Overview Of: Africa's Most Driven Lover (The Boy With The Fire)
Fireboys' debut album went right into the music hall of fame and fired him into a prestigious class of continent entertainers For his next magical act, the singer has set his sights on legacy.
“I didn’t take a break after Laughter, Tears & Goosebumps, I just went straight into recording.” Fireboy DML is wiping sleep from his eyes, widening them and shaking his head to dispel the last traces of slumber that have held him for hours. It’s been a late night, he says. The 24-year-old Nigerian singer spent the dark hours among friends and colleagues recording music in this serviced apartment in Victoria Island. Half-eaten plates of food and a huge caken populate the dining table, as a cleaner moves around with a broom, earning his keep.
Here in this bright Lagos morning, Fireboy has been roused from his bed moments before I arrive. Our conversation is one of a number of scheduled engagements to market Apollo, his recent sophomore album. He’s hugging himself, a black durag protecting his stylish locks, and tattoos decorating both biceps. He tells me satisfied with the level of work that’s been achieved on Apollo. He’s been checking his tweets and reading them all. He knows a section of his fanbase hold a lingering refusal to move past the brilliance of his debut album — Laughter, Tears & Goosebumps. He understands his new music pushes familiar boundaries, and expects acceptance to be gradual. “I already know that it's the kind of album that takes time to sink in, as usual,” Fireboy says. “It's something different, so it would take time to marinate and all that. I'm just chilling for the next couple of months before I can actually know my own verdict that okay, have I done great? Everything I've just been seeing, okay normal. But in the next couple of months, that's when I'd know if I've achieved what I want to achieve with this album or not.”
Fireboy DML, born Adedamola Adefolahan, is regarded by music enthusiasts in Africa as a generational talent. That consideration is backed by the elite quality of his work. His superb songwriting skills justify that. His nascent track record of hits consolidates it. And pushing him completely over the line, and on to that pedestal is his debut album, “Laughter, Tears & Goosebumps.” Released in November 2019, the project transformed the buzzing newbie into a revered master of the arts. Dominating charts across the continent and beyond, LTG has received calls to be considered a classic. It’s a status Fireboy expects to be unanimous, if given time. “It’s still barely two years old but the way it's looking like, maybe. It’s looking like in the next five years it's going to be regarded as one of the classics out there. I mean, it is a debut album, and usually, it's mostly the debuts that are categorised that way. And no features, successful and it's a culture-defining album. So yeah, definitely,” he says.
All of this was possible due to a number of key moments, Fireboy tells me. His lifelong love for reading and poetry which he cultivated as a sheltered child, gave him the flair for words. His decision to choose music as his life’s work while in his sophomore University year, put him on the path. A high point of that journey was his surprise connection with Nigerian rap superstar, Olamide. The rap legend was first introduced to Fireboy’s music by his friend and media entrepreneur, Seyi Tinubu. Impressed, Olamide reached out while on a work trip abroad and established a connection. “He's a man of few words,” Fireboy recalls. “Straight to action. He was like, ‘you know what? Do you want to do this?’ Wow. This Olamide's YBNL. And at that time, my mind frame was, if it's not a big record label, I'm not going anywhere. I'm not doing. Of course, YBNL. Beautiful, yes. I mean.” The next day, the duo commenced work on the compilation project, YBNL Mafia Family. That LP housed the smash hit, ‘Jealous,’ which became Fireboy’s breakthrough single.
“Well, I think art aside, Olamide is a good person,” Fireboy explains. “That's just what makes everything easier. He's a good person, he's considerate, he treats people with respect and he's a very intelligent businessman...Most of the recording sessions for "LTG", he was just there. He didn’t say much, just sat down there. His presence is just enough for me. I knew that. So that's how the relationship is,” he continues.
Fireboy is a nerd. The glamour of stardom and celebrity makes it an easy quality to miss. But it’s all over his work. His pedantic obsession with words and storytelling power his art. He tells me about ‘Soul’s Errand,’ his favourite poem by Sir Walter Raleigh, which inspired one of his recent records. When he speaks, he uses words like ‘mundane,’ and laughs when told of easier synonyms. “Well, maybe. I don't know, it's just words. My stylist said this to me: ‘why will you just say that kind of stuff? Nobody has used this word since 1935.’” That nerd jumped out while Fireboy was trying to create his personal style. In 2017, he conducted an analysis into Nigerian pop music, and discovered the dearth of lyricism in the genre. It’s a faultline he’s successfully been fixing in his art, combining effusive expression with melody and drumming into ear worms. “I figured that out in 2017 that ‘omo, you have to find something. What are you good at? Okay, you're good with words. Maybe you should add lyricism to the Afrobeats. Nobody else is really doing it.’ And that was it. So, that wasn’t talent. That was just initiative,” he says.
