2 years ago, Sadiq Onifade packed his bags in Atlanta and moved to Lagos to follow a dream. In a city where sinners are life’s winners, standing straight has been a battle.
“I am seeing a refusal from the industry to support me,” WurLD says as he reclines on a sofa, stirs his hot chocolate and takes a careful sip. His opener throws me off. Sitting in his mom’s Lekki home on Lagos Island, the Nigerian singer is busy with the demands of release day. His phone is omnipresent as he tweets to fans and monitors their reception of his art. ‘AFROSOUL,’ is his newest project and the extensive roll-out requires his attention, but also has him thinking deeply about a lot of things. This is the third time WurLD has gone through this process in 14 months, but this is the first time I have seen him troubled. This is not the version of him I am familiar with. In the two years since becoming friends with Sadiq Onifade, he has never complained about anything. But right now, he rattles off his first complaint. It’s not COVID-19 that’s getting to him. It is the music industry.
“Does the industry think you are becoming better than them?” I ask. He responds immediately–his eyes still fixed on his beverage. “It’s not about being better than anyone,” he says. “It’s about adding a different perspective. There are so many gems among African creatives that I love and respect. Yet at the same time, I feel like I’m different, and adding my own value to the culture in general. And a lot of people are choosing not to support. People that can create more visibility but are choosing not to support me.”
When WurLD speaks, his sentences flow and he often uses flowery descriptions that conjure vivid imagery for the listener. This powers his art. In 2016, I discovered the blue-haired singer on Soundcloud and Youtube. Handsome with silky vocals, exquisite songwriting abilities and an aura of mystery, WurLD was a man confident in his uniqueness. The outsized confidence was hard to miss, but the smooth personality took the edge. I watched him croon ‘Show you off’ on-screen, a song with Major Lazer’s Walshy Fire, and was captivated. It is no wonder the record put him on the map. Somehow, the song slipped into underground Lagos playlists then to other African music hubs, working its way into markets with scant promotion.
While Africa was being introduced to WurLD, Europe had already embraced his gifts. “My first success was in Poland, my music broke into Eastern Europe in 2015,” he tells me. Based in the US then, he became a prolific songwriter, penning songs for artists, and hustling to get into the right rooms in Atlanta. He worked with Timbaland, Mario and B.O.B. He even signed contracts with major labels as a songwriter where he participated in creative songwriting marathons. In 2015, WurLD went certified Gold with his Sony Music released track, “Follow You” with Polish DJ, Gromee. When the plaque arrived by mail from Poland, it was shattered and needed glue to hold it together. “It’s the first of many certifications,” the singer told himself.
Universal Music Group Nigeria and OkayAfrica engineered our first meeting and the beginning of our friendship. In 2018, his company, WEAREGVDS (where he partners with renowned music executive, Koch Okoye) signed a joint venture agreement to release his first Nigerian project. I was at Universal Music Group as an executive. We connected over our love of music but then developed a friendship based on mutual respect.
We would connect on and off for years, as I watched his career bloom. One day, after the release of ‘Contagious’, we stood at the Landmark office in Lagos talking shop. He laid out his strategy for his assault on the music industry. He would wage war by infusing local sounds with finely-honed Westernized songwriting.
“We’ll start off with a project that just introduces both sides of my sound,” he told me. “Love Is Contagious,” an EP, released March 2018 was that project and it became a relative success.
“Next, I and Sarz have a super project coming, it’ll make its mark,” he explained, holding my gaze and beaming sincerity. Almost like he prophesied it, “I Love Girls With Trobul” EP was one of the best African projects released in 2019 spanning hits such as “MAD,” “TROBUL,” and “EGO.” The project catapulted WurLD into Nigeria’s mainstream consciousness and built a fanbase that continues to fill concert venues whenever he chooses to make an appearance.
One such appearance at Hard Rock Cafe on December 15, 2019 would make national news and change my life forever. Weeks earlier, while waiting to begin another WurLD interview about a new production he was working on, I placed a call to order a ring. Overhearing my conversation, he asked what I was doing. I told him I’m about to ask my lover to marry me. He looked me in the eye, and said “let me help you with that.” Sure enough, as WurLD lulled the room into a romantic haze, she said ‘Yes,’ and Wurld solidified his position as the lovers’ artist.
