It doesn’t happen often but a few weeks ago, Nigerian artist and lawyer Dolapo Akinkugbe, AKA DAP The Contract, a producer, rapper, singer, classical pianist, and videographer slipped into our Afropop Worldwide DM´s on Instagram. I just happened to open the message in the morning and a few hours later we were on Zoom having a conversation about his new EP PW3RS which dropped on May 26.
On Instagram, DAP The Contract shared PW3RS, the third installment of his Powers series of soulful and ethereal songs. I knew nothing about this artist, but what struck me about his music and the beautifully crafted videos was the nuance and superb production. It seemed I should have heard of this guy before. Right away, I wanted to talk. DAP was born in Nigeria, and schooled in England, and he now lives in Brooklyn. Our subsequent conversation was filled with uncanny coincidences. But the story starts when DAP read an article on afropop.org about the African Record Center on Nostrand Avenue. In the heart of Prospect Lefferts Garden, this gem of an establishment is run by brothers Roger and Rudolph Francis. DAP loves the store and visits often, and he’s followed Afropop Worldwide ever since.
The music business is neither just nor equitable when it comes to talent getting exposure, but some artists stay beneath the radar not because they are not talented or “marketable,” but because they refuse to be a commodity, and are intentional about how they put themselves out into the world. This is what fascinated me about DAP The Contract. In a world of instant gratification, he is an artist patient enough to build a solid foundation and invest time and money in educating himself about the business. His pragmatic step by step approach to learning the business clearly has to do with the fact that he is also an entertainment lawyer. Now he feels ready to put himself out there and pursue success. Here is our conversation.
Mukwae Wabei Siyolwe: How are you doing?
DAP The Contract: I’m really good.
First, your name. What is DAP all about?
D.A.P. is actually an acronym. It's my first name, my last name and productions, so Dolapo Akinkugbe Productions.
Excellent. Yes. You are definitely thinking through everything. You’ve got the mind of a lawyer. You're smart to be an artist and a lawyer. The combination is unique.
Yeah, well, thank you for sharing your music. It's amazing. You mentioned that you went to boarding school in England?
Yeah, I went to boarding school when I was ten years old. I was in Nigeria at primary school until I was ten, then I went to boarding school until I was 18 or 19 and then came out here to the U.S. for college.
Where did you go to boarding school in England?
I went to prep school. It's called Lockers Park. It was in Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire, outside London. But then I went to high school at Harrow.
Harrow. I went to boarding school in England.
From eight or nine years old until I was 18. I went to Roedean Moira House.
I know Roedean. A couple of my friends went there.
Yeah, I went to Roedean Moira House from nine until I was 18. And then I went to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.
Oh, awesome. When I came to the U.S., I went to Berklee College of Music in Boston for a year. And then I went to Brown University and studied my BA degree there and then went to law school at Columbia University.
O.K., so you did your undergrad at Brown?
So why did you come to the U.S.?
It's a funny story. I never actually thought about it through A-level's time [British high school exams]. It was never really on my mind. None of my friends thought about it. No one else in my family had thought about it that much either, except my sister who went to Berklee School of Music, but she had the full stint there whereas mine was a gap year. My sister is a full time musician as well. Her name is Kaliné.
So the morning I was supposed to submit my decision to go to Bristol University to study classics (Latin and Greek), my dad called me and said, “You should take a gap year, do the S.A.T., and apply to universities in the U.S.. You have options there. Because your music seems to be something you're really passionate about, and that might work better there, too. And there just might be more opportunities. And your personality seems more suited to the U.S.. So give it a shot.” We had never explored it before, so it was kind of a fortunate accident. And I think it was perfect for me, especially at that age to come and experience this.
Right. So how long have you been in Brooklyn,?
For three years now, since 2020.
Oh, so you came just when COVID put us all in lockdown.
When I graduated from Brown in 2016, I moved here and was here for a year. Then I went to law school. So I was at Columbia at the time up in Harlem. So I was there three years and then right when exams were about to happen, COVID hit. So I moved in with my now wife, who at the time was my girlfriend, into an apartment in Brooklyn.
