What does it mean to be a man? Surely, it’s not one thing. It’s a series of little moments that add up. Man Like is a weekly Zikoko series documenting these moments to see how it adds up. It’s a series for men by men, talking about men’s issues. We try to understand what it means to “be a man” from the perspective of the subject of the week.
In a time where social media drowns out stars faster than it creates them, Franklyn Ikemefune, popularly known as Vader the Wildcard isn’t fazed by how quickly online success can turn into a short 15 seconds of fame. Why? Well, he’s lived and continues to live many lives as a rapper, copywriter, tech enthusiast and now, content creator with his viral Twitter series, If An Agbero Had a Diary.
In this episode of Man Like, he talks about how becoming an adult changed his relationship with his father, creating an alter ego to make music Nigerians like and what he’ll do if everyone moves on from his skits.
When did it hit you that you were “a man”?
On January 26th, 2019, the morning my dad died.
I remember that day was my best friend’s birthday as well, so I had gone over to my friend’s place with the intention of leaving after his birthday. To keep my parents in the loop, I had called my dad and told him where I was and when I’d be back. I spoke to my dad and everything seemed fine, until I received a call the next morning that he was dead.
At the hospital, I wasn’t even given room to soak in the fact that my dad was gone before someone pulled me to the side to talk money for a mortuary, embalming, etc. I’d been not up to 15 minutes before all of this started — I hadn’t even seen the corpse. It was at that moment that I realised that omo, as my mum’s first child, I needed to step up.
So sorry man. That most have been a lot to take in.
Yeah. I was forced to take responsibility as the head of the home at just 25, but in a way, this helped me mature faster and put me at a mental level where I became able to navigate life better. Did I like that tragedy sparked this growth? No. But like we like to say in Nigeria, “It has happened.” I choose to focus on the fact that it made me stronger.
What was your relationship with your dad before he passed?
Our relationship went beyond father and son. That man was my best friend. The first time I got tipsy, he was the one I drank with. LOL. Growing up, I didn’t really get him because he was very strict and would change it for me and my siblings all the time. But as I got older, I started to gain some perspective, and we got closer. He would call me to report anyone that upset him and my family would talk to me to get through to him.
The circumstances behind his death also made it hard for me to accept the fact that he was gone. He wasn’t ill or anything. I spoke to him, and the next day he died of a heart attack.
I’m sorry. Becoming an adult, how did you get to see from his point of view?
As a child, he used to get mad at me for going out to play football, and I thought he was doing too much. I knew the area I grew up in Ibadan was rough, but if boys my age were doing drugs and joining gangs, football wasn’t a big deal. I was also a straight-A student, so I just thought he was wicked. In adulthood, I realised his problem wasn’t football; he was protecting me from the people I played with. He didn’t want me to get mixed up with rough guys and lose sight of the goal, which was to leave the trenches.
I’m glad I realised this early so I could finally build a relationship with him way before he died. I’m also grateful that he was strict and insistent because I wonder what the trajectory my life would’ve taken if he wasn’t that way. The football I was on about at the time, I don’t even play it anymore.
But do you have regrets about not going after football?
I mean I was so good I got into the Pepsi Academy, but no regrets whatsoever. As a child, I was good at a lot of things from dancing to singing and drumming. I didn’t have to pursue all those things as careers. Plus, If the burning desire for football was there, I would’ve gone after it just like I quit my job to pursue music and content creation. I don’t think I would’ve quit my job for football.
Hold up—you quit your job?
I never had a career plan that was set in stone, and it used to bother me because most of my peers knew what they wanted to do. I just knew I wanted to be wealthy sha. After university, I got a job with an engineering company but left after two years because I was exhausted.
Once again, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do — I knew it had to be something creative. Hennessy Vs. Class came along. I had gained street cred in university for being the best rapper on campus, so I thought, why not? I went in and won. Winning that competition allowed me to see rapping as something I could do commercially, and thankfully, my win had given my parents the confirmation they needed that this might just work for me. I started dropping music, but trust me, it wasn’t easy.
As an independent artist, I needed money to push my music, and I didn’t have enough. After a couple of months, I finished my savings chasing music. I needed to settle DJs, radio stations, etc.
