DRB LasGidi: “Altê’s not a genre, it’s not a type of music, it’s just being different.”
Teezee, Fresh L and Boj's debut album Pioneers is a crowning moment for Nigeria‘s altê movement.
DRB LasGidi are the originators of Nigeria’s rapidly expanding altê scene. “It’s not a genre, it’s not a type of music,” Teezee explains over Zoom. “It’s just being different. Just doing things outside of the box that hadn’t really been done [before] in mainstream culture.” The three-man group – school friends Teezee, Fresh L and Boj – began throwing parties and releasing music that blended Afrobeats, trap and R&B to Afro-house and Afro-folk over 10 years ago.
Now, in 2020, they’re ready to release their debut album Pioneers. It’s a crowning moment for the altê movement, which has prided itself on creative freedom and a tumbling of genre barriers within Nigeria’s music scene.
The Pioneers tracklist features a number of Nigerian new gen artists like Santi, Lady Donli and Tems, while the four-minute film that accompanies the album stars heavyweights like Davido and Skepta, who big up DRB for their decade-long contribution to the scene.
There’s a common thread: each artist has embraced individuality as their mantra.
“It’s really about creative freedom and being able to experiment,” Teezee says of the album, “and getting people out of the idea that all the music that comes out of Nigeria – whether its Afrobeats or Afropop – has to sound [a certain way]. All those sounds have always organically been the DRB vibe. We’re three very different individuals, we’re into different things. But when we come together, we’re able to put those things into one thing to create a strong body of work.”
As a trio, their roots extend beyond music. Boj and Fresh L have known each other since nursery – they linked up with Teezee when the three of them were sent to England for secondary school. They left as good friends who formed the early foundations for what would become the altê scene in Lagos long before they began releasing music.
Teezee co-founded the Nigerian culture magazine The Native and DRB have been relentless with promoting the Lagos scene, whether it’s connecting talent with brands or throwing parties. “We were doing solo shows,” says Boj, “that wasn’t a thing in Lagos. Just the tier one artists used to do shows. A lot of people didn’t know us but they would see a thousand kids pulling up to a show, and they would be like ‘who are these selling tickets?’”
“We just stayed on it,” he continues, “the best parties, the best beach parties, whatever it is we like to stay one step ahead. And staying [up to date] with the young people ‘in the country’, knowing what the people care about – that’s how the greats survive.”
In recent years, the Lagos scene has built bridges with Britain’s large second and first generation diasporic community, one that’s embraced Nigerian stars so much so that artists like Wizkid and Burna Boy can play London’s The 02 arena, while Peckham-born Face cover star Naira Marley’s Brixton Academy show led to major overcrowding outside the venue.
On a more low-key level, DRB have been strengthening this cultural bond, and their relationship with Skepta led to the 2018 collab Like To Party. The Skepta collaboration points to a wider evolution within Nigerian music and culture. DRB are from a generation of musicians, sports stars and entertainers, born both in the country and abroad, who have coalesced to display Nigerian culture and identity on the world stage. They mention UFC Middleweight champion Israel Adesanya, born in Nigeria and raised in New Zealand, for wearing his culture with pride in every fight.
Elsewhere, the tones of Fela Kuti echoed through the Saudi Arabian desert when Anthony Joshua made his ring walk for his rematch with Andy Ruiz Jr last December. This sense of national pride is felt throughout Pioneers. On Based On, Teezee raps: “They used to laugh at my green passport, now they scream Naija free the wash,” a reference to the scornful days that preempted the prominent Nigerians of today washing the world in green-white-green.
“We’ve always repped being from Naij,” Teezee says, “When we were in the UK, when Afrobeats wasn’t as cool, we always wore the Nigeria kit, we wore Dashiki to the club, we wore traditional attire to black tie events. There’s something about Nigerians that is just relentless.”
Pioneers is released on 1st May