DJ Neptune is appropriately one of the largest celestial bodies in the Nigerian music solar system. He’s been around multiple epochs in a country that has seen much evolution, and carries planetary gravity that pulls superstars past and present into his orbit. An award winning disc jockey, and hailed as “Nigeria’s answer to DJ Khaled”, DJ Neptune has had his fair share of accolades. Whether it’s his breakout hip hop collaboration with M.I, Naeto C, and Dagrin back in 2015 or the more recent “Nobody” with Joeboy and Mr Eazi which was Nigeria’s #1 single in 2020, DJ Neptune has an ear for success.
“I’ve been in the industry for two decades now. I started very early and I’ve seen some stellar artists come, I’ve seen some not make it. I’ve seen other emerging generations come and some didn’t really make it that long and now this new generation. You know what they say, ‘You can’t buy experience. You must earn it.’”
Though it wasn’t always that way. Even stardust has an origin story.
Birth of a DJ
“I always wanted to be an entertainer.” says Imohiosen Patrick aka DJ Neptune during our call. “Music for me started as a kid. When I was growing up I always loved to listen to music and play the drums when I would go to church.” However it was on the eve of the 21st Century that DJ Neptune found his true calling. “All of this started in 1999 when I had the opportunity to attend a friend’s house party. That was when I had an encounter with a DJ for the first time. I saw this guy behind two decks. They were huge because then it was strictly turntables. He was flipping his hands and all that just felt like my dream.”
DJing in those days wasn’t the star symbol that it is today. “I would go to parties and basically play for free just to get people to understand. Because DJs back then nobody really got it. People thought it was just a bunch of dropouts who didn’t know what to do with their lives.” Luckily, DJ Neptune had some help along the way. “Shout out to DJ Douglas who helped me get started,” Neptune says, speaking about his come up. “I didn’t have money to buy my own equipment. Equipment was mad expensive back then. I kinda already had an idea of what it was to be a DJ… good knowledge of music, understanding the different tempos, the BPM, and all that. I just needed someone to put me through the technical part of it. And that’s what DJ Douglas gave me.”
There was also inspiration. Neptune remembers looking up to DJ Jimmy Jatt who was an early day maverick for Nigerian hip hop. “DJ Jimmy Jatt who is like one of the pioneers in terms of Djing in Nigeria and Africa. He’s one of them guys that when everyone didn’t understand what it was to be a DJ he was pushing hard, pushing the narrative to where the game has gotten too.”
The power of names
Every great DJ also needs a name. That’s something a mentor can’t give you. However, like much of DJ Neptune’s celestial mechanics, things follow the unwritten flow of the cosmos. “I was already a DJ, I wanted a name that would stand out. I tried messing around with different names that was related to my name because my name is Patrick so I tried DJ P Mix, DJ Master P Boy, it just wasn’t sitting well.” Then, providence, “while all that was happening, I was always playing a particular record when doing my set. It’s a song by Busta Rhymes that was produced by the Neptunes, Pharrell and his band. There’s a part on the record where Busta Rhymes gives the Neptunes a shoutout so I just grabbed that part of the record to do my spin, double record scratch. I didn’t know that people already figured out that when this DJ is at a party, there’s a tendency that that’s gonna happen. And then, luckily for me, some guys who were at my previous parties saw me and they were excited like, ‘Oh man this party is gonna be lit, this Neptune guy is here again!’”
The rest is history. “Luckily, for me, that worked. I just took off the ’s’ and that’s how I came up with DJ Neptune. And now the name just goes with the flow, everything, trying to work hard with this beat, that DJ that you could throw in front of any crowd at any festival and know for a fact he can deliver.”
Riding the Nigerian airwaves
Fast forward a few years and DJ Neptune found himself in the hot seat of Nigeria’s premier radio station Ray Power FM. “Ray Power FM was the biggest station in Nigeria back then,” DJ Neptune explains, “Literally everyone around the country was plugged into what was being broadcasted out of Lagos State.” This put DJ Neptune in the precarious position of gatekeeper, deciding who to make and break on a daily basis. “It was crazy, a lot of people would try to be a friend.” Though this never went to his head as the center of gravity always remained a love and respect for music, “For me it was all about good music. If your music was good, I would definitely jam it. Because playing good music makes my job easy.”
Easy or not, it wasn’t long before DJ Neptune was wanting more. Maybe it’s his admiration of the infamous DJ Khaled, or maybe it’s the pull of passion, but Neptune soon capitalized on his status as Nigeria’s musical voice to branch out into new DJ arenas. “Gradually I started building my career. Naeto C, who was a rapper in Nigeria, signed me up to be his official DJ in 2008,” he explains. “I got to travel around the world. Africa, Europe, UK, North America, and I did that for a couple of time. Then 2010 I started releasing my own music. I told myself, ‘Okay, there’s always been that music side of you, now as a DJ there are different ways to win.’”
