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Is Controvesy the Linchpin that Keeps Portable in the Spotlight?

Is Controvesy the Linchpin that Keeps Portable in the Spotlight?

Portable is as riotous as he is reflective. He alternates between being ungovernable and offering sagacious insights, wearing the hat of a sage to drop quotables like “A lion isn’t afraid to walk alone”…

By Abioye Damilare Samson

Last year, amid the festive fervour of “Detty December”, I went to Oshodi in Lagos to board a bus to Abeokuta. While waiting at the park, Portable’s hit song “Aza Man“, which samples Asake’s “Organise”, began to play. Two motor park workers, likely in their early 30s, dressed in matching uniforms which suggested a workplace dress code, started dancing. With sporting smiles, they sang along to the bouncy tune, screaming out the infectious line “Aza man, every other day is azaman, who go help you no go stress you”. Inspired by their lively display, I swiftly brought out my phone to play Portable’s music on YouTube. Upon searching, the first result to pop up was his captivating live performance on Glitch, where he delivered a soulful rendition of his song, “Kosalaboro. His delivery, composure, and the emotiveness with which he performed confirmed my conviction of his undeniable talent.

Amidst my exploration of his music catalogue, I recalled a controversial incident that had stirred considerable attention during that period. The singer allegedly assaulted the manager who now oversees his former label signee, Young Duu. This controversy, rife with sensational headlines, added a layer of intrigue to the overall narrative of Portable’s career. At that moment, I pondered: How has he remained relevant in the music industry? Is it his music or for drama and controversy that he has become known for that has kept him in the spotlight? This question lingered in my mind, sparking curiosity about what has sustained him in the entertainment industry. 

Just as bees gravitate towards the nectar’s allure, the pursuit of stardom in the entertainment industry exhibits a comparable inclination towards controversy. This phenomenon, juxtaposed with the aphorism that there is no such thing as bad publicity, clarifies why — despite the diverse elements converging to shape an artist’s persona — controversy has become a powerful catalyst to achieving fame faster. Consequently, it has been said that musicians deliberately use controversy as a ploy to create buzz. In an era where staying in the limelight is a social currency, Portable Omoolalomi seems to have mastered the art of keeping the spotlight firmly fixed on himself.

To begin with, Habeeb Okikiola, popularly known as Portable Omoolalomi, is one of Street-Pop’s new-era superstars making a significant impact in the music industry; and if there is a newfound revelation concerning Portable’s presence and popularity in the music industry, it lies in the fact that beyond the pop culture knowledge of Street-Pop — a grittier iteration of Nigerian Music that is predominantly delivered in local dialects and inspired by traditional genres like Fuji, Apala, Were, and Highlife music (pioneered by Dagrin, 9ice, Olamide, among others) — there exists an even more concentrated level of street, where the ‘deepest of the trenches’ exist. Portable stands out as a Street-Pop artiste who emerged from the depth of this domain. The appeal of his music extends to a ready audience — a demographic that is perhaps best exemplified by the workers I met at the park — one that underscores the broad appreciation for his music within the core street: ‘trenches’.

Portable - controversy keeps Portable in the spotlight - Afrocritik

Years before the release of “ZaZoo Zehh— the song that would later ascend to become one of the biggest Street-Pop anthems, bolstered by the collaborative prowess of the versatile rapper and singer, Olamide as a featured artiste on the song — Portable had already been making music, albeit within the underground scene. Both figuratively and literally, he has come miles away from the labyrinthine maze of Sango Otta — the notable town in Ogun State where his music journey kickstarted. Following the instant success of “Zazoo Zehh” produced by P.Prime, which catapulted Portable into the limelight, Portable rose to become an immutable part of the street-pop galaxy, with a catalogue of songs like  “Aza Man”,  “I’m Not a Prisoner”,  “Gasolo” and many others.