“We made a moment Joey,” he says. “Another couple saw your proposal, and got engaged in the crowd. They were trying to get my attention, but sadly I didn’t see. It was special.”
Special is the only way to describe his particular kind of artistry, and that continues with WurLD’s latest project, “AFROSOUL.” Released on May 15, the EP is both victory lap and a diary of his time in Lagos. The city has changed him, taught him, blessed him, and is threatening to spit him back into obscurity. It’s a tough position for the artist, who wrote ‘GHOSTOWN’—a song off the his newest EP— about how it feels to watch industry players withdraw support with each milestone he achieved. Some players even actively worked against him. “I noticed a lot of shift in people that were celebrating me temporarily. I saw that shift happen so fast. They kept leaving, and it became a ghost town. I’m like ‘damn, I’m alone again.’ It’s just me and my internal team. And that really affected me,” he says.
Its a lot to take in for the crooner. He has tasted success internationally and now, back on his home turf, he’s looking for more than a win. He’s looking to make a mark. Now, following the release of his third project, we talk about life in Lagos. Life in the music industry. Life of an innovator. We break down what it really takes to build a cultural product in a city where sinners are winners, and the deepest lessons are learned in adversity.
Why do you think some parts of the industry are choosing not to support you?
I don’t know. I can’t put my fingers on it. I’m just hoping that with time, these same people will see that I’m really true with my art and it’s not a quick one-time thing. I do care about the culture. I do care about African music and where it goes. I do care about how the rest of the world sees African artists. I do care about the way we’re represented in the world. I care about when someone calls me to any platform that represents Africa, I care about how I represent. I care about those things more than anything else, and that’s because these are the things that matter to the next generation. How we show up and represent the culture as a community together.
Do you think this scene is averse to growth and excellence?
You know what? I think so.
Here’s the thing. Everyone has a perception of how well you’re going to do sometimes. People put a cap on how long you’re going to be around. And then when you start exceeding that, it becomes a different thing. People are like, am I ready for this? Six months ago was “I Love Girls With Trobul” which is still an amazing project. Six months later, the project is still strong and I see the interaction on this same project six months later. That’s amazing in this market. No one is talking about that. And I think when I announced that, I was releasing seven new songs, I posted something. January last year, I posted something; I was like ‘best artist in the WurLD, WulrD, WurLD, WurLD’ one-ten (laughs). I was dying laughing when I posted that. You know why? Because I was like some people are going to be offended by this, but really it’s a perfect statement because I put ‘in the WurLD’. This is me just reconfirming that I’m the best in my world. It’s not no shades to anyone. But it’s me reconfirming in my world, I’m the best at what I do. And like I said before, I bring something different to the table, and this is me reconfirming that.
People didn’t know me, didn’t know my background. I was born here. I’m privileged to be able to live in the US and work with so many different people. I learnt how to create music in the US, not Africa first. But my values and my culture is African, because that never went nowhere. Everyday, for however long I was in America, I was constantly speaking Yoruba and pidgin to all my friends and my mum and everyone. So that never left me. It took me a minute musically. I had to learn the music scene maybe like four years ago. ‘Show You Off’ was like my beginning of learning. ‘Show You Off’ wasn’t me thinking of how African music is, or thinking how Nigerian music is. It’s just me creating something with Shizzi that felt natural. Ever since ‘Show You Off’, I had to learn.
I’ve seen you learn. I saw some of the process at Universal.
Yeah. The first conversation we ever had, yeah. Absolutely bro, I had to learn. I think art is communication, music is communication. You could have the best ideas, the most genius. In Love Is Contagious, people saw the genius. They were like ‘Oh wow, amazing. Okay let’s go back to our vibe. Oh WurLD is amazing, yes. Kudos. Oh he’s exceptional’. It was an exception to them because it was fresh, it was different. But it wasn’t really most people’s cup of tea. But the reality was that, I was working on “I Love Girls With Trobul” at the same time. Did you know that? “Love Is Contagious” came out 2019, “I Love Girls With Trobul” came out 2019. But five out of the seven songs on “I Love Girls With Trobul” was already made in 2017. ‘Trobul’ was made in 2017, ‘Ego’, ‘Focus’, ‘Sade’, ‘Prisoner’, 2017. All those five songs were made in 2017.
Wow! And it resonated two years down the line.
