The music industry has, more often than not, been guilty of solely shining the spotlight on the creators at the forefront – the artists. It’s no news that music is often purely viewed as a whole, finished product and rarely for the various, crucial parts it’s creation process comprises. Needless to say, production is probably the most integral stage of the entire process. Producers bear the brunt of the work; creating and polishing the sound behind the scenes, while receiving little to no recognition.
The reality of the journey to stardom for most producers is predominantly independent; it’s much easier for artists to secure funding/backing from record labels and talent management companies, and in an entertainment industry as fickle as Nigeria’s, it’s just that much harder for producers to do the same. While artists may be granted the ‘luxury’ of getting signed earlier on in their careers, producers have to sweat, toil and hustle longer before reaping the benefits of their hard work.
The recent iconic Instagram Live battle between renowned producers Sarz and Shizzi was certainly an eye-opener. As entertaining and monumental as the clash was, one thing was made clear – these men have been in the game as far back as 2007 but their prominence was only cemented a few years ago. And yet, in the presence of the well deserved critical-acclaim and reverence, the recognition bestowed upon them is still nothing compared to some of their artist counterparts whose journeys commenced at the same time or long after theirs did.
The struggle is that much harder for younger producers on the come up, and the constant downplay of their value further worsens the situation. For the average producer still in early years of his/her career, such belittlement coupled with the absence of adequate support can be pretty discouraging, to say the least. Nevertheless, amidst such setbacks and unfavorable circumstances, this present generation of innovative creators have prevailed.
Over time, the new generation of creators have proven to be profoundly resourceful; independently acquiring skills and tools necessary for their crafts and forging ahead in spite of the odds placed against them. In a time where there isn’t much backing from older heads in the industry, the younger generation have had to look to themselves and raise each other up, creating a mutually beneficial ecosystem where they learn and grow off one another. Such ideals birthed the foundation of the 44dbcollective, the producer collective established by 20 year old producer, Tochi Bedford.
The idea for the collective was first planted in Tochi’s mind back in 2018. Initially planning an event, he enlisted a few of his fellow producer friends to help out and created a group chat for more efficient communication. Over time, as they grew closer and the membership grew in size, he decided to put a hold on the event and shifted his focus to nurturing the relationship conceived between them. Eventually, it was decided to make the membership official and establish a collective of producers, hence the birth of 44db.
“Everyone in the group basically controls a certain niche, even as upcoming guys. So we’re basically together to prove ‘strength in numbers’. Over time, we’ve learned so much from each other and shared a lot with each other,” Tochi tells me. In his years of producing, this was the first time he had been opportuned to interact with other like-minded producers and for him, it was like striking gold. And what made it even more exhilarating is the fact that each member is as diverse as it gets, bringing something different to the table. From audio engineer extraordinaires to Afro-trap and EDM specialists, the boys all certainly have something distinct to offer. The aim of the collective as a whole is to create an avenue for shared opportunities among the members. “The way we work is, one person’s plug is the family’s plug. If I work with someone today, I leave the door open for anyone else that wants to work with the same person and so on,” Tochi explains.
Two years removed from its institution, the collective boasts of a healthy 13-man crew of talented producers who sometimes also double as artists. In addition to founder Tochi Bedford, the members include Trill Xoe, KD, Malik Bawa, Saint Austiin, Johnson IP, Dëra, Tobi Fads, Veen, Haris, Lex Jnr, Woodpile and the media rep – Coby. Each member pulls his weight in mapping out the day-to-day business of the team. As tenacious as they are currently, the 13 man posse is a product of the combined vision of 6 young men back in 2018; the core members whose early foresight led to the formation of the 44dbcollective we know today.
Babalola Awe, known more popularly by his moniker Trill Xoe, is a multi genre producer with focus on Afrobeat and Hip Hop. The 20 year old first got into production as far back as 2014/2015 during his high school days, and he has only continued to grow since then. Drawing inspiration from a wide range of influences from RZA to Mike Dean to Sarz, has enabled him to work with artists in different genres including Barelyanyhook, Psycho YP and Nessa. Since joining forces with the other 44db members, he has sharpened his production skills and this has landed him covetous opportunities like DJ-ing at two international gigs with Falz and Davido last year.
Derek Okorie also known as KD is a budding producer on the rise. The 21 year old’s steady incline over the years has yielded noteworthy works with artists like Somadina, SOLIS, and Kida Kudz. Over time, he has proven to be a man of many talents and this earned him a spot on our Voices in Music list.