Lovely. Well, congratulations on your marriage. And you're building something with somebody else, which is really special. It's good for a musician because you need that emotional stability. What's been your strategy with the music business? What do you want from it?
That's a great question. So I've been playing the piano since I was four years old, so it's very much in my bloodstream, in my family. My mom was a piano teacher.
Wow you're actually trained in piano music.
Yes. Many people are getting beats from somebody else, but being able to produce my own beats is really a blessing. I have a performance diploma on the piano. My mom has a teaching diploma. My brother and sister both have grade eight piano. So it's very much a family thing. We had a family Christmas concert for 10 years from 2005 and 2015 in Nigeria. And so my mom would do a duet with her sister, like a Chopin duet with her sister. My uncles would play the organ and stuff. Everyone would get involved it was really beautiful. So it's very much been in my life since I can remember. And then when I got to high school at Harrow, I fell in love with hip-hop, and storytelling specifically. It wasn't just hip-hop, it was also studying Latin and Greek at the time. I was studying a lot of prose in boarding school.
So I'm studying a lot of prose and poetry and falling in love with that in school, and at the same time discovered this storytelling aspect of music that I hadn't really paid attention to before with hip-hop music. Then I started producing because I was too shy to rap and I wanted to be in the background, but I had the music theory knowledge, so all my friends are like, “You’re the musical one who can make the beats, and we're all going to be the rappers or singers”. And then I just happened to really fall in love with it in a deep, deep way. And so when they all stopped doing it towards the end of high school, I started writing my own stuff and putting out my own music, and then just never stopped and never looked back. And I knew at that point that's what I wanted to do, and that was my passion.
So I started studying Latin and Greek in high school, in middle school, actually prep school, if you call it that, and just fell in love with it. So that's when I applied to Oxford and to Brown. But I took that gap year and went to Berklee College of Music for a year in Boston. I started doing more jazz piano lessons as opposed to classical, which is good to start breaking some of those rules that I had sort of stringently stuck to. And I was on the production and engineering major track at Berklee, but it was only a gap year, so I didn't really get going in the course.
My favorite class was actually “Intro to Film Scoring” and I fell in love with that marriage of video and music. I just started to get into producing and getting used to my own voice and getting that together. So videos seemed so far in the future, but when I did that class, it just blew my mind how much the music was the emotion and the pace of the visual. And I tried to read a bit about you and I saw you also had a background in film and theatre. I wanted to read more and talk to you about that in this conversation.
As I say, it was really just fate that I saw your message. It was totally meant to be, I guess.
I saw a lot of film work and writing and all sorts of different things. I read something on the Afropop website about your background and I was fascinated by everything you've done. But film scoring is something that I definitely want to do like my sister, that's what she got her degree in at Berkelee and now is a film scorer and singer-songwriter in Nigeria.
So the visual element is very important to me. And my wife and I have done most of my videos together.
Yes. I love, love what you're doing with your videos and if you can stay as an independent thinker, you'll be creative forever and continue to follow your intuition.
That's crazy. We're having this conversation because I'm really at that junction now, questioning how I'm approaching music. It was very much what I got at Brown. Brown in itself is a very conscious place where people are really thinking through issues and not just going with the flow. So I did my research on independent artists, and Chance the Rapper started blowing up at that time, and he championed independence and paying attention to all the conversations and labels and bad record deals, et cetera. And law school was at the back of my mind as well. So it all kind of led me to a place of really being ten toes down. I want to do everything myself. I'm already producing everything, writing everything, recording myself, doing the videos. I want to own everything. Masters.
And you are.
Exactly. And you arguably should in an ideal world. I've been a practicing lawyer for three years now. I'm in my third year.
And what kind of law? Media law?
Yeah. I'm in a transactional side of a corporate firm and it made sense with the context of everything. But I'm getting to a point now where I'm seeing that, one, being a full-time lawyer, and two, being a full-time artist, there's only so many hours in the day. I’m trying to think through that strategy. I think I've gone far enough doing both because I needed the salary to incrementally invest in my music so I could keep the ownership. But now I'm rounding this corner where I need a lot more investment. I need to invest more time in it personally and I need capital to invest in it. And so I'm starting to think if I have a distribution deal, publishing and record deals. But I'm still very sensitive to the system.