If you remember, ‘Ego’ dropped shortly after Love is Contagious. ‘Cause Love Is Contagious was supposed to be a 2018 project. I submitted initially in 2018 to Universal, but we didn’t get to it till 2019, which almost affected the timing of it.
I remember you kept telling me then that you’ve been patient.
I’m still patient. I’m restless. Someone posted the Apple Music playlist cover thing they gave me right? And they said, ‘the restless back again’. But the way they recorded it, it was like a compliment. But at this same time being aware that this guy is not stopping. I’m also patient and consistent. Patience knowing that my time will come. Consistent knowing that that’s the only thing I can do right now. To be consistent, but the time when people celebrate you will come. That’s God’s work; aligning timing with all the work you’ve done. Someone asked me why AFROSOUL already? “Love Is Contagious” just came out. But it’s been six months months ago.
Because the work is still fresh.
Exactly. The HardRock Cafe, shoutout to you, that was a moment, we shared that moment..
Shoutout to you too. Thank you.
It was amazing because we made something special that day. I found out someone else got engaged in the crowd, did you know that? After you engaged? And they were trying to get my attention to bring the person on stage. Someone else saw you and engaged right then. They were already planning on it but didn’t know it was a situation where I’d be open to that. But when they saw that, the person did it in the middle of the crowd. I didn’t know that. I forgot who told me this.
Even though a huge part of your fanbase are women, you don’t date publicly. Do you think that takes away relatability or it gives you mystery?
Do you know what? I don’t know. That’s a good question, I wasn’t ready for that one. You know what? That’s wild because I do date from time to time and it’s been so private. And I think with me, once I share that part, I can’t half-share it. Because if I share it, I’m going all in and it becomes part of my story every time. Because in all fairness, I believe you cannot half-ass loving a woman. This is me observing having sisters and a mother. I have a song called ‘Mother’s Prayer.’ I think watching my dad and my mom and their differences, what makes it work is a hundred percent.
So I can’t half-ass it, and if I’m going to share, I’m going to go all in. I’m going to share it as much as possible, every other day. Until then, I can’t do that to anyone because it becomes sensitive to the other person. I’m very aware. Because all my actions would be judged for the person I’m dating. I just feel it’s not that stage yet to share that. And when I do, I can’t half-ass it. I’m going to make sure that I’m sharing this part of my life everyday and I’m letting everybody know how much I really care about this person.
Your music says you’re a romantic. Are you one?
I am. I have potential. I have the potential because I know what it takes, I know what I need to do to be romantic and sometimes, I fall short. In the past relationships that I’ve had , I fell short by this dream. I’m such a perfectionist and it’s a problem. I’m too into my work and I’m too much of a dreamer. I’m too much of an ambitious person and it takes me away from that. And the only thing I felt works is having someone that understands me, someone who is patient with me as much as possible. In the past, it has pushed me away from someone I really cared about. And it’s pushed them away from me because of time. And everything is all communication and understanding. Because you could love someone and they may not see you the way you really are. And in this life anyone who’s going to love you has to take you as you are. ‘Cause you can’t change anyone. You can’t stop someone from having a dream. If I’m dating someone, I can’t stop her from having a dream of hers. I feel it’s so important and I believe in that so much. These days, while dating I’m just taking my time and studying and making sure there’s communication. And anyone that’s dating understands my life. And it takes a lot of selflessness to love a guy like me. Does that make sense?
Yes, but you know you have to do your part.
Exactly. And my part is the hundred percent I mentioned. You can’t half-ass lving a woman. It never works. It’s the worst thing any man can do because you’d turn a woman that loves you against you. Like for you, you went all the way in.
Our last conversation we had, you were just coming into Nigeria.
Fresh off the boat, not plane. (Laughs)
You were always confident. And now that it’s working how does it feel to be right?
I think I’ve gotten so much ‘no’ in my life. I don’t know how I built this identity of wanting to do things that standout. I don’t know when it happened. But it’s been so long. I can’t even trace it back to a certain point in time that I’ve always wanted to be different. But I had to learn the essence of being different. For example, I see everyone doing this style, I want to show up doing my own thing. And in the early stages I heard a lot of nos. It was not normal. A lot of people didn’t understand it. For example, I’m living in Atlanta, I’d show up to a writing session trying to get a placement on a Mario album or an artist that just got signed to Universal, Sony. I was one of those songwriters that would help come and create this project.
How long did you write for artists in the US?
