Born Olowu Bardia Adebola, Illrymz is one of Nigeria’s most versatile TV personalities. He has successfully carved a niche for himself with his excellent hosting of TV and Radio shows and has a budding music career.
26 year-old Illrymz cut his teeth on television as the host of the now rested Nokia First Chance. Since then, he has hosted TV shows on several platforms including Nigezie, Soundcity, Global Countdown Show, Sprite Triple Slam, G-Bam Show , One on One – the celebrity interview show. He also produced and presented Soundcity’s most popular program in 2008 – The Nokia Express Music Show. He was a co-host of the recently concluded popular music reality show, Nigerian Idol. On radio, Illrymz is well acclaimed as the producer and host of Radio Outloud with Nokia & ILL, a PAN Nigerian syndicated reality radio show that airs on Beat FM and Cool FM in Lagos, Rhythm FM in Abuja and Portharcourt, BCA Umuahia and Freedom FM Kano.
As a Hip-Hop and R&B artiste Illrymz has released a few singles and is working towards releasing his debut album this year. He speaks about his several passions and his journey to achieving his dreams with Adeola Adeyemo in this exclusive interview.
Hi. Do you feel odd right now? I know you’re used to interviewing people and not being interviewed…
Exactly, I’m kinda shy right now.
Don’t be. Do tell me a bit about yourself…
My name is Ill aka Illie aka your Big Hommie. I’m just some guy who just pops up on your TV and radio and has fun and does cool TV and radio shows.
How did you get on to TV?
What exactly do you mean by accidental? Tell me about it…
I don’t mean to sound cocky or anything but back in the day, TV in Nigeria wasn’t exactly cool. I used to work for a Value Added Service (VAS) company where I was creating and selling mobile content. At that time I started the first online magazine in Nigeria which is called Vibe Weekly for a company called Mtech. So I went to the producer of Nokia First Chance, Segun Giwa, to buy mobile rights for the contestants. When I got there, he told me they were looking for a presenter and asked if I was interested in hosting the show. When I told my friends, they encouraged me, asking me to take the job since I was always complaining about Nigerian TV. The next meeting I had with Segun, he was like “Dude, just do the show” and I was like “You know what, let’s do this” and I haven’t looked back since.
You’ve hosted quite a number of shows after that. Nokia First Chance must have opened a lot of doors for you…
The feedback was great. Most of the Urban TV channels started calling me up and when the show finished, I left my VAS job and joined Nigezie as the Brand Manager and Music Content Producer as well as a presenter. I was there for a short time but as soon as I decided to leave Nigezie, Sound City was right there.
When did this happen?
6yrs ago. Btw 2005 and 2006.
I understand you only recently graduated from the University two years ago. That should mean you were hosting TV shows as an undergraduate…
I was fresh out of high school when I started the online magazine. I graduated from Kings College in 2001 and started working. I just got into the University in 2006.
How were you able to cope with the demands of work and school?
I was hardly even in school. My lecturers used to be very angry with me because I hardly used to attend lectures.
Why did it take you so long to get into the University after you finished from Secondary School? Was it because of the demands of work?
I was kinda being forced to go to school abroad and I was like no, I want to do what I want to do. I want to do entertainment. I was a model a long time ago when I was still good looking. Going to UNILAG was like a meeting ground for me and my family. I said OK, I’ll go to the University but I want to stay in Lagos, Nigeria. So I went to University and I was still working, never gave up my time. I studied Mass Communication and I graduated in 2010.
Hosting the Nigerian Idols
Let’s talk about your experience hosting the Nigerian Idols. What did you see when you looked into eyes of those young contestants?
Fear, anxiety, but also I see a lot of determination and boldness. You can see that these guys actually want to be super stars – the bad ones and the good ones. The auditions were the really funny part. I saw all sorts of people. I’m not going to say any body is untalented but they were special. Some of them would come out and say “men, I’m the best singer in the world” meanwhile, the guy sounded like a dead chicken. And the judges would blast the guy and he’d still come out and say “it was great men. They love me but said I can’t make it in Nigerian Idols but men, I’ve got swag.” Some of them took rejection really well.
For those that finally made it to the competition, how did they take their evictions from the show?
You must have seen me hugging a lot of people… Different people take defeat differently. What I did see which was good was there wasn’t much of animosity. The Nigerian youth are getting to a level whereby they understand it was a competition and when they come together, they support each other even when they lose. If you went to any of the eviction parties, you’d see all the contestants together. It’s almost like they were bonding and if the rest of Nigeria can learn from that, that we can still be unified even though everybody is trying to be number one, we can all be happy for each other and it will be a better country.
Hosting the Nigerian Idols must have been the dream of lots of TV Presenters. How did you clinch the job?
They did auditions. Everybody came for the auditions. Pick a name, every single TV presenter that you can think of came for the auditions but thankfully, I was chosen.
You hosted the show alongside popular singer, Tiwa Savage. How was it like working with her?
She is cool. We had fun doing the show and it was great working with her. We are comfortable with each other.
Over the past few years, Reality TV has taken over Television. Practically anyone can become a celebrity without much experience. Do you think this undermines the importance of hard work on the part of the contestants?
We need to have a system whereby professionalism is taken seriously. Yes, it’s great to have overnight wonders but that also leads us to one-hit wonders. We have so many stars and very few super stars because not a lot of people put in the work. It’s great to have an artist come out and blow up but what’s going to happen after that?
Sometimes the winners of such shows perform below expectation. Why?
Do we expect too much from them? That is the question. We are the ones who expect too much from them. A guy gets into a Reality competition, emphasis ‘competition’ and won it. If he wants to go back to being a teacher, let him do that. Not everybody has to be a ‘celebrity’.
