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10Ten: The Multi-Talented Non-Conformist Revolutionizing the Nigerian Music Scene

The Nigerian music industry has talented individuals excelling in various roles, including producers, sound engineers, songwriters, A&R specialists, and artists. Each role is crucial in creating and disseminating music, demanding talent, discipline, and a relentless drive for excellence.

One remarkable individual who seamlessly combines many of these roles is Osagie Onobun, known in the industry as 10Ten. As a singer, songwriter, producer, A&R specialist, and music executive, 10Ten has excelled in each capacity at different points in his career. Now, he is on the verge of something extraordinary: integrating all his talents to create the ultimate music-listening experience.

As we have seen with his singles, Dealer with Blaqbonez and Tar1q, and Problem Choke featuring Qing Madi, he’s on to something special.

In an interview with The Upper Ent, 10Ten discusses the idea behind his work, his latest releases, projects, creative process, and Afrobeats.

10Ten, you are doing something amazing that many people do not know about. Can you explain what you do?

I’m an artist in the sense that I write, I produce and I sing. I have produced and co-written for artists like Superboy Cheque and Blaqbonez. Also, while doing that, I’m the Head of A&R at one of the biggest record labels in Africa, Chocolate City.

I’ve signed and developed artists. Now I’m dropping A&R projects, walking in the footsteps of great ears like Basketmouth, DJ Khalid, and Larry Gaga.

They’re doing so from the top, basically leveraging on their profile. Basketmouth is a big comedian, and DJ Khalid is a big DJ. What happens is, we organize sessions where we’re helping artists come up with a song or whatever they need, if we feel like ‘Oh, this song needs better writing’ get better writers. Better production? We get a producer to help out.

That’s what these guys are doing. Well, they’re doing it from the top as established public individuals. Right now, I’m doing it from the bottom. But for the actual role, I’m an A&R, I’ve been doing it for a while and now I’m dropping songs.

When I was doing this whole process of trying to get the songs cleared and all, I got a lot of questions like oh who are you? In what capacity are you dropping? Valid questions, but the night I drop the project, that question will never rise again for anybody that is trying to do what I did, because I’ve done it.

When Basketmouth or any of these celebrities were trying to do this, nobody asked them questions. It was not weird to them. So now me doing it from the bottom is quite daring and innovative, like it just means that anybody that knows what he’s doing in the A&R capacity, can now put out projects, have conversations with distros, create a catalog for yourself, and own the role.

Why did you decide to release songs in this capacity?  You can sing, write, and produce. You can decide to do your songs without featuring artists. Why go through that route of getting artists together and like you said starting from the bottom?

As much as I like to sing, I equally enjoy helping artists. I write my music and then the next morning I’m looking for which artists I think will do even better than me. I’ve been like that from scratch. I’m happy to work with artists, especially upcoming ones. I like to be on an artist’s journey just as I like to be on mine.

I don’t know if you saw that series, Kanye’s Jeen Yuhs, and how his life was actually in the hands of the A&Rs, how much he tried to get their attention, and how they were the link between him and achieving his dreams. It’s an important role that I like to play.

So for me not doing it as an artist, I believe that the transition from A&R to artist will be too hard for people to grasp at that moment. I feel like I would rather do it subtly. On the project, I have a song that I did, the interlude. So I would rather do it subtly than jump right at it.

Okay, perfect. That’s a good angle. I mean, it’s an interesting angle.

Also, I still like this role. I’m going to keep being an executive. This year, I have two projects that I executively produced. So I’ve moved beyond just A&R. I love to be in the music business, but there are specifics. I’m always going to be a hybrid, so I should put that in people’s minds so that when they see me signing an artist, it’s not weird.

I don’t want people to put me in a box. I want to be free like Pharrell and Don Jazzy. If Don Jazzy says he’s dropping an album now nobody sees it as weird. I want to be musically fluid.

As an A&R, writer and producer, what are the things you look out for in terms of talent, things you expect to hear expect to see that you know that this person is good?

I think talent has been misunderstood because anybody can come and say ‘Oh, I have talent’ and It now depends on the receiver’s taste as to what good music is or not. So I think the word talent has been confused and there’s this Albert Einstein quote- ‘Creativity is intelligence having fun.’

So at a level, you have to be smart. Now being smart is relative. I can’t say that somebody who is emotionally intelligent is better than somebody who is a brainiac. So I like to put it as self-awareness, someone who knows himself.

You know this person is not lying to himself, whatever sound he’s singing is real. The stories are peculiar to him. Of course, you learn stuff but then, I need to be able to find an artist in any song. I can even tell you to sing a known song.

I need to hear you, I need to hear the way you sing and interpret it. So, someone that is very self-aware, and has the discipline to follow through because you also have to be disciplined too because music is very funny.

Another thing is the community you can build while doing that. It may not be a large community but how strong can someone root for you? Because it’s important that before you get to me, you’ve also been able to convince one or two people to believe in your dreams.