I did it for like four, five years bro. Just creating for people. Country artists, rap artists. That’s how I met B.O.B, that’s how I got to work with Timbaland. A lot of producers you guys may not know their names, but they’ve done all of the biggest songs. If I mention the songs you’d be like ‘yo I know that song’. So in America, there’s a big career opportunity for a songwriter and producer. That’s why the Pharells and all the producers that you know today are living a great life. It’s lucrative. And for me I saw it as an opportunity to make a lot of connections that I needed. But while I was making those connections, I was learning. Because working with another artist, you’re picking up so much, and in essence, a lot of nos. You’re learning so much. I’m learning why this artist is this artist. I’m working with some of the best people and they would say ‘I like this part, I don’t like this part.’
A producer would say ‘yeah, my artist likes this hook but doesn’t like the verse, this is how you write it’. Or I’m working one-on-one with artists and I’m learning their stories and I’m helping them curate these stories. Fast forward to when I was getting better, working with B.O.B, just writing hooks with him. He’s writing his lyrics and I’m like ‘this line, this concept, this idea.’ And he trusted me with his art. We did like over ten, fifteen songs. Five of them at least came out. ‘I Know’ was the one that was on his album. ‘Fake Friends’ was another one he released ’cause he was releasing music randomly. Our first song was ‘Netflix and Chill’. I met Trinidad James through another artist I was working with. B.O.B started in ATL. I met Timbaland, I had to work with him through his artist I was working with; BK Brasco. He walked into the session and I was writing for somebody else. And he’s like ‘this guy is dope.’
That was a change of reaction. I was that African guy that walked into a room and nobody cared for and I’d start doing things. I took a long time though. At the early stage of songwriting, I had my own artist. A rap artist. And I had a female pop artist that was doing house music. Did a whole project of like 30 songs. I was creating a whole sound for a female pop artist and working for a rapper-singer artist and I’m just there creating the sounds. I worked with producers. I learnt so much. Me creating my own projects comes so natural. So I can’t really put the thing on one thing. It’s a lot of different things. But most of all, a lot of ‘nos, it’s not good enough.’ But I’d come back again, I’d try again. I’d feel beatdown, feel like shit and I’d come back again.
I went to the Grammy party in LA early this year. I saw a lot of people that I used to hustle and grind to get to the rooms with. And they saw me at that particular LA Grammy party and I caught their eyes watching from a distance several times. And they were watching like, ‘I remember this guy.’ But the interesting thing is that I think they were aware of the people that were introducing me to people. But I’m just focused on my truth. I have much to say. I’m glad I have ‘Ghost Town’ out and I’m glad I did it on COLOURS. There’s so much I want to talk about on that one song.
How did you make it?
It’s not what people expected at the time. I couldn’t wait, shoutout to Spax. Spax is one of my new favourite producers. He has something special to offer to the culture and he has a vision. It’s only a matter of time before he continues to work with like-minded creative artists to shine that light. We did ‘Ghost Town’ and he sent me the track. I sent it back to him. I heard the track and I did exactly what I was feeling. Actually I created ‘Ghost Town’ shortly after “Love Is Contagious”. I was lowkey almost depressed with the fact that the project didn’t do as well as I wanted it to. I didn’t get the visibility I wanted it to. It really affected me mentally and I noticed a lot of shift in people that were celebrating me temporarily. I saw that shift happened so fast to where now ’cause it’s not working right now.’ And it’s becoming a ghost town and I’m like ‘damn, I’m alone again. It’s just me and my internal team that we get each other.’ And that really affected me. So ‘Ghost Town’ was created early last year. The first line of the song, ‘losing but never lost sight, learning but never lost time.’ An ‘eye for an eye,’ trying to do bad to someone that did bad to you. And I observed, this isn’t me going to a broad perspective of experiencing, living through life and going through things. I don’t believe in trying to create your own karma for people. Why? You lose track of your own purpose. I know someone that did that. Someone close to me that did that and he ended up in a ghost town. And it’s really a common thing, trying to pay evil with evil. ‘Cause what happens is you stay up late at night till you run and you can’t find a way out ’cause you stay up trying to do bad to someone. No you become the bad person, you become the evil person. Guess what you just lost track of? How much time you spent trying to pay evil with evil and you lose track of your own life and career.
Cause it’s a marathon.