For his latest act, Fireboy’s sophomore project Apollo is already in the public domain. It’s inspired by his love for Greek mythology, and his acceptance of the pedestal that has been offered to him. “I just wanted to let people know that I think I’m entering god-mode,” he tells me, laughing. “There was no intention to be subtle about that. Because after LTG, people just put me on this pedestal. Is that how you people want to play? Let’s go now,” he continues.
How do you surmount perfection? How can resolute fans be convinced that there’s more beauty beyond their favourite album, LTG? It’s a task the singer is taking in his stride. His comeback single ‘New York City Girl,’ was initially scrutinized for its experimental bent. But follow-up single ‘Eli’ is already a local favourite. Released in August under his international deal with EMPIRE—an American distribution company and record label which partnered with YBNL in February—Apollo carries experimentation from the artist. On this album, there’s a broader spectrum of sounds at play. Fireboy takes listeners through his many trials and joys in pursuit of love. It’s an emotional 13-track affair that he expects to humanise people.
We talk about his transition from man to a creative deity. He speaks freely, gesticulating through his responses as his eyes light up with laughter. How much has changed since he shared his gifts with the world? How do you hold on to yourself when the world makes its demands? Why does legacy stand above all as his crowning ambition?
Joey Akan - So far the reaction, how is it?
Fireboy DML - As expected. People are loving. I already know that it's the kind of album that takes time to sink in, as usual. It's something different, so it would take time to marinate and all that. I'm just chilling for the next couple of months before I can actually know my own verdict that okay, have I done great? Everything I've just been seeing, okay normal. But in the next couple of months, that's when I'd know if I've achieved what I want to achieve with this album or not.
It's a lot of songs o, 17.
Yeah, it's a lot of songs. I don’t know, it's one of those moves you make as an artist. Like, you know what? This is it. Make or mar moment, just got for it. The songs are a lot, but it's an album.
You earlier told me that you didn’t take a break after the first project, that you kept recording. When you were done, the songs didn’t come out well.
It's not like they didn’t come out well. But I'm a perfectionist, so I think that's the curse that comes with it. I criticize my own works a hundred times more than the normal artist will criticise theirs. So it's not like they didn’t come out great. Of course, they'd come out great because I mean...but there's that little conviction that you feel as an artist, so I always take my time to feel it. After I recorded 'Jealous', normally it takes like two to three weeks of reason to know that okay, but it took me like a week. That's how I knew there's something special about this song. I felt that about 'Jealous', I felt that about 'King', I felt that about 'Vibration'. So there's that conviction you feel. As much as we all record songs and we all hope that okay, ‘na we just dey record song, na God dey blow am.’ But I feel like, to an extent, there's that ‘knowing’ that you as an artist feel, that this one would get people. So yeah I like to feel that. At least, if not for all my songs I record, at least most of them. So it's just that conviction, it's not like they didn’t come out great. They always do.
For songs you don’t feel that way about. Do you have any hesitation with releasing them? And have you been surprised?
Yeah, I've been hesitant about a couple of records, and I've been disappointed too. Because you expect: ‘oh people won't like this one.’ And then it comes out great. But I think I've been right about the response of a couple of songs. I've started to know what my fans like to hear. My fans are diversified into different people; the thirty-plus, you have the young girls that like the 'Like I do.’ You have 'Vibration' that just cuts across everybody else. And you have the thoughtful, deep songs that the readers and the writers and the deep thinkers like. I always just know that okay, people will like this one. But I mean, we can't really tell, it's art. We just predict but I think most of the time I'm almost right.
There's a record from your last project, it's called 'Feel'. I wondered why you guys didn’t try to make it a single or something.
