Before ‘AfrobeatS’, there was ‘Afropean music’: The story of JJC & 419 Squad as John the Baptist
Remembering the Johnny Just Come who was a John the Baptist in disguise, paving the path for others to come. A Johnny Walker with the little steps…
N.B. This is a series of tweets collated as a post, so pardon the slightly disjointed narrative.
A random conversation this morning reminded me that JJC/Skillz is quite a legend. Let’s go down memory lane to when men were men and boys were boys…
Kids of today probably know him only from We Are Africans or as the husband of actress Funke Akindele whose story we will visit another day. And in an age where certain musicians from 2011 downwards are seen as having (or claiming to have) championed/pioneered/engineered ‘Afrobeats’ - the fusion of sounds that is essentially an offshoot of Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat music, which was in turn inspired by highlife - it is important to give the man his due credit.
Back in 2003, the movie Dirty Pretty Things was released. Two Nigerians were involved, Chiwetel Ejiofor (in a lead role) and Sophie Okonedo. It was a movie about immigrants — Chiwetel was a Nigerian cab driver — produced by BBC Films, written by Steve Knight, one of the creators of the popular show, #WhoWantsToBeAMillionaire and it eventually earned an Oscar nomination.
But there was more Nigerian flavour within. One of the soundtracks was called Atide and written by a little-known Abdul Bello aka JJC (Johnny Just Come, the Nigerian slang for a naive person, a newcomer) or Skillz.
You see, the 90s belonged to reggae — The Mandators, Ras Kimono, Majek Fashek — then the Ajegunle galala dynasty. Baba Fryo, Danfo Drivers, Daddy Showkey. [Digression: Galala aka suo also had Nico Gravity (remember that Timaya diss song in 2009? — ‘I wan finish Timaya, I wan scatter Timaya’)
There was Junglists (‘We go flog politicians koboko, them too dey do us ojoro’) whose bandleader was Oritsefemi. The same Oritsefemi of Double Wahala. Galala crossed into the 2000s, but not reggae.
In the UK, another sound was loading. Kano-born JJC (Johnny Just Come) who migrated as a teenager, was spearheading it from South London.He was in-house producer for a S/London crew, Big Brovaz signed to Sony Music at a point. They even scored a Scooby Doo 2 soundtrack.
If you listen well, JJC gives a shoutout to Big Brovas in the middle of Atide. Even the hook was by Cherise, from same group.Then he formed another group called 419 Squad, named after the infamous 419 section of our constitution that we all know. They combined African and Caribbean rhythms with hiphop.
There were four members. JJC himself, S.O. Simple, Smokey & my personal favourite, MP.
JJC put artistes on the map, fam.
If you were in Nigeria between 2007–2009, you must have danced to Pasa Pasa and No Dull Yourself from MP (Masta Plan) He had the Osamo chant too. “Because of you, my heart dey go ding ding dong…” Clarence Peters Shot It.
According to MP, he met JJC at a house party in Kano in 1998 and they reunited in the UK in 2001 to do what JJC called ‘Afropean music’. 419 Squad even collaborated with the Maintain group (Olu Maintain & Tolu Maintain) on one song. Looking for A Wifey.
Tolu Maintain rapped: “Na JJC go carry me and Olu to the Queen… for Buckingham Palace. Can’t wait to see Mama Charlie.”
419 Squad had an album in 2003, re-released in Nigeria around 2005. Marketed by TJoe. 11 songs including Gbao. Featured D’banj & Kween.
On 10th March 2005, JJC & 419 Squad performed at Queen Elizabeth Hall, London with a live band. Peep who played keyboard — it was Don Jazzy
Apparently MP and Kas introduced D’banj and Don Jazzy to JJC in the early 2000s. It must have been around this time that D’banj recorded Mobolowon and was playing the harmonica so happily in the video. Those two later broke away to form MoHits. Not sure how true it is but I’ve heard he also mentored Sesan and Moe Musa, two of the most popular music video directors in Nigeria.
Circa 2003, JJC was playing music from across the African continent on shows he was hosting on BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 3. He was putting other artistes on the map.
In recent times (2011), he was pushing 2kriss (Dbanj later signed them) and Tipsy, that female Yoruba rapper.
JJC is a legend. An absolute legend. Put some respek on his name. End Of.