It’s in your mind. It’s crazy because the person that you’re chasing that did something wrong to you is probably still focusing on their life and just going. You’re not moving forward. You keep hating anytime they succeed. But you’re not spending your life watching this. Learning from vultures to protect my own. That’s what we do everyday. For me like I feel like I dodge a lot of bullets. From management, to people that manage me, the craziest management deals I escaped in America left and right. I would not mention names, but different things that would have not let me be here today. You mentioned something earlier about knowing where you’re going. This is one of my biggest philosophies. If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re going to make all the wrong decisions today. You’re going to make decisions based on today. Someone is going to be like ‘yo! I have this opportunity for you’, you’re going to take the one opportunity that helps you today because you don’t know where you’re going. If you know where you’re going, you know if I do this… This is A and B. A takes me to my destination, B takes me far away from my destination. But if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re going to take B and you end up back in the ghost town. You’ve lost the game. You’re like fuck, what am I going to do next? And for me, I have a vision of where I’m going and it helps me with patience.
Patience is not easy. “Love Is Contagious” did not get the visibility that I wanted it to. People at least still recognise the art and I’m grateful for that. People are still finding out about the project today. New people still find out about it today. It’s a marathon. So for me, that current situation of not having immediate success with “Love Is Contagious” and the patience knowing that I have ‘Trobul’ coming was all I needed. I was already at “AFROSOULl” when I was finalizing “Trobul”. “AFROSOUL” was already in play, it wasn’t just something that I just woke up and just did for quarantine. If you listen to the songs, they are not just for this period. There’s a longevity to them. I wanted to keep that value. Everybody has a light, you just have to find it and protect it. You still have to protect yourself, your values. There are so many different things. We can’t finish this conversation in one day.
Why are you so confident?
Talking about confidence, that is what gives me my confidence. Knowing that I’m sharing my truth, knowing that I’m on the right path. Knowing that as long as I share my truth and I’m confident that I’m sharing my truth internally, somebody somewhere will appreciate this. Somebody somewhere will be motivated by this. Every song has its purpose. Every word, every accent, every sound grows wings at the end of it, deliberate. Bro, the songs are not about me anymore. We’d realise about six months from now. Someone somewhere is going to take that song and listen to it and wake up “them pray make I fail, make I fail.” It’s not about WurLD. He’s speaking those words for himself, first person conversation. I didn’t say dem pray make we fail, I said “make I fail’ because prayer is the new national anthem which is something that Africans can relate to. This is because we pray more on this side, “Arise O’ compatriots” because it is a survival thing everyday and it’s a state of mind. I wanted to motivate people to be fearless. I wanted to motivate fearlessness and the faith, the belief that this thing I’m doing is going to work. This my idea that I came up with myself, regardless of everybody saying no,it’s going to work. That’s the national anthem for my generation. That’s our national anthem. That’s the national anthem that I believe in. That it takes a lot to believe. You’re a journalist. You had this dream by yourself and everyone looks at you like you’re crazy. Like how do you make money from this?
They always ask me that.
How do you convince your parents to believe in this dream? But the thing about it is that this is your dream, and you have to have faith. You’re not afraid. It’s a prayer. “More wings everyday everyday, don’t test my patience. Today na today, I’m getting mine today,” I’m waking up with this attitude. I sit back like yo! If I put this song out, if anybody hates on this, I’m making it known regardless of adversity or anything. If anyone doesn’t support me, that’s their problem. But this is a very high feeling. And I hope that you can take this song and apply it to your life. I hope that you feel this way. How I feel right now. I’m talking about how I’m growing wings tonight. You can either walk with me or watch me rise.
In what ways has Lagos changed you?
In every way. I think I was a lot more easy when I came here. Still the same passion, same dream, nothing’s changed, same person. It just made me tougher. It made me stronger. It brought me back to the ground. To where I felt like whatever I was feeling, whatever high horse I felt when I came in, Lagos brought me back to the ground. But there’s nowhere else but up from here. And Lagos is different, Nigeria is different, the market is different. I saw a lot of people that were fans turn into competition now because I’m not just pop in and pop out. We’re spending more time here. Doing what I do, I was inspired by many people. I know my music inspires a lot of artists, both home and abroad. And in some purpose, I’ve been inspired. If I create something and it’s not making anyone go back to the studio and recreate what they want to share with the fans, then my job is not done. I love the idea of releasing stuff, and make my peers go back to the studio to create something new. That’s the beautiful competition, because you know what? We’re pushing the culture forward.
