EME: Grand opening, grand closing – not yet
Banky W recently made a belated announcement about the restructuring of Empire Mates Entertainment; the company was no longer focused solely on the business of releasing music and promoting artists, but had now evolved to become a media agency and talent management firm.
The statement reads: “In January of 2017, after 9 years of being in the Nigerian music industry, we decided it was time to quietly close the record label arm of our business… We are now a full-fledged media agency that focuses on creative marketing, advertising, PR, brand events/activations and a talent management firm… In the talent management side, we are no longer restricted to working with just music artistes…”
EME was conceived in 2002 by Banky W and Tunde Demuren in the singer’s dorm room at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, New York. As early as his junior year in college, Banky started writing and producing music. He’d later generate a local buzz after winning the Albany Idol Competition. Banky then went on to release his first project Undeniable (EP) in 2003. He sold that project on the internet and out of the trunk of cars. This hand-to-hand marketing strategy got Fox 23 News New York to do a feature on him; this exposure, in turn, helped Banky land a distribution deal with an independent distributor with national coverage — EME was in business.
In 2005, Banky released his debut album, Back in the Buildin’, on the fledgling record label, and in 2008, he and his business partner, Demuren, relocated to Lagos with a little bit of experience and a game plan.
Banky was making headway with his music in the tristate area, and he had a well-paying day job. But this was the era of the ‘returnee’ artist, so the promise of becoming a lion in the Lagos jungle sounded much better than remaining a dog in an international city. In time, Banky went on to establish himself as one of the most important Nigerian musicians of his generation, while Tunde remained behind the scenes and helped to build Empire Mates Entertainment into one of its most influential record labels.
In its glory days, the label provided a springboard for producers, engineers and singers, including arguably Africa’s biggest popstar, Wizkid, to thrive. It also amassed an impressive catalogue of music that includes Wizzy’s two most successful studio albums released locally – Superstar and Ayo – in addition to Banky W’s entire discography. But these days, the label isn’t the leading light it once was.
Banky’s music is no longer white-hot and his protégé, Wizkid, stopped screaming “Emeazyyy!” some 3 to 4 years ago. Even when they were still together, the two superstars weren’t able to transfer some of that heat to anyone else on the label. It’s now officially been 10 years since Niyola released her debut album, and at this rate, Jesus is probably going to beat her to a second coming. Also, after years of toiling, Skales eventually found success, but that was only after leaving the fold. And, in spite of his immense talent, Shaydee’s music never truly found an audience.
Having released one solo album between them, the supporting cast at EME departed the label, one after the other. DJ Xclusive and Banky W are the only other music talents left behind. For EME, there, therefore, wasn’t a better time to evolve.
Banky himself has evolved. He’s become a bona fide movie star, and was the lead in the Wedding Party franchise that has grossed almost N1 billion domestically so far. Also, after recently attending his second workshop at the New York Film Academy, Banky has successfully added screenwriter to an already lengthy CV. So by extending the capabilities of his business as well as venturing farther outside of music, the veteran R&B singer has made an astute business move, in addition to a strategic career move.
EME is now as multi-faceted as its CEO. Banky claims that the company will continue to work with singers in the future, although he clearly seems hesitant to rebuild a new roster around them. EME currently represents Adesua Etomi, an actor (and Banky’s wife), Ebuka Obi-Uchendu, a TV presenter and MC, Toolz, an OAP (and Tunde Demuren’s wife), and, of course, Mr. W. Banky likens the new set-up to how Roc Nation was formed after Rocafella Records fell apart. Although, unlike his idol, Jay-Z, the singer didn’t lose his own Dame Dash.
One of Banky’s favourite Hov quotes is “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man.” In simple English, I don’t just do business, I am the business. In even simpler English, if Banky W has become more than a singer, Banky’s company will become more than a record label.
Banky W will, nonetheless, continue to release music. Last year, he released the under-promoted Songs About U album/playlist and recently revealed the title of his next album, The Bank Statement, named after his moribund blog. But if it looked unlikely before that there would be an EME 2.0 or an Empire Mates State of Mind (Vol. 2), it seems nigh on impossible now. It’s the end of an era, but it’s also the start of one that could be even more exciting.
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