Vanessa Obioha spends a leisurely afternoon with winsome balladeer, Praiz, who is living the reality of one of hit songs, â€˜Rich and Famousâ€™
There is this general perception that runners-up at music reality shows (eventually) become more successful than the winners. This is true to an extent, going by the number of reality show winners who fade into oblivion, while the competitors who trailed them, power on into the big league. The likes of Darey Art Alade, Omawunmi and Timaya found fame without clinching the top prize.
The same may be said of Praiz who emerged second runner-up of the MTN Project Fame West Africa Season 1. To all intents and purposes, he now lives the reality of the prediction in his 2012 hit track, â€˜Rich and Famousâ€™.
His face is now on magazine covers. He is renowned as a celebrity. What is more, he has awards and international recognition. Materially, he has done well. He lives in an expansive and tastefully decorated house.
His climb up the success ladder in music has been steady. It was not a flash in the pan. He didnâ€™t seek the easy way by deviating to commercial music as many struggling artistes are tempted to when every other thing fails. Instead, he stuck to his Râ€™nâ€™B style, a unique trait that endeared fans to him during the reality show days. Apart from Darey and Banky W, Praiz is another loyal Râ€™nâ€™B musician. Of course, once in a while, he samples other genres but never loses his tenor. His vocal texture has been compared to award-winning American singer, John Legend.
He has also scored a few successes by being invited as a judge on MTN Project Fame. His â€˜Stupid Songâ€™ that featured alternative singer, Bez was the first African track to be premiered on BET 106 & Park TV show. He even got an International Day named after him in Michigan, USA.
Part of the Praiz winning formula comes from his personality. Winsome and humble are the two terms that easily come to mind when describing him. He exudes a genial aura even on a first encounter.
This particular afternoon, we were at the office of X3M Music in Opebi-Lagos. He has been with the label for over eight years. The interview was scheduled for 11am, but Kogi state-born Praiz arrived earlier and didnâ€™t throw tantrums for having to wait. He was wearing a very big smile when he finally strode into the lounge for the interview, looking very cool and casual in his jeans and jacket. He went around shaking hands with everyone before any introductions were made. He briefly stepped outside to greet other people, creating a sense of camaraderie. By the time we were ready to chat, I was taken aback by his outburst.
â€œI know you. We meet again,â€ he said laughing heartily like a child who just saw a long lost friend.
I wasnâ€™t really expecting that kind of gesture but it was a good and encouraging sign that I was engaging with a willing and friendly subject.
We kicked-off on his recent Headies Award for Best Vocal Performance in the male category, the same category he won in the 2013 edition of the event.
â€œItâ€™s been like one, two, three, four, five years later,â€ he laughed, counting off the fingers of his hand. â€œIâ€™m always having nominations.â€
The song that fetched him that award in 2013 was the popular â€˜Rich and Famousâ€™ where he sang about the glowing life of a superstar-no more lining up outside a club, waking up in fancy clothes, paparazzi stalking him, girls falling all over him because he is rich and famous.
However, the song that clinched his second award at the glittering event was dissimilar to the jazzy life he painted in â€˜Rich and Famousâ€™. â€˜Folashadeâ€™, the winning song is a melodic love song about his ex-girlfriend.
â€œFolashade was inspired by my last relationship. The thing with me is I love to write songs based on true life experiences because a lot of people will be able to connect with it. I remember going into the studio, I was really really…â€ He paused briefly as if deliberating if he wanted to reveal this piece of information. â€œLet me put it this way, I was heartbroken, so I went into the studio and started making the beat. I produced it myself. I started pouring out words. I said this is my next single. The way we put it out got people in suspense. The creative direction was very different. People loved it because it was different and unexpected.â€
For someone whose love life has been kept out of public glare, this piece of news was quite revealing.