It’s not the thing of anybody better than anybody. It’s the idea of pushing each other. I’m not saying I’m the best at this, but I’m the best in my world. What I bring to the table, I know that nobody does it better than me. And I’m just sharing my truth at the end of that. I care about the art, I care about the culture, I care about where the future generation of African creatives go. I know the value of an alternative; different artists coming and making it. Do you know how many more free-spirited creatives that’s going to inspire? A lot of people don’t think they can make it doing a different type of sound. I know what my success does. It empowers more people to be true. A lot of people do certain sounds because they think that’s the only way they can make it. But we need more people sharing their truth to make it in Africa because there’s so much more.
How have you coped?
Well, actually. So well AFROSOUL is just another level. There’s been lots of up and downs. After “I Love Girls With Trobul” there’s a lot more adversity that came with that. And a lot of the adversity I faced was control. The idea of people afraid that you’re going to change. Sometimes, people around are afraid you’re going to change or be different or start changing. And it creates a problem when people expect that this guy is going to change when he gets to a whole ‘nother level. But the reality is, I’m so in my own world that I didn’t come here chasing fame. I don’t know how to deal with it. I’m so caught up in my work, in being heard. It’s not like you just want to be heard, I just them to win. I just want to share my art, I want people to love what I do. Not planning that oh people loving what you do turns into fame. That’s one thing that I’m learning. Now more people know you.
You’ve become famous.
Yeah. And I wasn’t prepared for that. Because I’ve been so focused on the idea of ‘I just want this thing to work.’ I want to be one of the best in the world. Not just Africa. I want to be at the Grammy someday. Being as true to my art as possible and being appreciated at the same time. But it’s so much. I’ve just been so caught up on really focusing and there are so many levels to this madness but I’m coping well. I’m being fearless everyday. And that song, ‘National Anthem’ was one of the most necessary songs. I needed to put that out. I needed to inspire somebody somewhere and at the same time make a statement for myself as well.
People say you’re very nice to them. Why hasn’t Lagos hasn’t taken that from you?
Bro you know what? I used to treat myself with love. So if you talk about the idea of, you know how people say “I’m different now, I dont give a fuck about anybody else right?” I don’t like that mentality. I’ve been in relationships where I’ve broken someone’s heart. And I’ve been in relationships where my heart has been broken. And because someone broke my heart or did something bad to me, I cannot take that mentality of that pain and hurt into another situation to hurt somebody. So regardless of what’s been happening with me, I just surround myself with love and the people that I care about. The people that I know want my best interest. I’m not social a lot and it helps me preserve my true values because the more socially active you are, the more you get involved in many things that could put bad taste in your mouth. For me, I put my immediate energy into people that I have around me and that keeps the love in me.
You could be easily affected by the energy you have around you. When you have bad energy people around you that push you, there’s only so much that a man can take. So you’re going to take that energy and it’s going to reflect in how you interact with people. I love the idea of showing respect to people. I feel like even when we used to meet at Universal, I made sure that nobody is too small to say hi to or embrace because the reality of it is I’m taking it as a privilege. If I come to your radio station, it’s a privilege and I don’t take it for granted. I really dont take those things for granted. I don’t take people’s time for granted. I don’t take people’s love for granted because things are not going to last forever. But we can make long lasting impressions of each other. You know that I came to your space and respected it. It’s the easiest thing to do. I have a choice to come in there like this, ‘I’m WurLD’. But that’s not what we’re here for.
The way you interact with your fans have changed.
Yes. Interacting with fans has helped me a lot. AFROSOUL, this new project, I made it for the fans. I see my fans go through a lot of adversity as far as ‘who is this guy that you’re always posting? This blue-haired guy?’ And they fight for me and I see it. You know when you read tweets that you’re being part of and you see how someone is going hard for you. I don’t take that shit for granted. It brought me closer and I started learning. I made this whole project for them. ‘National Anthem’ was that song that I felt that me and my fans can relate to. ‘Ghost Town’ is just a necessary conversation. I wanted to make a statement that I’m a world artist. I was born in Africa. I’m Africa first. My essence, my value is Africa but I’m a world artist. That’s what ‘Ghost Town’ is. ‘Love Nobody’ is the same thing. My cadence was on purpose. I could have easily gone American with my cadence and stuff But I wanted to make a statement. But still, making sure that this sound, no matter where it’s heard, it’d shake rooms because there are certain elements and stuff that shakes the Western world.