Define your creative and mental process toward your various job roles.

As a writer, I look out for two things depending on what we’re trying to achieve. So I look out for peculiar words that people can relate to. When Ruger and BNXN mentioned ‘Ilashe water’, we know that every young person in Lagos should have an idea of what Ilashe is. We know that is where we go to have fun. So I look out for peculiar, yet relatable lyrics.

Imagine saying something like ‘Omo all these things wey you dey yarn na tales by moonlight’ People know tales by moonlight. Do you know Tales by Moonlight?

Yeah I do

What is it?

It was a Kiddies show

Yeah on NTA, you know about it. So if I say ‘Omo all these things wey you dey yarn na tales by moonlight’, I know that a good number of people can relate to that because I’m looking at numbers, and I’m looking at how we can carry these people along.

So for the writing, I look out for things that you don’t necessarily hear every day but when you say it, people can relate to it. For production, I pay attention to the chords, melodies, and drums (those are easy for me because I used to drum so I can always come up with something). Sometimes working with Blaqbonez, while waiting for Ramoni, I’ll just do the drums and wait for him to come and do the rest.

I pay attention to what the producer is playing, whether it’s me or the producer, I pay attention to what they’ll be playing on drums because that’s what inspires the artists. What the producer is doing is 50% of the song because it’s a collaboration between the producer and the artist, and where an artist has inspiration is in the melodies. So I pay attention to the melodies.

If I’m A&R in a session, I mostly just let people do what they want to do, because it’s a flow and then interrupting and changing things for an artist can be chaotic. The good thing about working with artists is that because I’m an artist, I understand.

When you’re creating you’re happy because everybody likes what they create. So in the moment, I apply emotional intelligence, so at the end of the session, I go and listen over and give them the chance that I may be wrong in whatever I thought I should change in the moment.

So I listen and if I still feel the same way, I start calling people asking what they think about this and that. But in most sessions, I let it flow as naturally as possible because as long as I’m sure of the people in the room, I don’t change anything except if I’m contributing.

You had Dealer with Blaqbonez and Tar1q and then Problem Choke with Qing Madi.  I know Blaqbonez and Tariq are on your record label but Qing Madi isn’t. Are these two songs on the project and what was the idea behind getting Qing Madi and your label colleagues on these songs?

So the title of my project is 1823. 1823 is 2018 and 2023. That’s the time that I’ve been in the industry. I joined Chocolate City in 2018. So it’s a journal of that time. The people I met then were those I worked with on the project.

I met Qing Madi in 2021, I was trying to sign her and we got into a session. It was this session that produced ‘See Finish.’ You know, I was trying to sign her and I was also working on this project.

That’s 2021, I’ve been working on this project for the longest. So we met and she recorded See Finish. She asked if she could post it online, and I said yes, and then it just blew and it kickstarted her career which is such a blessing to everyone. Every time I see her I get emotional.

So we built that relationship and then we decided to do another song and that was Problem Choke. So like I said, the project is about my relationships within that period. So it’s about my relationship with everybody I met during that time and how we collaborated.

Nice. So what can we expect from the project?

1823 has six songs, one interlude and there are five other artists I’ll be unveiling. The project drops in June.

You’ve worked with a lot of artists, who is the most talented person you’ve worked with, and who is your favorite artist?

This is confusing (laughs) because like I said, self-awareness and self-awareness drive you to a point where you’re the king of that spot and nobody can be you. Artists that have reached those heights with me are Blaqbonez, Minz, Superboy Cheque, and all my signings (Tar1q, Noon Dave, and Major AJ). I’ve worked with Oxlade and he is very sure and talented. His sound is distinct and he’s not a fluke at all, Qing Madi too. If I don’t resonate with you at that level, I can’t even work with you for long. Anyone I work with multiple times is definitely on that level.

Finally, what’s your take on the current state of Afrobeats? I mean you work in the industry and you’re set to release a project soon.

Nigerians are very talented because we have cultures that are close-knit and we are inspired on a very high level. That being said, I can agree to a very high degree that we got lackadaisical with our music. Afrobeat is a fusion of our sounds. We just added an S to it because what Baba Fela did was very clear but we added a bit of high life and modernized it in a pop-style way, watering it down to some extent.

That being said, I agree that, to a certain level, it was watered down and I think it’s because we’re consuming the same content over and over again from the same people. If you look around, people are doing incredible stuff. I don’t think that Afrobeats is shit, the people that have won have inspired a new set of angry guys, people that are coming with heat.

I mean, Llona is doing some incredible stuff with this same sound people are claiming is not great anymore, there’s Qing Madi, Tar1q, and Khaid. People are doing amazing stuff.

I don’t think Afrobeats is going anywhere very soon because I’m very positive about the sound. Being a player also gives me a responsibility to ensure that whatever is coming out is not substandard. Afrobeats is still the future, we’re just starting and there is still a long way to go.

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