Notion spoke with Show Dem Camp about their new record, Clone Wars 5 ‘THE ALGORHYTHM’, musical passage, and why there is still a long way to go.
Through a bit of a shaky zoom call, a consistent connection was eventually made with the now veteran Nigerian rap duo Show Dem Camp. Ghost joined from Nigeria and Tec connected on a separate line from an undisclosed location en route in the process of moving homes with his young daughter. The two mature, yet still vibrant and hungry rappers spoke with inherent purpose and clarity despite the patchy service. Now catapulting off the release of their fifth album iteration of their ‘Clone Wars’ series, they seem determined to solidify a legacy that has been crafted over a full decade.
The first ‘Clone Wars’ dropped in 2011 and asserted the two prolific emcees as lyrical titans. They have carried this spirit over 5 projects and have advanced into a defining pocket laced with astute social commentary and reflection. The raps are as sharp as ever, but rather than intending to inflict their prowess, Ghost and Tec aim to reshape outsider’s ideas about where they reside and shift the consciousness of insiders in terms of how they become centered and intentional.
The pandemic made the seasoned recorders and performers have to adapt to isolation, and though it was a challenge, they have emerged with a project pieced together to combat one of modern society’s greatest conundrums. Though it was mostly conceived in separate locations, Show Dem Camp presents an album in alignment opposing the algorithmic nature of the internet’s vortex and society’s bureaucracy.
You’ve said about other ‘Clone Wars’ series that they were a “snapshot of your consciousness.” Where are you consciously for Volume 5?
Tec: For me, like everyone else, it’s been a very turbulent past year being indoors. With all the stuff I do, I usually have to move around. What it made me do was appreciate the little things a little more, and things like family. Then I figured out other things I have a passion for like video editing which is something I did early on in our career but I hadn’t had the time to sit down. All that helped me find an alignment with self. But for me it was very heavy as well, like with all the stuff happening in the US with Black Lives Matter, then we had a thing in Nigeria in October with the End Sars protests. That all led to a sense of frustration. We’ve been very vocal in our music about how we view politics and how we view people treating each other. There was a lot of front-line action and we weren’t able to be physically on the front line. It was tough on a personal level coming to grips with that. It’s just been a lot of change, but 95 percent positive. But the other 5 percent is that we had a moment to actually change things last year and while we took some steps it wasn’t quite all the way. I thought we were gonna have a full-blown revolution and I think there’s a little frustration that we’re still here. How do we actually change the living conditions of so many in our country and continent? My mindset is really reflective.
Ghost: This period has had a lot of searching for me. Then it had the frustration of seeing things come so close but knowing we are going back to normal. But it’s been mostly a period of growth with people I keep close. You gravitate towards other people in times of conflict. It was reflected in all the stuff we developed as a group.
‘The Algorithm’ is an interesting subtitle for this ‘Clone Wars Vol. 5’ as it’s focused on the virtual side potentially, but also the algorithm that has always existed in the system.
Ghost: When we were creating the project we were thinking about what encapsulates this time period and timestamp that we’re in. ‘The Algorithm’ definitely grabbed everything that we were feeling. The change in how systems are operating then the fact that a lot of people were housebound in lockdown made everything exist on your computer or phone. There was very much an algorithm of things that were being fed to us. It’s like we were looking at the world from the inside out.
Tec: Last year completely showed us the power of our phones. The power of information shared through the phones. Right now for good or bad we’re in a space where they can pretty much censor what is false in your phone. Like they have fact-checkers who can give you a version of the truth. For certain things, it could be that there is one truth, but for a lot of other things, there are multiple truths. Now we’ve reached a point where they can tell you what the truth is because that’s the accepted truth. It made me realize the power that these systems we subscribe to have. Also, just being home and realizing we order probably a million more things online on Amazon and all of that, I found it weird when sometimes I would discuss certain things and then see an ad for that certain thing. I think that shows we are fully in this technology era now where our thoughts are being shared and fashioned depending on how deep you are in it. It’s very Black Mirror-esque.
Can you clarify the intention of the Palmwine series versus the Clone Wars series for me as far as what balance they both strike for you musically?
Ghost: The ‘Clone Wars’ series is very much thought out, innermost thoughts, and expressing how we feel at a certain point in time. ‘Palmwine’ is more relaxed. It’s a more playful side to us and happy because we have to strike a balance with everything. It helps us strike that in terms of a sound that is organic. We can fuse our hip-hop upbringing with a vibe we wouldn’t want to explore on a ‘Clone Wars’ tape. Those tend to have more restrictions and ‘Palmwine’ is more open and free.
