“Proof of Life is essentially my way of affirming that I’m still active in the music scene. It’s also a celebration of my long-standing tenure in the industry, despite the limitations I’ve had to overcome.” _ Skales
By Hope Ibiale
A few days before the release of Proof of Life, Nigerian musician, Skales’ latest project, the artiste took to X (formerly Twitter) to call out operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for invading his home and causing an upheaval. As many Nigerians have done in the past, Skales commented on his lack of trust in law enforcement agencies and the judicial system of Nigeria. One would assume that the bump would influence the release of his latest project, however, to the artiste, this is another hurdle he uses his music to overcome.
Proof of Life is an affirmation of Skales’ presence in the music scene. It also commemorates his long-lasting tenure in the Nigerian music industry, despite the challenges he faced. The singer and songwriter makes music mined from his experiences, and these experiences are what power his latest project.
Born Raoul John Njeng Njeng, Skales’ musical journey began when he met the Abaga brothers, M.I and Jesse Jagz in 2007. After releasing his debut single, “Must Shine,” and participating in the talent show, Zain Tru Search, he moved to Lagos and inked a deal with Bankole Wellington and Tunde Demuren’s record label, Empire Mates Entertainment (E.M.E). Over the years, Skales has released projects such as Mr Love, Healing Process, The Never Say Never Guy, Man of the Year, and Sweet Distractions, and 16 years after his debut single, he is still here. His latest project presents a 7-track representation of his journey thus far, filled with celebratory toasts of his resilience, and a reminder of his presence in the music industry.
Afrocritik caught up with Skales after his project debut, where he discussed, among other things, his music journey, the messages he aims to communicate with his audience, the challenges that come with being Skales, and how he has been able to overcome them.
Congratulations on the release of your new EP, Proof of Life. You have been releasing songs consistently since 2012. Can you share what has inspired your continued consistency and general artistic process?
The hunger, I guess. Who is going to work for me? Who is going to feed me? So, I just keep it going. I love music, it makes me happy.
Proof of Life explores themes like happiness and gratitude. Can you walk us through the creative process?
Proof of Life is a rebirth for Skales. This is a rediscovery for me because I believe I am in a position where I — for lack of a better word — can’t be messed with. I believe that musically, I am untouchable at the moment, and this is because of the years of experience I have gathered. You know when they say practice makes perfect? I’ve been practising for years. So, of course, my skills are more sharpened. I feel on top of the world, honestly. So, what Proof of Life means for me is that many people just forget that I’ve been in this game for more than a decade, and I’m still here. Even as they say, “Oh, his career is dead”, I’m still here. That’s what Proof of Life is for me. I’m here, and I’m way better. I’m more advanced. I’m like Skales on steroids.
Walk me through your background. At what point did you realise you wanted to pursue music professionally?
I became interested in music while regularly visiting my mother’s cassette store. I consumed so much music and it just sparked my interest in the whole music journey. I liked the energy and feeling creating music gave to me. Every time I played those tapes I was in awe of how someone can become known for their creation. I am still always in awe and humble of the music.
How have your life journey and personal experiences shaped your songwriting and musical style?
I rely on my personal experiences a lot. If you walk through my catalogue, you will see how I have created music about love, heartbreak, and fame. Music gives me energy, and I always envision it as therapy. For example, “As I Wake Up” came about one morning, when I went to the studio and realised I speak affirmations to myself each day. The record, “I Still Dey” came from a conversation with my guys and I was, “like las las o I dey o”. For every phase, there is a different Skales.
Can you walk us through the inspiration behind Proof of Life?
Proof of Life was recorded following the passing of my mum and the birth of my daughter. I had to record this deeply personal project while balancing two contrasting emotions. I stayed strong and kept a positive mindset. While recording, I had worries, but I didn’t let that affect me. I continued working. There was still work to be done and I had to accept that, because no one was going to work for me or feed me. Creating music makes me happy, so I just kept going.
The week you released Proof of Life, a lot of projects were also released. Were you concerned that other releases could potentially impact the reception this EP would receive?
I am working with one of the best distributors in the market, Onerpm, and they handle the digital strategy with my team, to ensure we maximise all opportunities. We were on the lookout for other projects to get the best placements possible but we weren’t worried because we knew we had a solid project. One of the key elements with music releases is how to time it. From strategy to finance, the team, everything about the game is different now. Even with all the planning, we didn’t foresee EFCC destabilising us days before the release, but like I sang, “I still dey”.
