Singer Davido is on the cover of US magazine, The Fader. He was described as “Nigeria’s fortunate son” in the feature. Read part of the cover story below.
Once, while on a Greyhound layover in Birmingham, Alabama, David Adedeji Adeleke, the Nigerian pop star now better known as Davido, spotted a familiar face on the CD rack of a bus station rest stop. Packed between sections for Top 40 and oldies was an album by Asa, a Nigerian-French singer not widely known in America. Davido had visited this station before, on trips to and from his college in nearby Huntsville and the home of relatives in Atlanta. But this was the first time he’d seen Nigerian music earn shelf space in a random Southern town, and it felt like an omen.
Davido was 16 when he had arrived in Huntsville, a year earlier. His father, Dr. Adedeji Adeleke, a well-known businessman and Seventh-day Adventist in Nigeria with an estimated net worth of over $300 million, dropped him off with his passport, $2,000 cash, and freshman registration documents for Oakwood University, a historically black Christian college. (People often attach the honorific ‘Chief’ to Dr. Adeleke’s name, referring to his wealth and power, largely earned through his founding of Pacific Holdings, a company that deals in steel, oil, gas, and more.) Davido had already spent time in the U.S.—he was born in Atlanta, and sometimes visited in the summer—but much about life in the States was new to him. “That was the first time I had a phone in America. There was unlimited calling. I never saw nothing like that before,” he remembers. “In Nigeria, you gotta pay before you get what you want.”
The school roomed him with another international student, a Rwandan track athlete—“I was like, ‘Okay, wow. They just put all the African people together?’”—but he gravitated toward an upstairs neighbor named Jaymo, an American kid whose speakers constantly rattled Davido’s ceiling. “One day, I went to go check what the noise was. I went upstairs, opened the door, and the guy had a full studio in his room,” he says. “I told him that I was trying to do music, too. He asked me, ‘How much do you have to invest in equipment?’ And I said, ‘$2,000.’ He was like, ‘That’s too much.’” They went to Guitar Center with $500.
From then on, Davido spent most of his time making beats and recording vocal references to send to a cousin in Lagos, a fellow musician with a trove of industry contacts. His grades slipped, and after three semesters, he dropped out and left town without telling his father. First he went to Atlanta, where he used his older brother’s ID to get into clubs, and funneled the money Chief Adeleke sent for school and living expenses toward drinks and motels. Later, he threw out his SIM card and hopped on a plane to London, where he went MIA for several months as he shifted his focus from production to vocals. “There was no Snapchat, no Instagram. There was barely Twitter,” he says. “I just went off the radar.”
Chief Adeleke, meanwhile, had been on the hunt for his son. When Davido finally returned to Lagos in 2011, with new tattoos and piercings, his father had him apprehended by police officers at the airport. Having failed to bring home the business management degree he’d been sent to America to complete, Davido reached a compromise with his father: he, still a teenager, would attend a private university two hours north of the city. His music dreams would be sidelined until he had honored his family by graduating. Davido returned to school, but often snuck out of his dorm room to hobnob at industry parties and blew off exams to record.
“People always say, ‘Oh, he’s just some rich kid.’ And he is,” Davido’s current manager, Kamal Ajiboye, tells me over coffee in the lobby of a Lagos hotel. “But they don’t realize that this music stuff—at first he did it alone.”