Abdulmalik Bawa is a 21 year old multigenre producer and audio engineer. Since his introduction to production back in 2014, he’s honed his craft, collaborating with a plethora of artists over a vast array of genres from Zarion Uti to PsychoYP to Nessa. Spurred by monte booker and Krs’s delicate manipulation of sounds, Malik has drawn inspiration from their extraordinary abilities and this is well reflected in his current work.
Veen is an artist carving a path for himself. Born Johnson Kelvin, the 21 year old self-taught producer, audio engineer, artist and songwriter is a one man army; producing, writing, performing and engineering every track in his catalogue. ‘I don’t like to box myself in, because i love music in general’, he tells me, ‘I make any and every kind of music’. Working closely with various artists, including his brother, Kiienka, Veen has fed off their influence and expanded his versatility.
20 year old Johnson Itunuoluwa is a multi-genre producer with focus on Hip Hop and Afro Trap. Since commencing his journey in 2016, Johnson has certainly evolved his artistry, bagging himself some notable features along the way. Upon meeting Tochi, he played a huge role in the formative stages of the 44dbcollective. Along with Xoe, Johnson was very instrumental in sourcing out like-minded creatives to join the crew.
‘We’re not trying to make this just another collective,’ Tochi tells me. It’s evidently much deeper than that. ‘Family,’ Xoe recounts, describing the relationship between the boys. ‘We understand each other – our strengths, weaknesses. Help each other grow. Feed off each other’s energies. These are people I can trust and easily collaborate with. Being surrounded by creative people like this is crazy. We’re a family.’ The bond between the boys runs deeper than just making music together; the aim is simply to see everyone of the members succeed. As a result, a lot of their individual work is in actuality, a collaborative effort. ‘Sometimes I could make half a beat and send out to 44(dbcollective) boys. The beat could end up being touched by 3/4 people until it’s right. Sometimes when you’re having a (creative) block, another person’s perspective is good,’ Johnson IP reveals.
In an arguably short span of two years as a collective, the 44db members have flourished in their craft and have gone on to achieve commendable feats, and whether this was a group effort or a product of their individual sonical sojourns doesn’t erase the credibility of their accomplishments. Xoe has been granted international opportunities to work with Falz and Davido, while Johnson has been the man behind some noteworthy cuts, including STRAFFITTI’s star-studded hip hop number, ‘Kuronbe’. But the member with perhaps the most illustrious catalogue is Dëra, the producer behind Joeboy’s smash hit single, ‘Baby’. His work with the Afropop star garnered the attention of emPawa Africa boss, Mr. Eazi and granted him the opportunity to work with him at the initiative. Dëra has since then gone on to produce other prominent cuts, including Joeboy’s current chart-topping single, ‘Call’.
While the members have all gone on to enjoy, in their own ways, moments of success, they certainly also face their fair share of adversities. ‘So we realised that no matter how good we get, some people we work with will still try to move slick sometimes,’ Tochi admits, illustrating the all-too-familiar plight of attempted exploitation upcoming producers often face. However, they’ve adopted a way to curb this. ‘We’ve dealt with this by having meetings and setting minimum prices for everything’, he assures me. Malik Bawa was charged with the duty of drafting all the documents used for split sheets and business agreements, to avoid any further mishaps in the future. Such level of organisation and dedication is what makes these young men particularly ones to watch.
Over the years, the overall reception to producers and audio engineers behind the scenes has gradually improved. Digital advancements in music technology have enabled listeners to find all credited creators on any body of work with ease. ‘We’re advocating for strength for the average producer. At the time most of us started , we felt producers weren’t getting respected and appreciated enough. Not only by artists, but by fans too. But slowly, things are changing’, Tochi tells me, explaining the ideals the collective was founded on. Things are changing for sure, but there’s still much more ground to be covered. As intricate and meticulous as production is as an art, it’s obscene to think that producers/engineers are almost completely disregarded and have to fight tooth and nail for an ounce of recognition.
What these young vanguards are doing is no easy feat. Operating almost completely independently with no backing whatsoever, the members of the 44dbcollective are slowly but surely coming for it all. A lot is currently in the works. ‘We’re dropping a 44db album early next year, so we’re each trying to get our individual projects out this year’, KD discloses. Saint Austiin has already kick-started the cycle with his soul-baring EP, 180 Minute Love Slave. Malik Bawa and KD are next up with collaborative projects set to drop later this month. Veen will also be releasing a project later in the year and Xoe is working extensively with post-production on Adey’s upcoming project. And with Tochi’s highly anticipated debut body of work due for release very soon, it’s no secret that these men are working and very hard too. ‘When 44 was created, we were all musically finding ourselves individually, but at this point, I’d just let the work do the talking’, Veen candidly tells me. They’ve laid the foundation and are ready for the next step – but this time the revolution will be televised. It’s only a matter of time.