Pulse People: Motolani Alake

Without this intro, one thing you’ll quickly pick up about Motolani is that he goes against the grain. As we discuss, and he talks about his background and his career growth, you’ll see a young man who is ruthlessly resilient, holding tight to his deepest passions and has no qualms about stating his opinion, regardless of who’s listening. 

In this edition of Pulse People, we talk to Motolani Alake, Entertainment Editor at Pulse Nigeria and one of the more remarkable custodians of music and popular culture in Nigeria.

Tell me about your background.

A lot of it has to do with my dad. As much as he had a problem with the way I used to consume music, like always with headphones, he was the one that pretty much got me those things. And he always said something: he told me that my generation was going to be filled with people who were going to study one thing and then practise the things that they are passionate about. So he pushed me to read a lot as a kid, even though I didn’t like it. I wasn’t exactly about the books. I was more interested in weird stuff, and stuff that satisfied my curiosity. 

When I got into high school, I wasn’t very good at math. So my dad moved me to art class, seeing that I was very practical. I wanted to be a lawyer. It was a grand idea. I met Mr. Molese, who saw a lot of potential in me and made me editor-in-chief of the press club at 13. So that was how a lot of it got started. But by the time I was studying law, I didn’t enjoy it as much. So I started producing music. I really wanted to be a music producer. I got to a level where I got a gig with a record label in Detroit, and they were paying me about $100 for a beat, but I didn’t see it as a long term thing, because I knew that most music producers had very ephemeral careers; it wasn’t something I could do for a long time. 

For the best part of my late teens and early twenties, I really wanted to create a tech company. And I did. I created some things, but they just never got off the ground. 

So by 2013, when I graduated from uni, a friend of mine who used to work at Pulse, Segun Akande, told me about a platform called Column. Column was this new platform, and they wanted me to come to write for them. He had never seen me write (even though we went to the same uni), so I was curious as to how he knew I could write. So I joined Column at the time, but the platform closed down within 6 months, then I went to law school, and stopped writing for a while. Immediately after law school, he called me again to work for another platform called Turnt. This had a longer spell. I wrote for Turnt for about 6 months. But 4 months into that spell, he joined Pulse. So I was writing for Turnt until Turnt closed down. 

In 2016, I was trying to start another company. I had sent proposals to the Central Bank, they were interested in it, but all of a sudden, they shut it down. They said we couldn’t create a non-bank led fintech. And so everything got shut down, my dad got sick, I got depressed. And then the following year, I started consulting for a sub-company of USAID called HFG. Another friend of mine called me (his name is Kwame) and said we should start a platform called Urban Central. So we pooled all the money that we had and started this company. We didn’t really want to start a website, so we started on Medium. All of a sudden, before we knew it, it started growing. That was when a lot of people got to know me as a writer. Before Urban Central, people knew me as a sports guy. But with Urban Central, I could really explore more niches because I was the Managing Editor of the platform. I was writing across a lot of topics, and I was editing a lot of content. We had problems managing the team as we were all remote, in different parts of the world. As we kept going, it got to a point where I got a bit confused and lost. I knew I wanted to do media, but still, I was not settled. I wasn’t sure I was doing what exactly I wanted. Everyone thought I was opinionated and strong-willed. I heard more than once that I was special, but over and over again, people seemed to focus on the negative, grating parts of my personality. I remember when I was working as a lawyer, my boss at the time, (he was very helpful in shaping my own writing), he 

At Pulse for the first time, I found something I wanted to do, for one, and I also met people who saw the positive and negative sides of my strong personality, and they chose to focus on the positives, and even see the positives in the negatives, and found a way to marry both of them together, and create a professional. That’s what Pulse gave to me. 

How did you get into Pulse?

I decided I wanted to go into media. I’m Christian. So I prayed a lot in 2017 because I was really down bad. I reached out to my friend Kwame. I think I had sent out another proposal and it was turned down. In that year, I actually contemplated suicide. I just knew that there was a lot I could do with my life, but it just didn’t seem to be coming together. So I decided I would chase the media path. I got a job in Abuja, for a Company Secretary/ Legal Adviser role in a financial advisory firm. The money wasn’t bad. It was great, in fact. But the problem was, my boss and I had a number of differences and a fundamental misunderstanding about my role. I was asked to do a lot of sales, which was not my strong suit at the time. I was still looking for funding for Urban Central at the time, I met Mr. Tosin Ashafa, who was really interested, but we didn’t quite have the requisite structure to attract the investments we were looking for. 

