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Afrobeat’s humble hero

STAR: Ice Prince

HE STARTED out in the choir of his local church and has gone on to become one of biggest names in Afrobeat music.

However, during our interview, Nigerian rapper, Ice Prince was humble, modest and proved he has a surprisingly good singing voice for someone who eventually took up playing the piano because his vocals didn’t quite cut it on the altar.

Despite this early setback, it wasn’t long before the West African sensation, who was in high school at the time, found that his true talent – and subsequent cash cow – lay in a completely untapped area.

Together with the church’s drummer, Jesse Jagz, who has now gone on to become his producer, and the choir’s leader, MI, Ice Prince, real name Panshak Zamani, discovered his true rapping ability.

“I took to rapping because I don’t have a good voice,” the star candidly admits within the first few minutes of our interview. “Me, Jesse Jagz and MI got together and started making music. We eventually lived together and that’s how we grew.”

In 2004, the trio, along with members Ruby, Lindsey, Eve and Taz, formed the group, Loopy. In the same year, Ice Prince released his debut single, Extraordinary, which provided him with a firm following in his residing city at the time, Jos.

But it was his single, Oleku that firmly cemented the rapper’s place in the hearts and on the walls of fans over the world. The upbeat track, released in 2010, is believed to be the most requested and remixed African song to date.

The overwhelming success of Oleku went on to spawn current song, Superstar, which racked up over 11,000 downloads from the star’s Chocolate City website in the first 10 hours of release.

“Superstar came off the back of the success of my first single Oleku. After the success of Oleku I thought to myself, ‘what single can I put out to explain how happy and excited I was at the response?’

“The success of Oleku took me around the world. I was signing autographs everywhere, including Malaysia. I felt like a star, which is where the name of the song came from. I wanted [Superstar] to be something that people could dance to – a celebratory song.”

The star, who lists rappers Tupac and Biggie Smalls as musical influences, credits his parents, particularly his mum, for his success.

“Although my parents have both passed – I lost my dad in 1999 and my mum I lost last year – they both played a part in my musical journey. When my dad was alive, although he didn’t have much to do with my music so to speak, he was always playing music in the car, which inspired me. My mum was really, really, supportive though. She actually paid for my first studio session.”

He continued: “My mum saw me blow up and she was really proud of me. She was alive when my first single was big – she actually had it as her ringtone. There was one time that the students in the university of Jos took themselves on the bus to go and visit her just because she was ‘Ice Prince’s mum’. That was really, really special to her. She was proud of me before she passed on.”

Despite such huge and recent personal losses, Ice Prince, who recently headlined a sold-out Afrobeat concert at London’s IndigO2, hasn’t slowed down on his quest to take his music “the world over.” In fact, one can argue that his tragedies have forced him to work harder.

“I see myself on a world stage. Still making music, still relevant, on a bigger platform. I want to perform in festivals. As an Afrobeat artist and as a musician, I believe in myself. I believe I can take my music to the whole world.”

Asked to comment on whether the rise of Afrobeat may spell the end of dancehall music – a debate that recently sparked a massive response in The Voice – the rapper said:

“I think dancehall is crazy. It’s in the top two of my favourite genres of music. I’m a big fan of Jamaican music, not only dancehall. Mavado, Demarco, Vybz [Kartel]… I had a chance to work with Gyptian last month in Nigeria. We made something and I did a video with him. I’m a big fan of Jamaican music.

“I don’t think the correct word is takeover. I think Afrobeat is gonna join the trend. I don’t think it’s going anywhere. I believe dancehall is here to stay, just the same way hip-hop came in and stayed, as did gospel and R’n’B.”

Superstar is out now through Chocolate City. For more information visit www.chocolatecitygroup.com

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