Co-signs embody the joy of creating art. You work yourself to death and come alive when folks you respect begin to respect you. If you’re Hanu Jay, one moment you’re having a music time at a friend’s place and the next none other than DJ Consequence pulls in. Soon you’re playing music to him and his head can’t stop bumping. This was how exactly how “Uber”, the 2018 Hanu Jay record came to be refixed and featured on Vibes from the Future, DJ Consequence’s debut studio album which cast a roll call of the most budding Nigerian stars. The revered tastemaker joins Zlatan Ibile, Yung 6ix, YCEE as prominent music figures who’ve heralded the talent of Hanu Jay, projecting a long and sustained hurl into the Nigerian mainstream for the Delta-born musician.
Growing up in the bustling city of Warri, Hanu Jay found himself drawn to communal spaces. An uncle owned a bar and there the seeds for a career in music were sown. When he dives back to the memory, he speaks with the enthusiasm of a child prodded on his favorite movie. Back then, he and some friends would stay at a corner of the big bar (he was quick to tell me that bars were the thing then) and were marveled by the music blasted from the speakers and the unreal effect it had on listeners. “There are some Oritse Femi songs they’d play there, and my uncle would run to the DJ and ask him to off the music. If not, a fight would erupt,” he explained. “It was really intense for me then, seeing that kind of real, raw emotion. Back then I used to tell my guy ‘one-day people go dey do like this for my jam’”.
Many years on, it’s harsh to say Hanu Jay (born Aghogho Hanu Agbodje) hasn’t tried to live up to that promise. Just like “Uber” made a fan of DJ Consequence, there’s a good chance his music will resonate with you given they speak a universal truth: that life is for the living. They’re like time capsules transporting one to more fun eras. A mix of Dancehall, R&B, and Nigerian Pop, Hanu Jay follows the genealogy of musicians cut from the cloth of the 2Faces and Oritse Femis –fun, conscious, bubbly, and really catchy. “When you listen to a piece of music, you can tell whether the artist is coming from a genuine place,” Hanu Jay says, asserting that his music is focused on that purpose.
In the past two years, he’s put out two EPs (Vibes and Let’s Smoke & F**k) and, during the course of our conversation, reveals the third is not far away. This prolific nature could be traced to his time in Delta state, its underground scene which bubbled with the presence of many precocious talents. Hanu Jay however had an upstart –his cousin was the rapper Yung6ix, one of the torchbearers of southern Hip Hop and in the later years, would become a rap star in Nigeria. “I used to link up with Yung6ix a lot then,” he confides. “I even wrote a song for him, but he never used it. Me and my cousin started music together, man. I was even featured on his Green Light Green mixtape (in 2011)”.
Truly enough one of Hanu Jay’s most influential records is the Zanku-appropriating “Leg Working”, a joint-record with Yung 6ix. Marking a change in style for Yung6ix, for Hanu Jay the production offered the perfect showcase for what Tooxclusive described as “unconventional melodies.” Pulling closer to the Lagos mainstream, they (Hanu Jay and Yung 6ix) tapped up Zlatan Ibile, whose output stretched the gritty aesthetic of the record. It was Hanu Jay’s symbolic welcome by the king and since then he hasn’t looked back: the music has stayed exciting and with a credible team backing his efforts now, there’s no good reason to bet against him.
And Hanu Jay knows he’s got a real chance here. He’s got an EP, Wow (Can I blow your mind) slated for March, and it’s first single “INSANE,” will soon hit the market. Pressed about his genre of music and what we should expect from these songs, Hanu Jay observes a deep pause. The air seems to close in and I hear only the static of the phone call, hundreds and hundreds of miles between us –me in Awka, Anambra; him in Lagos. He finally speaks: “You see ehn, I have this theory,” he says. “If scientists are allowed to experiment and come up with hypotheses, theories and all, then I can make music however I want.”