But to this story, there was a foreshadowing…
On Teni’s debut album, Wondaland, an emotional and introspective record titled ‘Hustle’ responded some of her critics in a monologue or self-dialogue. 18 months before the album dropped, Teni experienced a downtime of sorts, which wasn’t helped by the uncertainty around the pandemic.
The song appeared to be her response to pressure from fans to sustain her success, and to some of the people she has seemingly offended in her quest to succeed. Her lyrics were seering and informative, to what transpired on Saturday.
Towards the end of the song, Teni offers a pungent line, “Dem say Teni pompous because I put myself first… It’s all love…”
Her voice was calm, revealing the pain points that might have birthed that cathartic record.
The song opens with the following line, “I wan talk my mind, for anyone wey fit relate…”
The music industry is gruesome – more so for unorthodox women, who sell personality over sex appeal. Succeeding involves making tough choices that might hurt some people. In the earlier parts of the last decade, Teniola Apata was studying Business Administration at an American University, when she became an embryonic social media sensation.
Around that time, Falz was something of a blueprint for entertainers with range, who needed to use their other talent as a launchpad for their music. In some ways, many people deemed Teni to be the ‘female version of Falz,’ due to her accentuation of words and comedic expressions, via her selfie camera.
All the while, the makings of a superstar gathered pace, but first as a songwriter. While such claims are contested from her side, some trusted accounts claim that Teni was more comfortable with being a songwriter, when she made her earliest forays into the music industry.
Around that time, she met Shizzi, a burgeoning Nigerian producer, who had garnered acclaim for producing several hits for Davido, ‘Your Body’ for EME and Wizkid, ‘Rands and Nairas (Remix)’ for Emmy Gee, and more. His impact on Davido’s career was so immense that the OBO boss bought him a house.
By this time, Shizzi was based in Atlanta, Georgia, US, which also happened to be Davido’s ‘hometown.’ Most people around Teni commended her tenacity, appetite, creativity and ability to write records via ‘one take’ recordings.
“She was special and she knew it. You didn’t need anybody to tell you twice. All you had to do was catch her at a studio session and watch the magic [happen],” a source says.
As she grew, Teni found her voice and personality, possibly buoyed by encomiums. Slow but surely, she embraced the possibility of becoming a recording artist.
“Everybody wanted to be associated with her, but Shizzi beat everybody to it and signed her,” the same source revealed. “They had an uncommon chemistry and a relationship that you couldn’t buy in the market. They’re both too angry to admit it now, but they know it’s true.”
By this time, Teni had started busking on the streets of Atlanta, often with a smile on her face.
“As much as she was simply enjoying those moments, I think she was using them to test run and solidify her superstar dreams,” says another source.
The reluctance of Teni’s mom
In Teni’s way was her mom, who wanted her to finish school, instead of pursuing a career in the music industry. The woman was spending a lot of money on a degree at an American University, and was loath to see her daughter pursue an uncertain career in a crazy industry.
One day, Teni had a long phone conversation with Nigerian Exec, Abisagboola Oluseun, also known as Bankulli. The conversation was so emotional, that Bankulli’s father, who was spending a holiday with him, intervened. He asked his son to aid the poor girl’s cause.
When Bankulli placed a call to Teni’s mom to intervene, his dad requested the phone and spoke with her in Ondo dialect. She finally agreed and things moved ahead.
Teni: Restlessness vs. Patience in Nigeria
In 2015, Teni came back to Nigeria with dreams of becoming a superstar. By this time, her social media skit game was gaining tons of fans by the day. When people found her music pre-Amin, everybody wanted to sign her.
“We’re talking everybody; D’Banj and even Tunde Ednut,” says another source.
But at the time, she was still signed to Shizzi, who was keen to hold on. While Shizzi was particular about patience and building the blocks with records like ‘Magic Finger’ and ‘Amen,’ Teni felt like she was ready and only needed money to go on and succeed.
“Shizzi wanted to be patient and build it one at a time. And from the look of things, he had pure intentions for her. Considering what Teni has since become, one can also argue that he wanted to give her the best platform to excel,” says our first source. “But the longer he waited, the more restless Teni became: the attention didn’t stop. She might have also felt like her pen skills and ability to make great reference tracks had been exploited, even if that wasn’t the case.”
The source also noted that a blogger like Tunde Ednut posted her videos, while hoping to sign her. However, Osadolor Nate Asemota won the race, and signed Teni to his label, Dr Dolor Entertainment. He was also willing to splurge on a large scale, something that Teni felt she needed, but something that Shizzi couldn’t provide.
“I think this caused some division or unspoken beef between Dolor and Tunde,” continues the source.
“I think Shizzi felt [betrayed] by Teni’s disloyalty, not even the breach of contract. They were close and he supported her dreams, from when she couldn’t recognize herself to when she found herself,” a US-based source says. “Countless studio sessions and hours that he put in, helping her to craft her sound at little to no cost just went away like that – it was more about breach of trust. He thought she was family, but it was just a business decision to her. And even in the business, he was the bigger loser.”
After Shizzi found out about Teni’s betrayal, he was livid and keen for Teni to uphold the terms of their contract. From a pure legal point of view, he had every right to enforce terms of a breach.
“To Teni, she felt slightly hurt by it. As much as she knew that her selfishness hurt him, she seemed to hope that Shizzi would understand some of her decisions,” the second source adds.
When that didn’t happen, Teni’s mom once again stepped in to settle the matter, which resulted in Shizzi getting paid a compensation package. He didn’t think it was fair, but it was better than nothing, so he moved on.
All seemed well until Davido released ‘Like Dat,’ the fourth of his four 2017 hit singles. Some years earlier, Teni recorded the song, which became Davido’s reference. While things didn’t really spiral out of control, it put both parties on icy detachment, and was later settled, with Teni getting her credits.
In August 2018, Teni had signed to Dr. Dolor, but still wanted to work with Shizzi on ‘Case.’
But the biggest bone of contention is ‘Case.’
On October 19, 2018, Teni released ‘Case,’ a record produced by Jaysynths, her frequent collaborator. When Shizzi found out, he was livid once again.
On August 8, 2018, Teni had freestyled the fundamental part of the record in Shizzi’s presence, albeit on a different beat, but with an intent to work on it together. Shizzi then went ahead to fine-tune the beat, in anticipation of Teni’s vocals, which never came.
Two days later, Jaysynths apparently produced another version of the song for Teni, with a beat that shares striking similarities to the one made by Shizzi.
Nonetheless, there was never a recorded version of ‘Case’ with a Shizzi beat, which could complicate things. For Shizzi to have a successful legal claim to this song, he would have to prove that Teni told Jaysynths about an earlier beat, and that Jaysynths knew about [Shizzi’s] version, which he then used to create his version.