My Bro is a biweekly Zikoko series that interrogates and celebrates male friendships of different forms.
Dubem and Felix have been friends for over 20 years, even though they didn’t speak to each other for almost a decade. In this episode of #ZikokoMyBro, they talk about starting a rap group as teenagers, falling for the same girl in university and the tragic loss that reunited them again in 2020.
Let’s start from the very beginning. How did you guys meet?
Dubem: We attended the same secondary school back in 1997. Felix was my older brother’s school son. It was a boarding school, my first time away from home, and my brother introduced us because he wanted someone to look out for me.
Felix: You were supposed to be my school son even though I was in JSS 2. But I knew you’d give me plenty wahala from the moment we met.
What were your first impressions of each other?
Dubem: Felix was a busybody. I come from a strict home, so being in boarding school was my first taste of freedom. I was among the most popular boys in JSS 1, skipping class and attending every social night. However, Felix was always there to tattletale on visiting days. He’d come over to my family and play the tape of all I’d been doing. I couldn’t stand him.
Felix: I thought he was a spoiled brat. I come from a family where we didn’t have much, so I understood responsibility early on. He was wasting his time gallivanting around instead of focusing on school. In hindsight, that freedom to be himself away from home must’ve been an enormous relief. I admit that I took my school father thing a little too seriously.
It wasn’t until I got into SS 1 that we finally connected and became friends.
How did you guys connect?
Felix: Rap music.
Felix: Yes, rap music o. This was the 1990s, and rap music was the biggest thing. Everyone thought they could be MCs, and I used to write bars and freestyle in private.
Dubem: I didn’t think he was cool until I heard him rapping DMX’s Get at Me Dog one day. I’ll never forget because DMX had just dropped Its Dark and Hell is Hot, and I was still learning his flow. This guy already knew everything word for word. I told him I was a DMX fan, and we started talking about rap.
Felix: I was shocked. I thought he’d be into the white pop music stuff, but this boy knew his shit when it came to rap, talking about Big Pun, Busta, Ice Cube and Dr Dre. We got so deep into the conversation that I did something I’d never done with anyone before, I shared some of my rap songs with him.
Dubem: I was blown away by how personal and tight they were. I gave him some of my mediocre bars, and we decided to start a rap group that day. We called ourselves Redemption Crew.
Like Rihanna fans say every day, “Where is the album?”
Felix: We didn’t put one out. Now that I think about it, our name sounds like that of a hip Pentecostal church choir. But it was hot back then, sha. We really thought we’d become big-time rappers.
Dubem: It’s not too late. We can resign and chase our dreams. Abi, what do you think?
Felix: That’s a hard pass for me, please. LOL.
So what happened to the Redemption Crew?
Dubem: We both went to UNILAG, fell in love with the same girl and everything scattered.
Back up. It’s a lie.
Felix: Unfortunately for all our potential fans, he’s telling the truth. We had a few popular songs in secondary school because we kept performing at social nights and parties. I eventually left for UNILAG in 2002, and Dubem came in a year later. University was different. The stakes were higher, and school was intense. Despite this, we still worked on the low and had plans to chase the rap thing once we were done.
Dubem: That was until I met Ebele. My first girlfriend in university and the first girl I ever loved. She was in her first year, just like me, and we had an elective course together. It was love at first sight for me, but it took a lot of convincing to get her to go out with me. We started dating, and my life was perfect.
Felix: I met Ebele through Dubem and didn’t think too much of her. They shared an elective, but she was in my department, so I saw her more often. We only started talking because of Dubem, and it was surface-level. However, when they started having problems, she came to me, and the conversations changed.
Dubem: Our problems started about a year into our relationship. I got involved with some weird guys and started struggling with school work. Instead of finding a solution, I took it out on her by being distant. I’d stay with these guys and disappear for weeks. It was my fault. I was also distant from Felix. I pushed you guys towards each other.
Felix: My friendship with Ebele started from our mutual complaints about Dubem. It helped that we both had someone to share the stress this man was putting us through. He eventually got his shit together, but it was too late because she was over it. I’m his friend, so I was still there.
Felix, how did your relationship with Ebele become romantic?
Felix: It started in 2005 when I was in my final year, and almost two years after they were together. Ebele and I had gotten closer, but I didn’t even know how much I liked her until she kissed me while I was tutoring her. We both felt guilty about that kiss, but our feelings had become undeniable. I couldn’t lie to myself or my friend. Dubem had to know.