Tec: ‘Palmwine’ is about doing rap and hip-hop over beats that are primarily African. It’s about balancing things you think about deeply with the juxtaposition of liking to have fun. When we first started our career we had to come back to Nigeria as rappers and make a more commercial version of our sound. The first ‘Clone Wars’ was our release then where we could really just rap. We would just download a bunch of beats from the internet and attack them whichever way we deemed fit. People started to pick up on that and we started to have to be more intentional. On ‘Clone Wars 2: The Subsidy’ we had to put more of what was going on in society into our music.
Ghost: At first we thought with no restrictions on how to present or market. There was no format. With that second ‘Clone Wars’ we got much more conscious of the songs we were putting together and aligning them with society and what was going on around us. Then when ‘Clone Wars’ became semi-serious, ‘Palmwine’ became the more free and laid back expression. But we also talked about personal relationships more with women or friends and just growing as a human being organically.
Tec: That idea of having fun with the music, we needed to do that also.
Ok, so going back to your rap roots. You’ve said this 5th ‘Clone Wars’ is a nod to some of your favorite rap albums from the 90s and early 2000s. Which ones?
Tec: We grew up listening to a lot of late 90s hip-hop and just how the projects were structured. Like with the skits on ‘Chronic 2001’ or ‘Doggystyle’ or ‘Life After Death’ or Nas albums from back in the day. When we started to listen to hip-hop in Nigeria a lot of the extra things on the project were equally important. I can tell you all the skits on DMX’s first album. I can tell you all of the pain-in-the-ass characters from the Jay-Z albums. That’s what we found interesting so for us it was like, “How do we form our own world and characters but keep it true to who we are?” What I found amazing about hip-hop in the US at that time is, I’d never been to LA or Compton or Brooklyn or The Bronx or Harlem but I got a sense of what those places were about through the music. For us, we are trying to paint a picture for anyone that’s not from Nigeria so they can listen and think, “On snap! That’s how they’re living out there?” Then they can begin to realize the similarities in how they are living and how we are and unify through this genre of music.
Ghost: Yeah definitely the DMXs, the Jay-Zs, the Eminems, Redman and Meth with the skits. Those are the influences but we have a lot of people we consciously and subconsciously channel through our music based on what we grew up with. But that’s all definitely something we paid homage to.
Speaking of the skits, what’s that one at the end of “YKTV” about American girls putting your picture on the internet about?
Tec: We like to put a little bit of social commentary. So last year at the end of the year on the 31st of December the richest man in Africa had a girl from Atlanta put his picture up saying she’d been his mistress for the past couple of years. She put him up in a bunch of compromising situations and posted it on the gram. We were just playing off that like it’s funny that the richest man in Africa still does the same dumb shit that…
Ghost: We do!
Tec: Exactly! We found that hilarious. In a sense, it wasn’t even to poke fun, it was more to humanize it. We are all in the same boat.
That’s an interesting contrast to what the song before it is about. “YKTV” seems like a leading statement of flexing your longevity. What led to wanting to make that your opening statement on the album?
Ghost: We wanted to introduce our characters early on. “YKTV” is supposed to stand for you know the vibes.
Tec: It’s very much, “We are back, we are in your face, back by popular demand.” Like Ghost said to introduce the characters early but also to lighten the mood early. There’s another record called “All The Above” that we just threw on our socials because we couldn’t clear it. It was meant to be on the project as well. For the characters, we reference that guy in the verse of that song. It was meant to be a thread that runs through the project. If we are building this universe it’s good to introduce the elements of this universe super early.
The song “Align” feels like it most represents the project’s thread and throughline. What was your impetus to create that one and how do you both stay aligned?
Tec: For that track, when I heard the beat immediately I heard the word align. I just started building off of that word. I like how New York rappers like Saigon or Papoose would do an alphabet series and play on words. So I started off seeing how far I could take rapping about stuff I needed to “Align” with. Jadakiss also has this song “Why?” which is also what I was referencing. On a personal level though, there are just themes and topics that have been influencing my mind. As an individual, there are a lot of things you’re told to look outwardly for. There’s a lot of groupthink and there’s a lot of things that separate us. So for me, it was like, “How do I talk about the things I wanna align better with?” I say in the song, “African women they’ve been designed to lead us to the finishing line.” I think we’ve been talking about all these issues in Africa but 99 percent of the leadership is men. Maybe if we let African women run this for a bit we could see a difference. We’ve been trying for this long and haven’t been able to agree on anything. We’ve taken forms of government from everywhere else in the world and adopted it worse than everywhere else so maybe we need to realign how we think about what government looks like. We’ve tried western methods and they clearly don’t work for us with a lot of the inequalities that we already have. So it’s also about the bigger things outside of yourself you can align with. That was where my mindset was at then I sent it to Ghost.