There was nothing that could have been done about that record. Compared to some other records on the album, it was never going to be chosen as a single. You can't compare to 'Scatter' and 'Vibration.’ There were some clear favourites that you know that this is a lead. But I knew the kind of people that would like the song too. It's generic Afrobeats, but it's also all this Alte people, more like. So I knew that, I was insisting that this song must make the album. It needs to get to one target market. I don't think it's the all-rounder kind of song. I personally don't think so.
How talented are you? Have you ever considered the depth of your talent?
I don't really sit down to think about it much (laughs).
I don't really dwell on it that much. I mean, it's very important as an artist to know your talents and make sure that you use them. But there are so many other factors. Hard work, persistence and stuff like that. Talent is just...I don't know, talent is everywhere. And the fact that it's everywhere—I don't know—there's this way I feel about it. Something that's everywhere, is it that special? A lot of people are talented. A lot of people are insanely talented, so I don't think it should be something to dwell on that much.
Why do you think yours is working?
Because there are other stuff that I add to it, that makes it work.
Like hard work. I work my ass out when I'm in my element. And I don’t want t use the word strategy, but I like being intentional with my craft and I think that really helps a lot. When I'm writing a song, I'm writing it with so much intent. I want this song to do this thing to your heart and it must do it when you listen to it. No matter how much, even if it's a dance track, even if its something as mundane as a woman's body, I always want you to listen to it like 'ah, there's so much soul in this'. Stuff like that, so yeah. I think that really helped. So combining all that with the talent, it's like magic.
Don’t you think this ability to deploy art for a specific emotional purpose is special?
Yeah, it's special. It's talent. It's what you'd call talent. But the reason I don't dwell on talent is because: when things start fucking up, the fact that you know you're talented is what's going to mess you up mentally. Because you'd be like, ‘but I'm talented, why is this happening?’ Because it has happened to me before. In an artist's life, there's always this moment of awakening when you realise that ‘omo, this music thing is more than just talent o. I need to do this, I need to do this.’ That year for me was 2017. Prior to that time, I already knew how talented I was. I wasn’t supposed to know, but I knew how talented I was. So I knew okay, yes I'm talented so I'd blow up. Yes, this is it and it fucked me up because I couldn’t focus on any other thing.
I felt that I deserved to be on a show because I was talented. I felt I deserved some people to hear my songs because I was talented. That was the wrong way of thinking. Until 2017 when I realised that I needed to actually find my sound. I was doing the regular bullshit everybody else was doing. I was doing the regular Afropop. Wizkid had come and smashed everything, Davido was killing it, Olamide left that hip-hop and entered and smashed it. Runtown was killing it, Reekado Banks the newbie came, perfected it again. So there was really nothing left for anybody else. Everybody was just going up and down and doing the same regular bullshit everybody was doing. And I figured that out in 2017 that ‘omo, you have to find something. What are you good at? Okay, you're good with words. Maybe you should add lyricism to the Afrobeats. Nobody else is really doing it.’ And that was it. So, that wasn’t talent. That was just initiative.
That's also strategy. It's analysis because you looked at the industry, you looked at patterns.
I would just say that was just being smart. It wasn’t necessarily talent. Talent is something that you just do effortlessly. It just comes to you. You just sit down in front of the mic and create music. That's talent.
What if intelligence is your talent?
Maybe. Maybe that's all I just add to my craft to make it...that even sounds better to me. Because talent is such an easily thrown around word these days. ‘Oh, he's talented.’ I don't really like to hear it. And I don't really like to hear stuff like, "Oh, you have a beautiful voice.’ I don't really focus on those things. Fine, as a singer I'm good, but I've listened to singers. Singers that actually sing and they never really made it because it was just all about the voice. There's much more to music-making than just having the voice.
You're good with words. Extremely good with words. How important is your songwriting process?
Very essential. It's number one for me.
'Cause it's what sets me apart. And it's becoming a modus operandi for me that "ah, this sounds like what Fireboy would do.’ I'm already carving a niche for myself. And like I mentioned earlier, when I found my sound, it was that lyricism I added to it that made it different. And there's really not much difference if you take away the lyricism from it. Anybody can come up with melodies. In fact, you can be in the studio and a random guy from the street that you just put in the studio. He’ll offer, like ‘why not just use this melody instead?’ Melody is something that just comes. But songwriting is very very important to me. Number one. Sometimes number two because melody is very important too.
But there was a time in the industry where we didn’t have this realisation. The focus was solely on beats and melody. What do you think switched?
