For our annual “The Originals” issue, we asked creatives—pioneers in the fields of art, design, fashion, comedy, activism, and more—to share their insights on staying true to themselves. Read all of this year’s interviews here.
You got your big break around 2015, within the genre known as highlife in your native Nigeria, but really blew up when you pivoted to Afropop sounds a few years later. Your track “Pretty Girl” made it to the fifth position on the Billboard charts. Who was the first person who made you realize you could forge your own path in the music industry?
Sess, my producer and friend. I was getting there gradually by myself, but when we started to work together, at the end of 2018, he really opened my mind and ears to the possibility of trying new sounds. When I ask him for beats, for example, he will send me beats that are not even remotely close to what I’m comfortable with. And I’m like, “Yo, what are you on?” But I’m also curious, so I try. Then we’ll be in the studio, and I’m like, “Yeah, you know what? I can do this.”
Was it scary to try a new approach after you had already achieved success with something different?
I had to go through the fears that the fans that loved me from the highlife days would leave. I had people who believed in me before who didn’t think this was going to work. Some of them left, and that’s okay. I’m grateful for the people who understood the vision. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life: making that switch, growing, allowing myself to tap into sounds that I wasn’t comfortable making back then. It began with the song “Before You Wake Up”—that’s when I discovered I could do so much more.
What music did you grow up listening to?
Highlife. I listened to King Sunny Adé, Ebenezer Obey, Kwam 1, and Sikiru Ayinde Barrister. Shout-out to my dad—he would literally play songs by these people on the ride to school and back home.
Whom do you consider original?
I’m original. I don’t force things. What I’m feeling is what I’m putting out. No gimmicks, no unnecessary PR stunts. I just make my music, promote, and go.
What do you consider your most original quality?
I just don’t know how to stop. If I want something, I just go for it. And I don’t know how to take no for an answer, sadly. One thing I tell myself is, What’s the worst that will happen? I’ll be more sad if I don’t even try.