Collaborating with 4korners and Mohamed Ramadan on Proof of Life brought a fresh perspective to the EP. Usually, featuring artistes on a project depends on the creative synergy and overall execution, and these features could potentially make or mar a project. What influenced this choice of features? What influences your choice of collaborators generally?
I generally like to make sure that I feel the energy and vibe with my collaborators. If you know me, I am an easy-going guy who just enjoys creating music. 4korners is my brother and it was time we did something together. The collaboration was natural. We both identified our geographical strengths and musical synergy and keyed into it.
With Mohammad Ramadan, my Middle Eastern agent made the connection during my “Konibaje” run and we made a beautiful collaboration for his project, Come Baby Come. The song was a hit in the Middle East. I sent “Case Closed” to him and he immediately did a verse and posted it on TikTok. Since he posted that video, it has gone viral. With this collaboration, I created a new sound for the Middle East because they have always loved “Shake Body”, and this is to enhance my roots in the Middle East further.
You were one of the pioneering members of E.M.E record label, at a time that is considered a significant moment in the Nigerian music industry. Being a part of that era must have been a source of great pride to you. How would you describe that stage of your career? And how did that period shape you in the long run?
The journey has been crazy. A lot of crazy moments where you just look back and be like “Wow! So I went through that”. But, I’m just really happy about where it is now, where artistes are making money from just anything you can imagine. Years back, artistes would make money from performing and maybe record sales. Now, whether the record is selling or not, as long as it is been streamed, as long as it is played somewhere, artistes get to reap the fruit of their labour and that’s something to be proud of.
What did recording and releasing “Shake Body”, one of the biggest songs in 2014 that remains a classic mean for you personally, and to your musical journey?
I have travelled to over 50 countries to perform based on the success of “Shake Body”, and that is the thing people don’t know about Skales. “Shake Body” changed my life. I still get videos from Cuba, Mexico, France, and Saudi Arabia of people singing “Shake Body”. It is my eternal gift that keeps giving. A few weeks ago, we saw a surge on TikTok with over 60k videos. Crazy!
The music industry can be cutthroat and there is subtle competition now more than ever. With the time that has passed, do you feel any combative tension? Have you ever felt any pressure since you began pursuing music?
In the early days, the pressure was very much evident and I tried to please people. Now, I know what I am and that gives me the power to keep doing what I need to be doing for my music to stay. I am here and I’m not going away.
Which artistes did you grow up listening to and how have they influenced your artistry?
Top of my list, I listen to Kanye West, Fela, Ludacris, Jay-Z, and Beyonce. In Nigeria, the late music legend, Sir Victor Uwaifo inspires me a lot as well.
Many musicians also draw inspiration from a diverse range of sources. Could you share some non-musical influences or experiences that have played a role in your creative process?
My mother was my greatest inspiration. She still is. But my new muse is my daughter. I know that at the end of the day, she comes first for me.
What is the hardest part about being an artiste, and how do you rise above the challenges and stay true to yourself?
Just get your things done and know that your way is always supreme. Know whatever you believe is great for yourself. Focus on living your dreams.
Reflecting on your musical journey, is there a piece of advice you’d give to your younger self when you were just starting and do you have any advice for up-and-coming artistes?
I believe that whatever is worth doing, is worth doing well. And also, if you’re not feeling the music then it won’t fly. As long as you’re feeling it, there are always going to be people who are searching for your music to inspire them and keep them going. All the younger artistes now are on fire. There are so many that I’ve heard that are not even out there. All I will say is, be patient. Just because you see another person blowing up doesn’t mean that people are not paying attention to your talent. Your time will come, stay away from drugs, try your best and understand the business. Learn the business properly.
Is there a particular message or feeling you hope listeners take away from Proof Life?
There’s a misconception that I’ve disappeared, and some of my fans stopped listening to my music a while ago, assuming I’ve stopped making it. Proof of Life is essentially my way of affirming that I’m still active in the music scene. It is also a celebration of my long-standing tenure in the industry, despite the limitations I’ve had to overcome. Also, it is a soundtrack for that hustler who never gives up.
What should listeners expect next from Skales?
You are getting anniversaries, celebrations, an album, tours, and a Skales headline show.
Hope Ibiale is a book lover and writer.