Showing gratitude for a very successful year, the singer tells Pulse 2017 success story and early plans for 2018.
“Man, it’s been crazy you know. I just thank God and the fans.”
We’re at the Pulse Nigeria office in Lekki, Lagos, and Maleek Berry had a constant wide smile. 2017 has brought numerous blessings to him, and he is in a happy place. He hugs members of the Pulse team, blew a kiss for one of his champions in the office who declared herself “his greatest fan.” “I feel like my fans are the best PR in the world,” he declares, the smile still present.
There’s a good reason for that smile. In 2016, Maleek enjoyed a great run, where he scored a huge personal and industry win with the hit single ‘Kontrol’. Previously, the producer born Maleek Shoyebi was recognized in the music industry for his work on the console, crafting records for others. His production credits include hits with Wizkid, Wande Coal and others.
And while he dabbled in music as a recording and performing artist, everything came together with ‘Kontrol’. The record topped charts across the globe, propagating from Nigeria and the UK into non-traditional Afrobeat markets in the US and Australia. In Nigeria, it became one of the leading tracks in charts, and dominated the club and dance circuits from Lagos to the ends of the country.
To consolidate that run, his debut EP, “Last Daze Of Summer,” was released in September 2016, and it has done its work to elevate Maleek Berry’s sound. Singles off the records have become hits, increased his reach and grown his numbers on all platforms. In 2017 alone, he has toured the US, playing sets across 12 states within the duration of five weeks. He also played a set at the Encore Tour in Amsterdam, and interestingly, JAY-Z’s annual prestigious Made in America concert.
Berry’s in Lagos for the final leg of his “Last Daze of Summer Tour”, with a date already booked at the artistic Hard Rock Café, where he is seeking to close out the year by bringing live music to the core of his followers. That’s why that smile is on his face. It’s a mark of gratitude for battles won, and money made.
“The E.P has taken us around the world literally. So we are about to finish off that era at home in Lagos with the concert,” he says. “I have a couple of people coming through to share the stage with me and it’s like my first proper headline concert in Lagos and I’m looking forward to it. I have been wanting to do this for so long, like you don’t even understand. The fact that it is happening is actually crazy, so I’ve got stuff planned — I’m using a band, there’s gonna be one or two songs from the E.P. I’m going to give exclusive performances.”
All of his success has been driven in part by his fans. With his unique vocals, and syrupy songwriting, Maleek Berry’s are personal for a generation of young Africans who enjoy Afropolitan music. They share his videos, tweet his praises, and actively seek to convert more people into his kingdom. A girl once told me during a date, that if she gets the chance to meet Maleek Berry in person, she would “impregnate him, and wife him up.” Such savage love comes from a place of passion, inspired by his music. “I think what I try to do is make music that’s personal to me. I’m human, so there’s bound to be 10, or hundreds or a thousand people who are going through what I’m going through or feeling the same emotions I’m feeling,” he says.
Songs such as ‘Let me know’ – a record of love and all its expressions – have fans numbering in millions. It’s in stark contrast to ‘Eko Miami’, which simply taps into the hedonism of youth and being alive in the moment. “Even if it’s a turn up so, I try to keep it as true to myself as possible,” Maleek says of his club and urban cuts which command a strong base. “I could give an example, like Bryson Tiller songs. When I first discovered Bryson Tiller, I was preaching the Bryson Tiller gospel everywhere.”
“So I think what it is you know when your first discover someone or an artist and you love their music, you wanna keep them to yourself, you want to share them at the same time, but you don’t them to get too commercial and get that feeling that “Everybody’s listening to them” so I feel like I’m at that stage where people are kinda like holding my music like dear to them and still sharing and stuff. I don’t know why… I ain’t got the answers.”
In the summer of 2011, he flew out to Nigeria for a family holiday. While in the city, he made great connections that would later change his status to an international producer. Through Davido his friend, Berry was able to spark relationships with artists such as Wizkid, Naeto C, Wande Coal, which he has worked on records with.