Well, that's always been Afrobeats, to be honest. Afrobeats has always been about the beats, about the vibes. So I think with every era just comes new stuff. I think my generation just came and just changed the whole thing. Wizkid came, changed the game. The Reekado Banks, Lil Kesh, Kiss Daniel era came and changed it. My own generation to an extent, I don’t know. I'd say we just came with that vibe of, ‘why don't we just—as much as we just want to listen and dance—listen to lyrics too and have some fun. I think that's a new wave. Because, if you don't come with something different, you wouldn’t break anything, influence anything. You would just blow up and just blow up. But you have to blow up with influence, that ‘these new boys came with this.’ I think that was what we just came with.
Something else that's evident in how you work is there's a clear strain of intelligence. You use words like ‘mundane.’
These are normal words, Joey (laughs)
Others would say ‘ordinary’ or ‘normal.’ Not ‘mundane.’
Well, maybe. I don't know, it's just words (laughs). My stylist said this to me "why will you just say that kind of stuff? Nobody has used this word since 1935.’
Do you see? Where does it all come from?
Well, I went to school obviously. But before university, I think I've always been that nerd. In fact, I used to wear glasses too, but I took them off because they were not getting the girls.
Which is fair...
Yeah. So I was a nerd.
You did a lot of reading?
I read a lot, wrote a lot. I struggled as a kid with a lot of things so reading was always that escape for me. Until I found out I could sing, and I was like ‘okay I can sing, okay fine.’ But then I didn’t really think about going into music until when I was 17, my second year in school, in uni. And then I made my first song and confirmed to myself that, ‘omo you can sing o. I think this is what you want to do for the rest of your life.’ Because from that point, I was blinded by purpose. School, everything else, music. But before that, I was always being the art guy, the reading guy, the writing guy. The ‘write-love-letter’ guy.
You wrote love letters?
Ha, we all did.
In school, I did it for money.
Wow. I think that's what laid the foundation for me since 2017. I knew that if I fused that part of myself in my art. It's not every time you find that popstar that has a nerd vibe. It was a deliberate thing. Add some difference to your stuff. Let people say, ‘this guy is not the regular superstar.’
And thankfully, that worked. The results are everywhere. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Abeokuta Ogun state, regular family; dad, mum, three kids. I'm the firstborn of three boys. I've always had that sense of responsibility, even though I was one of the most irresponsible kids out there. But lowkey, I had that sense of responsibility since I was a kid. We didn’t really go out much, we were one of those "omo get inside" people. My parents didn’t even want me to learn the Yoruba language. I had to learn on the streets and by streets, I meant in school. I attended a public secondary school, so I was exposed to a lot of things. Most of the things I learnt, was from there. Language, street lingua, all those stuff I infuse in my songs. The Yoruba I put in my songs, I learned from there. That was the only chance that I had to get exposed and be influenced by society. I wasn’t really going out that much at home. My dad didn’t really give us the freedom to go out, visit friends and stuff like that. I grew up the homeboy that only got exposed in school, until I got to uni.
That early restraint, is that aiding your current lifestyle?
Yeah. Because it made me realise that, as much as I didn’t like it, I think it protected me a lot from a lot of fucked up stuff. It also made me realise that, you just being in your own zone protects you from a lot of negative energy. And especially now ehn. I'm a superstar and blown up, and then there are so many people that want to come close. So it's really helping. I'm more of a homebody. Apart from when I'm going off to shows, or sometimes when I leave home and just want to go somewhere and just calm down.
Solitude does aid creativity. It feels like you guys initially threw ‘Jealous’ away.
I threw it away. It was a fling, it was not a relationship. 'Jealous' is not a love song. A lot of songs I wrote were not love songs. People just ‘ahhh, this song is beautiful, love song.’ 'Jealous' is not a love song. It's not a love story. It was a fling. It was just sex. A sex thing and I'm pretty sure she had a boyfriend she had then, that I didn’t know of. I don't know, I don't care. But I found out that she was rolling with some guys. Small, small I just found out that I'd check her status, I'd see her with some guys. And I'd be feeling some pang of jealousy. ‘Ahn ahn, why are you feeling jealous over somebody that's not yours? What's this?’ And I was losing focus and I had to jazz up (laughs). I just had to end it. And that was the time where I was not blown. I was struggling with...I'm like ‘omo, you never blow, you dey do all this nonsense.’ I just had to break it off. It was a toxic relationship. And I wasn’t someone that I would be proud to even date.