It’s in the execution. It’s in the quality of the sound, it’s in their choices. It’s the overall presentation of it. And I don’t take it for granted as well because I know the world is watching. Watching all of us to gauge where we are. Where’s is Africa right now? Guess what they’re going to do? They’re going to listen to artiste A, go check out artist B, let’s say the first 10 artists that matter. The last thing I want for me is if I’m privileged to be part of that ten, I don’t want to sound like one to nine. It sends a message; everybody is doing the same thing. And we’re very diverse in Africa. There’s a lot of amazing talents. So many different diverse talents.
What did the success of “I Love Girls With Trobul” do for you? How did things change for you?
I think I’m still yet to really quantify what it does because it’s a marathon, it’s a long term project. Six month in right? But we still ain’t complete with our narrative. We shared a few videos and we were quiet, but the project just lives on. I feel I can’t quantify it yet. But one thing I can tell you is that it gave a lot of my fans wings. It brought me closer to the people, brought me closer to a lot of female fans. Because I put a lot of female perspective into the conversations on the project. Things that I knew that would strike an emotion. I remember just writing lyrics and stuff and I would close my eyes like; if I was a female, if I sing this song will I enjoy this? I didn’t want it to be one-sided. And also, if I was a guy am I going to sing this record and let it strike an emotion? I was very very specific on making sure. The communication and how people take the songs was very important to me and it meant something.
Honestly, I feel like it has really pushed me forward. I think “I Love Girls With Tobul” gave me more wings in this market, made my day one fans more fearless and just growing. People want to hear more, people want to see more. And it’s still growing. That’s why I feel I can’t quantify it yet because it still feels new.
When I announced “AFROSOUL”, a lot of people were like it’s too soon. A lot of people felt like it’s soon and I’m like ‘it’s six months!’ There are a lot of people they celebrate, that last a month and they are over it, and they move on to the next. But it’s been six months and it still feels new. But for me, I look at myself like this, I’m like I know where I’m going. I’m like come, if I’m thinking of some of the biggest artists in the world, I’m thinking of the Coldplays, the Kanye Wests, the Pharrells, whoever you want to call. I’m talking about the most successful artists around the world. My catalogue, compared to theirs is nothing. There’s a reason certain artists drop projects every time. I’m a project artist. I can do singles but I’m a project artist. I like the idea of projects because you get the chance to create long term memories with people. And I’m building a catalogueue, WurLD music catalogue and it’s from songs before “Love is Contagious”, “Love Is Contagious” because now, the projects in, it’s been fourteen months. Three projects out in fourteen months which is amazing. I give that to God because sometimes you want to do some certain things and it just doesn’t work.
How was working with Davido on two records?
He’s so hardworking and it amazes me. It actually amazes me because he’s very fearless. I connect to the fearlessness. I mentioned something the other day, I was like ‘Blow My Mind’ was my song originally in 2017. Exactly the way it sounds right now. Same thing. Wrote the song at Shizzi’s townhouse in Atlanta. ‘Blow My Mind’ was made the same day I made ‘Paranoid’ with Shizzi in his house. ‘Blow My Mind’ didn’t fit “Love Is Contagious” and what I was trying to do. It was too commercial. “Love Is Contagious” for me was Zen. I wanted to share spirituality and Zen and something universal. There’s this thing I call WulrD peace. “Trobul” is WuD trouble. The song as it is right now, I took my second verse out and be like let me feature somebody on this song and do it with Shizzi. I’d be like WurLD, Shizzi and one more artist. I sent it to Mr Eazi. He liked the song actually but just didn’t get back to us on time. It just became long. I sent it to Wande Coal. Wande Coal was like ‘I love this song, I’ve done it WurLD, I’d send it to you.’ He never sent it back. Shizzi called me like Runtown is trying this song as well. Nonso Amadi hit me up like ‘I actually looked in my email and I remember that you sent me this song.’ I must have been really trying to get people to do the song with me.