The first big win came in strong. Fittingly, it was hip hop that shot DJ Neptune into the stratosphere. “My first official single was with M.I. M.I is also a rapper from Nigeria. Then, a year after, we did a remix that had Naeto C in it, and another rapper called Dagrin. Dagrin is late now, passed on a few months after we recorded the track, and that went on to be like one of the biggest hip hop collaborations in Nigerian history.”
The stars align
After that all doors were open and Neptune could begin the steady work of releasing his own mixtapes, music, and albums. “I never really wanted to be seen as that DJ from Nigeria, or that African DJ. I want to be seen as a global DJ,” Neptune says. So DJ Neptune began dipping into genres outside of hip hop that would break him into new markets and new ears, “I needed to connect with the world, and in connecting with the world I need to understand what the world wants to listen to.”
“I remember the first time I made an EDM mix. And from the back end I was seeing people listening from different parts of Europe,” he recounts. “I remember going to Trinidad and Tobago in 2013, and then I came back home and I made a full Calypso mix for stream and download and the feedback was amazing.”
Then comes Greatness in 2018 and the guest-list is an Oceans 11 of Nigerian music. M.I, Mayorkun, Kizz Daniels, Olamide, Patoranking, Mr Eazi, Davido, Niniola, Yemi Alade, Burna Boy… the list keeps going. The project was sure to be a hit, racking up millions of streams and cementing DJ Neptune in a new class of global super-producers.
Brining the allstars together takes talent, but it also takes rock solid professionalism.
“It’s just about how I built my brand to where I am now and how people realising that this guy is not just a disc jockey he’s not just a radio DJ or a DJ that can kill any sort of event, he understands music,” DJ Neptune explains. “I feel over the years in my career I’m a very principled person. My yes is yes, my no is no. I’m very respectful as well. I don’t look for trouble. If I see trouble coming, I’m off. I’m professional with my job,” DJ Neptune says about what it takes to bring artists together on a single project.
“I like to take my time when I’m collaborating with artists. Like if I want this collaboration, if it’s gonna take me two years, no problem I’ll wait for it, I’m just gonna get it done. For me it’s about the end result. It’s not just about putting out music. I wanna put out music that will stand the test of time. Music that in the next 5-10 years people are still rocking to it and they still feel good. That’s the type of music I want to make.“
The commitment to music is a thread that runs throughout DJ Neptune’s story. The music’s durability and worth has also been proven over time, with people often writing or Tweeting to announce the rediscovery of an old mixtape that still slaps, or a throwback hip hop single that is as relevant today as ever. In a word, DJ Neptune is looking for classics.
Ambitions continue to grow for DJ Neptune on the eve of the release of Greatness 2.0, another star studded adventure, this time widening the regional scope across Africa.
“I was very strategic with the collaborations,” he says, “I wanna bring everybody on board my journey as being that DJ from Africa who is going to sell out shows all around the world.”
This project clocks in at 27 features, some names familiar and some new. Mr Eazi, Yemi Alade, and Patoranking are among those back for another taste of greatness. However, this project has gone further to include new collaborators, notably South African amapiano mainstay Focalistic. A sign that DJ Neptune isn’t immune to the amapiano contagion sweeping across the continent and the world.
“The log drums, the rolls the breaks. That crazy log drum that comes on the dancefloor and the kick drop that kickstarts the party again. Amapiano is a vibe.” Speaking of his time with Focalistic in his studio in Nigeria, DJ Neptune had this to say: “we were playing beats and he kept on telling us, ‘yeah this amapiano is good, but back home in South Africa it’s not really the type of amapiano that my people would rock to. This would work on this side of the world.’ Until we got into this beat, then Focalistic said, ‘this is the type of amapiano my people would love.’” The result is a darker, edgier amapiano that comes through on “Hustle”.
This isn’t the only pulse DJ Neptune is measuring, “There’s the amapiano vibe for the South African audience, there’s ‘Gaza’ for the Ghana dancehall audience, there’s ‘Cash’ for the drill Kumerica market, and then there’s afrobeats for the afrobeats audience. And I also had my brother (Harmonize) from Tanzania on ‘My Woman’ for the East African market.”
In short, there’s something for everyone, whether it’s Mr Eazi’s love ballad on “Do and Undo” or the hip hop rewind on “Rise Up” with Laycon, Waje, and Ladipoe.
3.0, 4.0, ad infinitum
There’s no end in sight to greatness. DJ Neptune assures us that there’s more to come in the form of music videos, remixes, singles, mixtapes, parties and more. At this point it’s business as usual. But business aside, there remains an ethos to DJ Neptune’s vision, a guiding star:
“If you listen to the content we’re saying, irrespective of what you’re going through in life, always believe you’re gonna rise up again. There’s always gonna be light at the end of the tunnel. So just a track to motivate people and make them understand that when there’s life there’s hope. You just have to keep pushing until you rise up again.”
Here’s to a long reign of greatness, as we continue to look into the sky to find Neptune burning bright.
Listen to DJ Neptune in our One Dance playlist on Spotify.
Greatness 2.0, out now via emPawa.