At 24, Davido has had more than his fair share of controversy- and he has conquered every single one of them.
Fame is the worst drug known to man/ It’s stronger than heroin- JAY-Z (Lost One, 2006)
You really don’t want Davido‘s life.
Google his name now and what you see is a lot of news stories about friends of his dying, police inviting him to make a statement about his involvement and lack thereof, his first baby mama wishing him well and a thousand other truths, half-truths, and outright falsehoods. Not to mention the Lagos State Commissioner of Police reading out Davido’s home address in front of a few cameras that parlayed into a billion eyeballs around the world. Nice job Sherlock.
The easy (and to be fair, uncharitable) thought to fans and nonfans alike would be the Donald Trump way: he knew what he signed up for. Yet when JAY-Z delivered the above line on his Kingdom Come album, he was 37 years old- ten years removed from his first album and at least twenty away from his drug-dealing life. With half a billion dollars to his name at the time, he described the fame his career had attracted as worse than a heroin addiction. Imagine what it would feel like to a 24-year-old Nigerian artiste who has seen and experienced everything life has to offer in only six short years. Again for context: the almighty JAY-Z who is arguably the most powerful hip-hop artiste in the world, did not release his first album until he was 26 years old.
In the light of his recent travails-three of his friends passing away in one week- it is convenient, like several people have done, to point fingers at him and say he had it coming. Afterall, the man lives better than 90% of Nigerians do. He already has more money than many of us would see in a lifetime- and he’s not apologetic for it at all. On the contrary, he’s in-your-face: always flaunting his cars and jewellery and rockstar lifestyle. It’s hard to be sympathetic when he’s always shouting about the 30 billion naira his father allegedly has. The schadenfreude that followed is a normal reaction of a people oppressed and (rightly or wrongly) see wealthy people as ‘the enemy’. There’s a Nigerian phrase for that: onpe! Na God catch am…
But when you peel back all the layers, Davido’s life- for all the private jets and diamond chains and dollars he shows off on Instagram- could be less dramatic. And he too would have preferred it simpler, if it was all in his control.
The rich also cry
Davido’s father was one of those men whose wealth was understated. At 60, Dr. Adedeji Adeleke has been a billionaire for nearly half of his life. With investments in oil, shipping and real estate; a wider section of the Nigerian populace only got to know of his wealth courtesy of his youngest son’s moniker: Omo Baba Olowo. The son of a rich man. Again unlike his elder brother who became Governor of Osun State the year Davido was born, Adeleke was content to stay away from the spotlight and enjoy his life in peace and tranquillity. His youngest son took all of that away.
It’s not certain that Dr Adeleke could have done much about it. His last born child was the apple of his eye, one he had never said no to- except for the one time he had him ‘arrested’. The February issue of FADER, Davido tells of his three-month abscondment from the American university his father had sent him to.
‘Dr. Adedeji Adeleke, a well-known businessman and Seventh-day Adventist in Nigeria with an estimated net worth of over $300 million, dropped him off with his passport, $2,000 cash, and freshman registration documents for Oakwood University…. After three semesters, he dropped out and left town without telling his father. First he went to Atlanta, where he used his older brother’s ID to get into clubs, and funneled the money Chief Adeleke sent for school and living expenses toward drinks and motels. Later, he threw out his SIM card and hopped on a plane to London, where he went MIA for several months as he shifted his focus from production to vocals. Chief Adeleke, meanwhile, had been on the hunt for his son. When Davido finally returned to Lagos in 2011, with new tattoos and piercings, his father had him apprehended by police officers at the airport.’
The daring precociousness was nothing any of David’s four older siblings had tried before. But David was special, unwittingly enabled by the father himself.
You see, Davido’s mother died three months after his tenth birthday. Dr Veronica was the official Adeleke wife. The man had had a number of wives before her and her two children, Sharon and David were the youngest. Like a true African, Chief Adeleke was polygamous, and in the true spirit of the Nigerian ‘Baby Boy’, often polyamorous. As a result of the Adeleke household, whilst not superficial in the least, was held together by the money, not necessarily strong familial bonds.
Research has shown that the effects of losing a parent at such a young age are far-reaching and complex, more so when the parent is the primary caregiver. The grief never quite ends, the child just finds ways to deal with his loss. A Livestrong article quotes the National Association of School Psychologists thus: ‘Some of the psychological effects of parental loss on adolescents include withdrawal, relying on friends more than family or difficulty separating from the surviving parent. Adolescents might withdraw from others and process their feelings on their own, but they also often seek out friends or family members for comfort. Sometimes, adolescents who are having extreme difficulty with their feelings of grief might act out in unhealthy ways, such as by experimenting with drugs or alcohol.’
