‘‘I am the definition of longevity/ after I’m gone the streets would remember me/ remember he who for so long is killing them…’’
The above lyrics are the opening lines and hook from the single, ‘I am William’ by rapper 2Shotz featuring M.I Abaga. This was 2shotz forcing his own flowers, reflecting on his time in the industry as he prepared to release his fourth studio album, a decade after he unofficially jumpstarted his solo career with his verse on Da Trybe’s epic single, ‘Oya.’
Many artists fall in this category, the likes of Sound Sultan, Terry Tha Rapman, and more. Musicians who held sway at some point during our young years and have stayed with us even as we grew older, refusing to go away from the scene like their peers and becoming a staple of our industry, invited to every award show or conference without ever getting their due appreciation from the larger audience.
Their songs were the soundtracks of our teenage years and we witnessed them peak at certain points, even if brief, in their chosen genres, but when we think of legends, or create our lists of ‘greatest,’ they more often than not go missing.
The above tweet initially read as a head-scratcher as I am not particularly a fan of the artist or his type of music, but upon giving it thought, adding Kcee to the list of those who deserve to be respected more should not create a quandary. Especially when, unlike the others, he has defied the odds to deliver a more recent hit on his own terms.
The odds. Yes, he has a gospel background and has done a few gospel songs during his time as a member of the group, KC Presh, but what are the chances that a gospel record would be Kcee’s claim to mainstream success in 2020/21? Or in a streaming era where the shorter the song, the stronger its appeal, a 10 minutes record would again feature consistently on the airwaves?
Born Kingsley Chinweike Okonkwo, Kcee was introduced to the scene as a member of the two-man group, KC Presh, when they contested in the inaugural edition of the music talent show, Star Quest in 2002.
They eventually emerged winners and got signed on to the biggest label in the country at the time, Kennis Music. The duo stayed together for 12 years releasing hit singles, like ‘Ose Baba,’ ‘Sio Nkpo,’ and ‘Sengemenge,’ winning several awards.
Upon going solo, not much was expected from Kcee as it was often suggested that Presh was the songwriter and more talented of the duo. Others attributed their success to the hype machine of their label and propounded that like a few others in the past, their exit from the label would ultimately signal an end to their mainstream run.
Sadly this turned out to be true for Presh but Kcee had other ideas and in 2012, he would release the pop anthem, ‘Limpopo.’ Limpopo would become the No 1 song in the land.
It was one of those songs that you couldn’t exactly explain or understand why you liked it, but every time it played, you either turned the radio volume up in your room or jumped on the dancefloor acting an absolute fool with pointed fingers dancing in the club. Limpopo was more than just a record, it was a moment that solidified Kcee as a superstar.
Armed with the album, ‘Take Over,’ which had records like Pull Over with Wizkid, Kcee would pack plenty of career highlights in his ‘brief’ spell at the top.
Almost a decade later, with yet further predictions of his ‘end’ following his public falling with singer Harrysong who many claimed wrote most of the songs during his time at the label, Five Star Music, Kcee has again reinvented himself forcing ears his direction and flowers on his longevity.
Most times in music, mainstream influence usually sparks off regionally before extending nationwide and that is something Kcee understands. In a recent interview with Pulse, he stated ‘‘I made Cultural Praise to go back to my roots.’’ And it worked. The album stayed several weeks in the top 10 albums on the Apple Music Nigeria chart, enjoyed major spins during the yuletide season with its acceptance birthing succeeding volumes.
This is no mean feat in an industry where aging especially as a pop star could be tough to handle with the constant craving for new faces. An extended and relevant time in the spotlight is fast becoming rare, as many have struggled with the ability to reinvent their brand and create something that either fits into todays’ sound or compels today’s listeners to fit into its offering.
Kcee is most certainly not 2baba, neither did he have the impact of a D’banj during his golden run, but he has played his part in this journey, and when you reflect on his career, he seems to understand his limitations as he has consistently embraced collaborations to maintain relevance in the minds of popular culture. From Presh to Harrysong and now Okwesili Eze Group.
Now in his 40s with business as his major sport, chasing a hit comes secondary but no entertainer would turn down the thrill that comes with having your songs played at every event, in places you don’t even expect a gospel song to be aired, and mentioned on every street, especially after a long time on the sideline.
When appraising his talent as an artist, arguments can always be put forward in both directions, but when measuring the extent of his influence and legacy, co-signing an artist like Skibii and longevity; while not the be-all is specific evidence that stands him out especially when laced with productivity.
Traditional genres like Fuji, highlife, and Juju often witness artistes who peak and even without a hit record in years stay prominent, touring and cashing out at events for a lifetime. The length of a rapper or pop stars’ career is averagely capped at 10–12 years and even while they still release music, the fans move on from them, with the exception of a few.
Kcee has been here for nearly two decades, and the success of the ‘Cultural Praise’ series speaks to his enduring relevance and how he has earned the right not to be entirely overlooked when we do a roll call of our favorites.