It was an entanglement?
It was an entanglement, yeah exactly. So I just called it off and cut her off. Because the sex was really good. And it was becoming like a drug that I kept going back to.
Of course. Some guilty pleasure.
Yeah..on top woman, what is this?
So you then recorded with it.
What’s the difference now between you and August Alsina?
There's a difference because she didn’t have a popular boyfriend or popular husband (laughs). So it didn’t make the rounds, it didn’t make the news. But I put up the experience like ‘ahn ahn, this is a very unique experience that happened to me and I think if I make it into a song…’ Because I won't lie, without that story behind it, it was just a regular sweet afro song. When I added that story to it, it had direction. And when a song has direction, trust me, a lot of people relate to it. That's how you make songs that people can relate to.
By adding a direction?
Yes. Trust me, no matter what you've experienced in this life, just know that for you to experience something, billions of other people have experienced it. Some people, the exact same thing. So once they just listen to it, pooof! They catch the bug. For them, it's not just the melody, it's not just the lyrics, it's that direction that just catches them that ‘this guy is me, this is it.’ That's why a lot of people really love J. Cole, that why a lot of people love Kendrick Lamar. They put their emotions into words. I just do that, but as a singer.
I see. And then you put the song on the project.
Left to me, that was supposed to be my first single as a YBNL artist. But they said a project is coming out, a joint project. This is one of the best songs. It's the top three, if not the number one best song on the album, let's put it inside. So when they put it inside, I just sat back and waited for people to realise.
You waited for a long time. It took a while to connect.
Yeah, it took a very long time. And that's why I said it was a very different song at that time. It was a genre-defining song and I knew. I knew it was going to take time. I was just patient 'cause I knew. People were saying 'Fire Down' is the jam, promote 'Fire Down'. I be like, ‘you people, it's me that created the song o, I know what I’m saying.’ That's why I was talking about that conviction. When you have that conviction you would know. I just knew, I just waited. And then, when it was time to shoot the video I was like, ‘oh, perfect. This video would do the job.’ And then we shot the video, released the video, and then we released it, and started promoting it as a single. And that was it.
You then had a good run. Even brought back ‘King.’
Yeah, 'King' was recorded and released before I got signed.
Exactly. You rereleased 'King' and it still did magic.
Yeah, because I knew it was going to do magic. I insisted to the label that ‘this song—and I know that we have to move forward with our lives—but this song is a beautiful song. And I recorded and released this song three days before you signed me up. So I didn’t really have time to… Please, let's just shoot a video for this song, and I promise you it's going to bang.’ And then, It's not like it's a smash hit. It's those kinds of songs that solidify your stance as an artist. That okay, this guy is there. So I think 'King' did that for me.
But when did you feel like your ‘blow’ had become solidified?
After ‘LTG’. After 'LTG’ definitely.
There were a lot of doubts.
Yeah, of course, there are always doubts. ‘Can he replicate 'Jealous'? And I was like ah, even me myself, I knew that I was not going to end up a one-hit-wonder. But I was like, ‘can I replicate a smash hit like 'Jealous'? But then 'Vibration' came. But that's by the way. But I did not give in to the pressure of creating something like 'Jealous' because that would have been a terrible mistake. I just needed to make a very solid song that people would listen to and be like, ‘this guy is an actual musician.’ That's what 'What If I Say' did for me. 'What If I Say' is one of my most technically written songs.
It's a perfect song. It's one of those songs you can't take away or add to.
Yeah. That's what it did for me, and I'm glad I didn’t give in to that pressure. Because it worked out well.
Laughter, Tears & Goosebumps. Do you think "LTG" should be considered a classic?
Well, it’s really not in my place. I'm just an artist, I make songs (laughs). But looking at it, I don't know, not yet. I mean, it’s still barely two years old but the way it's looking like, maybe. It’s looking like in the next five years it's going to be regarded as one of the classics out there. I mean, it is a debut album, and usually, it's mostly the debuts that are categorised that way. And no features, successful and it's a culture-defining album. So yeah, definitely.
What went into it?