Two things stand out above: one, the loss of a parent may influence the child to start experimenting with drugs and alcohol. (Davido has never hidden his affinity for alcohol and weed). More importantly, the child finds it difficult to separate from the surviving parent.
After David’s mum died, his father filled that gap by providing every material thing a youngster could need- while battling his own demons as well. (He would have a couple more marriages and divorces in the following years). In a Keek video still online, a young Davido is seen showing off his father’s expansive Lagos mansion with its fleet of cars. At a point, he’s seen hugging his father while the older man tried to extricate himself from his grip. ‘We have to go, David… we’re late’, Adeleke said, glancing at his watch. Only then did Davido let go, saying proudly to the camera ‘He said something…’
So it wasn’t that the man did not love his son, he did- he just didn’t have time which is why college in America was a welcome relief. At least he’ll be gone for four years and grow up.
However, yanking the 16-year-old off from the life of luxury he had grown accustomed to in Lagos and sending him to a small town in the US- for a university education he did not necessarily want- must have taken its toll. No wonder he took off and eventually dropped out. In a sense, discovering music the way he did; invariably saved his life. For the first time in his life, he was in control of his life. He was actually doing something he wanted which he chose by himself; something he could lose himself into and hopefully, thereby find himself.
A star is born
From the moment he arrived on the scene, it was almost certain that Davido would be a star. One could debate the measure of his talent (or lack thereof) but no one could deny his infectious excitement. The quality of his vocals is still a touchy subject, marked by back-and-forth barbs with his arch-nemesis, Wizkid. But when Davido arrived on the Nigerian music scene in 2011, he instantly connected to a generation of young Nigerians who didn’t have young enough pop stars to be entertained by. The only other person was- you guessed it, Wizkid. Even at that, Ayodeji Balogun had a couple of years on Davido, literally and figuratively. He was born two years earlier and had grown up around the legendary producer OJB Jeezreel. In addition, he had secured a deal with the Banky W led Empire Mates Entertainment two years before Davido released his debut single, Back When.
Nevertheless, as these things often happen, Davido was fortunate to have friends who could make things happen. His friendship with Asa Asika– who like him had lost his mother at an early age and who had a few uncles that were in the thick of Nigerian music business- helped him get a strong entry on the scene. The endorsement from Naeto C, like his catchphrase, was heavy. Soon he dropped the groundbreaking Dami Duro and got the whole country singing along with him.
Since his debut in 2011- just six short years ago- Davido has achieved successes that have eluded better grounded (and talented) acts. His album O.B.O, a homage to his dear daddy’s billions that he unapologetically declared that would make him unstoppable, was a commercial success- even if critics thought of it as fluffy, pop ‘nonsense’ that was light on artistic elements. But really, who cares? Davido never sold himself as a Mozart or Michael Jackson. However, what he lacks in vocal talent, he makes up for in having a keen ear for catchy hooks and remarkable production. Along with a chief collaborator in Shizzi, he has delivered several hits every year as well as major collaborations with other stars. One album, twenty-one singles and an EP is not too shabby. Not at all.
It’s been said in some circles that Davido may not have been successful if were it not for his father’s riches. That couldn’t be farther from the truth: the young man does possess a star quality, a certain je ne sais quoi that eludes his equally rich cousins, Shina Rambo and B-Red. From Lagos to London to Conakry, he has a massive following that rock stars would be jealous of. And like a true rock star, Davido has courted controversy every step of the way.
Breaking all the rules
It took only a few months into his burgeoning career before a scandal found him, albeit not one of his doing: a photograph of him with a lady (who was described as a hooker by those who know) surfaced on the internet. Davido was fast asleep and obviously taken advantage of by an excited groupie who wanted to have the moment for life. Few years before, a more explicit photo of Wande Coal had appeared in similar fashion and his label at the time, Mohits, issued a shoddy press release saying it wasn’t him- the whole world saw the face clearly. Davido did no so such thing, just brushed it aside like it didn’t happen. His relationship with women would create several other incidents that could have derailed his career.
In 2014, it was reported that the young pop star was expecting a baby with an older girlfriend by the name of Sophia Momodu. Although the pair were never official, Davido played the role of eager father to be and even showed up at the baby shower. He seemed unbothered, excited even. But the facade of a happy couple faded away as soon as baby Imade was born in May of 2015. Feeling trapped with the baby and the mother who he claimed was becoming a wife, Davido ordered for a DNA test to ascertain that the child was truly is. It was sure that the relationship between the two parents could never stay the same after then. Like his father had done with him, he provided all the financial support that the mother and child could need.
