Rap artiste, Sheriff Ilori, is one of the fruits of the romantic liaison between ace musicians, Queen Salawa Abeni and General Kollington Ayinla. The plus size singer caused a stir when he hit the stage in a duet with his mum at the recently concluded Felabration. He speaks with New Telegraph about his career, extreme weight, parents’ age-long separation among sundry issues.
Would you say you rode on your parents’ popularity to get noticed?
No matter the explanation I give, it will always sound like I’m riding on the pedigree. But at the end of the day, I’m riding on their pedigree because there is no way you will mention Big Sheff and not mention the fact that he’s Queen Salawa’s son. On my own, I have been doing a lot of underground work; it hasn’t been a smooth ride though.
I passed through the same thing every upcoming artiste has passed through; I’m paying my dues already. There are some things I got quicker with my mum’s influence but not everything. I have gone through every process every artiste has gone through.
People might not believe, I personally know what I have gone through things. It is a step by step process, but it’s still growing. Definitely, they have a lot of things to do with my coming up. They have influenced me.
Where have you been all this while?
I come and I go. I did my primary school in Nigeria. St. Benedict Primary School. My high school, I did in Nigeria. But I didn’t get into get into the university immediately. It was after school that I had the time to travel abroad. I go and come back.
By the time I decided to stay over, my mum was like they should bring me back home because she was the only one in Nigeria. My sister was in the United Kingdom and my brother in Canada. She didn’t want to be alone in the house. She wanted one of the kids to be around.
I did diploma programme in International Relations from the University of Lagos and that was when the music stuff started getting into me. I have been doing it for a long time, but I had shown in school and outside school mainly. I couldn’t balance my music and school.
It actually affected the education and I had to withdraw. I went to Lead City University, Ibadan, and then I was off music. I studied public administration. But my mum said when I’m done with school I will have her full support. Since I finished school she has been supporting me all this while.
Did you get some foreign influence the short time you spent abroad?
As at then, I will say I was an underground artiste. Now I’m an upcoming artiste, I’m still getting there. As an upcoming artiste, you can’t just approach top music stars here in Nigeria likewise back then in the US, you can’t approach the like of 50 Cent if you see them on the road. You need to be at a certain level before you approach them. Basically I did my thing, then it was a case of trying to do Nigerian music. I had to come back home and do Nigerian music, I need to be here fully and face it.
How long you been in music professionally?
Professionally, I will say 2005. My debut track was released that year. I have been writing music for my mum since my days in primary school. When I write in my lay supman writing, she would turn it on the right way for me as a professional. She already saw that I had the talent and the interest in music.
Back in the UK, there are times I was on the stage with her. Then I was just doing it for the fun of it. I love music regardless of the genre I enjoyed. I love seeing my mum work and I learned one or two things. That’s why I have no problem infusing her music into mine. I grew up watching my mum do her things.
Your dad does fuji music and your mum sings waka, where did your rap genre come from?
As a child, you can’t choose what you want to listen to. On your way to school, what they’re playing is what you will listen to. When I started growing up and could choose my music, I fell in love with hip hop, but it doesn’t take me away from everything I’ve listened to while growing up.
I listened to my mum’s music, my dad’s, King Sunny Ade, my uncle is a die-hard K1 fan, so, I listened to all that. In high school I met some friends who could start talking about other music and I started falling in love with them. Back in high school from JSS 1 till I finished SSS 3, I won the Best Rapper prize, it was only once that I lost it. It wasn’t my composition that I was winning with then, it was peoples’ music but everybody could see the potential in me. I’m a very shy person, so, I never went for talent shows or represented the school. I kept it to myself, so only the boys in the hostel.
Till tomorrow, some of my acquaintances still can’t believe that I’m doing music. People assumed that I would follow my mum or my dad. I could do that if I want to. The fact is that I infuse their music in my choruses every now and again, but hip hop is just a major. I could just dive into the Waka or Fuji side.
So far, how many songs have you written?
I don’t think any singer can answer that accurately because you have written some in the past, you’re not even done with some and you’ve even done some that you’re still keeping.
How many tracks have you done?
I can’t give a number because there are some times if you’re in the mood, you’d just record a chorus and you’ll keep. That’s not a full song. But you have your chorus already but anytime you revisit the song, you just finish it up. I add those kinds to full songs, I won’t be able to give you a number.
It’s an era where the boys in their 20s, Olamide, Wizkid, Davido, Korede Bello, Lil Kesh and others are the hit makers, do you think you have what it takes to compete with these fellows?
