As he prepares for a slew of new opportunities, Darrel Offodirinwa has his work cut out for him. His relentless touring schedule has led to a steady climb in popularity over the last few years — until now, all here in the U.S.
The Lincoln rapper better known as Scru Face Jean will soon be the first Nebraskan artist to perform in Nigeria, accompanying a handful of upcoming features with Nigerian artists African China, Vector, Olamide and others. His upward trajectory as a musician over the past few years landed him in the West African country for a week this past January — spent not performing, but preparing for the upcoming opportunities.
“They booked like three shows for me and I had to just gracefully turn them down,” says Scru Face about the recent trip. “But they played my music in the club that we were in. They wanted me to perform that night at that club, but I said ‘Let me just be a fly on the wall. Let me see how people react to this song.’ And I’m glad I didn’t perform because I learned so much just from sitting and watching.”
The rapper faces the challenges with poise, appearing balanced and comfortable as he sits across from me on the futon in his home studio. The busy schedule is nothing new for The Scru Society — that’s Offodirinwa and his producer DoeDoe. The duo has been on the road every other month or so for the past several years, doing shows in all four corners of the country.
His new album Trillennial was released on January 30th, and he’ll soon embark on his third headlining tour. We sat down to talk about his album release and his upcoming work in Nigeria.
Hear Nebraska: You’re doing a show with Vector, one of Nigeria’s biggest artists. When is that going to happen, and how did you get hooked up with that?
Scru Face Jean: Well actually, the Vector show was set up right when I went to Nigeria. I just got back from Nigeria. That was the first show I was supposed to do, but I actually declined that show. I didn’t want to have that arrogance to be like “Yeah, I know exactly what this is. I’m going to go out there and do what I always do,” because it’s a different experience. I kept in contact with Vector though. I kept in contact with a lot of artists, so we will be working in the future. This trip was my first time back doing music stuff, so I was just like “Let me just learn this time.” I don’t want to rush anything. I don’t want my first performance to be where I learn. I want to learn and then go perform.
HN: So what are those relationships going to look like in the future?
SFJ: It’s going to look lovely. Right now, there’s an artist in Nigeria, one of my favorite artists since I’ve been little, [whose] name is African China. I didn’t really believe it, but the day I left he actually contacted my people over there, and he wants to work. So there was Olamide, Phyno, Vector, and I talked to all of their management, and we’ve been talking about doing features. The culture over there with artists is dope, and it may be because I’m an American and I have a base out here. But I’m also Nigerian, those are my roots, so the way they treated me was just like family. Over there some of the biggest artists, before you do a feature they want you to come out and drink with them and hang out with them. It’s a completely different situation than it is here.
HN: That’s awesome. So they just want to see if you’re a good fit before anything.
SFJ: Exactly. Or you figure out what you guys want to do together. And I like that better than the way it is here, because here you kinda have to guess. Like if I was to do a feature with Future or something, and he agrees to it, what I would have to do is make a Future-type track, and then hopefully he fits into it perfectly. Which is cool, but you kinda give up some of your own creative power doing that. It’s better when you sit down with the person and they ask “What do you want to do?” That’s something that’s never been asked when I do features here.
HN: You talked about African China, an artist that you look up to over there. Between being around artists you look up to and going back to where you’re from, does that make it hold special significance that you’re performing there?
SFJ: Yeah, it does hold a big significance to me. And it’s weird because even though I’m American, and I’ve lived here my whole life, sometimes I feel like an outsider. [Nigerian] culture never leaves you. My mom, my dad, my family, they’re still a hundred percent Nigerian, with a hundred percent Nigerian culture, [they] speak Igbo. It’s cool to do stuff here, I love it. But when you go over there and it’s your people and they accept you, it’s a whole different feeling. It’s not too much of me trying to pretend like somebody or be somebody. I get to be myself.
HN: Sure. Just like being welcomed back to the family.
SFJ: Yes. And it’s crazy because the last time I was in Nigeria was in 2008 or 2007, and that was before I was really focusing on music. And this time when I came back, my entire village, which is like my town, they knew everything about my music. And I had been almost neglecting Nigeria, because I never really even thought about it like that. And then when I came back and realized how many people had been following me, I was like “Yeah, I made a mistake.” So I’m just trying to right that mistake right now.