Matters came to head when Sophia’s uncle, media mogul and socialite Dele Momodu got involved. The crisis that followed is well reported: Uncle Dele accused the Adeleke family of attempting to separate his niece from her daughter, intercepting a flight at the Lagos airport where the baby was supposedly travelling with Davido’s sister. As a journalist of over three decades, Dele Momodu made sure that every media outlet saw the footage of him arguing with Davido’s father, creating a ruckus so loud that airport officials could not have ignored, thus thwarting the plan. The Adeleke family explained the move as taking the baby for medical attention because ‘her mother was a drug user whose continuous smoking had caused a respiratory disease in the child’. Davido wasn’t apologetic and he mocked the much older Momodu in two of his songs later on.
One would think that this debacle would have slowed his roll: instead, Davido had another daughter a few months later. Although this was devoid of the animosity of the Sophia Momodu case, it showed that he really didn’t care- at least he could take care of any children he may birth in these his wild-oats-sowing days.
Bewildering though, was his explanation when a third woman alleged that he was the father of her own four-year-old child as well. Ayomide Labinjo alleged that she and Davido had had unprotected sex when he came to Ibadan for a show in 2o13 and a pregnancy had followed. In a Punch interview, Labinjo explained in details how Davido had initially ghosted her when she told him of the pregnancy but later got in touch when the baby, yet another daughter was born- only to carry out a DNA test later on that absolved him of the paternity.
Davido did not deny that he had sex with her nor did he deny that it was sans protection. He merely said at the time that he tests himself for HIV every two weeks- as if that would make his irresponsible act less shocking. How can a celebrity of his calibre have casual sex without protection?
But Davido’s scandals were not limited to women: he’s reputed to have a temper and often comes across as not caring if he’s liked or not. Once he gets on stage and people swoon, all is well in the world. He was reported to have gotten into a fight with Iceprince at a Delta hotel in 2016. On an MTVBase prank show, he’d lost his temper and flung a water at the prankster who dared come into his house. He has fired and rehired his first manager Asa Asika; he has unabashedly bashed his cousins when they fell out; he has fired Kamal Ajiboye, his manager who held his hand as he secured the much talked about SONY deal and he uses social media to lash out at anyone who he feels is ‘hating on him’.
He even became irritatable after the SONY deal seemed to become an encumbrance rather than a plus and he soon cut himself loose and returned to Nigeria after a largely ineffectual stay in the United States. What’s more, he has never apologized for any (perceived) misdeeds, only feeding off the adulation of his fans.
Still, he hasn’t been a complete jerk the whole time: he has used his fame for a number of charitable causes. There was the Akwa Ibom boy, Utibe who he got a house for as well as a namesake of his that needed tuition fees. Davido came through, despite the fact that that one became belligerent when he seemed like O.B.O wasn’t good for his word.
The Chosen One
All of the above have had very little effect on Davido. The scandals that his relatively young career has experience bounce off no sooner than they happened. Older artistes would have to take a break to recalibrate their careers but Davido has not needed to: he’s the Teflon Don on whom nothing sticks.
The recent crisis that saw three of his friends pass away in the space of one week would have shaken anybody to his core. Even if he was not at all connected to DJ Olu and Chime’s death, he was seen partying with Tagbo Umeike moments before that person breathed his last. To worsen the case, the corpse of the deceased was retrieved from a car belonging to Davido and Caroline Danjuma who was later revealed to be in a romantic relationship with Tagbo, cried foul and pointed at Davido as being responsible for the death.
For a while it seemed like the Lagos Commissioner of Police, Edgar Inohimi was eager to pin the death of Tagbo on Davido, organising a bewildering press conference where he read out the singer’s home address to the world and accusing him of lying about his connection to the death of his friend. An official statement from Davido’s lawyers soon put an end to that talk- they affirmed that the two were not together when Tagbo died. End of.
All of these have not slowed Davido down. Sure he cancelled a couple of his shows that fell within that period but service has resumed as normal. He has shut down stadiums in Guinea and Sierra Leone. Tonight he would be headling a show in Botswana. Davido is still the biggest Nigerian act in the world. The only other comparable musician is Wizkid. His song IF, will most likely go down as the biggest Nigerian song of 2017.
His indestructible artistry is almost inexplicable: all of the crises should have broken him- or at least slowed him down. Like Kanye West said, people lined up to see him sinking; instead he arose from the ashes like a phoenix.
Some of the most enduring stars this world has ever seen have an inexplicable constitution. Beethoven should not have been able to write music after he became deaf. Van Gogh should not have been able to paint with his own colour-blindness. Davido’s family’s wealth notwithstanding, his career shouldn’t be this prosperous- and the hurdles he has had to scale should have held him back.
Nevertheless, he had straddled each one like a true Olympian. He has played each had life has dealt him like a Las Vegas poker champion. It is no coincidence. Some artistes have that transcendence that holds them safe above the fray. Davido is one of those artistes. How fitting that his EP with SONY is titled Son of Mercy.
Because that is exactly what he is.
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