Just pure art. Trust me. Unlike this one, I just wanted to make music. I mean, it took me five days. It was as pure as anything else. It was so pure in the sense that even to the A&Ring, the executive production, everything was pure. Family. There was no business or label bullshit going on. It was just a group of people who appreciate me that just came together like, "you're ready for your album, let's do it." Then we just got an apartment, a suite in Oriental hotel, got a couple of producers and we sat down, joked around till evening. We got there in the morning, we joked and talked and talked. Baddoo, everybody were just playing around till evening. We were like, ‘what should we name this album” I said "Laughter, Tears and Goosebumps." I received ‘Nah, it’s too long, don't worry we'd get back to it, blah blah blah.’
In my mind, I knew that's the title of my own album. All of you are just saying what you like. And then that evening I recorded the first song 'Wait & See,' which was the last song on the album. And then the next day, recording back to back. In five days we were done. After that, Baddo said ‘oya, let's go downstairs, let's sneak outside. Don't let the other guys know that we are going to go and eat.’ So we just went to eat. Me, Baddoo, Pheelz, a couple of others guys. There, we just did the A&R. ‘What songs should make it?’ blah blah blah. It was family. Pure love and then we argued. Okay, ‘should we feature this one?’ I said I don't want any feature on my album, my debut bawo?
So it was your decision not to put anybody on it?
Yeah, and then Olamide just felt the same way: ‘Perfect, let's just make it that way.’ And it was supposed to be 10 songs, but there were so many good songs, so it had to be 13 and that was it. We planned the album release or whatever they call it.
There was no rollout per se. It was just making decisions after decisions based on...I think that's what made it what it is today.
It was a labour of love.
It was a labour of love. There was no business anything to it. Of course, there's always the business side, but it was just 80% pure respect for the art and the artist. Big ups to my team for that anyway.
What was the most surprising part of the reaction to the LP?
'Scatter' blowing up (laughs), because I never liked that song. The moment I recorded it, I was like "why are you people ..."
But it was designed to blow up, no?
But then, from the pattern from 'Jealous', 'What If I Say', 'King'. My mind was 'Vibration' or 'Like I Do' as the first one, as opposed to 'Scatter'. 'Scatter' is too chaotic. I mean for me, that's how I feel. But then, the second day when we were celebrating the album, and I went to the club and I heard that song in the club. I looked at Baddoo and said: ‘I'm sorry for doubting you. This is a smash hit, this is a monster hit.’ So yeah, that was the first surprise for me. Another very weird stuff was at the listening it was just my fans, no other person apart from the media people, just the fans. We were expecting a lot of people but, just the fans that it meant a lot for them to come. They just came. All those songs were not...based on the first time. I've found out that with my music, I don't know, not all my songs hit you at the first listen. It slowly enters. It's just a couple of my songs that enter...like 'Vibration' once. So I was just looking at them. I told them like, ‘guys, just calm down. I'm just doing this for the sake of it. Go home, listen to this album and just experience the magic. It was really surreal for me man, I won't lie.
What changed in your human experience as an artist after "LTG"?
A whole lot. I mean, after 'Jealous, there's a difference between dropping a smash single, coming back to replicate it and after a whole ass album. A lot of people were looking for me for six months. But those six months were pivotal to my career. A lot of awakening, a lot of realisation. And at the same time, I didn’t want to lose myself. I didn’t want to lose that young kid that wrote "LTG". But I knew I was not going to make the mistake of giving them “LTG 2.” I was already informed of the plan to drop a second album this year as soon as we singed the Empire deal, so I already got to work. I think that sense of ‘guy, you need to evolve. Don't let them catch you in this box. Don't make the same mistake that a lot of people have made. Don't get too comfortable in this lover boy LTG position. Do not make that mistake. They are going to love it for maybe three months and then you've lost value.’
I needed a lot of thinking, I needed a lot of growth. And those six months were for my growth as a human being, as an artist. It was a lot of deliberate decisions. Making music, making decisions basically as an artist. Yeah, "Apollo" is something that I crafted. I never thought I'd be able to sit down and say ‘okay,’ because it wasn’t like that with LTG. For me, I just made music. But with "Apollo," I sat down, thought about it. I was very deliberate with the songs I was making, the direction, how I wanted people to see me. "Oh, we didn’t know Fireboy could be this sexual and sensual on his song o, like Tattoo,’ stuff like that. That's what it was for me. I just took more time on this one. A lot of deliberate stuff, a lot of intent on this album. And I think in a couple of months from now, people would realise how much of a body of work "Apollo" is. I mean, it's not the time yet.
