DJ Jimmy Jatt: Ones And Twos Of A Legend
Oluwaforijimi Adewale Amu did not set out to be a renowned disc jockey. The thought of spinning turntables did not immediately appeal to him. But that career happenstance is not only putting bread on his table. It has made the man known as DJ Jimmy Jatt a bonafide hip-hop head and world-renowned turntablist.
With almost three decades in the business that has seen him release two albums, write an autobiography appropriately titled Avant-Garde, headline some of the biggest shows the country has ever seen and mentor others, Jimmy’s time as the top echelon of deejaying in Nigeria is well storied and it is not about to end.
There is more to the man than his turntables. But music has always been important to him.
Before the Ones and Twos
Jimmy grew up in an environment filled with music, but there was no prevalent air of electrifying hip-hop. Blues, soul, jazz, juju, apala, Fuji, highlife, funk, R&B, pop and disco were, however, not in short supply. But hip-hop was his first love and only choice. Hence, he set out to be a rapper.
That career tanked even before it started. But there was no regret, especially when there was another path waiting to be charted.
Like many kids growing up in his environment, the socially-constructed noble images of lawyers, engineers and doctors held some appeal. But the appeal was not strong enough to blunt the lure of music which saw Jimmy opt to become a DJ.
“I’ve always thought I was going to be a lawyer,” he says. But he is quick to add that the ambition was probably misplaced. He’s not cut out for life as a lawyer, especially since his being is not in tandem with doing a job for the sake of being employed.
Entertainment, specifically music, he says, is central to his personality, hence, there is no regret not becoming a lawyer.
He says, “It is a good thing when you are able to translate your hubby into a profession. It is more fulfilling [and] more satisfying than if you are doing a job just for that sake.”
In spite of deejaying not being a recognised profession, and definitely not as lucrative or decent enough in the late 1980s and early 90s to be mentioned in the same breath as doctors and lawyers, Jimmy got his parents’ nod. His father, a musical instrument dealer, and mother, a teacher, were not worried their ‘well-trained’ son would turn out bad.
But he was scoffed at by his extended family and neighbours. “People were hostile and would not want their sons to be associated with me because I chose to be a DJ,” he says.
The come up
After tanking at being a rapper, Jimmy was not ready to fail at turntabling. The odds were there, but they were not big enough to smother his drive to succeed. He had to find a way of making the job pay his bills and also fight the stigma.
Coincidentally, demands for DJs began to spiral upward and more opportunities to earn a decent living emerged. And in the early 1990s, Jimmy became fully focused on deejaying.
“I realised that there were demands for this service. And if I am going to give it much time, I must make sure it pays my bills. I then realised that people did not mind paying for this service. I thought I might as well structure and sell it to people.”
That resolution and the latent rebellious streak — solely aimed at proving those who thought being a deejay was a social misnomer wrong — were the impetus he needed to push on.
But there were times he felt like dumping the turntables in the dustbin and moving to something else. The passion for music sustained him through his difficult moments. There were times he had to claim ‘staff’ on buses to avoid paying fares. In fact, that stage of his life is captured on Stylee, one of his most successful singles off his debut album, The Definition Volume 1.
“If I had given up then, those people who didn’t give me a chance at the beginning would smile. So that kept me going even in my lowest moments,” he says.
Today, Jimmy is more than ready to always be the beacon of hope aspiring disc jockeys look up to. He also has a DJ academy, where he can school aspiring turntablists in the art and business of deejaying, in the works.
The big shows and tragedy stages
Jimmy’s first big show landed him a fat N1000. He was contracted to play at a bank’s end of the year party. At that time, his going rate was N700 but his first big client added an extra N300 on one condition: he had to do a good job.
His stock rose after that. He started headlining some of the biggest shows in the country. He was a mainstay in the Benson and Hedges-sponsored concerts in Nigeria and others including Gold and Tones, Star Mega Jam and Rothmans Mega Groove.
Jimmy has also worked and shared stages with prominent entertainment stars like 2baba Idibia, Mode 9, Elajoe, Akon, 50 Cent, Wyclef Jean, Sean Paul and LL Cool J.
He was performing at another bank’s end of year party years later when he was told that his mum had passed. She was living in his house at the time and, as much as the grief and pain were instant, he could not leave the stage because of contractual agreements with the organisers. A year earlier, his father had died while he performing at a Benson and Hedges concert.
Jimmy is the first Nigerian disc jockey to release a full-length LP in modern times. The Definition Volume 1 was released in 2007. The video for the lead single off the album, Stylee featuring Modenine, Elajoe (of the defunct The Thorobreds) and Tuface, earned him a Channel O Music Award nomination.
His sophomore album, The Industry Volume 1, a 24-track album rated as the “biggest collaborative album in Africa” was released in 2014 with about 66 artists featured.
The two albums were alternative platforms for his associates and artists to do things unusual. For instance, on The Definition, he got Modenine, whom he tagged as Nigeria’s best lyricist, to do a successful commercial track. On the second LP, Banky W dumped his singing for rap bars.
Both albums also featured more budding artistes than the established ones with Jimmy orchestrating some of the unusual collaborations the Nigerian music industry has seen. Moreover, music to him should not always about the feel-good factor. As an art form, it should also be dedicated to speaking on social ills.
A third album is in the works, he says. In fact, it was meant for the market in 2017. There is a possibility of it being released before the year runs out.
The hardest question you could probably ask him is to name his top five Nigerian rappers of all time.
“I don’t do name dropping,” he said. “To be honest with you, if I give you a list now, it may change before you get to the gate.”
However, Jimmy will never hesitate to drop Modenine’s name. He described the seven-time The Headies Lyricist on the Roll winner as the best Nigerian rapper.
“Modenine is every rapper’s lecturer around here. No matter what anybody said publicly, they still wish they can write rhymes like him. Everybody studies Modenine.”
The family man
It is easier for his wife and kids to relate to his schedule as a DJ. He met his wife before he became famous and his children were born when his career had started enjoying the lustre of fame.
But when he is not on the road touring, Jimmy spends most of his time at his Lekki home. His wife and kids are his best friends, he says.
“When I am available, those are the people that have my time fully and they understand that,” he says.
Creative direction: Chidera Muoka
Photography: Jerrie Rotimi
Styling: Henry Uduku