But it is also impossible to talk about the narrative of Portable’s career without turning our gaze to the many scenes he has created since the release of his first hit track. Ever since he became popular, there has never been a moment when he didn’t get involved in controversy or generate one. At the height of his hit track success, he alleged that Poco Lee was unjust in his transactions, claiming that the dancer withheld his money – funds sprayed by Wizkid at an event. He has also accused show promoter Kogbagidi, his former manager, of defrauding him, and then in 2022, he was disqualified from the Headies award for making public threats at nominees and attendees. Portable’s journey is marked by tumultuous events. During the Nigerian general elections in 2023 — a critical moment where top celebrities refrained from openly endorsing any candidates to avoid potential backlash or cancellation — Portable fearlessly engaged in political campaigns for different parties without the fear of being “cancelled”. But isn’t that the beauty of democracy? The freedom to express allegiance to any political party. 

Portable is as riotous as he is reflective. He alternates between being ungovernable and offering sagacious insights, wearing the hat of a sage to drop quotables like “A lion isn’t afraid to walk alone” or “Never put the keys to your success in someone else’s pocket”, whenever he does his usual recorded videos or engaging in media interviews. Each interaction with Portable unfolds as a mosaic of profound yet self-assured musings, as he sometimes delivers insightful and egotistical golden punchlines illuminating his perspective on life. It is no wonder that Aristotle said, “No great mind has ever existed without the touch of madness”. He unapologetically extols the grandeur of his artistic prowess and innate aptitude — showcasing an unwavering belief in his abilities. This self-assurance reaches an audacious pinnacle with his recurring proclamation that every passing year is unequivocally “his year”. On the Honest Brunch Podcast, he says with braggadocio, “Every year na my year”,— a phrase that means that one’s shine doesn’t have to be periodic. Portable’s confidence not only reverberates through his music but also reflects in his public persona, creating a narrative where he boldly declares his dominion at every chance, asserting his presence with resounding self-conviction.

Portable 2

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He has a penchant for creating online drama and making a spectacle on social media during live sessions or with recorded videos. Perhaps this is the reason behind the attention he receives. The media algorithm seems to work in his favour, as he enacts in situations. It’s no surprise that during an interview last year, Don Jazzy, the renowned Mavin Records CEO, shared with the multi-award-winning journalist Joey Akan on a live podcast how he uses Portable as an example for his artistes on navigating the waves of media attention. The views of music enthusiasts and netizens regarding his controversial lifestyle can be broadly categorised into two groups: on the one hand, there are those who perceive him as unruly and problematic, and on the other, those who see him as a champion for other indie artistes who often face challenges such as exploitation when dealing with more established players in the industry. 

In the past three years, Portable’s ascent to fame has been marked by not only success but also occasional clashes with show promoters, music executives, fellow artistes, and even upcoming artistes signed under his record label, Zeh Nation. Amidst the drama posed by these conflicts within the entertainment industry, Portable still exhibits his philanthropic side. On certain occasions, he takes to the streets, generously spraying money. This dichotomy in Portable’s persona, oscillating between conflicts within the industry and his seamless connection with fans, is why he can be criticised one day and lauded the next.  

This leads me back to my curiosity on what has kept Portable in the spotlight. Having experienced significant career triumphs and recognition — including performances outside Nigeria, overseeing a local burgeoning record label featuring emerging street artistes, and being acknowledged by a popular US rapper, Rick Ross for a potential collaboration — Portable’s success is evident. At the time of writing this, he recently collaborated with one of the leading British Grime rappers, Skepta. This collaboration materialised after months of camaraderie with the artiste, notably at the British Fashion Award. Their joint effort resulted in the track “Tony Montana”, produced by the British-Ghanaian record producer JAE5.

Portable And Skepta
Portable and Skepta

Ultimately, the recent collaboration with Skepta may offer a glimpse into Portable’s ability to transcend borders. However, the global stage sometimes demands a certain level of civility and professionalism that goes beyond mere musical talent — an aspect Portable seems to fall short. His penchant for creating scenes and engaging in public conflicts might not align with the expectations of the international music community. Therefore, it remains conspicuous that controversy is the linchpin that keeps him in the spotlight, and the day he decides to stop the drama and controversy, the potential end of his career could be looming, unless there exists a thorough rebranding that reshapes his narrative and public perception.  However, for the time being, let’s continue to enjoy the music and drama of the Nigerian-based Tony Montana.

Abioye Damilare is a music journalist and culture writer focused on the African entertainment Industry. Reading new publications and listening to music are two of his favourite pastimes when he is not writing. Connect with him on Twitter and IG: @Dreyschronicle.

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