Back in the early 2000s when rappers like Mr Raw (formerly Dat N.I.G.G.A. Raw) and late MC Loph were spitting bars in Enugu and Onitsha, they probably didn’t expect to actually sell out stadiums and perform all over Europe. Rapping in Igbo was unheard of when these guys were putting their all into making it work. All they had was dreams. Today, those dreams are being brought to life by rapper Phyno, the biggest rap act to ever come out of Eastern Nigeria. He has sold out stadiums in the East twice, released four albums and various hit singles, produced several other hits and landed various endorsements over the years. How did he get here?
Born and raised in Enugu State, Chibuzor Nelson Azubuike aka Phyno learnt to play the drums and piano as a secondary school student. This later morphed into an interest in production and he started to experiment with rearranging songs. By the time he was studying for a public administration degree at the Institute of Management and Technology in Enugu, he was already producing for Igbo rap pioneer Mr Raw.
After his degree, he moved to Lagos in 2001 to push his music career and started producing for the likes of Timaya, Flavour, Ruggedman, 2Shotz, Bracket and J Martins. One of the biggest records he produced was ‘Life a N’agaga’ by Timaya and M.I. He was also an affiliate of the label Knighthouse which had rappers Phenom, Mo’Cheddah on its roster.
He soon decided that he wanted to be on the other side of the booth and that decision paid off. His first single Multiply was a hit and the remix, which featured Timaya, Mr. Raw, Flavour and M.I, was an even bigger hit. In 2013, he toured with D’banj, Burna Boy, Chidinma, Vector, Pucado, Seyi Shay, Show Dem Camp, Kay Switch and Sean Tizzle as a supporting act on the 2013 Hennessy Artistry Club Tour.
It took Phyno three years to record his debut album No Guts No Glory. The album was released via a partnership with Phyno’s own Penthauze Music and Sputnet Records in February 2014. It featured production from Major Bangz, Phyno, WizzyPro, Chopstix, Phyno and Jay Stuntz. The album also had hits like Man Of The Year, Ghost Mode, Multiply, and Parcel. Guest artists on the album were Stormrex, Omawumi, Olamide, Efa, P-Square, Timaya, Flavour, Mr. Raw, MI, Ice Prince and Runtown.
Speaking to The Tribune on the idea behind the album title, Phyno said, “As of the time I entered the industry, indigenous rap music was just gaining ground. People still looked at indigenous artists as local and uneducated people. I do indigenous rap because I think that is what I can do best, not because I cannot rap in English. Whenever I rap in Igbo, I end up being the real me. And judging from the criticisms I got from people, it took guts for me to get there. That is the message behind the title.recording his debut album in.”
Phyno’s next project was the collaborative EP 2 Kings with now-frequent collaborator Olamide, in April 2015. The EP received critical reviews with critics also highlighting the strategic importance of the project in redefining what “indigenous rap” was. A collaboration on this scale within the genre has not happened since. In a 2015 interview, Olamide said, “Phyno is a genius and he is my brother. He knows what he wants and he goes after it. We inspire each other.”
In 2016, Phyno released his second album The Playmaker and it was an instant hit. The album had producers like Major Bangz, Masterkraft, Tunex, Chris String, Kezyklef, Benjamz, Del’ B, and T-Spize. Artists featured on the project included P-Square, MI Abaga, Burna Boy, 2Baba, Flavour, Mr Eazi, Onyeka Onwenu, Olamide and Zoro. It was released under Phyno’s label Penthauze Music.
Phyno’s third album Deal With It was released in September 2019. The album was released with lead singles “The Bag,” “Agu” and ‘What I See’ featuring Duncan Mighty. Deal With It has been criticized for being too lengthy – it has 21 tracks. The project had producers like Kel P, Killertunes, Major Bankz, Yung Willis and Masterkraft and features Runtown, Falz, Falz, Davido, Phenom, Teni, Don Jazzy, Olamide and Zoro. Nunu and Rhatti, two upcoming acts Phyno signed in 2018 also make appearances on the project.
Over the years, Phyno has landed endorsement deals with Coca-Cola, Airtel, New Age and most recently TomTom. He has done multiple tours in Europe and North America, sold out stadiums in the East and won several awards. Today, Phyno is undoubtedly one of the most accomplished rappers of this generation and a befitting successor to the pioneers Mr Raw and the late MC Loph.
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