Skales might be one of Afropop’s most enduring figures, but not many people know the Booty Language singer started as a gospel singer. While he may have popped up on our radars as the smooth-talking rap scene-stealer during Banky W’s Empire Mates Entertainment’s golden era, Skales grew up with a mum who sold Ron Kenolly and Don Moen cassettes from her shop in Kaduna.
“The first non-gospel song that got my attention was Aaliyah’s Try Again,” Skales tells me during our interview. “Because of the chorus, I could pass it off as a gospel song. It inspired me to want to write my own songs.”
Over the years, Skales, born Raoul John Njeng-Njeng, has written many hits, from Shake Body and Selese, to Temper and N2s (Nobody to Somebody). With each song, Skales has shown he’s not afraid to try new sounds, even though he says he sometimes struggles with sharing them with the world.
But now, Skales is back with a remix to his hit song, Say You Bad (with 1Da Banton) and the deluxe version of his album, Sweet Distractions on the way.
I caught up with Skales for an interesting conversation about his discography. This man has come a long way from sampling John 3:16 on the first song he wrote as a child.
First song you wrote
Wow! I can’t really remember the title or verse, but I know it had something like, “For God so loved the world,” because I sampled John 3:16.
I used to listen to a lot of gospel music growing up, so it just made sense for my first attempt at music to be something gospel-related.
The song that took the longest to make
It has to be Shake Body. I was trying out a new sound, so I was unsure of the song. I think I recorded a different chorus and about six verses before deciding on the one that went out. Even when the song was done, I was too shy to play it for anyone else because this sound was all so new to me.
The song you wish more people listened to
I’ll say I Dey Miss You from the Sweet Distractions album which came out in February. I made the song for my wife when we were still dating and going through this period where I felt her pulling away from me. This artist, Imanse, had brought I Dey Miss You to me for a guest feature, but after I recorded it, I knew I wanted to put out my own version because I connected to it on a deeper level. I just wanted my girl to know I missed her.
It’s one song that, when I was done, I felt really proud of myself because of how beautiful it turned out to be.
Your surprise hit song
There are two songs, Shaku Shaku and the original version of Temper. I was so shy after recording Shaku Shaku that I gave it to DJ Prince and became the featured artist. I did so because I thought, bad as e bad, if people don’t like it, na feature dem feature me. LOL.
While the remix of Temper with Burna Boy is more popular in Nigeria, the original version has more global streams than the remix. I’m still shocked because I expected the remix to be a bigger streaming hit.
Hardest feature to get
I can’t think of one. It’s all vibes, and I have a mobile studio in my car, so when I’m vibing with another artist randomly, I’m like, “Let’s make this jam.” For example, This Your Song with Davido happened because I played him the beat backstage at a show where we were booked to perform.
I did the same thing with Wande Coal for Make Love in the Morning. We were on a jet to Yola for a show, and I was like, “Yo, man, let’s make a song.” I set up something with my studio engineer on that flight, and Wande freestyled his part while we were up in the air.
The song you’d recommend to someone trying to get into Skales’ music
I’d play Booty Language with Sarkodie. The story behind the song is pretty random because I was hanging out with some of my friends, and I asked this chick with a big bum, “How do you say booty in your language?”
Krisbeatz, the producer, was there, and we joked about making a song using that line. The next thing I knew, he sent over a beat, and I drove all the way from Lekki to Gbagada that day to record the song. I laugh every time I think about the origin of that song.
By the way, Sarkodie got featured on the song by chance. We were in opposite rooms in the same hotel during the One Africa concert in London, and he heard me playing the song. He liked it, recorded a verse and sent it the next day. I’d already shot the video, but I had to do a new one with him last minute.
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Speaking of “How do you say booty in your language?” What’s the wildest lyric you’ve come up with?
Emergency with Patoranking and Runtown. And it’s not even a line; it’s the whole verse. I was drunk when I recorded it and didn’t hear the song again until it was time to shoot the video. That day, I was just like, “Omo, how did I come up with this?”
The line where I said, “Shey your name na Genevieve? Come over here,” got me in serious trouble because people thought I said, “Commot for here.” I don’t know how it became such a big deal. Me, that I think Genevieve Nnaji is the queen of Nollywood. I even said, “My only competition na Dangote.” Omo!
What’s the best music video you’ve made?
It has to be the video for N2S (Nobody to Somebody). That video tells my story, and it’s special to me.
Favourite song to perform on stage
I Dey Miss You for sure. My manager has begged me to stop, but its soulful feeling gets me every time.
The song that makes you cringe
I have a lot, but I won’t mention their names. I’ll say they all contributed to the artist I am today.
The song you’ve grown to love
The original version of Temper. I wasn’t sure about it. I remember Burna seeing me outside Quilox and telling me he’d like to hop on the song. I sent the song to him, and he liked it so much that he asked if we could record another song. We made one more song, but it didn’t pop like Temper.
Your career-defining song
It’s annoying, but I’ll admit that my biggest song is Shake Body. People often forget I have other songs and just focus on Shake Body. But what can I do?
Best feature so far
There’s a song on my new album, As Always, featuring Kabusa Choir. I recorded the song at first and wanted a choir on it, so my friend suggested Kabusa Choir, a “group” famous for singing that Valentine is Coming song.
I remember the guy who I thought was the choir’s lead singer came into the studio, and I was like, “Where’s the rest of the choir?” and everyone else in the studio told me he’s the only one. There’s no choir, it’s just one guy who’s capable of singing in more than 60 different voices and keys. I was blown away.
Best Skales’s song ever
Right now, my best song has to be Pants on Fire with Blaqbonez on Sweet Distractions.
What will you tell an artist trying to achieve longevity in Nigeria’s music industry?
Man, you just have to keep going. You can’t stop. One thing my mum used to say: “If you are good at something and you keep doing it right, it’s going to work out.”
Another thing, never settle.