No matter the age and gender, there’s something I’ve always heard and believed, a good product will speak for itself, good music will speak for itself. They’re doing their music and they’re making it and I will be making it in what I’m also doing. When it’s time for me, it’s time.
You sound like your mother was a disciplinarian; she insisted you must complete your education before doing music. How did you find that time in your life?
Ok, that’s correct. I actually went to her and said, ‘You did music, dad did music, why aren’t you supporting me to do music?’ And she smiled and told me she was proud that I was doing music but that she wanted me to finish school. ‘When you’re done with your education, then you watch me and see if I’m interested in your career or not’, she told me. Growing up, she was very tough, she’s still tough but we’re grown-ups now. I’m happy with the way I grew up because the effects are all on me.
I learnt a lot of morals from her- to be humble and respect people. I see the way people act outside and I thank God for the way I was brought up. Back then, it was like she didn’t like us. There were time we had asked if this really is our mum.
Some people were here long enough to hear the story about your parents; the issues they made the headlines with, the jabs they threw at each other in their tracks of rancour and all that, did their separation affect you in any way? I was a kid and never knew how that played out. It’s my sister who would know more about these things and would be able to tell you about it. Growing up, I spent time with my dad and my mum. My dad is in my new video- the Gentle Lady remix with my mum. We called him, he came over and showed love and support.
That’s what you need from your parents, love and support. I’m going to be doing a track with him in the future. I go over to his house and he sends for me whenever he needs me. I wasn’t old enough to know what was going on at that time but as I was growing up, there was no lack and vacuum. I didn’t need to inform him before I went to see him. He sent for us and we visited him whenever we wanted.
How will you feel to see your parents live under the same roof and you’re with them?
We’re talking here about adults, whatever happened then, I don’t know but they’re in constant communication. Is there love between them? Definitely you cannot hate the mother of your children or the father of your children. Am I going to say anything to him concerning this? No, I won’t because they’re grown and they had their case before me. If they want to make it work, that will be up to them because I wasn’t there when they fell in love in the first place.
You’re a singer on the plus size; most people still believe the weight slows your kind down. Don’t you sometime feel the weight?
I’ve never known myself to be slim; I’ve been big from birth. You need to hear my mum give you my birth story. So, if you’re a big person, don’t look into the mirror and expect to see a slim person. Keep it real with yourself. I’m focused on staying healthy. I’m not going to try to lose weight because people want me to lose weight. If I have a problem with my look, I will lose weight. If I have a problem about the way I feel about myself, I will do something about it. You saw me on stage and you were wowed. That was just one show.
I’ve been going for shows for a long time and never had a problem on stage. I go for shows and give my best. In the world of nowadays, a big person will feel that the world is against him. As a kid, when I went out, people laughed they called me names and I didn’t really know what it was about.
You have the Mecca tooth otherwise I would have asked you a question… I actually worship both ways, trust me. We all serve one God. By Friday, I wear my Jalabia and head for Jumat and on Sunday, when my friend calls me, let’s go to church, I pick up the bible and go.
You don’t have wedding ring in any of your fingers, that takes care of questions bothering on your relationship status. But are you in a romantic tie with anyone?
(Chuckles) Big Sheff is very single. I’ll drop you my number at the end of this interview. All the single ladies can call me.
What kind of woman do you want in your life?
No woman is perfect. I like to keep it real, sometimes even too real. I just like a good woman, a good cook, and as Oritsefemi said in his song, “ounje lasiko, fun ni kinni tibi yen lasiko” (serve him food early enough and don’t starve him of sex).
What would you wish to undo in your past?
If I could undo things about my past, I would wish that our loved ones don’t die. I lost my brother, Lanre. As at the time I lost him, I was just beginning to know him. When you have a stubborn child that has nothing but love for his siblings, he would still be stubborn and get into trouble every now and again.
So, you won’t get to see the other side of him, but when he realised ‘I’m growing older and need to set good examples for my younger ones’, when he began to drop the exuberance was when we lost him. I didn’t get to spend enough time with him. I knew what death was then but I didn’t know the impact.
People will still pass, but I thought it would be the best for people to be able to live up to a certain age and after then, death can come anytime. I feel it more now because I can imagine how close we would have been because he was changing to a man I appreciated.
How many are you with your parents?
We were four before we lost him.
How old is Big Sheff?
That’s something you guys should go and find out.
Are you in your early 30s?
I’m not up to that yet.
You must be in your late 20s…
That’s correct and my birthday is November 6.