I started looking at other streams of income exploring branding, content creation and public relations. Also, during that period in 2018, my friends started talking about start-ups, building things and funding, so I got on board with that as well. It was easy to merge all these things because I was working with my friends on all of these projects.
So you didn’t quit music?
I didn’t. I sat and reevaluated my music career. I needed to understand the Nigerian market for rap. While hardcore rap had an audience, the audience that came with making commercial rap was bigger. I decided to study rappers like Falz and find a way to merge commerciality with the sound I already had without losing the essence of who I am as an artist.
How did you approach this?
Everyone knew me as the rapper, Vader the Wildcard, so I created another alter ego, Mr Wildcard. I started making music with funny content as Mr Wildcard, and people started gravitating towards it. The thing is, this alter ego is a part of who I am, always was, but because I was doing hard guy up and down with Vader, I couldn’t allow people to access my funny side. My friends and people close to me know that I’m always goofing around and cracking jokes, so it was nothing new.
Interesting. Which do you enjoy more: Vader or Mr Wildcard?
Both personalities are parts of who I am. When I’m Vader, I’m confrontational and anyone can get it, but as Mr Wildcard, I just want to have a good time. I’m a lyrical beast, but I’m also the guy that doesn’t have sense.
LOL. So how did If An Agbero Had a Diary start?
The thing is, I had been making funny skits going back to 2017, but then the music came and I thought people wouldn’t take me seriously if I was a rapper making skits. But in 2021, working with my friends Ajibola Grey and Oli Ekun on their skits pressured me to try my hands at it again. I wasn’t even on TikTok at the time, so I had to start from scratch. I also had to figure out the content I’d put out. Brainstorming content ideas, I thought back to the area boys I’d grown up with in Ibadan and that’s when it hit me to base my characters on these guys.
My initial plan was to make one episode and then try out different ideas until something stuck. I dropped the first episode of If An Agbero Had a Diary and people started demanding more. Funny story: during the African Cup of Nations, I had made skits for my character; one for if Nigeria beat Tunisia and the other for if we lost. The second option was the funniest, so even though I was patriotic, a part of me wanted to put out the funnier one. Nigeria lost and that video, like I predicted, became viral and sort of solidified my series as a major thing online. It was a madness.
So you’re an opp? Good to know.
I wonder if you feel pressured to top yourself?
Not external pressure, no. Comedy has always been a constant for me, so if people stop fucking with If An Agbero Had a Diary today, I’ll come up with something else. I’m doing this because I enjoy comedy. I’m not saying, “Oh, I’m a brand now.”
But you’re a brand though?
Business-wise, yes. But as a creative, I’m still hungry for more. I don’t even think I’ve scratched the surface of all I could be. There’s still this burning desire to be better, and to prove to myself that I’m hilarious AF. There are days when I think of something or write a joke down, and I crack myself up. I never want to lose sight of that because as long as I can make myself laugh, there’s no way other people won’t laugh at my jokes.
You mention that if this fails, you’d come up with something else?
I’ll be fine. I’ll go back to the drawing board and look for something else I can try. In my journey, I hold on to the days I had little or no engagement and it’s a reality check to remind me that I was all right then, so if it goes back to that, I’d be fine still.
You’ve been famous before as a rapper and now you’re blowing up as a comic. Which fame-level shocked you the most?
The fame that comes with being a rapper cannot be compared to the fame that comes with making viral videos that rack up millions of views. I’ve been doing these skits for a little over a month now, and it’s been wilder than my rap fame. I remember I recently went to a restaurant to get food, and while I was on my phone waiting, I got a Twitter notification. Someone had posted a picture of me sitting in that restaurant pressing my phone. I tried to find the person, but I couldn’t.
I went to Abeokuta recently and there was a line of people waiting to take pictures with me. I didn’t believe they had all seen my skits until they started mentioning characters. It’s all surreal to me. I’m seeing the impact of what I’m putting out, and it’s only going to get bigger.
Nice. So what’s next?
I’m launching my production company soon, and we’ll focus solely on creating comedy content. These agbero characters are just a few of many floating around in my head. There’s so much for me to explore from music to filmmaking. All I needed was a platform and now I have one.