Kingsley Chukwueke Okonkwo, aka Kcee, is a former member of the 2002 Star Quest winning group, KC Presh. The father of one girl (Honeybell) opened up to YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine on how he has been coping as a solo artist, his new album and why he is in love with flashy things.
It started right in the church when I was in a church choir where I met Presh in 2002 and we decided to record something. It was at this moment that we heard about Star Quest which we won eventually and from there, our career in music picked up.
What was Presh doing when you met him?
He was a music director. He was directing the choir before I joined him and before long, I was made the choir master. He was already in a group; one acepella group called Genesis. So, he left the group when we met to form our own group which we first called Street Boiz. But no one knew us. It was after this that we decided to coin our names, Kingsley Chukwueke (Kcee) and his, Precious, which we abbreviated to Presh. We changed the name when we were registering for Star Quest.
What was the first thing you did when you won the competition?
I cried! Because I knew this was taking me away from poverty to something else; because I knew that I was going to make good use of the money and the opportunity. So many people asked why I was crying because they didn’t know what I was going through. So, I didn’t want to play with the opportunity at all. The first thing I did was that the next day we went to church for thanksgiving and prayers. It was after this that we got our prize money and got a car; started recording our songs and life just changed automatically from the normal Ajegunle boys to Sengemenge boys.
Tell us about your first performance after you won the contest.
We went for Star Mega Jam and that was the first time we performed with Usher Raymond. It was a big concert with all the big stars in Nigeria then like Eedris Abdulkareem, Oliver De Coque, Obesere and so many other acts. Those were the movers of the industry then. It was after this that we won the Encomium award in 2003, from where we started doing a whole lot of big events for companies and travelling from one city to another.
So, when would you describe as the turning point in your career?
Yes, I don’t want to forget this. It is still the Star Quest, because the struggle from the beginning wasn’t easy. I always went to studios to beg producers to record me. Even when you have small money to work with, you still have to beg them. But winning Star Quest gave us a very big platform and we got a contract automatically with Kennis Music then and we started mixing with big acts and performing on big stages and doing big events. So, Star Quest was a turning point that gave us the breakthrough and I can never forget that day.
When you and Presh released your first album, how did you feel?
The first album we produced, Ose Baba, was a beautiful song with a mix of rap and nice flavor, which made it different from others in the market. Of course, when you are in the studio, you believe every song is a hit until the consumers will tell you what is good and what they want. We believed we were going to have a song that is better than Ose Baba, but at the end of the day, Ose Baba became the hit in the album and we were happy. From there, we did the second one which was Sio Nkpo; that one became very big. We travelled from east to the north and the South and everybody wanted to hear the Calabar flavor. We toured so many states.
Why did you pick the name Sengemenge?
Sengemenge was a slang we used back then when we were in Ajegunle. You know, when something is nice or good, we say that thing is Sengemenge. So, when our life changed from the normal Kingsley and Precious, and when we did our third album, Sengemenge, we were just trying to thank God and trying to say God has blessed us.
Will you say your background in Ajegunle assisted your music career?
Definitely yes, because I wasn’t from a poor home anyway. My parents could afford everything. They could pay our school fees and every other thing they were supposed to do, but the life there was too low, no matter how you look at it. I learnt a lot despite the fact that my parents could afford everything. Growing up in that area gave me the spirit to hustle on my own, struggle as a man and I thank the fact that I grew up in that neighbourhood. So, I will say growing up there was like an eye opener that gave me the courage that I should work on my own.
In what way would you say that going solo has really affected your career?
Initially, I thought going solo was going to be stressful. I thought about how people were going to accept me as a solo artist knowing full well that I had been with Presh for about 12 years. Both of us were scared, but I thought that so far we can make people believe that we are good together as a group; we can also make them believe we can do it without each other and that was the belief. When I started, I dropped my first single, Okpekete and it was so much appreciated. Thus, people’s perception started changing towards me. They started seeing different parts of Kcee; then I dropped another single, Now I Know, with a video, which a lot of people believe is international and that this boy is serious. While they were still on that, I dropped a carnival song with the video and the acceptance was too much and I’m happy for it. I have started doing events on my own which is very encouraging. No doubt, I have no regret at all.
Are you saying it was a mutual agreement between you and Presh to go solo?
Yes, definitely yes. We thought we’ve been doing it for 12 years and we needed a change because the only thing that is constant is change. Just like the Yoruba adage that says that 20 children cannot play for 20 years. Although we never saw this coming, we always thought we would be together forever, but at the end of the day, we are doing it and we are loving it.
If both of you were siblings, do you think the same thing would have happened?
You never can tell. Michael Jackson did something with his siblings. His father was their manager. He broke up with his father and gave his management to some other people, saying his siblings were dulling him and pulling him down. He was focused. Even if you are twins, your focus can not be the same, your spirit and your drive might not be on the same platform at all times. So, Michael Jackson had to prove to his brothers that he needed to get to a certain level and at the end of the day he got there. Of course, you bring in different strengths and flavors, but trust me, some day anything can happen. Nobody is God. God has written scripts, we are just acting them.
It is consistency and you have to know the business. You need to make sure that you are on the minds of the people. So, as KC Presh then, we always made sure we produced good videos that will make people talk about us, and that has been the spirit. Also, we love what we are doing, we follow the trend and the style that’s in vogue because every time, every year, the rhythm changes, the style changes. So, the ability and energy to change and flow with the time is what matters. Which, of course, God gave to us. That’s why, right now, I can do fuji, highlife, hip hop because I speak Yoruba language very well. My Okpekete track is mixed with Yoruba and so many people think it is only a Yoruba guy that can flow like that. I did another song that is purely Yoruba, Sun Mo Mi. I was born in Lagos and I grew up in Lagos. That really gave me the edge. I am not like a jack of all trades, but God has given it to me and you can’t take it away.
Why are you flamboyant?
I like good things, I like good life; I like flashy things. Don’t mind me, I like real things, original, I like good cars. Everything good about life is good for me and that is the truth. I won’t tell you I like this brand of car, but I love any good car. If I don’t drive a good car, I’m not always in a good mood and I love being happy always. So, I go for good cars, clothes, shoes, wrist watches and others. It has become a part of me. This thing started when I was in primary school. I had more than three uniforms which were well ironed, so I didn’t get dirty throughout the week.
How have you been coping as a father and a very busy artiste?
It’s not easy because my business, I don’t joke with and my family is also paramount. They are two different things and they know how to take care of themselves, they know their boundaries, so I’m just performing my duty. My wife has been very supportive and I’m loving every moment of it.
Tell us how you have been managing your female fans.
They are managing me and I’m managing them (laughs). We are managing each other. If you don’t manage them, you won’t do business. So, I’m a good manager when it comes to that area. They even love me managing them.
What advice do you have for the youths out there who want to be like you?
They should believe in themselves, ask themselves what they are most passionate about, they should know that they can’t make money when they are not giving back something. You need to give something out; it can be your integrity, your respect, talent. Make your own talents unique. Always be ready for opportunities, be positive, don’t look for trouble. Be focused and consistent.
NB: First published February 2014