For many of us, 2020 has been the year of the pandemic, the year of the lockdown or the year of furlough. But for Florence Ifeoluwa Otedola, it’s business as usual. I have been tracking DJ Cuppy’s musical metamorphosis since the summer of 2014, when I listened to her debut mixtape ‘House of Cuppy’, which contained a series of EDM remixes of Afrobeats songs such as Wanted by Tiwa Savage and Baby Tornado by Dr. Sid and Alexandra Burke. Since then, she has become a Pepsi ambassador, shed the “DJ” prefix, performed all over the world, and released her debut album, ‘Original Copy’, to widespread acclaim. But it took a lot for her to get here. In 2017, Cuppy began her transition from disc jockey to recording artist with the release of Green Light, a danceable duet with one of Nigeria’s most beloved hitmakers, Tekno. The song was an instant success and a party favourite, but in hindsight, it was only a teaser compared to what was to come. Fast forward three years and ‘Original Copy’, the 12-track, sonic masterpiece, is worlds removed from Cuppy’s humble mixtape beginnings.
The release of ‘Original Copy’’ was preceded by Jollof On The Jet, the fiery new single featuring Rema and Rayvanny. The rest of the project was kept mostly underwraps until its highly-anticipated midnight drop on August 21st. Interestingly, none of Cuppy’s earlier singles, such as Green Light, Vybe ft. Sarkodie, or even her 2019 radio hit Gelato ft. Zlatan, were present on the album. This is a relatively unorthodox move, as one would typically expect to see an artists’ previous singles on their debut album, even if only as bonus tracks, to increase the length of the album, and to generate more streams. Their exclusion reveals a lot about Cuppy’s dedication to her craft and growth as an artist, as well as her intentions with ‘Original Copy’.
For one thing, Cuppy wants her debut album to be viewed and digested as a singular body of work, as opposed to a collection of singles with a few fillers, like many of her predecessors. ‘Original Copy’ is not really a continuation of her old work, it is something new entirely, and given how much Cuppy has developed as a producer and as an artist over the years, her older records might have felt more than a little out of place next to her latest works. Of course, we all loved Cuppy’s debut single when it came out three years ago, but when you compare the vocals on Green Light to the triumphant, self-assured harmonisation and vocal layering on ‘Original Copy’, the difference is striking (Feel Good ft. Fireboy DML is one of the best demonstrations of this).
“‘Original Copy’ took a lot of dedication and soul searching. I wanted to showcase Cuppy like you’ve never seen her before and I’m glad that I’ve created a masterpiece. Putting out an album has always been a goal for me and I’m so proud that I’ve been able to finally achieve that. Just like my first single, Green Light, I wanted my debut album to be timeless. I took singing lessons and worked a lot on my vocal strength for months. When I sent Guilty Pleasure to Nonso Amadi, he couldn’t believe I was the one singing – I had improved that much!”
And Nonso Amadi is not the only one who was pleasantly surprised. On ‘Original Copy’, Cuppy sings (and raps) with all the confidence of an artist who has finally come into her own and is ready to make her mark. Her sound has changed significantly since her EDM days, and has definitely found its feet, although vestiges of Cuppy’s Afro-house past can still be heard on tracks like Karma and Epe.
By any standard, ‘Original Copy’ is an extraordinary record. With a runtime of 31 minutes, it is long enough to give you your fill, but not so long that you lose interest midway through. The average track length is about two and a half minutes, again long enough to satisfy you sonically, but not quite long enough to descend into the unnecessary repetition and monotony that many Afrobeats songs do somewhere between the third and fourth minute marks.
‘Original Copy’ also provides listeners with an expansive, yet cohesive range of sounds and genres – so cohesive, in fact, that the Shina Peters and Julian Marley-led highlife track, 54, doesn’t feel out of place next to the tender sensuality of Guilty Pleasure, or behind the trap-infused braggadocio of Interlude. Cuppy is not limiting herself to any one style or genre, but Afrobeats remains the glue and the undercurrent that pieces her repertoire together. Efya, Seyi Shay, Ms Banks, Teni the Entertainer, Wyclef Jean, Stonebwoy, Darkoo and Ycee all make appearances on the album, providing listeners with a diverse range of established names and voices without feeling too overcrowded (no song features more than 2 artists at once). With so many A-list artists in Cuppy’s corner, fans and listeners will be waiting with bated breath to see who she works with next.
“I feel really honored to have worked with some of the best creatives in the world on ‘Original Copy’. In the process of working on this project, I definitely discovered some gems about music-making and I already can’t wait to get back into the studio with some artists. As for who I’d want to work with in the international scene, I’m a huge fan of Nicki. I would love to have a Cuppy x Nicki track in the future.”