What do you think can be done to improve the performance of winners after the show?
I believe in professionalism and specialization. If you’re going to be serious about it, it’s the profession. Don’t come in and increase the numbers. Come in and make an impact.
Between voting by viewers and selection by judges, which would you say is a better depiction of the contestants’ performance?
That’s why we have both. I think for the just concluded Nigerian Idols, the peoples’ choice was really the winner because sometimes I go out and people tell me, “Oh, I loved Mercy. I think she deserved to win.”
Away from Nigerian Idols now. Tell me something about you that a lot of people don’t know…
I am shy, painfully shy. When I’m not working and I attend an event, I try to sneak in and probably sit somewhere at the back because when I go to shows, there are different things that I’m looking at. Because I’m a producer, my mind is running on different things as well so I’m very private.
That’s hard to believe, considering the fact that you are often in front of the camera?
People mistake my being shy for being arrogant. I’m the kind of person that if you come and talk to me, I’d respond respectfully but I don’t go about saying “Do you know who I am?”
You don’t look totally Nigerian. Where are your parents from?
I’m half Nigerian, half Persian. My mum is from Iran, my dad is Yoruba.
Being so attractive, you must be in high demand among the ladies. Who are you dating at the moment?
I’ve been single since like forever.
Tell me about your music now. Did you get into music by accident also?
No it wasn’t by accident. Music is my first love. Music started everything I’m doing today. Music started from listening to DMX, Biggie, Mase and Tupac. I’ve been rapping since I was in high school. Then you couldn’t catch me without headphones on.
What songs have you recorded and who did you work with on those tracks?
I have about three songs now. ‘Anyhow’, produced by Dr Frabz; ‘Feel My Parole’ produced by Samklef and ‘Teacher Teacher’, a song which I did featuring Femi Kuti.
Are you planning on releasing an album soon? Who would you be working with on the album?
I want to work with some international producers on one or two songs. The album would feature Femi Kuti, Dr Frabz and it should be out this year. I might also feature Davido and Tiwa Savage.
Moving from TV and Radio Presenting to Music must be a big leap. Are you skeptical about the reception of the audience to your music?
A hundred percent skeptical. That was the reason I put some songs online. But somehow, people are asking for my album which shows they are now interested in my music. What I’m trying to do is put out great music, music that has an impact.
Growth, Success, Fashion & More
What do you consider your greatest success in life?
I’ve not gotten there yet. I’ve not even scratched the surface of what I want to do. I still feel very limited.
Are you saying that you don’t count your money now?
My money is not enough to count. When I retire, I’m just gonna sit down and be looking at my investments.
But with all these deals from Etisalat, Nokia, Globacom, Sprite… I expect your bank account to be really full…
I wish. They don’t pay us any money in this business. It’s just wash. I’m looking for a new okada to buy to start business.
On a more serious note, how lucrative is your job as a TV and Radio presenter?
I believe in doing what you love to do. My brand is ‘I Make It Look Easy’. I just have fun on my work. If I focus on the money all the time, I would be walking around looking very angry. My greatest joy from my work is not the money but the reaction I get from people around. Like when I went for a mini vacation after Nigerian Idol, I was in a mall in Westfield London and people recognized me, they wanted to take pictures with me. It’s very warm and comforting that people appreciate my being silly.
If you had the opportunity to change anything about yourself, what would it be?
I can’t change anything. I’m a very realistic guy and very logical. I believe everybody evolves as human beings so I would still do different things as I grow older.
As a TV host, you must be very conscious about your fashion style. What is your most valuable fashion item?
I’m a shopaholic guy. If you don’t have stamina, you can’t go shopping with me. I’m greedy when it comes to fashion. I love my watches, I love my shoes. I hardly repeat my clothes on TV. The only thing that might stay simple are my shoes, but you can never catch me wearing the same belt, shirt or shoes, especially wrist watch on two different shows.
You sound like you’re crazy about wrist watches. How many wrist watches do you have?
Let’s just say I have a watch for everyday. If it’s a watch that is seasonal, when I wear it for a while, I’d give it out. But if it’s a Rolex, I could have it for like 10 years.
What kind of watch are you wearing right now?
I’m wearing an Armani watch.
What is it with male celebrities and dreadlocks these days? Did you decide to have dreadlocks because of your career?
Honestly, I’ve always had different variations of my hair. My hair has always been long since I was a kid. My dreadlocks came as a result of me being tired of combing my hair. I didn’t comb my hair for a year and then it turned to dreadlocks.
You’ve hosted quite a number of shows. Which one would you say is your favourite and why?
Radio Out Loud with Nokia & Ill. It is the coolest show on radio where I feature some of the hottest celebrities in Nigeria. We’ve had artistes who nobody knew them before and then they blew up becoming great entertainment legends. I’m happy about the positive feedback because it means that the show is having an impact. Our main goal is to promote upcoming artistes to celebrity status so if you are a nobody and you come on the show, we’d make you sound like a celebrity.
If you could pick three people you would love to interview from any part of the world, who would they be?
Musically, Jay Z. I almost had an interview with him and then I didn’t have it. I missed it so it’s painful. TV wise, Larry King because he has been doing what he’s doing for so long and nobody ever held down daytime TV like him. And movie wise, Johnny Depp. He is spontaneous, crazy as hell and just does whatever he wants.
Would you ever like to be a contestant on a music Reality TV Show?
I like music but it’s not my style.
Illrymz ft. Femi Kuti – Teacher Teacher
Illrymz ft. Femi Kuti – Teacher Teacher ‘Video Teaser’