The thing to remember in the music industry as an artist is that you're the center. You've always got to see yourself as the center. The days when Black artists in particular were considered on the margins are over. You're the center of it all. So as a lawyer, for your generation, it is wide open and you can create a deal for yourself and get angel investment with people that you trust and are willing to invest in you. So it's all about relationships, and it's really also about the hundreds of ways you can now share your music. The largest expense is the tour and there’s a lot of excess. There's a lot of excess in terms of how much money is spent on music videos. There's a lot of excess where you can actually shoot something anywhere and use AI or animation to take your idea anywhere visually. You don't have to go 100 miles away, fly everybody there, put them up in hotels. That's what I love about your music videos. You are already the absolute storyteller and you chose to go organic and that yours are very DIY.
Right, exactly. My wife works with me on that.
And it's super creative. So you don't need to get a $2 million deal to do your music video, and that's where your own intelligence really comes into play. But I think what's happening is that streaming platforms and TikTok for example has a integrated platform for music marketing and distribution. SoundOn is designed to empower new and undiscovered artists, helping them develop and build their careers. It is free to join, and they say, “SoundOn also enables artists to grow their fanbases, harness their creative voice and have their music heard worldwide.” Otherwise you are already making use of Tidal, Amazon Music, Pandora, Shazam, and Apple Music. One day you're basically going to have your own centralized channel where you're going to distribute your own merchandise, you're going to do your own exclusive interviews, in one place and that's where the game is going.
Like, you and me, we hooked up on Instagram. We connected because I liked your music, and I saw your message, and I said I'm going to get in touch. We are promoters, essentially, in the sense that we are interested in identifying talent, giving them a platform to tell their story to audiences around the world. We are also giving you space to connect with other people in the industry. I like to build relationships with African and African diaspora independent musicians. Tell me more about your strategy?
This just feels so timely because I was slipping into over compromising because I do think there is some sacrifice. There is some compromise, but intelligent compromise at different junctions of your career. But I've been wanting to quit my job, wanting to take full control of my time because I can't control it. Yesterday was my 30th birthday.
Happy Birthday. You’re a Taurus.
Yeah, I'm a Gemini-Taurus. So I took yesterday and today off, but tomorrow I'm in the office and I'm back to deals. And it's entertainment law, so it's helping but I feel like I'm exhausted in terms of wanting to really be an artist. Exhausted! How far can I take law without interfering with my music? I need to practice. I'm a pianist, so I understand the time it takes to really be good at your craft and to master craft. The issue then is, I don't have the money, so that's where the label and the support comes into play.
So what do you want to do? Is this your first EP?
This is my 12th EP or project.
I put out a couple. My first really was in 2012. Officially, I think that I would call my first came in 2014. It's called Goodbye For Never.
And then I put out a couple series of a single every week for a couple of weeks and packaged them as a short series. I've done two or three of those. I put out what I consider an album in 2018. I loved reading the Afropop Worldwide interview with Roger [Francis]. I read that soon after I met him, and it just made everything all the more interesting as I just walked in the store. I'm actually about to head over there now because I haven't seen him in a couple of weeks. I have been planning to head over and just say hi for a couple weeks and let him know the project is coming out finally and that I’m hoping to talk to you about my music.
Then I decided to message you. I just thought, you know what, I'll just send my music to Afropop Worldwide and just see if they happen to see it. Thankfully, today was the day that you happened to check the messages. I'm very grateful for that. I just started working with Creative Artists Agency (CAA), the talent agency, to get more shows and find time to quit my job and hopefully I can start to do more touring. And I was wondering if anyone out there are going on tour and I could open for them or collaborate with them. That would be awesome.
What you would sound like live, because you would play keyboards, right?
Yeah, I play keys sometimes. I usually perform just with a DJ, but also a guitarist, bass player and sax player is my standard setup. Right. It's a mix of tracks and then I play some songs fully live and that sort of thing and go back and forth all night.
Ok what's your wish to come true with this EP?
This EP? There's a song on here called “Magic.”