His first production hit in Nigeria was Sauce Kid’s ‘Carolina’ which became one of the biggest records in Nigeria in 2011. Interestingly Davido was a guest on the record. ‘Carolina’ ushered Sauce Kid back into the Nigerian music scene. In 2013, he scored another smash hit single ‘The Matter’ featuring Wizkid. And in 2015, he was responsible for the sound direction of Wande Coal’s sophomore album, “Wanted.” The learnings from working on these projects contributed to his emergence as an artist.
Combining production with recording, Maleek is the ultimate music weapon, possessing all the elements within himself to create big records. His distinct urban sound and vibe have become tried-and-true. It has defied attempts to be imitated, stripped and replicated by local producers. Maleek says it’s due to diverse influences that control his music. “I always take every single influence that I have, whether it’s the grime from the UK, the Bob Marley or Fela my dad used to listen to, or the R&B that I grew up listening to,” he says. “So I merge the sounds, I guess that’s why it sounds so unique because I’m just being myself when I’m producing or when I’m writing, so there’s no secret, no jazz involved.”
These are the last days of “Last Daze Of Summer” EP. The project has done its job. It has elevated Maleek Berry to new heights and conquered new territories. After the planned concert this December, it has to be ushered out. Maleek Berry has the perfect replacement for that. A new EP is in the works, and it is titled “First Daze Of Winter.” In a way, it’s a sequel. But according to Maleek Berry, the project which will drop in January 2018, will be the opposite of its predecessor. It would also come with a UK tour in February 2018.
“It’s definitely gonna set the tone for the year, music-wise, sound-wise,” he says with as a confident yet mischievous smile creeps across his face. “And you know the thing about January, everybody has finished doing the December turn-up, Jaiye Jaiye and even in the UK people are slowly getting back and nobody is dropping new music. So it’s the perfect opportunity to set the tone for the year.”
Another source of Maleek Berry’s strength is his collaboration strategy. In 2017, he has scored guest spots on top projects with Nigerian stars. He was on the remix of Jidenna’s ‘Bambi Too’, dropped a great verse on Juls’ ‘Early’, found a way to improve on Ycee’s smash hit, ‘Juice’, and lots more. He believes his record with Ycee to be the most interesting for him. The record produced by Adey became one of the soundtracks of 2017.
Maleek delivered a sublime verse which according to him, took him a long time to write. “Ycee was chasing me for long and I was like “Bro don’t worry, let me get it right, let me get it right,” he laughed. “So I think when I wrote my verse, and I recorded and sent it to him, I didn’t really think anything of it. I didn’t really think I did that well on it. I didn’t really think it would blow. I felt like it was just gonna be one of those underground-ish jams that’s just there but when it took off I was like maybe my voice is not that bad o.”
Ending the year on a high will be Maleek’s ultimate dream. Much of his dreams are turning into reality. Travelling across time zones for the art takes its toll. Maleek Berry says he has struggled with creating a personal work-life balance and stay connected with his family. “Sometimes this life, this career of ours, you get so caught up in fame and chasing wins, chasing success, you’re always on the move, thinking “what’s the next jam?” that you forget about things like family and things like having a normal life.”
But for him, it is all worth it. Life has been good to him, his stars are aligning every day, and success follows him with each record. The fast life of musicians can take away focus from the goal, which for Maleek, it can’t happen. All of what is happening to him is for the greater good. He plans to advance himself further, working and singing to a position of power, money and influence, where he can elevate new artists and create a legacy of continuity. He goes into thought for a minute and exhales. The smile was gone, but in its place came a willful gaze; the type you see when a man is about to say something deep and dear ton him. He exhales. “I’m successful when I can make multiple people successful. I will take younger artists and producers, and give them opportunities to fulfil their potential. Right now, I am creating the platform for this to happen.”
For now, he is well on that path. His Instagram and Twitter accounts are promoting his first headline concert in Lagos, and a new single titled ‘Pon my mind’ has been released to introduce fans to his forthcoming “First Daze Of Winter” EP. Between press commitments and performances, he is pushing himself mentally for the New Year. But he still has an eye of gratitude for 2017, and the few days left in it. “I’m thankful and grateful. But there’s so much to come, and I can’t wait to have that.”
Maleek Berry’s “Last Daze Of Summer Concert” holds on December 7, 2017, at the Hard Rock Café, Victoria Island, Lagos. His new EP, “First Daze Of Winter,” will be available on digital stores in January 2018.