Grass to grace stories never get old or less inspiring. You find them everywhere — from movies to social media. This week’s subject, Femi Dapson, has such a story. He has worked his way from a backbreaking factory job to working with some of the most in-demand artists on the continent. He tells PiggyVest how it happened.
Tell me about growing up.
I grew up in Lagos. My dad was a commercial bus driver and my mum was a food seller. I have two older brothers and one younger sister. All my life, until 2017, we lived in uncompleted buildings.
I was never really sure about what I wanted to become, but I do feel like everything is predestined.
Do you remember your first job?
I have been hustling since secondary school. I’d paint houses and clear bushes. I worked at a hotel for ₦7k. I worked as a teacher for a primary school — I can’t remember what they paid me, but it wasn’t up to ₦10k. I also worked at a factory that produced a herbal alcoholic drink. They paid ₦500 a day.
Was this an improvement on the teaching job?
It was financially, but it was a terrible job. I worked my ass off. It was very physically demanding. I had to pack like 24 cartons a day, and if I didn’t finish, I had to return the next day.
Each day, I’d work from 6am to 8pm, depending on how fast I was. On days when I was sick and couldn’t work, they’d take ₦500 from my monthly salary.
Na wa. What happened next?
My parents moved to Ota, and I moved too. Over there, I would help my mum as she sold food to people working at Winners Chapel. I also worked in the church as a cleaner for three years. Months before I stopped, I became an assistant secretary to the overseer’s son, who had just returned to Nigeria.
What did that involve?
I was assisting the secretary. [Laughs] I left for Lagos after some time and was working as a cleaner at an event centre. I then saw that a firm working with the LIRS was looking to train someone as a junior auditor. I did the interview and got the job.
What did this new job involve?
We checked tax returns and stuff like that. It is why nobody can whine me about my taxes now. I learnt a lot.
What skill did you have before the job that got them to employ you?
People skills. Plus, I had worked in an office environment enough to know how to behave formally in that sort of setting. I had worked with quite a lot of bureaucracy and memos at the church. Some of that transferred. Also, people just assume I am smart. I’m not sure why that is, but I am able to sell myself.
I also just believe that if you can read and write, you can teach yourself anything. For instance, the first time I drove a car, I got from Egbeda to Maryland. That was because I had seen people driving before. Same thing with computers. As a child, one of my cousins had a computer and learned how to use it by myself.
What were you earning at the tax firm?
₦30k. It was the highest I had earned at the time! But I resigned and went to stay with one of my friends who was a photographer. I just really believed in him. I saw his potential. Also, my cousin who was accommodating me had gotten tired of housing me, but I didn’t want to go home, either.
What were you doing with this photographer friend?
I was managing him. If he had an idea he wanted to shoot, I’d find a way to make it happen. We did projects with BBC and Aljazeera that went global. He eventually moved to video directing.
Was that how things started to change for you?
In a way. We were like eight guys in my friend’s house, and it was a three-bedroom. His parents had a room; his elder sister had another. The eight of us were in one room. Eight hefty men in one room!
Yeah. So one of the guys in that room was an artist named Macjreyz. Mr Eazi took a liking to him and decided to shoot a music video for his song. My photographer guy said he could shoot the video…
Wait. How did Mr Eazi find Macjreyz?
He did a freestyle to one of Mr Eazi’s songs. It ended up online and Mr Eazi liked it.
We were quite a bunch of talents in that room. We had models, artists and the photographer who became a video guy. I was the businessman. Mr Eazi gave us ₦800k to shoot the video for Macjreyz’s “Money Anthem.” That became the first video I produced.
We didn’t have enough money so some people had to do favours for us. I’ll always be grateful for their help.
Did doing that video bring other artists to you guys?
Yes. One artist manager asked us to do the video for Lil Kesh’s “YAGI Level”. After that we did something for Zinoleesky’s “Kilofeshe.” LAX saw that video and got us to do the video for “Go Low.”
We got signed to a production company overseas and started getting some more jobs. When that contract expired, I started a company, Nouvelle Films, and the rest is history.
What other videos has your music video director guy done?
BNXN’s “Gwagwalada,” Blaqbonez’s “Back In Uni,” and Rema’s “Charm.”
Those are really popular videos.
And all of these happened because one of eight hefty men did a freestyle to a Mr Eazi song?
[Laughs] Yes. That was our introduction to the music video world.
Yeah. But there is something I didn’t mention that happened before our music video production took off. At the time, I was managing an Instagram model who had lots of followers.
From working with her, I met a few people from a popular alcoholic brand and we started organising a party with them. The party was already happening before we joined them, though. The brand blew with that party, and I made enough money to buy a car.
[Laughs] I think the first amount of money I got from them was ₦100k. Big money! Now, that’s what I use to buy electricity monthly. Back then, all of us would eat for ₦2,500 in the morning. I was able to save, and some of the money I made from those parties went to some of our video productions.
So would you say the turning point came when you moved to your photographer pal’s place?
Not really. I like to think everything that has happened before led me to this point. From helping my mother sell her food to choosing to be friends with people who were not exactly from the poor neighbourhood I was raised in. I am poor, you are poor, our parents are poor; we can’t help each other.
In terms of the videos, which one was the pivotal one?
The LAX video. It was like nothing anybody had seen before.
How much was it?
Between ₦2m and ₦12m at the time.
You had a post on X mentioning Burna Boy that went viral recently. How did you meet him?
I had worked on a couple Burna Boy videos unofficially before. But “City Boys” is the first major one we did. What happened was that one of his people reached out to my director friend. He had seen the video for “Gwagwalada” and liked it. He invited us to the studio and Burna played us new music.
He had wanted to work with my guy, but it hadn’t happened. But the next time he returned to Nigeria, he asked that we shoot some viral footage. That was what led to the video for “City Boys.”
Interesting. So what are the income streams for you these days?
We do music videos. We do concerts. We also do commercial productions.
What’s the most expensive video you’ve produced?
Ha. I can’t tell you. But music videos are expensive. You are looking at a crew of about 40 people for a single video. Equipment rentals are also expensive. When you hear people say ₦100m for a video, it’s not a joke. But we make enough to feed our families.
That’s a very funny understatement.
Maybe. But it’s true. [Laughs]