Ghost: From my perspective, I was trying to say something different than what I heard. For me what I align with is what to me resonates as true. Then also living for the moment but planning for the future is also a thing that I align with. Sometimes when somebody is already saying things you want to say you have to put a different twist on what they are saying. That’s what I did here. Also, the way we aligned with Ladipoe on this track fit perfectly.
Another track that exudes another throughline is “Rise of the Underdogs 2.” How’d that sequel come about, and do y’all really still view yourselves as underdogs with all your longevity?
Tec: I think we’ll always view ourselves as underdogs because we’ve always had to try to consistently create our own lane, sometimes even when there was no lane. In Nigeria, it’s been a long journey to get to this point and even now there’s people tryna take it from us. We have to keep that underdog mentality and mindset. Then we also always look out for the other underdogs as well like Shalom Dubas or Alpha Ujini who we feature. We look for people who have that X-Men spirit.
Ghost: We definitely align with underdogs who, like us every day, fight the good fight. In Africa, if you’re an underdog you are going against the grain in general. In most things, I lean towards underdog matchups, whether it’s basketball or music I always root for them. In terms of musical trajectory, when you have an underdog story where you have a series of small wins instead of one big win that resonates more with my nature and I think that’s what part 2 was about. Part 1 was about that standpoint for us but for part 2 we felt like we were speaking for others and trying to push them forward.
Tec: I think as well the main thing is to always champion the people that need to be championed. Coming up in the industry we always felt like we wished someone would have shown us the way. So for us, it was how do we make that way for other people? Everything we try to do is build a community. When we build a community of underdogs and amplify that even more people come to the shows. Shalom Dubas literally came up to me one day and was like, “Yo, I rap.” Then I was like “Let me hear it.” Then she rapped for me and I thought it was fire. Then she said it was her dream to perform at our festival and I said, “Bet, it’s done, you’re dope.” She thought I was playing up until the moment she got on stage. She thought there was no way she as an unknown artist would perform at the festival but for me, it’s just about your skills and how great you are, then what you stand for with what you’re trying to do. It’s really about giving people a chance because we are the example of what the underdog could become.
I wanted to ask you each to respond to and expound upon two of my favorite lyrical moments of each of yours from the album. Ghost I’ll start with you: “We can’t all be lions king, that would be too disturbing.”
Ghost: That was a play on obviously ‘Lion King’ and also the fact that even with the ‘Circle of Life’ reference there has to be a balance for us to grow as a society. When I say lion I mean to all the kings and queens out there, but if we all act like lions who are we gonna feast on but each other?
Tec here’s your first one with a bit of a similar tone: “Tryna pass the torch but these guys no dey near enough”
Tec: To be honest with you, we tried to pass the torch for a very long time and I think there’s only one person. I say this with no disrespect to anybody but the only guy I look at in Nigeria or around and I say, “This guy is super sharp” is Ladipoe. Everybody has their own different styles but in the ilk that we’re coming from as lyricists, people who really focus on the pen, people who really try to put hidden gems in the bars, and rappers who really try to share what’s on their mind and be as honest as possible, he’s on that level. When I was on the track with him and Ghost, “Savages” from our previous tape, I say this all the time and they think I’m joking, but you know the guy who put the roses for the king to walk down? I think on that track that was my job. I had done my verse 2 to 3 years prior and I kept thinking, “Damn these guys are going so hard, I think I have to redo my verse.” No one else from the new generation makes me think that. I want more people to come out and have that. We are looking for the next evolution of rappers better than us. For our lane other than Ladipoe I haven’t really seen that.
Ghost again: “I got people saying tell your daughter to watch how she dresses/ Charity begins at home was the untimely expression/ Is it her fault another human mind is regressive?/ Look that mindset is warped and it’s time that we end it.”
Ghost: That track was written after there were some xenophobic attacks in South Africa and there were some victims of rape in Nigeria that had been rampant. It was definitely something I wanted to touch on. For me, having a daughter and having to listen to people blame women for how they dress, I think we have to unlearn certain things. You clearly think it’s ok for a regressive human being to prey on her. I had to correct that mindset because I know a lot of people tend to have that. To say, “You shouldn’t have dressed that way” is not what we should be focusing on at all.
