The Wrap Up: You come from a very wealthy background (Cuppy’s dad is a billionaire). Why did you start working at a young age?
Cuppy: I believe it’s important to have education behind you and also have a career path. Ever since I was younger, I was always the person behind the scenes in plays. I think I’ve always had a more creative approach to things than a normal one-sided one. Growing up in Nigeria then moving to London was quite a change for me and music was a big part of getting me through that. I remember feeling homesick at 12 years old so I’d listen to Nigerian music to make me feel like I was home. Music is so powerful and that was definitely my escape. Being a teenager, you have a lot of different experiences and I used songs to identify with what I was going through.
TWU: How did you start building the Cuppy brand?
C: I’ve always seen the brand as different facades. There’s Cuppy the DJ, Cuppy the student and the academic and there’s also Cuppy the entrepreneur. As much as I like to take a step away from my dad, I’ve definitely been inspired by him. I took that ambition of my dad growing his own business and put it to growing my own. I started my management company Red Velvet Music group in 2013 and I had actually started it a year before that but had to wait, as you have to be 18 to actually register it. I’ve always learned to not put all my eggs in one basket.
TWU: Why are you doing another degree?
C: I’m one of those weird people; I think that school is cool. I actually think that the reason my career has been able to develop the way that it has is because I’m disciplined which I learned from being in school. All my life I’ve had deadlines, learning how to prioritise. I don’t think it’s about the academic it’s about the discipline and the structure of your life. You learn that you get what you put in so I’ve taken those things and applied them to my own life.
TWU: Having lived in London and the U.S, you’re quite westernised. How do you deal with the cultural differences?
C: Growing up in a Nigerian household, there are certain expectations but I think that everybody has a calling. I think that God planted a healthy rebellious spirit in me and I think African women in general can say you know what? We can follow our dreams, have ambitions and at the same time have a balanced lifestyle, be happy, be healthy and be God fearing and also make some money. Another thing culturally that maybe a challenge for me is coming from Nigeria, our parents sometimes don’t support us in the way that we need which can deter us from chasing our dreams. It’s important for African parents to understand that everyone needs that room to figure out what their calling is. Being a DJ may not have worked for me but my parents at least gave me a chance.
TWU: What have been the most memorable moments of your career so far?
C: My most memorable moment is DJing at the MTV Africa Awards. It was at a time in my career where I was really plunging into djing and to have MTV give me that opportunity; a young 19 year old female DJ? That was just ground breaking. Some of the other places I’ve been lucky enough to DJ are Greece, Dubai, Mexico and Jamaica. We went to eight countries in Africa on the Cuppy takes Africa tour and I think I have one of the best jobs in the world. I get to travel, interact with people and have a good time celebrating. That’s the beauty of djing. Everyone can look back to nights they’ve been out and the music has been so good, it’s lifted their spirits and made them forget their troubles and that’s the power of music. To be able to control that is just epic.
TWU: Why was charity work a priority during your travels?
C: It’s so important to give back and I think that what goes around, comes around. I feel like the reason I’m able to position myself where I am now is because someone gave me a chance and it’s my responsibility to do that as well. Part of my tour is really exposing my brand and discovering new sound but the more important part of it was making sure that I left some impact and planted seeds in young people, inspiring them through my own story and touching communities.
TWU: What advice would you give young girls?
C: It’s important that young women know that they have to do things for the right reasons. My word for that would be justification. Why are you embarking on this journey? Why are you doing this job? Is it fulfilling you? Are you doing it because you think it’s the right thing to do or is that what people are saying you should do? I find that when you do what you love, you become good at it!
TWU: What can we expect to see on your reality show?
C: Cuppy Takes Africa is the TV show. No one’s really showcased Africa in that light. Being African, living in America, I’m very concerned about the perception of the continent. All I ever see is sad scenes, very highly manipulated in ways that will only show suffering and darker days. It’s amazing to take a crew, go on tour and really showcase Africa. Some of the most memorable countries were Tanzania, Senegal…shout out to DJ Dollar! South Africa and Kenya. Rwanda and Uganda were new to me so it’s great to discover the continent and show that Cuppy’s on a mission!
TWU: How has it been working with Charlamagne?
C: Charlamagne is just amazing. He’s really like a big brother to me, supportive and obviously absolutely hilarious. I met Charlamagne at Roc Nation where I intern. Charlamagne has such an ambition to challenge himself. He didn’t know much about Nigeria and was so curious about it. He’s done a great job in being honest with people, maybe too honest but it’s amazing just having that genuine atmosphere so he started a show with MTV called Uncommon sense and I’m the resident DJ!
TWU: Fusing Afro beats with house music is a sound you created?
C: I call it Neo Afro beats, which was birthed by me growing up in Nigeria but moving to the UK at a young age. I wanted to experiment with my two different sounds. As a DJ, I noticed that it was difficult for me to just drop Afro beats records here in the UK and in the US. I felt like there needed to be a medium that people could identify with more and slowly ease them in so I decided to house mix some of my favourite Afro beat records. After Cuppy 1, I had songs from Wizkid to Tiwa Savage. It was such a successful project especially back home that I was able to do it again.
TWU: How did it feel to be featured on Forbes?
C: It was an amazing article looking at African children of businessmen that were really building their own path. I did a feature and an exclusive interview with Forbes Women Africa and last year I was also featured in Forbes U.S. It’s amazing to be recognised as an Entrepreneur by Forbes, I mean that’s exciting.
TWU: What can we expect from you in 2016?
C: It’s important for me to continue to fulfil myself through my journey. I love the idea of uncertainty because you never know. The music industry is ever changing! There’s a level of instability that is kind of exciting but most importantly, I hope that I make a difference. I’m still on an experimental path but I want to make sure that somewhere, there’s a young girl I’m inspiring through my story. You know, someone that feels they can go outside of their comfort zone because of what I’m doing. It’s definitely a challenging environment. You have to be self-assured, take risks and be strong so I hope that I continue getting better and making everyone around me proud.
Words: Fanta Jarjussey
Online Edit: Ra'ed Khan