.E: I think any musician, even the best of the best, experiences a nervousness which fades away as you go along.
KA: Family life.
D.O.P.E: I got married in 2002, and my home is blessed with a son-Chisom and daughter-Tehillah.
KA: Life’s purpose…
D.O.P.E: To prepare my generation to know God, love God and serve God.
KA: Inspire an African youth in one sentence:
D.O.P.E: Choose significance over making a quick buck.
To contact D.O.P.E: www.facebook.com/dopebeyondrap on Twitter @dopebeyondrap