â€œI think when there is a third party in a relationship, there is a problem. I (will) rather just keep my love life between me and the person Iâ€™m in a relationship with. That doesnâ€™t mean I am not proud of the person. I believe in PDA (public display of affection). When we are out together, I let you know, but I wonâ€™t bring my love life to my business.â€
The lyrics of the song are an emotional plea for the lady to return to him but in reality, the two are not on speaking terms although the lady knows the song was about her.
â€œI donâ€™t know how she knew but she called me and said â€˜I know this song is about meâ€™. We donâ€™t talk anymore but she recently found out that the song won an award for me.â€
Describing his past relationship as being unhealthy, Praiz said he values his peace of mind more than anything else.
â€œSometimes you try to make things work and then it is not working, even when you try to maintain friendship after breaking up just for peace to reign, and yet, you guys are still fighting and quarrelling over things. That doesnâ€™t make sense. We can be friends and live happily without the drama,â€ he said with a hint of frustration in his voice. Raising his hand in an almost helpless manner, he told me, â€œIâ€™m a happy person. I love to be happy. I have many obligations in life already. I donâ€™t need further drama. It was just best to cut off ties…There are two things I donâ€™t joke with and they are peace of mind and happiness. I wonâ€™t say I am perfect, but I am always ready to learn, to work on myself.â€
Now single, rich and famous, Praiz has been under pressure to get married, mainly from his parents. They want their famous son to settle down. All of these gets to him sometimes.
â€œItâ€™s not like I donâ€™t want to get married. The time has to be right. Itâ€™s not something you rush into. It is good to get married when you are young, but a lot of people get married when they are young and in six months, the marriage has packed up because a lot of people donâ€™t believe in courtship. They think courtship is a waste of time. I believe in getting to know the person before I spend my life with her. Likewise, I expect the person to know me well; my likes and dislikes.
To be honest, I feel lonely sometimes, I wish I have a girlfriend.â€
Despite his parentsâ€™ insistence that he starts a family, Praiz has devised a way to circumvent the question each time it pops up.
â€œAnytime I go home, they bring it up but I always find a way to change the conversation,â€ he said amusingly. â€œThe last time I was with my dad, we were just having a conversation on a neutral topic, something away from relationship and then he goes â€˜Praiz you know the Bible saysâ€™, Iâ€™m like, â€˜Daddy, wait first, I just got into town. I just landedâ€¦â€™â€ he burst into laughter. â€œI knew what direction he was going the moment he started quoting the Bible. I know my dad very well. I just have to let him know that we couldnâ€™t have that conversation. I avoid that space.â€
So far, the celebrity singer has stayed away from scandals. The only blight on his spotless banner was an unfortunate case of mistaken identity last year when officials of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) thought he was a fraudster on the prowl, mainly because he spotted a beard and a gold necklace. Though the beard contributed to that ugly incident, the singer is still grooming his facial hair proudly.
â€œIt is my brand. People easily notice me because of my beard even if I disguise my looks with a hoodie, people will see that beard and easily recognise me.â€
Praizâ€™s relationship with his record label has been one of a kind. In his own words, â€˜they are family.â€™
â€œThe thing that has kept me in X3M is the bond. Itâ€™s more than just business. Itâ€™s a family thing. They believed in me when nobody did. Two years after Project Fame, they brought me on board because they believed in what I do. Itâ€™s been eight years and counting.â€
He recently signed an artiste, Dapo, one of the contestants at the last edition of MTN Project Fame under his management company. This move, according to the singer, did not ruffle any feather at his record label. Rather, he was lauded by his boss, Steve Babaeko who he described as someone with his best interest at heart.
With this award and the success of his EP â€˜2minsâ€™, Praiz is confident that 2018 is a good year. His other plans for the year include more tours and wider promotion for his music.
As we round up the interview, I tried to find out if he was in touch with some of the contestants in the first season of MTN Project Fame West Africa.
â€œYes. I speak to Annette. I also speak sometimes to Bisola and Iyanya,â€ he chuckled.
On my way out, I made a mental count of how many times the singer whose real names are Praise Ugbede Adejo laughed in the duration of the interview. One, two, three, or five times?