In an industry littered with upcoming artistes frustrated by lack of support, you will be pressed to find a more pronounced hustler in the game than A-Q.
Almost two years to this date, I had rushed off to the Island to witness my first Nigerian hip-hop concert, the Son of John Concert hosted by controversial rapper A-Q. This was off the back of the success of his Son of John 2 project which he sold across various platforms online for a fixed price of N50. I remember sitting in the audience as the show commenced with performances from various rappers who had come to show support whilst reminiscing on his journey thus far in the game and how he was still standing in an industry where most of his peers had fallen off.
My first encounter with A-Q’s music was when he dropped his debut project Listen and Overstand. I remember being interested in the project due to the controversial single (W)rap up Nigeria where he dissed some of the big name rappers as at that time; and later on bumping into a young dude on the streets of Surulere independently selling hard copies of the CD. It is believed that he was able to move over 5,000 units of that project from hand-to-hand direct sales for N300 per copy at a time when mainstream albums were being sold at N100 on the streets.
Fast forward many years later and on one fateful morning, I got a call that the Rose album was going to be delivered directly to my office- no cash exchange at the point of delivery, only through bank transfers.
This simple move showed two things: someone who trusted that the item delivered with his music was the item the listener ordered and secondly, where someone could easily have paid N200-N300 upon receipt of the album, the least amount most people had to pay into an account was N500.
Gilbert Bani- known in the game as A-Q has been in the game for quite a while and it appears that he is putting every experience gathered so far to bear. Outside being a talented rapper who can hold his own with the best on any day, he is also a smart hustler who has studied the Nigerian music scene and is perfecting the art of selling his music. Gone is that angry and frustrated rapper who battled everybody in sight; now he is all about the music and making a success of it. ‘When you are frustrated, you will complain, but when you start to make income, there won’t be much to complain about,’ the rapper says.
As he prepares for his fourth studio album Blessed Forever, he looks back at the Rose album and how he devised a strategy for it: ‘The strategy for the Rose album came from all the mistakes I made from the Son of John 2 Project, an album I sold for 50N. Some revenue was generated from that album but it only proved to my team that with careful planning and strategy, more income could be made off an album. So I’ll like to call the Son of John 2 a test experiment to collate data for my plans with the Rose album,’ he says. He is also quick to remind us that the Rose album was one of most streamed rap albums last year, on Music Plus alone.
It recorded over 17,480 streams ahead of the likes of Aramide’s Suitcase and Wande Coal’s Wanted, with only that of Phyno, Olamide and Lil Kesh topping his. The culture of buying albums in Nigeria is fast dwindling. For indie rappers who don’t get listed for shows or get endorsement from brands and a seeing this decline in digital patronage, finding a way to push units of your project is the one sure path of making some returns on your investment.
Evidently with the Rose album, A-Q sought to attain that; the albums were delivered to homes and offices directly, using his links in corporate establishments to spread the word around. ‘It makes no sense for now to keep promoting my music with iTunes and Spotify links in Nigeria when a core of my fan-base can’t access international platforms,’ he says.
The Hustle Ink chief describes his reason selling the Son of John 2 album at a fixed rate of N50 thus: ‘We had not sold an album digitally extensively. I had knowledge with physical albums from my previous projects but I needed first hand information and the experience on how to sell digitally and Son of John 2 was that test experiment. I understood that the music is a product and the artiste a brand and if you provide quality at a lower price, you are most likely going to get more product sales. We were not just after the money; we wanted people to buy the album. We wanted data on the numbers of people buying hip-hop music digitally, the platforms they were buying from and how much possible income could be made. We needed data to forecast and we were satisfied with the results.’
For Blessed Forever which is due to be released before the end of the year with pre-order links out on his birthday on 1st of August, he regards it as his best project yet and intends to make a statement with the promotion and marketing. ‘The most important thing is getting the product right, create the music in the best way to satisfy not just my loyal fans but get more people on board. I realize that as a hip-hop artiste, restricting my music to the hip-hop fan base alone might not earn you much’. Simply put: although he is still all about spitting those heavy bars, he intends to make music that both hip-hop fans and fans of other genres can relate to and enjoy.
The rapper also acknowledges that whilst digital streaming and sales seem like the in-thing, it is not generating the in-flow like many assume.
With the Blessed Forever album, he and his team are working out ways to get more percentages from the platforms, cut out middle men and then pull more income from International brands having gained a strong home footing. He also has tours planned and is not afraid to host his own show yet again if paid shows are not coming his way.
In an industry littered with upcoming artistes frustrated by lack of support, a fearless A-Q who is not one to shy away from battles has his eyes on a higher target this time and is keen to set a precedent that will ensure that rappers- just like their pop counterparts can equally break bread off their music even if not on the same scale. Blessed Forever is coming and you will be pressed to find a more pronounced hustler in the game than A-Q.
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