It's markedly different from "LTG". There appears to be a lot more Western influence.
Well, in the sense that arrangement of songs, the way I arranged the songs, the way I arranged the verses and all that. Direction, yeah. But I managed to still infuse my afro sound. My Yoruba vibe would never die. I just needed to do something different from "LTG".
How was the recording for "Apollo"?
I think "Apollo" took me two, three weeks. Recording.
How about all the songs you create when you're not in album mode?
Yeah, you pick good songs from those sessions and just add it to it. But main recording, like you’re working on your album, that's different. It's different from the random times that I'm just making music. 'Like I do' came from one of those random sessions, and it was at that table that Olamide was like: ‘Ahn ahn, I remember one song you sent to me some months ago, very sweet melody. Let me even look for it in my…’ And then right there on the spot, ‘Like I Do, that's true.’ And poof!
What's the nature of your relationship with Olamide?
Well, I think art aside, Olamide is a good person. I think that's just what makes everything easier. He's a good person, he's considerate, he treats people with respect and he's a very intelligent businessman. So the rapper part does not even come into play at all except when we are in the studio recording together. That's the only time when I see that part of him. I don’t see that part of him anywhere else. He's a father, so that's the part I see most of the time. A business partner, that's how we like to thinK, both of us. Of course, people won’t really see that side. They'd just see the rapper side. He doesn’t really show much of himself so...
How did you guys meet?
I don’t know how he heard my music. Apparently from a close friend of his. Seyi Tinubu—the ST I shouted out in 'Lifestyle'—is his close friend. I think he's the one that heard my music and told him about me. And then he listened and was like ‘wow!’ He just reached out to me. We talked for a while. He's a man of few words. Straight to action. He was like, ‘you know what? Do you want to do this?’ Wow. This Olamide's YBNL. And at that time, my mind frame was, if it's not a big record label, I'm not going anywhere. I'm not doing. Of course, YBNL. Beautiful, yes. I mean. The next day we started working on the joint album. He wasn’t in the country yet, he joined, a week or two later. And then we met up as soon as he was in the country and we talked and I just got back to work. There was no time for anything else. I think it was along the line that we started connecting as people.
So far, how's the journey?
It's been beautiful man. I'm the kind of person that as long as I'm working, as a family we relate, businesswise we talk. But I just focus on my own shit. I think that's what makes the relationship really go well. I mean, I don’t really do too well when it comes to people. I just respect the boundaries, respect the relationship and everything is fine. And he's the same kind of person too. He comes when he's needed, he's not all over your face. Sometimes he even asks permission for a few things...stuff like that. Sometimes he just sits in the background and just watch. Most of the recording sessions for "LTG", he was just there. He didn’t say much, just sat down there. His presence is just enough for me. I knew that. So that's how the relationship is.
You received some public pushback after your return with ‘New York City Girl’?
It wasn’t my choice to release the song first, it was obviously a strategic decision from the team and me. In my mind, I'm like an album is dropping next month so I don't have any problem. Drop the one you want to drop. The album where I have my songs is dropping. I don't have any issue, I just sat down and watched everything happen. And I expected the reaction because Nigerians would be Nigerians. And on the other side, fans would be fans. I just watched them do what I expected them to do. Me o, I won't sit down and allow you to box me into one place. Because that's how careers die. Especially in this country, the attention span is very limited. So if you allow them to see you finish in that sound, then that's the end.
And I didn’t really experiment in 'New York City Girl' if we were being honest. It was not until 'Eli' came on, and 'Tatoo' that they now saw that, ‘okay this is what he's doing. There's a shift. This guy is trying to…’ I mean, let me try. I'm not saying I want to japa completely. I'm just saying let me try. I mean, you people respect other people for experimenting and evolving and growing. Why don’t you want me to grow? But I've never really listened to people that much anyway, apart from people I really look up to like Olamide and stuff. I don't really listen to all those people. Fireboy does what he wants to do. So it's expected. "Apollo” dropped and then all these people are still talking and saying stuff. When I knew that I had to just relax, is when someone commented and said there were not even enough love songs (laughs). These are the people that say I sing too much of love songs. That's how you understand that people are weird. When "LTG" dropped, one girl was like this album is trash. The only good song there is 'Omo Ologo'. I'm like bruh. You people are really weird. You're trying to satisfy millions of people. Of course, there would be bumps along the road, so it takes time.
