“DOKTA FRABZ IS ABOUT TO GO INSANE”: REMEMBERING THE MAN WHO REVOLUTIONISED PRODUCTION IN NIGERIAN MUSIC – Jerry Chiemeke
It was June 2009. Yemi Alade was a few months away from winning the Peak Talent Hunt, Wande Coal had recently released Mushin 2 Mo-Hits, Yar’ Adua was still president of the country, and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) was about to embark on a nationwide strike which would keep students of Nigerian public universities home for five months. I was a slender 18-year-old boy navigating my second academic session as an undergraduate of Law at the University of Benin. My shoes looked too big and my shirts hardly fit, but my poor fashion taste certainly did not extend to my music choices: MI Abaga’s “Teaser” was my ringtone, and everyone in my room knew about Terry G’s hook on Ill Bliss’ “Aiye Po Gan”.
That Sunday afternoon, I was returning from the 8.30a.m Catholic mass when I bumped into Joshua Abhulimhen, then a first-year Engineering student but now an analyst at PricewaterhouseCoopers, a career switch influenced by economic realities. I had purchased a Nokia 2690 only a few days earlier, I knew he owned an Express Music (a big deal at the time) and I wanted the latest Nigerian songs. Spotify didn’t exist at the time, and Bluetooth sharing was really slow – you had to place both phones close to each other – but at least it was much better than having to pay fifty naira to have the tech boys download a song for you at the school’s shopping complex.
Timaya was celebrating new-found fame on “Chineke Me”, Bracket were struggling to squeeze P-Square into “No Time” and Klever Jay was ruminating on “Koni Koni Love”, but there was a particular song on my new playlist that I found interesting. It was a young MC, rapping in Yoruba, displaying confidence and braggadocio in the lines of “mo fine, mo fresh, mo n wu”, while another singer was having his falsetto assisted by autotune over some really catchy beats. I learned that the song was called “E Fi Mi Le”, that the rapper was Dagrin, and that the track was produced by an Afro-wearing man named Dokta Frabz. They would both collaborate on another hit, which was released as a single shortly before the rapper’s untimely death in April 2010.
Born Ayorinde Faboro, the graduate of International Relations from Covenant University emerged at a time when Nigerian music as we knew it was experiencing a revolution of sorts. Kennis Music was no longer the dominant record label in town, as Storm Records (who pushed Naeto C) and Mo’ Hits (who were thriving with Dbanj and Don Jazzy in their ranks) were pulling significant weight. New sounds were being experimented with, Afropop was becoming less gritty, Tuface Idibia had managed to patch R. Kelly on a song off the Unstoppable album, and even visuals were changing: exit DJ Tee, enter Clarence Peters.
It didn’t take long for Dokta Frabz, who had discovered the Fruity Loops software during his undergraduate days, to make his mark on the scene. After a short stint at Mo’ Hits, he quickly began to stamp his signature sound on some of the top radio hits that dominated airwaves in 2009 and 2010, including Durella’s “Enu Ose”, Chuddy K’s “Slow Slow” and Shank’s “Too Late”. The success of Naeto C’s “Ako Mi Ti Poju” is attributed to the Surulere-born sound magician, but it is in the opening lines of “Thank God” (off Dagrin’s CEO album) where the latter yells “Dr Frabz is about to go insane, once again”, that his genius is acknowledged.
The early 2010s had Nigeria’s top artists work with younger producers, who enjoyed the advantage of technological expansion and multiple social media platforms, but Frabz was no less relevant, and he still managed to place his hands on some of the country’s finer tunes. For Wizkid’s sophomore album he produced three tracks – “One Question”, “Bombay” and “Joy” – and the rhythm on Seyi Shay’s “Murda” (featuring Patoranking and Shaydee) was largely due to the input of the man who started out playing piano and drums at the Anglican Cathedral in Ikeja.
If the late 2000s and early 2010s ushered in a wave of Nigerian music that ultimately became “exportable”, Dokta Frabz was an integral part of that time frame. Beyond being instrumental to many of the songs enjoyed at night clubs and lounges, his work helped shape music culture as it stands today; he produced Banky W’s “Lagos Party”, a timeless ode to nocturnal revelry in the country’s busiest city. More importantly, his work paved the way for the emergence of sound maestros like Sarz, Shizzi, Leriq, WizzyPro, Pheelz and D’Tunes, and later, P2J, Blaqjerzee, Rexxie, Telz and London.
In very sad circumstances, Dokta Frabz met his end on February 27, 2021 in Maryland, USA, reportedly due to complications arising from gunshot injuries. This, in more ways than one illustrates how violence and crime are not the exclusive preserve of one region in the world. From knives in London to sawed-off shotguns in New York, violence has us looking over our shoulders in the dark, tweeting about the need to review gun laws, arguing about the excesses of the right to self-defence, and praying to not become statistics.
It’s a dark weekend for Nigerian music, but we should be grateful that Dokta Frabz never lost his “insanity”. In creating music the way he did, the dynamics of studios across the country changed forever. The entertainment community mourns with his wife and child, who can be proud of a man that loved music almost as much as he loved them.