Mr Eazi on the Afrobeats boom, his debut album, Lauryn Hill & more

Mr Eazi on the Afrobeats boom, his debut album, Lauryn Hill & more

Mr Eazi has spoken to Music Week about the growth of Afrobeats around the world, saying that, “now the pie is bigger, more artists can make it”.

The celebrated Nigerian Afrobeats artist recently released his debut album The Evil Genius via his burgeoning label EmPawa Africa, following two volumes of his Life Is Eazi mixtape series.

“I feel one of the pros is the bigger the audience, the bigger the investment,” he said of the international Afrobeats boom.

Eazi, real name Oluwatosin Oluwole Ajibade, has four million monthly listeners on Spotify while his peak UK chart entry is No.15 with 2017 Raye collaboration Decline, which has 773,443 sales according to OCC data.

It has been around 10 years since he launched his music career, and in that time he has emerged as one of the major players in the world of Afrobeats, while his other collaborators include Beyoncé, Bad Bunny, Nicki Minaj, Giggs and J Balvin, winning a Latin Grammy with the latter earlier this year. 

“I think it's been a journey,” he said of the path to The Evil Genius. “If I look back, I sort of chanced into music, and then it became my career. Then I had global success, and I was getting to the point of deciding, ‘what next?’:

The record was crafted over two years across the cities of Accra, Cotonou, Lagos, London, Los Angeles and New York. It is a captivating musical collage of Afrobeats, Afropop, gospel, hiplife, highlife and folklore that reflects Mr Eazi's unique style. Producers on the set include Kel-P, Knucks and Nonso Amadi, with guest appearances from Angélique Kidjo, Joeboy and the Soweto Gospel Choir. 

It wouldn’t be a Mr Eazi project without an extra special twist, which in this case sees each track on the album represented by a physical art piece from a contemporary visual artist from Africa. To find out more, we quizzed Mr Eazi on music, his story so far and the prospect of a collaboration with Lauryn Hill…

The new album has been described as your most personal work yet. What are some of the themes you have covered? 

“Okay, so, with the track Olúwa Jo, it kind of summarises where I was during the making process, in that I had spent more time with family than I ever had before. I think the last time I spent that much time with my family was December 2021. Prior to that I was probably about 15, and this was before leaving to go to uni in Ghana. So, on that song I talk about my sister, I speak about my mum and then I contemplate on my career and the access music has given me as a gift to the lifestyle I now live, like getting spotted at the airport, getting preferential treatment, you know, economic mobility.

“Elsewhere, the song Legalize captures the emotion of me deciding to go to the next level of my relationship, to get engaged. And on Mandela, it is the first time I speak about my dad on music, acknowledging the sacrifices he made such as sending me to the best schools and breaking his back to make sure I had this life.”

Where does the title The Evil Genius come from?

“I remember speaking to a very big Nigerian artist that I was trying to sign and he said, ‘Eazi, I want to do this deal, but I was speaking to somebody, and they said, you're very calculative you're like, an evil genius.’ And I was upset, like, ‘Why did they say that? Did I steal their money? Did I steal their girl? Did I screw them over?’ And I was getting really riled up, to the point that I ended up not doing the deal. But in naming the album The Evil Genius, I’m accepting that it's okay for you to call me, the evil genius. I came to this conclusion when I realised what was upsetting me wasn't the fact I was called an evil genius, it was the fact that the opinion I wanted people to have of me wasn’t what they had. So, I’m defining myself through the tracks on the record, and at the end of the record, you meet the person who doesn't want to care about the opinions of others but wants to focus on my own character and self-identity. But you also meet the evil genius in every track, and you see him in his devotion for family, his darkness, and his reaching out to God for help, and it ends with thanksgiving.”

How did you decide on the artists you would task with representing the music visually? 

“It was a very free process. For example, for Kufa Makwavarara I went to an Art Fair in Cape Town and saw some of his works, and immediately I was just like, “Yes, whoever this person is, guy or girl will be able to speak to the energy and the emotions of my song, We Dey, just by seeing it. He ended up coming to my house and I played the entire album for him, and I said, ‘This is the song I would like to collaborate with you on.’

“I saw one of the other artists Patricorel’s piece hanging on the wall in a hotel, and then reached out to him, and with Dominique Zinkpe, my lawyer had gone to an art fair in Senegal and took a picture of some of the artists he saw, and I immediately knew I wanted to work with him. So, it was a mix of seeing their works on Instagram, at a fair or recommendations from friends or team members who knew I was in this process of finding artists from across Africa to work on this project.”

Afrobeats is where it is because creative entrepreneurs have put blood, sweat, tears, time and money towards pushing the journey and pushing it globally

Mr Eazi

Music from the African continent has blown up massively across the globe over the past few years. What would you say are the pros of the genre getting so big?

“You’ve got to realise that where Afrobeats is today has been off the back of creative entrepreneurs that have put blood, sweat, tears, time and money towards pushing the journey and pushing it globally. This is from individuals such as D’banj and Fuse ODG, and this is just in recent times, but we can also go back to the likes of Kehinde "Kenny" Ogungbe and D1 and Obi Asika and all the promoters that have taken Afrobeats from the small clubs to the halls and to the venues. With more popularity comes more investment, which means the pie is bigger, the industry is bigger. And now more people can become artists and make it.”

There have been a few notable artists that have come out of your label emPawa, so you are obviously good at spotting talent. For you, who is the next person to watch from the world of Afrobeats?

“Shallipopi who is a Nigerian artist, because of his stage presence and authenticity.”

Having collaborated with some huge artists, who is someone you would still like to work with musically? 

“Lauryn Hill. We’ve spoken about it so many times, we've just not been able to get in the room to make the record, or just not found the right record, frankly. A lot of people don't know that Lauryn Hill gave me my first show in the US. I opened for her after she reached out to some third parties to request me specifically. I remember after the concert she came backstage to say hello to everybody, and when she saw me, she's like, ‘Oh, Mr Eazi, I love your music.’ Her kids were there, and she said it was them who introduced her to my music. So that would just be full circle moments when I make that record with Lauryn Hill, as I’m a big fan as well.”

WORDS: Adenike Adenitire

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