What song means the most to you on "Apollo"?
‘Remember me,’ without a doubt.
It was one of those songs that I wrote, and after writing it, I just sat back, shed a couple of tears and like wow, you wrote this.
Why did you cry?
I think it's because the beat for one, the melody was very very beautiful to me. Because when Pheelz sent it to me I was like ‘wooow, what a melody. And then writing something beautiful and surreal like that about life and death. And making it still groovy for people to dance. Even if I do say so myself, that's beautiful. And also it's a song that just solidifies my legacy. It talks about legacy and for me, that's something I'm really crazy about. I want people to look at my discography ten years later from now and be like wow, this guy is a musician. I'm obsessed. I'm crazy about it. I don't even want to be...there are some personal goals that just drive you crazy and that's it for me. My legacy as an artist. Someone tweeted like Fireboy is building his discography very well, and I looked at it and smiled. Yes, I am. I don't have anything to prove anymore. To make hit songs is not hard for me. Afrobeats generic hit is not hard, so why can't I make beautiful music when I want to?
And 'Remember' is a song that was inspired by a poem. The style of the writing. The first verse was inspired by a poem by Sir Walter Raleigh, Soul's Errand. I don't know if you've read it. It's my favourite poem, ever. That's the part of writing that I focus on. The writing style was inspired by it, and then the theme too. So everything just combines to just say you know what? It’s a song that people would listen to ten years from now and “ah, oh wow” stuff like that. That song really means a lot to me.
For “Apollo,” what would personal artistic success look like?
I just need “Apollo” to prove that I’m here for a long time. And all that mainstream success bullshit is something that comes. It’s not something that you work towards or something that you try to grab. “LTG,” I just wanted to do music and then look at that. I still want to maintain the same mindset. Inasmuch as I’m trying to grow, there are some things I don’t want to let go of. That spirit of, ‘guy, no matter what, you’re always going to make music. You’re going to always want to make good music that people would relate to.’ Because I don’t listen to people. People were saying—when LTG wanted to drop, when I announced it—they were like ‘who’s this one? Three singles into the year. You just blow and you want to drop an album. Who does that?’ But you know, we all see how that turned out.
What’s the one thing you want as a person out of this journey?
I want to be remembered, to be honest. It’s very important for me, I mentioned it earlier. My legacy must never be forgotten. I’m crazy about that. And I just want to make people happy. I want to make people feel. A lot of people don’t want to feel these days. We human being, we don’t want to do the basic things that we were built to do. We were built to feel. And everybody wants to be forming this one, forming that one. It’s not just love. There’s a lot of emotions. Anger, pain, regret. We need to feel because that’s what makes us human. I want people to feel when they listen to my music. Even when they are dancing, I want them to still feel. I think that’s one thing I hope to achieve in my music.
You expect your music to humanise them?
Yeah. I think that’s the word, because that’s what we are. We are humans. And I think that’s what makes the irony of “Apollo”. The fact that it was named after a god but it still talks about the flaws of human beings. A lot of personal stories of mine, especially on ‘24’. ‘24’ was a very personal story and it was very difficult for me to write. That’s why the song is very short because I couldn't even say much. I don’t want to go into the details but it’s a very personal story.
Why did you name it “Apollo”?
I’m obsessed with Greek mythology. I’ve always been since I was a kid. And I just wanted to let people know that I think I’m entering god-mode (laughs). There was no intention to be subtle about that. Because after “LTG,” people just put me on this pedestal like is that how you people want to play? Let’s go now. That’s where the “Apollo” thing came from. The thing is, people don’t really know what they want until you give them. And the artist is supposed to dictate the art, not the other way round.
But convention says it’s supposed to be the other...
Fuck convention, Joey. I have never really been the conventional kind of guy. It’s beautiful when you break rules and then you make magic out of them. I mean who drops an album three months into blowing up in Nigeria? I mean in the western world, Alessia Cara did it. Beautiful, everybody has done it. But here, nobody has done it. And then nine months after that debut…I just want to be that unconventional guy that broke all the rules and still thrived.
Africa's Most Driven Lover (The Boy With The Fire)