There’s a calm confidence to D–Truce’s music. A rapper unlike most, his artistic trajectory follows its unique path. While his earlier tendencies was rapping the usual fierce way, he has found his recent projects a play field to showcase his moves of splendor, his singing and rapping which bursts with so much personality and purpose.
Growing up in Ejigbo, a colorful place in the sprawling state of Lagos, he was exposed to stories. Everyone seemed to have a unique story. His, too. Early in his life, his parents were divorced and he remembers how this made him the quiet kid at school albeit the creative one, the one who with his rhymes, still spread an hand out to the world.
The array of talent on his debut album 2 Birds, 1 Stone is all you need to affirm Truce as one to watch out for. With the album scoring favorable reviews amongst critics, Emmanuel Esomnofu reached out to the man to talk about many things. From his come up to industry politics to his views about the nation and her forthcoming general elections.
How did your upbringing and early life shape your interaction with music?
D-Truce: Earlier, I used to listen to a lot of radio – thanks to my mum. She bought this big ass radio and showed us how to record songs that we liked off the radio. And we would just sit down and listen to the radio, though we had a TV, the TV was broken at some point and she was like, you know what, we need to read our books instead of watching TV all the time so we listened to the radio. I guess that made me pay more attention in general to listening to music and developing an ear for sound.
In the opener of Eden, you rap about your parents getting a divorce. Was there any late nights writing? How did you react to that?
D-Truce: Yes, it was a personal moment and it was a period of a lot of hope. At the same time, it was crucial for me because that’s what made me become Truce. It’s actually how I got my name. At the time I was in JSS2, JSS3 and the drama and the stigma from that made me a quiet kid and I just learned a new word in school: truce. And my friend Tyler started calling me that and everybody started calling me that to tease me and then we made it cool; put my English name in front of it, Dusten. So it became an alias of some sort. Dusten Truce, kinda like James Bond!
That was about the time I started writing, there was a lot of things happening, things I couldn’t say so I wrote them out. It was the time I started listening to 50 Cent (laughs). He and G-Unit, the rest of the guys. It was crucial for me. At first it was just me writing random, angry verses. And then I realized that I could make this into music.
What was your first visiblemoment in entertainment? Was it your signing to X3M Music or before that?
D-Truce: It definitely wasn’t signing to X3M Music. I mean, that was cool but the moment I realized people started paying attention was, I think, in 2012 when I met Mode9.
Mode shouted me out first, I didn’t say hi to him. Like I just walked into the place (a Wax Lyrical event at Koko Lounge) and Mode was doing a show that day and everyone did their little freestyles and me and Kraft – Kraftmatiks, Mode9’s producer at the time – got on stage, did a cypher set back and forth. And Mode got on stage a few minutes after that and was like: “Truce my boy, nice one, I fuck with you. Y’all niggas fuck with this guy.” And I was like, “Yo! Mode knows my name.” Mode knows my music. And then doing a feature on his mixtape, like a month later. He hit me up and said I should do a verse, he sent me a beat, and I did it.
Young Kulture as well, me and Jamal Swiss we were doing a tour at the time and we were really just winging it, doing it and we didn’t realize how many people were paying attention until we saw the numbers and attendance kept going up – it was mad.
You’re now an independent act. Was there any contractual inconveniences that led to this?
D-Truce: Of course, there were a lot of things I can’t speak on now. Not because I did anything wrong but because you know how it is, people always want to talk and fight you and make it into a situation when it’s not. I had to be signed to realize that being signed probably isn’t the best thing for me. I guess I’m not that kind of artiste.
You still work a nine to five as a copywriter. How often do your music life intersect with your professional one? Do clients recognize you as a sort of celebrity? Has there been any awkward moments?
D-Truce: (laughs) Of course, they’ve been a couple of awkward moments, especially with clients who know my music. Professional and music life really don’t clash, to be honest. I’m a writer first so I get to the office and I have a job to do and I do it. The music is just what I do besides that. So you’re aware I make music but I’m not coming to you and saying: I’m a musician; treat me special. I’m here to do a job and I do my job and when it’s time to talk about music, we talk about that. I’m just a regular guy, man.
You’re also an actor. Still active?
D-Truce: I’m available for roles. My last stint was on “Tinsel.” Still available for roles but no, I’m not actively involved in any production right now.