So, in February 2018, I saw a vacancy on Pulse for a music writer position on Twitter, and I came in for it. I got the email to come in for the interview two days prior to the interview, but I didn’t see it until the evening before the interview. So I had to take the night bus from Abuja to Lagos because I couldn’t get a flight at that time. So I got to Lagos and came for the interview. I remember I wore a red jacket. I stuck out like a sore thumb. I was looking dapper! Lol. Everyone was dressed fairly casually, but I was a lawyer, and I didn’t quite remember to switch from corporate to informal. So I got in, and my confidence was oozing during my conversation. I was very ready for it, you couldn’t tell me anything. I aced the interview, actually, but the problem was, they thought I would be out of control. I remember Ayomide Tayo asked me who I thought was the greatest rapper of all time. I said Kanye West, and he was trying to give me reasons why he thought it was Jay Z, and he had a good angle. But at the time, I just did not know how to accept other people’s opinions, so I got very argumentative and even confrontational. So I didn’t get the job. 

I went back to my job in Abuja, but by May of the same year, I was really fed up with it. So I resigned and came back to Lagos and was freelancing a lot, and also writing for Urban Central. Then in July, on my birthday, I got an interview at Heritage Bank. Almost everyone in my family wanted me to go back to practicing law, but I really did not want that. I intentionally lied on my cv, because I knew they would see it and not hire me. On my way back, I prayed that I would not have to go back to Akure without getting a job. Shortly after, I heard that my friend Segun was leaving Pulse. So I applied for his role, and this time, I was offered the job on the spot. So that’s how I got into Pulse. 

What’s your current role at Pulse?

I am currently Editor on the Entertainment desk, and I also lead the Pulse Podcast Network, so content strategy, talent acquisition, and all that. I also requested to be involved in a little bit of Partnerships work. But the job is sort of expanding because I do events, advisory (sometimes), sales. So the job has expanded beyond the initial scope. My primary role is to write stories for Pulse. Stories, breaking news, and similar stuff.

But the best thing Pulse has done for me, especially someone like Ben (Pulse Nigeria Editor-In-Chief) understands that I could do more than my initial job description, to give me a little more freedom to do the things that I could do, and I think it is mutually beneficial to myself and the brand, as I’ve done this over the years, to create valuable content and products. Throughout 2020, I was trying out different creative initiatives here, and I was allowed to experiment with content and find stuff that worked and caught on with the audience. That to me is the biggest blessing, and no matter what happens next, that will be the biggest takeaway from Pulse, that creative freedom. It took me a while to conform to the writing style here at Pulse. I was coming from a place where I used to write a lot of long-form pieces. But now I have to control that. Some of these pieces may not be as necessary or relevant here. 

What does your typical day look like?

My typical day, these days is hard to describe, because I do different things on different days. Let’s take yesterday for example. I woke up, came to the office, wrote 2 stories, and then had editorial meetings, then I had a meeting with TikTok to finalize a sales pitch, then shot the video for an episode of Facts Only, then we talked about podcasting. I had a meeting to discuss equipment, what day to record, which podcast to bring back, and all of that. 

Then I wanted to do a PowerPoint presentation, a pitch I’m working on, to pitch an idea to a client, and after that, I conducted an interview. So just back-to-back activity on all the different topics I’m involved in.

What inspires you to show up every day?

People on social media. Just the fact that there’s a raging, ravenous audience out there waiting for this content is enough inspiration. Lool. I’ve been burnt out for the past few weeks, but the fact that there are people that hold you accountable for these things, and the fact that someone out there will send you a message from a random place like Louisville, Kentucky to say thank you for what you’re doing, that really inspires me a lot. I’m also inspired even by messages from people that strongly disagree with my opinions on articles or on a podcast. The sheer size of the audience, and that vibrant, engaging interaction that the audience has with the work we put out, it’s amazing. 

What do you do to unwind?

I drink a lot. And I’ve had to stop myself recently. I haven’t had any alcohol since January 1. My throat got inflamed in December and that was where I drew the line and decided to really start looking after myself. Other than that, I don’t really go out much, except for work. And when I say this, people just don’t believe me because they see me out a lot. Lol. If I didn’t have to go for any of those things, I wouldn’t. I’m literally a homebody. Stay at home, watch a movie, eat when I can, drink wine, have someone over, that’s it. 

When I really want to go out, I want to go out with people that I know and have real relationships with. I don’t like clubbing, it’s a stupid concept. It’s a lot of noise, too many people and it’s also so noisy. My favourite place is an open-air lounge. That’s my kind of thing. I don’t really have cravings. I’ve lived through times when there was nothing to eat. So I’m functional with food. Lol.