If that sounds a little too ambitious for you, you may want to rethink your stance. The Afrobeats scene is booming, and the past few years have brought us unexpected collaborations between artists such as Wizkid & Drake, Yemi Alade & Beyoncé, Burna Boy & Sam Smith and countless more. With superstars like Janet Jackson, Ciara, Toni Braxton and Cardi B all sharing their love for Nigerian music in recent years, perhaps it’s only a matter of time before Nicki catches the Afrobeats bug herself. The popularity and influence of Afrobeats continues to grow globally, and Cuppy has cemented herself firmly among her contemporaries with her latest release. Meanwhile, with new artists and producers emerging on the scene every day, the sky is really the limit in terms of where the industry could go.
“It’s so phenomenal how Afrobeats is now making waves globally. Our artists are finally getting the recognition they deserve and it’s beautiful to watch. There’s been an evolution with new talents being discovered daily. It’s almost difficult to keep up with the list. From Fireboy to Rema, both of whom I featured on my album. Another person everyone should watch out for is RVMG signee, Bond, a very talented producer, songwriter and recording artist. You can also check out the Cuppy DM tracks on SoundCloud. With the Cuppy DM tracks, I personally curate a list of songs by talented, young Afrobeats artists after listening to a pool of songs I receive from them monthly. We are definitely having a litty time on the Afrobeats scene.”
Like most successful young artists, social media has played an important role in Cuppy’s ascension into superstardom. According to a recent tweet made by the Princess of Afrobeats herself, Cuppy is the most engaged and fastest growing female Twitter user in Nigeria.
Of course, not all engagement is good engagement, and Cuppy has at times found herself on the receiving end of some not-so-constructive criticism and some harsh trolling (to put it lightly) . In 2018, after releasing Charged Up with Nigerian producer Masterkraft, a popular social media personality dragged Cuppy in a viral video, infamously telling her “music is not your forte”, and urging her to stick to producing. His attack was so vicious and aggressive that many of Cuppy’s usual detractors came to her defense. Two years later, Cuppy ingeniously sampled the “music is not your forte” soundbite on Original Copy’s sixth track, Interlude. It’s a jaw-drop moment for anyone familiar with the 2018 incident, and just another testament to Cuppy’s unique ability to rise above the hate and turn the lemons thrown her way into sweet lemonade. Through this short sample, Cuppy reminded her listeners that she is aware of all the criticism that is directed towards her, but that she is not the type to let it hold her back. When dealing with online trolls, Cuppy has playfully adopted the mantra #FreeCuppy, often responding to insults with humour and positivity.
“There’s really no ‘How to Deal With Online Trolls’ manual because if we are being honest, some things get under your skin and get you riled up. Personally, I’ve learnt to focus more on the positives. I’m a generally cheerful person and try to never let anything take away my smile. My advice would be to never let the negativity get to you but rather, let it fuel you to work harder at success. This has worked for me and I’ve been able to turn some critics into believers.”
Indeed, with the release of ‘Original Copy’, any lingering doubts about Cuppy’s talents or capabilities as an artist have been decisively consigned to oblivion. Meanwhile, outside of the music scene, Cuppy has been making headway through her philanthropy, having launched the Cuppy Foundation in 2018, an organisation that aims to tackle issues surrounding child protection, as well as education for girls and people with disabilities. Since then, Cuppy has helped to provide scholarships for disadvantaged students, raised awareness for important social causes, and in November of 2019, hosted her inaugural “Gold Gala”, which raised a whopping 5.1 billion Naira in partnership with The Save The Children Fund.
“The Cuppy Foundation is an initiative born out of my desire to help provide the much needed resources for children and the most vulnerable members of society. I desired to take my corporate social responsibility a step further and be able to reach out to more people globally. So far, we’ve been able to cater to a lot of needs and spread awareness on very salient societal issues. At the Cuppy Foundation, we are always working on strategies to increase our reach whilst ensuring that our current beneficiaries are equipped enough for independence. We currently have some projects in the works with ‘Save the Children’ for kids in Northern Nigeria affected by insurgency, and we are also working on tackling issues around gender-based violence with children.”
So with the world at her fingertips and a critically-acclaimed debut album under her belt, what can we expect next for the Cuppy brand? Perhaps a musical hiatus like her fave, Nicki Minaj, or a venture into cosmetics à la Rihanna? Only time will tell, but knowing Cuppy, I wouldn’t expect her to slow down anytime soon.
“It’s been a really good year for me despite the restrictions; with the launch of my radio show Africa Now on Apple Music and the release of my debut album. There’s definitely going to be an ‘Original Copy’ tour once it’s safe enough and remixes of some tracks off the album. I’m always brainstorming new ideas and working on the next big project so I’m quite certain that in no time, there’ll be more big news from Cuppy. Just keep watching out and stream ‘Original Copy’ in the meantime.”
Not to worry, Cups. I have a feeling ‘Original Copy’ will be on heavy rotation for a very long time.