As a rapper, what are your strengths and which rappers have you turned to as teachers in some aspects of the craft?
D-Truce: I guess my strength is that I’m a storyteller, I don’t know how to make baseless music. There’s always a story to every song; it’s about something, it’s about someone.
What rappers have I turned to as teachers? (pause) None. I do listen to a lot of J. Cole and I study his business model. I also study MI’s business model as well, some things you can learn from and MI makes great music anyway.
As far as collaborations go, your Backbenchers project with TylerRiddim is one of the best in recent years. How did that happen?
D-Truce: It was 2018 after Gidifest, that was about the time I left the label as well. So I’d already started work on 2 Birds, 1 Stone but then I knew that I needed to put out a project that would be like a prelude to 2 Birds so that people would get it the album when it comes out.
I had just come back home from my performance, I was with Tyler, we were in one of my guys’ house, I moved my home studio to his house cause I just needed like, a change of scenery. We’re chilling and we say: “you know what? Let’s do a project!”
Then we made the first song (“Kalakuta”) and everything sort of just happened from there and we knew OK, there was a theme, the track list spells out K-I-C-K-S which was a big deal for us growing up. We have a song called Sketchers and we sort of built it on that. I met Tyler in Nursery Two and we’ve known each other our entire lives.
You’re one of the few Nigerian acts who possess an astute knowledge on how to make a cohesive project. What is the sequence? What usually comes first, the idea or unreleased songs pointing towards a theme?
D-Truce: It was the idea. For 2 Birds, 1 Stone, no, for every project, it was the idea. I already know the name of my next album (laughs). I already know the sound I’m going for and you know, the story behind the music. So as time goes on I just make music that fits the context. For 2 Birds, we had over thirty six songs made and because the project was special, (the two in one format) a lot of songs — like, for example, the 9 to 5 Interlude was the Part B of some other song we had made and thrown away
The only songs on the project released the way it was originally made is Celebrity Champagne/ Mom’s Mercedes. We had to just keep creating until it sounded right, until the track list started making sense.
Your latest project, 2 Birds, 1 Stone is early contender for rap album of the year. But you didn’t even do much rapping and yet, your singing seems unforced. How do you do this? Is it a learned skill or some sort of talent?
D-Truce: (Laughs) First things first, let’s correct that: I did a lot of rapping on 2 Birds. Every single verse on that project is a rap verse. I just don’t rap like your average rapper. My style is unorthodox. My first instinct when I make a song is not to write a fire verse or spit a hot sixteen; it’s to make a good song. So the mood of the song is what determines the flow.
On Freedom, I did a whole rap verse: tryna be the man/ walking like a nigga with a plan. But I didn’t rap it like a YCEE would rap it or any other rapper would rap it. I can’t do that, I can’t rap like that. I do what I do. There’s a lot of rapping on the project, don’t get it twisted.
But I get where you’re coming from. It’s new to a lot of people that I’m doing what I’m doing. I guess, for me, my music is a learning process. It’s me discovering myself; every time I’m in the studio I discover I can do something new. Initially when I started making music I was just a rapper. I just wanted to write a hot sixteen and deliver on the beat. I didn’t really care about how the beat was made. But overtime I realized: oh shit, I need to sound like this. I started figuring out how to produce, started working my way around production, started engineering. Over time I realized I could sing. I’m not the best singer but I can sing.
I just let it flow naturally and I see this song needs this kind of hook and I make the hook and it sounds nice. I guess it’s a talent and a skill because if you don’t hone your talent it doesn’t become a skill.
Who designed the artwork?
D-Truce: His name is Osagie, he was my colleague at the first ad agency I worked with. We worked together on a lot of campaigns. At the time – I was the copywriter on Jameson – me and Osagie and Toheeb my visuals guy, we pretty much designed the Jameson brand of Nigeria. It was during one of those projects that you know, I told Osagie: “this album I’m working on” – this was in 2017 or ’16 – “2 Birds, 1 Stone, this is what I want.”
We created the look and feel, we created the template. We created two options and had send one to Jameson to approve to use as their brand template. They liked but they didn’t use it. I was like OK, that’s mad (laughs). So I just used it for my album. We created the cover of the album like two years ago, best believe. It was the first part of the album that was complete even before the music.