HN: That’s cool that you could rekindle that and get to know that scene out there. What’s the next trip out there going to look like?
SFJ: The next trip we’re shooting for is Easter. I’ve got a team out there, and they’re going to be setting up a show for me to do out there. And the amount of things I did in one week this time is going to be tripled when I go out there [next time]. Because there were a lot of things I couldn’t do just because of time, and there were a lot of artists that I was going to meet but couldn’t because our schedules didn’t link up right. We’re even talking about getting some of my videos played on some of the biggest music channels that are out there. MTV Base is one of them that we’ve been talking to. So, fingers crossed, if everything works out by Easter, I should be having a video on MTV.
HN: DoeDoe’s from Nigeria too, correct? Where is he at with all of this?
SFJ: He’s super excited. It’s crazy, I felt kinda bad because when I was out there I had to just call him and tell him “Man, you won’t believe what happened today. You won’t believe who I met.” And he was back here setting up the tour and doing all this stressful stuff. That’s why I said come Easter, he’s got to come back with me. It’s one thing to say it, but when he sees it he’s not going to want to come back. It’s almost like fate because we’re both from there, and now that we’ve matured with our music, it’s like we’re returning back.
HN: It seems only fitting that you’d be doing such big, international things, given how hard-working you’ve been the last few years – always being on the road, you released two albums in 2015 and one in 2016. Along with the next trip to Nigeria, what’s 2017 going to look like for you?
SFJ: I’m glad you asked. Come February I’m going back on the road for my third headlining tour now. My album Trillennial will be dropping on the 30th of [January], and then the Trillennial tour will start the next month. So we’ve just been working on finishing the Trillennial project and the Trillennial tour. Really, a lot of my focus is on bigger things now. Like I’ve got to focus on Nebraska stuff, but I know Nebraska’s got my back for the most part, so now it’s about representing Nebraska abroad. And not just overseas, but in different cities and states. My advice for any artist is tour constantly. Sometimes, especially in hip hop, it’s hard for the place that you’re from to accept you, because a lot of people that you went to school with, a lot of people you grew up with, it’s hard for them to look at you as something different. But I’ve noticed when other people start escalating your name, it’s easier for them to look at you that way. Being the biggest artist in Nebraska doesn’t help Nebraska that much. Being a Nebraska artist that goes other places, that helps Nebraska a lot more.
HN: In the song “Spazz” you wrote “rest yourself, check your health, because you know you can’t bless yourself.” How do you find rest in the midst of such a prolific career?
SFJ: In the bus, basically! I’m always on the road so much and a seven or eight hour drive isn’t anything to me now. That line really means keep your health in order because you create your blessings, but you can’t bless yourself. If you’re not in good health, if you don’t find time to have to yourself, then you can really jeopardize your blessings in the future. I always tell people “Find your chill. Find what makes you leveled out. Find what makes you cool-headed.” I think I’m about to start meditating.
HN: What can fans expect from Trillennial?
SFJ: “Trillennial” is like “Another Night” and “Righteous & Ratchet” blended together. It’s just a more mature aspect. And I actually started dabbling in some Afro-Beat a little bit and trying to expand my sound. It’s one of my favorite projects right now. Even the name, “Trillennial,” I just flipped the whole millennial thing on its head because I feel like the word millennial has such a negative connotation. It’s weird because it’s just my generation, yet Baby Boomers didn’t have a negative connotation, Generation X didn’t necessarily have a negative connotation. But when I hear people talk about millennials, it almost has a connotation of they’re always on the computer, [they don’t know] what’s going on in the world, [but they’re] social justice warriors. I always think that’s the stupidest thing we do as people, is we blame the youngest generation like we’re not kids in the big scale of time. I’ve lived long enough to see it happen; the older people will blame the younger people for the problems of the world and it’s like “Who raised us though?” You can’t get mad at a baby for sticking their finger in a socket, you’ve got to be mad that you weren’t watching that baby stick his finger in the socket.
Scru Face Jean plays Vega on Sunday, Feb 26th. $10 advance tickets, 7 p.m., all-ages, RSVP here.