Tec your final one: “Praises to the Most high/ Catch me on grown shit/ This life is a just a process/ Waking up in cold sweats/ Dealing with my own stress/ Find it hard to flow sef/ Questions to the most high/ Like what you trying to show TEC.”
Tec: I constantly have this battle with faith. Now that I have analyzed it a bit I think it’s a battle with organized faith. Also, when I look back on the period when writing that song I was having trouble being inspired to make music. As I get a bit older now it comes in spurts. In a 2 week period, I could be like, “Send me anything and I’ll eat it up,” but then have another month where I can’t write anything. It’s almost like going into the well to fetch water. There’s some songs where you do a sixteen and it just sounds nice but if you’re constantly going to the well and each time it’s like, “Why does it feel like it needs to be replenished,” what is that saying? At certain times last year, it felt like that. Most of the songs last year Ghost kick-started them and he would send them to me. Then a month later I still wouldn’t have written anything. It was a result of all the different things we were experiencing. “Bright Skies” which is the song that was taken from, was saying, “Ok that cloud has kind of passed now and we’re beginning to see something.” I still think with distance and time I’ll be able to understand it fully.
Can you speak on the balance your voices lyrically and tonally have on wax? Back when you started did you think about that when forming the group?
Tec: We started rapping together initially at University, but first Ghost belonged to one group and I to another. I kept thinking, “Damn, that guy is the nicest. How can I do something with that guy and not the other guys?” To be completely real he was so nice that I was like, “Dang man, I’m gonna have to do a lot to hang with this dude on a track.” Over time everybody started to get jobs and be grown-ups and we were the last two standing. I don’t think I’d be rapping this long if I wasn’t rapping with Ghost mainly because he’s kept me sharp. Every time he sends me a verse I’m like, “Wow, that’s the bar!” Then I have to try and reach that bar and it’s almost like a puzzle. It never allowed me to drop wack shit because there’s already a standard. Then now as I’ve become more comfortable in my voice as a rapper it’s vice versa. We are able to say this does or doesn’t meet the standard. That duality is great because sometimes I even learn stuff from where his current mindstate is from what he sends me. We’ve been friends for so long that we may go a long period without speaking but then he sends me a track and I’m like, “Damn is that where you’re at?”
Ghost: We’ve been tight for a long time and never really thought about the tones of our voices. But we definitely did align with each other in recognizing there was a pure passion for lyricism. We used to rap with a lot of other people but were the last two standing. We said, “No white flags, we’re gonna go till the wheels fall.” We have a lot of trust in each other because we have similar taste even though he’s a Nas guy and I’m a Jay-Z guy. But we trust each other’s words and pens so when it comes to sketching a picture lyrically we can put something down and be open about whether or not it’s up to the level.
Tec: A very key thing to us is perspective. If he shares it from this perspective I approach it from a different one. There’s a song on the project called “Streets” and I’m not on the song because I couldn’t find another perspective to put on it. Sometimes less is more. We have two sensibilities and lines of thinking and we always try to give two varying sides.
Since you spoke on how you inspire each other, can you both also speak on the legacy of Sound Sultan, the legendary Nigerian rapper who recently passed away, and what his influence meant to you?
Tec: Definitely! When I was at University I didn’t know much about Nigerian music but met a friend of mine and she played me a bunch of Nigerian artists. I had been around in the UK and places for a while and didn’t know they were actually creating music and rapping in Nigeria. She played me this CD and it had 2Face and a guy named Sound Sultan who was rapping on a basketball court. Then I forgot about it but went back to Nigeria in 2008 and did a tour with 2face who was the biggest Nigerian artist at the time. I saw this guy Sound Sultan on it who was just commanding the crowd. He had them in the palm of his hand. He had this song “Area” and this other song “Gang Gang” and just everything he dropped on the crowd was a gem. Everything was impeccable in the call and response. Then I’ll never forget Sound Sultan was the first big artist to work with us and agree to feature. We had a small studio to record at the time and he drove all the way there from Festac which was a 40 or 50-minute drive. Festac was the hub of music at the time but he came out to meet us to do this song. He was such an enigmatic character that before he would record a song he’d do 50 press-ups outside the studio. I’ll never forget that. He even had us in the first music video we were ever in. Every time we saw him after that it was love.