That’s how I met Osagie and he’s been doing my covers. He did the cover for Eden. He’s my cover guy.
The album opens with an anecdote on corruption in the Nigerian Police Force. You must have had encounters like this. Do you eventually pay the price for your freedom?
D-Truce: Everyone pays the price. Everyone is still paying the price as far as I’m concerned in this country because everyday you have to bribe a policeman, everyday you have to figure out a way to force the system to work for you, the system is broken. All that lack of peace of mind, having to buy fuel and put fuel in the generator when you still pay NEPA bills. All that is the price of freedom and everyone is still paying for that.
I particularly like Celebrity Champagne. Its production I have described to friends as ‘exotic.’ How was the song making process?
D-Truce: Celebrity Champagne was partly inspired by Kel (the veteran rapper). I went to see Kel, it was my birthday in 2017. (May 8th) I spent the whole day driving my mom around (laughs) and I went to drop my mom off at her house, I stopped by at Kel’s house to say hi. And Kel offered me champagne on some: you’re a celebrity now, so let me offer you champagne.
The idea for the song came up right there. Then, I was with DJ Xtreme, my producer. He produced most of the album. We were with our laptop so we just came up with the basics and we just did it in my car. We drove home and we made the rest of Celebrity Champagne. Two days after my birthday, I moved to my new house and we finished the song and, that night, we got robbed. That night. The next day, I had to go buy a laptop and we started the song afresh and that was when we made Mom’s Mercedes which was inspired by me driving my mom around the whole day of my birthday.
Luckily, I didn’t lose my studio equipment even though I lost everything else. I guess it was important that that happened for the song to come about.
How did the mellow vibe of the album’s production come about? What was your level of engagement with the producers?
D-Truce: If you read the credits you’ll see all tracks co-produced and composed by me. So yes, I pretty much produced the entire thing but through my producers. That’s what it is. I work with people that understand me. So they know what I want to hear and I’m in the studio the whole time. We’re making it together, you get? Like I have an idea for drums, I play the drums out and we build on that. Or I have an idea for keys and go oh, I want these keys and I play the basics.
I play the drums so I’m very big on my percussions. Luckily, DJ Xtreme plays the drums too; he plays the talking drum. So I was very involved in the production obviously because, if I was handed the production it wouldn’t sound as cohesive. I’m just glad that I worked with brilliant producers.
In the spirit of communion, there’s also the Hotbox Skit which features a sort of vibing between you, 3rty, Dewa and Tyler. How often do these happen and what is it like?
D-Truce: This happened in my car. My gallant Mitsubishi ES-2002. It was a hand-me-down from my mom – my first car. It was a holiday – it was a Monday, I think – and I had driven down to Ejigbo to catch up with the homies and you know, we were chilling and we figured: let’s come up with an idea for a smoke song. I put on my phone recorder on and we made that demo and we never made the song so I figured it could make the cut as a skit. And these things happen all the time when I’m with the homies.
How do you find the time to make an album even with the restrictions of a day job?
D-Truce: I record every weekend in my house. I record at night and thankfully my producer is always willing to come through so we just spend the whole week in the crib making joints. You can always find time for things you want to do.
O jewa ke eng?
[Nigerian Hip Hop version]
D-Truce: This South African thing (laughs). I don’t know, man, first things first, listeners, people in general should consume the content that is produced, as opposed to asking people why they doing what they want to do. I mean, you don’t see anyone go to Drake like: oh you’re a rapper, why are you singing or why are you making a pop record?
Someone tweeted at YCEE the other day telling him that he’s singing; he should rap more. Like bro, can you let people create? Just consume and support, that’s all we really need. And a lot of people are not supportive, I’m sorry, I really don’t have the right to complain but it’s the truth. People are more open to content from outside than actually accepting good content put out by Nigerians. It’s why half of the music you hear on mainstream radio sounds a certain way when there’s a lot of people making a variety of stuff. So now it’s up to the listeners to effect the change they want to see. You’re complaining that people are making too much
In the industry and outside of it, everyone is too busy chasing an image and chasing a wave and focusing on that as opposed to focusing on the content. That doesn’t make sense to me. That’s why I like to believe that I’m not part of the industry. I’m just a guy that makes music.
