The Bronx-born, Afro-beat inspired artist speaks on the release of his debut album 'Modern Age', singing in church since the age of three and the thriving NY Afro-beat scene.
How was the process of creating your debut mixtape ‘Modern Age’?
The process was freeing. I always freestyle so I can have an easygoing recording experience. I had just finished recording a full length project that was more R&B driven in LA before starting 'Modern Age'. When I came back home to New York, my engineer encouraged me to go back to incorporating Afro-beat into my music. At first I was hesitant, but once I recorded 'Afro-Sisqo', I was really starting to have fun. Subsequently, all the other records started flowing shortly after. 'Nnobody' was the only song that I recorded four years prior.
Sonically, what were your initial influences going into creating this project and did they at all change during the process of creating the album?
It was the music I was into at the time heavily influenced my recording process. My initial influences were Frank Ocean, Sisqo, Dru Hill, Jodeci. At the same time, I started to listen to more Burna Boy, Prettyboy DO, Fireboy DML and Tems.
What were the overarching themes/narratives that you wanted to explore on the project?
Love is something I always find myself trying to understand and attain. Love was important for me to express. At the same time, I am also learning more and more that God is Love. My spirituality is what pillars my purpose in music but I also grapple with the innate desires and lust we have as human beings. You can hear it in songs like 'Christian' and 'It Go Bad'. It’s the energy behind the line “born sinner, pop pill-er, girl dealer” in 'Nnobody'.
"...I want my freedom. Autonomy through my work will always be important to me..."
Is there a track which you feel best encapsulates the overall tone of the project?
'Nnobody' is the most developed song - I’ve been working on it for five years. I feel like if it wasn't for this project I probably wouldn’t have even put that record out - but I know that the song encapsulates my sound and the type of music I want to create going forward.
How was creating the visuals for ‘Ocean Baby’ and how important are visuals to your music?
I wanted to show what intimacy in its primitive stage of a relationship. Being able to translate my words to evoke emotion through the screen is something I want to delve deeper into going forward. I want to really explore the intricacies of culture and romance in my records and visuals are crucial to storytelling behind these records.
How important do you find it not to get too attached to genre boundaries and instead create something authentic and new?
I wouldn't really see the point in making music if I was trying to fit into a mould or chasing a specific sound - I want my freedom. Autonomy through my work will always be important to me and my music will always be genre bending by nature due to the duality of my own existence, culturally.
"... my sound was right in front of me the whole time. It flows through my blood, heritage, and culture. "
What first inspired you to get into music and when did you begin to take it seriously as a career?
I‘ve been singing since I was three. I grew up in a Nigerian Seven Day Adventist Church which is probably why I am constantly agonising over my sins and lusty behaviour. I love women, I love singing about women and exploring all that they embody. I really started recording music seriously once I started to fall in love.
How was the process of finding your sound?
I’ve been recording since I was 16. I tried a bunch of different approaches to music but my sound was right in front of me the whole time. It flows through my blood, heritage, and culture. The biggest hurdle for me was accepting my voice. Once I accepted my voice and didn't try to conform, my sound came naturally.
How do you feel that your sound has grown or evolved since your first releases back in 2016?
I've learned not to force it; I've become more confident in the voice God gave me. I struggled with accepting myself, my voice, my story, my idiocracies. Now, I embrace it all and it shows.
"Their impact and political thought through their lyrics served a purpose within their community, society, and the African diaspora as a whole."
How is the Afro-beat scene in the US?
The Afro-beat scene in New York is super prevalent; New York has been rich with diversity and culture for a long time. It has been crazy to watch how Afro-beat has become more accepted. It almost seems to be as mainstream as Reggae and Dancehall now that Afro-beat artists are signing to American labels.
Which artists first inspired you to get into music and who is inspiring you today?
I admired the stories of Kirk Franklin, Bob Marley, Fela when I was growing up. Their impact and political thought through their lyrics served a purpose within their community, society, and the African diaspora as a whole. Their legacies inspire me still to this day.
If you had to recommend five artists to your listeners, who would they be?
What’s coming up for the rest of 2020?
More music, God willing with beautiful visuals to match.