Oh, I love that song. I was just about to say that's my favorite song on the whole EP. I played it like six times today already. Yeah, I did. Wow. Damn.
So a close friend, one of my closest friends unfortunately, passed away last year, around this time last year. My wife and I got married April 23, and because of COVID I hadn't seen a bunch of my friends in Nigeria and stuff for a couple of years. So he came out to the wedding. We had a great time. Thankfully, we got to really have that moment. He said, “I'm proud of you, everything you're doing. You graduated law school and you got married and everything”. And we started making music together in high school in London and we also went to boarding school at the same time in the U.K.. But he was a pure, pure creative. He studied geology in university in London. As soon as he graduated, he said, “I'm going to be a creative”. He dj’ed, he journaled, he wrote articles, he did interviews, photography, skating, surfing, all in Nigeria. He was featured in Vogue, the skate crew WafflesNCream that he was a part of got featured on CNN. And he was just a creative person, did everything. So I'd always look to him as the person who was bold enough to really say, “I'm going to jump into this and take that leap of faith”, which I'm still struggling with, as we discussed.
So we had that moment last year, and then he flew back to San Francisco to see his older sister and in Maryland to see his brother and his family over here. He went back to where he was living in Accra, and then he went to Gambia--I think it was there--and then he was driving to Senegal for the biggest arts festival maybe inn the whole of Africa in Dakar. Unfortunately he got into a car accident on the way there.
Oh my God. Driving from Gambia.
Exactly. Driving to Dakar from there. So his family is from Gambia, of course. But I made this beat that night, and I hadn't made music for a while, so he'd come and he'd stayed with us for a couple of weeks after the wedding in April, saw a bunch of different friends, then he went back to Ghana, and then I hadn't made music for a while. And that night, having spoken to him and him motivating me again, like, “Keep going with the music. It's connecting. I'm always putting people onto your music.” I made that beat that night and then got the news the next morning, and then it was my birthday again a couple of days afterwards. So it was just a really crazy time. But that's where that song came from. And then at our wedding, we had a phone where people could leave voice messages, just say whatever, “Happy marriage,” and everything like that. We didn't know who had left messages but we just had a feeling that someone would have told him about it, and he would have definitely done it.
My wife and I got the messages back two months later and we're like all the messages are here, we're in the middle of a wedding, we don't want to listen to them but I'm so excited. We've been waiting for them this whole time and we started playing them and the first one was him and that was the message that you hear at the beginning of “Magic,” so you hear the beep. That's literally how it was and I shortened it a bit because he was saying hope you guys have a great marriage and union.
It was more personal to us but I wanted everyone to sort of feel his spirit and that's how he was. He said, “I wish you well, I wish you wealth, I wish you everything you wish for yourself, peace and love”. He would’ve rapped it like that. He was just a beautiful creative, kind, very spiritual person. I'll give you his Instagram and you'll watch his short reels and stuff him just giving positivity and speaking about creating and just motivating creatives.
He's just an amazing person. But my wish for this EP is I wanted to spread his essence and I wanted to follow what he left for me and that's part of the next year, finding a way to quit my job and do music full time and make a living off music and just be who I really am. As much as being the lawyer is part of the plan, I think that's run its course at this point. So that's my wish. This EP gets me to that next phase.
Wow. I think you're so ready. So ready because it's all about your intention and also all about the work that you've done and it's just this convergence of events that you speak about your friend, your marriage, you're coming to understand exactly what the legal aspects are in the industry and. Wow, what a story. I wish you so much success. So you want to put yourself in a situation where it's just blowing up in Africa right now. Everything is happening over there.
My wife loves this idea. She's ready too to move to Africa. She's from Trinidad.
I know Trinidad very well. My dad was an acredited ambassador there, and I spent some time as an adult at Maracas Bay eating bake ‘n shark at Richards and all of that.
My mum's currently an ambassador, although she’s coming to the end of her current term (she has eight days left I think). She's an ambassador in Greece.
No way! Wow. O.K., we've got too many similarities. This is brilliant. But you're there. You're good. All the best. Talk to you soon.
Talk to you soon. Have a good one.
Love to your wife.
Yes, thank you.
All right, take care. Bye now.