Everyone needs to be more open minded and more aware of the fact that music is fluid; you don’t see it, you don’t touch it, you just feel it. And as long as it feels right then let it flourish.
Structurally you made an unorthodox album by literally doing the 2 Songs in One thing. It’s innovative as it is daring. Which albums, Nigerian or otherwise, do you have an affinity for as being innovative and daring?
D-Truce: Odunsi’s album is daring because he took a whole theme and he created an album off of it. MI’s Rendezvous is innovative, he took the plot of going out, an evening with the homies and you end up in the morning. It’s a story, you get?
I’m drawn to albums that have stories to them because that’s the kind of artiste I am. It’s not fluff (laughs). It has to have content. Albums like J. Cole’s KOD, Anderson .Paak’s Malibu and Oxlade, The Internet, their new album and the previous one, SiR’s album (November). Yes, so there’s a lot of content, these are contextual albums. It’s jiggy music but it’s content still. Naturally, if I was making an album, it would sound similar to that.
Your album, in its unique way, presents facets to being a youth in present day Nigeria. I’m reminded of your song City of Excellence. To what extent do you feel the forthcoming elections will be crucial to the future of Nigeria?
D-Truce: First things first, I’m not voting. Not because I don’t want to but because I don’t have a PVC. The Government makes it hard for regular people that work day jobs and don’t have a lot of time at their disposal to get PVCs.
It’s 2019. Why the fuck can I not register for a PVC online, use my BVN number as verification? By the way, BVN is a big scam in my opinion. Use my BVN number as a verification and get it sent to my mail so I just go the polling booth, show them the email, or print the card out and I vote. Why isn’t it so simple? Why do I have to wait in queues for six months to register and then wait another six months for you to give me a card?
They make it hard so that people don’t vote and they can keep rigging the thing. That’s how I feel. If we really want change in this country, everybody in power needs to step down and just retire and allow new people. Right now, it’s a cabal, people are just moving money. Of course, there’s a few people in there that probably have good intentions but you can never beat a system that has already been wired to fail.
If I was going to vote, I’ll probably vote Donald Duke but I feel like they’ve silenced him already. They told him he can’t contest anymore. They always find a way to fuck shit up. That’s my personal opinion, it might be the truth; it might not be the truth. Things shouldn’t be as hard as it is. Nigerians romanticize suffering and they romanticize making things harder than they should be.
How actively do you think musicians should engage in partisan politics? Would you publicly campaign for a politician?
D-Truce: Of course, musicians can get engaged if they want to, if it’s their thing. Me, I’m not engaged in politics – I don’t like politics. But it won’t stop me from saying how I feel. On my album, as you have heard, I called out a lot of the bullshit. I even put a Buhari speech in there. I’m not happy with the way it is. I’m willing to help change it but only if they willing to make it easy for everyone to participate.
Also, I won’t actively campaign for any politician. Never have, never will. Probably, if I’m given a brief to design something, to come up with a campaign idea for someone, maybe I will, because it’s my job, right? I’ll get paid to do it. But actively campaign? Put my name on it? My face? No. That’s not me. Unless I find someone I can actually vouch for. At the end of the day, I don’t know these people like that. I’m not gonna put my name on the line and have someone go fuck up the country and then they drag me into it.
Every politician is an adult, you’re a functioning human being. You know what’s right, you know what’s wrong. Do what’s right: that’s how simple it is to make everything running smooth.
You seem to have an avid taste in music. Give us some recommendation, would you?
D-Truce: Check out Anderson .Paak, check out AYLØ, check out SiR, Isaiah Rashad, Ab Soul, J. Cole, check out Bas, yea, Bas is dope. Daniel Caesar. Those are the few of the artistes on my playlist; that’s all I can remember off the top of my head.
What next for D-Truce? Any shows? Any videos off the album?
D-Truce: We just finished the live show for the album, the first live show. I did it at my office and hopefully I can make that into a tour of some sorts and do a few more shows.
We’re also working on videos for Oga Police, Feel/ Conversations and Roll Up. Those are the few videos from the album; hopefully, if everything goes according to plan. Because you know how it is…funds (laughs). But yea, that’s the plan. Videos, more shows. If you love the music, support it. Listen to the music and let it speak to you.