I was promoting “Love Is Contagious” and Shizzi was like ‘I played this song for Davido. He liked the song and he has Chris Brown and whatever it is. At first, I was hesitant to the idea because I had a different vision. After a few days, I was like ‘I’m working on this project right now, I don’t have any immediate plans for this song. David’s about to do it and put Chris Brown on it? I hear their version and it sounds dope.’ There was a lot of back and forth initially. Just artist to artist, emotions, this and that. But after a while, I sat to myself that this is me against all odds. So I sat to myself like what would WurLD do five years ago in Atlanta if Chris Brown said ‘come to the studio I want you to help me write this song?’ What will I do? I was like I’d pull up and do the song and let the world hear another work of mine through another vessel. That was the only question I needed to ask myself at that particular time. And I didnt have any immediate plans to release the record. It’s part of the work. It’s part of the culture. Let’s keep giving. If the song does well, it helps move the culture forward as well. And that was it.
‘Sweet In The Middle’ was another song I did with Shizzi and he played it for David again. And David called me like ‘yo! I like this song o’. I remember David reaching out to me like ‘bro Shizzi played me a record, I love this song, let’s do it together.’ I was like yeah, let’s do it. Because I would have put the song in my archive again. So working with David, I love the essence of his fearlessness. He just does what feels right to him. I don’t think he thinks too much about it. If he feels it, he does it.
How was the experience with Sarz?
Different. In the sense that we had similar vision for African music. We both wanted to progress the term Afrobeats music or African artists or African sound. We wanted to create music that will shake every Western room and still be authentic in every African room. That’s what “I Love Girls With Trobul” is and I think we did exactly just that. Because when I met him then, surprisingly, I didn’t know his catalog of African music. The only song I knew was ‘Come Closer’ because I was more in US then. I was barely in Nigeria. So I didn’t really know much of who does what, who did what track, who did what beat for Wizkid. I just knew the most popular artists in Africa, like David, Wiz, PSquare. Those were the artists I was familiar with. The ones that were making more international efforts. So ‘Come Closer’ was the first track that I knew, when my business partner was like ‘Sarz’ he did ‘Come Closer’. My initial thought was like this guy makes very commercial beats. And I just did ‘Show You Off’ then. It was the only Afrobeats song that I had. I remember we were vibing in the studio and I was playing what I was working on. The only songs that came out from the ones that I was working on was ‘Wishes and Butterflies’ and ‘Feel Right’. I played it for him and I remember him looking at me like this guy is very alte. He’s very mainstream, very American and all that. But I listened to his beats and I was like this guy is very commercial.
In my mind, ‘Show You Off’ was getting so much love and a lot of people were pulling me in. ‘Yo come to Africa’. And I felt like I was far away and I knew that time that I couldn’t follow up ‘Show You Off’ with the music that I was doing at that time. I just started diversing my sounds, doing promo afrobeats sound and that. But meeting him was an opportunity for me to further celebrate the fans that were loving and supporting ‘Show You Off’. I felt like I didn’t want to leave them hanging on the rest of my journey and I’ve been doing just that.
Keep making sure that my inclusiveness of Afrobeats and AFROSOUL which I call it now is with my journey even with my album and stuff. Because there are so many different ways that we can fuse Afrobeats with mainstream music. ‘Wishes and Butterflies’ was a good example. All the sounds were afrobeats but it’s an alternative record. To the rest of the world they hear something fresh that they can understand. They understand the conversations. Working with Sarz was very fluid. We never doubted each other. I knew that my conversation, my lyrics, my choices, my structure of music — arrangements and stuff — with his commercial sound would just create a whole new madness. That rhythm will resonate with Africans. And guess what? Nigerians and everyone is going to get a taste of how you can put a little more diverse sound on Afrobeats and get a conversation that everybody can understand. “Dealing with my stress” and all that was meant for a universal audience but bembelembe is for Africa. But you put all those together and you get a song you can enjoy both at home and still understand the conversation and the theme of the song.
Because being in the US, one thing that I noticed was that my American friends were taking the rhythm not the conversation. You can’t explain every song to an audience as far as conversation wise. English is one of our main conversation, the way we are talking right now, if you put that Afrobeats in the topline of that conversation, you get something that’s African first, that resonates with the rest of the world, that they can apply with their lives because they understand the meaning as well. So that was with a lot of the balance with “I Love Girls With Trobul”. Sarz was easy to work with, we didn’t doubt each other.
The journey so far, still on the mission. When does it all make sense for you?
I think I will never know. Maybe I’d have some reflections once in a while. Some things are just going to make me reflect every once in a while.
Published by Joey Akan for Afrobeats Intelligence