Ghost: Sultan had a lot of conscious themes in his music. A lot of people who have that in their sound we gravitate towards generally. 2face and Sultan were two guys whose energy was so positive and conscious it really resonated with me and Tec. Sultan was just this guy who showed us love from the beginning. I would play basketball with him and he was so competitive. But to me, he also represents the essence of music, which is just spreading love. A true pillar of African music.
Tec: When you ask people what they know us for they say, “Show Dem Camp is always putting on new artists.” A lot of that ethos was part of the way that Sultan embraced us. He had no reason to. All the artists know he was a pure person. He was super talented but his integrity was pure as well.
Ghost: He even did animation which a lot of people don’t know. He would do a lot of social commentary but feed the medicine with sugar through cartoons, acting, and music.
So you mentioned it a bit earlier, but one of the ways you carry on that legacy is with your Palmwine Festival. Can you tell me the history of it and where it’s at now?
Tec: It started in 2016 when Ghost and I had a conversation because we were disillusioned with where the music was going. What would happen is our shows were fueled by huge corporate brands. They’d have 40 artists on the bill, pay you to come, but you’d have ten minutes to get on and get off. We couldn’t even perform with a band. One time we were on stage at this bougie corporate event and I was rapping and this one woman was just at one of the tables eating her dinner looking at me like, “Look at the little guy rapping.” She had no interest in what we were doing. I was like “We can’t keep doing this.” We also didn’t want to keep doing commercial songs at the time. So we sat down and talked about this record we put out in 2013 called “Feel Alright” to introduce the ‘Palmwine’ series and how we really loved performing it. So we wondered how to tap back into that and build our community. We started Palmwine Sessions and went from 100 people in a room to 200 and then did a show on Independence day in 2017 with a brand that had about 1,000 people with us as the headliner. Then we thought maybe we could do a festival and did it in December of that year. The stage was falling apart, we had no backstage so artists and fans were in the same section…
Ghost: We had a piece of cloth to separate them and the stage.
Tec: I remember being there in the morning setting up and people told me to go home to get into artist mode. So we did for a bit, then I started calling people to see how it was and they told me to start coming. I asked how many people were there and they said, “Don’t worry, just show up.” We earmarked there would be 500 people and we got there and there were like 2,500 people. It was crazy and people were having such a good time cuz there was none of that VIP stuff like with every other show. You could just vibe and meet people and there was face painting and Palmwine drinking. It was just good vibes.
Ghost: I remember when we both looked at the crowd and just started laughing at each other. It was all very organic. Then from then on, we knew we would run it back to back. In terms of finding talented musicians, Tec has a natural ear for A&Ring. I feel like we find people naturally but are blessed with having a good ear.
Tec: Our main thing is we wanted it to be live and some artists who performed had never had a chance to hear their music with a band. A lot of them have now incorporated that into their music. So in a way, it’s almost like a standard we set to create. Then in 2018, we were getting asked to bring it to other places and tested it out in London. It was sold out before the day of the show. Then we kept building with that idea of having great vibes listening to great live music. Losing all the pretentiousness and stripping it all down.
Lastly, how do you feel you’ve grown most as artists and people between the last ‘Palmwine Express’ album in 2019 and releasing ‘Clone Wars 5’ in 2021?
Ghost: As an artist, and musically for me as a lyricist, I think I’m generally less melodic with my deliveries and cadences. But from the last ‘Palmwine’ to this last ‘Clone Wars’ I tried to add more singing in my delivery. Some people may not call it singing but I learned it from doing that last ‘Palmwine Express.’ Then as a person, I think creating that last album was one of the most problematic for me that we’ve ever made in terms of actually putting the album together. We were in different places not feeding off the same energy. There were times where we struggled to find inspiration. That made this album more reflective. As a human being, because I link my artistry to myself, I’ve realized my ethos is to find a tribe who you vibe with and stick with them.
Tec: I think for me more than anything musically this album was the most testing. I’ve never had to reach so deeply to find words and lyrics. We do mirror the reality in our lives. I’m the type of person where if I’m in the studio with all these other guys I feed off that energy. I realized creating in isolation doesn’t really work for me. I need to be with people in the studio and that’s what’s important in my process. The new ‘Clone Wars’ also may be more of us finding honesty in our personal lives. Honesty with our thoughts and emotions and putting that into song. For me, I’ve also begun to understand a lot more of my purpose. I’ve worked with fantastic artists that I’m developing. I realize my purpose is in some ways to help build other people up. I get as much joy working with other artists as I do working on my own music. This period has fashioned that. There’s a fantastic artist I’ve been working with for the past two years named Tems who’s doing great things. Being able to see her growth and play the background has been really eye-opening.