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There is a contradiction about Innocent Ujah Idibia turning 40. His rich repertoire of songs and enduring international recognition is the envy of men twice that age, yet his deep understanding of the ever emerging global trends confounds those barely out of their diapers.
Love him or hate him, the man internationally recognised as 2face Idibia, has long entered his name into the history books as one of the biggest artistes that ever came out of Africa. His potential to conquer the world was evident in his days as a member of the Plantashun Boiz trinity. The all-boy music trio of Faze, Blackface and 2face sent signals back in 2000 with their debut album, Body and Soul.
The Remedies might have fanned the embers of a renewed pop culture in Nigeria with ‘Sakomo’, but it was the Plantashun Boiz that made it into a big ball of fire with their velvety smooth voices. And they didn’t have to use swear words or grab their crotch. This is the principle 2face swears by till date. In an era where music videos have become soft porn and lyrics are basically about using drugs, boozing and cruising, it is heart-warming that a man became an idol of urban contemporary music without parents worrying about his PG rating.
As a keen observer of the Nigerian entertainment landscape, it is difficult to find a positive box 2face has not ticked on a to-do list. He chose early to follow his own path on this journey called life. Born in the North, he enrolled for a National Diploma and began singing on a state broadcasting service in the East. He found fame in the West and got married from the South South. The man has his footprints all over the country.
A hard act to follow, it was obvious from his Plantashun Boiz days under Nelson Brown’s Dove Records that fate had conspired to make sure he always finds himself at the right place at the right time. Not even the near-death encounters with armed robbers could snuff out his fire. Instead, his combination of artistry and goodwill confirms the statement “who God has blessed no man can curse”.
2face left Plantashun Boiz and Dove Records in 2004 to pitch his tent with Kennis Music. The record label run by Kenny Ogungbe and Dayo Adeneye is reputed for having a conveyor belt that produces superstars. Who can forget Paul ‘Play’ Dairo, Tony Tetuila, Eedris Abdulkareem, Azadus, Kenny St. Brown, Kingsley Ike, Mike Aremu and Wale Thompson, just to mention a few. There, it was impressed on the artiste that the business part of showbiz is as important as the show. That he must live up to the name 2face by separating his personal life from his business life in an industry where blood and money sometimes mix to devastating effects.
While others were questioning his decision to go solo, he continued to hone his skills like a mechanic does with his tools. He changed his looks, attitude and buried himself in the studio. The result was Face 2 Face, the album that turned his life full circle. Like the album by Grammy award winner- Babyface, which bears the same title, 2face’s debut was a collection of carefully chosen songs that celebrated the musician’s coming of age. With tracks like ‘Nfana Ibanga’, ‘Keep on Rocking’, ‘Ole’, ‘You No Holy Pass’ and the stupendously popular ‘African Queen’, 2face was the man to beat. He didn’t stop at releasing an album that appealed to the craving of lovers of popular music; he shot a video for ‘African Queen’ that could only be described as excellent.
The coming of the pan-African music channel, MTV Base – a member of the global MTV franchise – in February 2005, MTV meant that African and particularly Nigerian stars would be thrown open to a larger audience. With ‘African Queen’ almost acquiring the status of a national anthem, it was not surprising that 2face was Nigeria’s biggest offering to MTV. His music went all over the world and ‘African Queen’ was used as the soundtrack for the film Phat Girlz in 2006.
By the time he left Kennis Music to set up Hypertek Entertainment there was little doubt this pilgrim was on a journey of greater self discovery. R. Kelly, Beenie Man, Reggie Rockstone, Akon, Bridget Kelly, Sir Victor Uwaifo, Wyclef Jean, Mary J. Blige, T-Pain and Fally Ipupa have been part of that journey. So have Sound Sultan, Vector, Dammy Krane, Asa, M.I, 9ice and P-Square.
Face 2 Face has since been followed by Grass 2 Grace (2006), The Unstoppable (2008), The Unstoppable International Edition (2010), Away & Beyond (2012) and The Ascension (2014).
2face has received one MTV Europe Music Award, one World Music Award, five Headies, four Channel O Music Video Awards, one BET award, four MTV Africa Music Awards, one MOBO award and one KORA award among several others. That is the reward for combining R&B, pop, hip-hop, reggae, Afrobeat and highlife with the magical alchemy of a genius.
This definitely is not the poster boy for anyone who desires quick fixes in love and life; rather, he is proof that patience and true love pays. If in doubt, ask his beautiful wife, Annie, and his children. His endorsement by individuals, government at different levels, Corporate Nigeria and humanitarian organisations also bears witness to that.
The man who this book is about never rose to a level he could not sustain. Many have come and gone since 2000. Fifteen years after, 2face is still setting an agenda for what an entertainer should look and sound like. He never forgot his hood neither did he get into any needless beef. He simply accepted life on life’s terms.
Life began for Mr Idibia long before 40. His achievements, in and out of entertainment, belie his age. Those blessed to have watched what may be described as the 2face Idibia show over the years will always have something to remember him by. As will those coming behind.
- Originally published as foreword to A Very Good Bad Guy: The Story of Innocent 2face Idibia edited by Ayeni Adekunle Samuel