Dubem: I knew about their friendship and thought it was cool, but kissing? I lost my shit when he told me. He didn’t date anyone all the time he was in school, and now that he finally decided to see someone, he chose my ex? I was livid. I started replaying scenarios in my head. Had he been playing me from the start? Did he always want my babe?
Felix: I explained how our feelings grew as best as I could, and just sat there and let him have a go at me. I deserved it. What I’d done was horrible, but I was tired of running away from how I felt.
How did you guys figure it out?
Dubem: I stopped talking to both of them. I couldn’t handle it, and I didn’t owe it to them to pretend that I was okay with it. I’d lost my best friend and a girl that was special to me, all at the same time. It was hard. And then I heard Felix moved abroad, which sealed it for me. We were done. RIP Redemption Crew.
Felix: Lagos, scratch that; Nigeria, wasn’t big enough for us after what I did. I felt so embarrassed. I’d become that guy who breaks bro code and gets with his friend’s ex. I had to move far away from those who knew us, so I pursued my master’s in America. Ebele came to join me, and we got married in 2008.
Dubem: I heard about their wedding from his cousin, which reopened the wound. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to be in the same room with him again. We didn’t see or talk again for 13 years until I got a call from Ebele after the lockdown in 2020.
What was the call about?
Dubem: She called to tell me that they’d lost their son in the height of the pandemic, my friend was a wreck, and they were moving back to Nigeria. I was shocked when I realised who I was speaking to. The Ebele I knew was soft-spoken, but this Ebele was direct and uncompromising. She didn’t beg me to show up for my friend; she told me to.
Felix: That’s Ebele for you. She’s always in control. But yes, that loss took me to a dark place. I had built a life in Texas, but I knew it was time to come back to the life I knew here. Losing my son in a place where my support system was shallow changed my perspective on coming home. I knew it was time, but I immediately started feeling anxious about Dubem, and I think my wife sensed that.
She eventually told me she’d spoken to him and set up a meeting for when we returned to Lagos.
How did this meeting go?
Dubem: I’m not ashamed to say there was a lot of crying. I’m a dad too, so I could connect to what they were both going through. These two people still matter to me regardless of what happened in university. Seeing Felix like that, I wanted to be there for him.
Felix: I was sweating a lot the day he came over to our place. Seeing him again brought back all the memories of writing lyrics in our notebooks and planning our lives together. It felt like I was in boarding school again. I didn’t know how much I’d missed him until I saw him.
Regardless of how I felt, I knew it was important to talk about what happened if we were going to move on from it.
Dubem: I think he wanted to be sure I wouldn’t randomly stab him one day . LOL. The talk was necessary sha. He apologised again and spoke for hours. But honestly, I’d moved on. I loved Ebele, but we were never meant to be, and that’s fine. I’m married to the love of my life. I’ve never been happier.
So how’s your relationship now?
Felix: We’re in a great place. We were intentional about not rushing into anything or overwhelming each other. We had the occasional family Sunday dinners and slowly graduated to hanging out alone and doing things together. I was scared we wouldn’t have anything to say to each other when we were alone, but we still had much in common. And most importantly, we still love each other.
Dubem: We always have something to talk about, Felix. We’re still the same guys who loved DMX in school, it’s just that you have some grey hairs, which makes you old, and you also think Pusha T is a better rapper than Kendrick Lamar.
Felix: But he is.
Dubem: I think that’s what our kids call a red flag.
With so much history between you two, would you change anything about your friendship?
Dubem: The time we spent apart. I wish we’d spent it getting to know each other better as we got older. We were apart for most of our 30s, and that’s time we’ll never get back again.
Felix: True. I would’ve loved to meet Dubem, the first-time dad.
Dubem: No, please. That was a crazy time. That girl wouldn’t stop crying and shouting everywhere we went. I always looked like a madman.
Here’s a link
What’s something you’ve always wanted to tell the other person?
Dubem: I know a part of you still carries some guilt because of what happened in school, but I want you to know that I forgive you. I meant it when I said it in 2020, and I mean it now. I’m so happy to have you back in my life. I can see us in our 80s arguing about rap music over glasses of scotch. You’re my man, and I’ll always have your back.
Felix: Thank you, Dubby. You’ve made moving back home such a seamless process; there’s no way it would’ve worked without you. I love you, and I’m so proud of the man you’ve become. Your authenticity has been consistent since the day we met, and it’s one of the few things I can always count on, no matter what.
No, I’m not crying.
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