Amaarae: All music, no cap [Pulse Interview]
Amaarae speaks about ‘The Angel You Don’t Know,’ being a rapper, her masculine side, the infamous Vogue list, why she leans towards Nigeria and more
“I used to spit bars, but I didn’t have the voice for rapping [laughs] at the time; my voice didn’t have enough character,” Amaarae jokes. “Even now, I think my singing voice has way more character than my rapping voice.”
By the time she was in college, she was producing, writing and performing her own music. Joy, her roommate in college says that there was always something peculiar about her, the clarity of her ways and the energy she got anytime she was creating music.
By 2015, Amaarae’s music had become popular on Soundcloud due to her unique brand of falsetto, her liberal portrayal of female sexuality and her experimental representation of gender. On her 2017 EP, PassionFruit Summers, she released a video for her song titled ‘Fluid,’ which portrayed men in androgynous outfits.
A few days before this chat, she was named the Africa Rising Artist of January 2021 by Apple Music and she calls it “dope.” She also saw it as a privilege and validation.
“It made me feel like ‘Oh, my message is now strong enough to make people want to share it,’” she clarifies.
The Angel You Don’t Know
In 2020, she released her eagerly-anticipated and long-awaited debut album, The Angel You Don’t Know. Throughout her life and in terms of genre and themes, Amaarae has ingested a diverse array of music. The sonic, thematic and topical diversity of her debut album is a result of that.
“The reason I got into music in the first place is to express the range of things I’ve consumed since childhood,” she says. “When I was recording this album, I had different emotions and urges. Some days, I just wanted to scream on Punk-Rock guitars or move like I was writing songs for Wizkid or Rema. I just had so much fun and wanted to shake things up for myself, really.”
The album is also testament to her growth spurt as an artist, her creative comfort as a rooted individual and a multifaceted human. It discusses topics like sex, love, heartbreak, infidelity, wealth, opulence and more with a fundamental theme of sensuality. She also delivered those topics authentically; she was convincing and her rhetorics were believable.
“I just want to say that I don’t cap in my rap [laughs hard],” Amaarae says, on whether her lyrical content is fact or fiction.
On the album, Amaarae also sang from both male and female perspectives.
“It’s just who I am and I’ve been this way my whole life. When I first came out and I had multicolored hair, people thought it was a gimmick, but I’ve had it since I was in college,” she says. “I’ve always had a masculine and feminine side and I’ve always expressed them. It’s just a matter of how I feel and who I want to be, but as I grow older, I get more in touch with my feminine side.”
A lot of this masculine energy has to do with the fact that Amaarae was a tomboy as a child.
What inspired the title of her album?
To the average African person, ‘The Angel You Don’t Know’ might seem topically rebellious, but to the younger African with a more liberal mind, the album will be an experience in all things familiar.
“Why not ‘The Angel You Don’t Know’?” Amaarae quips about her album title. “I feel like African women as a collective in society right now, we are simply discovering our power and how to express it. For me, it’s less about what is expected of the young African and more about what we are making of ourselves. In order to do that, we need self discovery. We are all angels we don’t know.”
The album took Amaarae one year to make and during that period, she tested the limits of her artistry by experimenting with different genres and different themes. She ended up recording around 60 songs - some, still unfinished.
The records that got ‘cut’
Before she released the album, she released three incredible singles, ‘Spend Some Time’ featuring Nigerian star, Wande Coal and ‘Like It,’ but neither made the album. Amaarae puts those singles down to her experimental phase, while she was trying to find the appropriate sound, musical brand and pattern of expression.
“I made those records when I didn’t even know what my sound could be,” Amaarae says. “When it was time for the album, I felt like they didn’t fit. ‘Spend Some Time’ was something that I felt I could do and Wande and I connected for it by accident. With ‘Like It,’ I had started to find a sound, but it still didn’t fit.”
Amaarae: Ghanaian-American, Ghanaian-Nigerian and a Vogue article
Around 2015, Amaarae’s Nigerian fan base started growing fast across the internet. Three years later, she featured on Cruel Santino’s cult hit, ’Rapid Fire.’ Till this day, a lot of Nigerians don’t realize that she’s actually Ghanaian.
“It started in college, I think. All my friends were Nigerian, my roommate was Nigerian, all my friends that I would go to club with… 98% of people I used to be around were Nigerian,” Amaarae reminisces while she smiled “I had an interview recently and I had to tell my Nigerian interviewer that I was Ghanaian, not Nigerian and they were like, ‘Oh my God’ [laughs].”
Recently, Vogue Magazine named Amaarae, a Ghanaian as one of the four women challenging the norm in Nigeria. As talented and peculiar as Amaarae is to her Nigerian audience, she’s still Ghanaian and she is always keen to highlight that.
“When they were doing that article, the whole premise of it was supposed to be ‘The Alte Artists of Now.’ The article was meant to cover me, Odunsi, Cruel Santino and Tems,” she clarifies. “There was no discussion around the content being used for [that Vogue piece]. I didn’t even know till I saw it and chunks of my interview were left out and they said that they had to fix it.”
“That said, I actually do identify with who I am as a Ghanaian and I don’t try to hide it. There’s just been this sweep that makes Nigeria identity with my music more than Ghana,” she spectacularly posits. “You know how they say, ‘Go where you’re loved?’ It’s my Nigerian audience that’s giving me ginger everyday [laughs], strategy suggests that I follow that.”
“They are streaming and posting the album… Girls are dancing to it in Nigeria. It’s now almost like my identity is getting confusing [laughs],” Amaarae jokes. “But when you’re talking about my locale, which is Ghana, I don’t think I have gotten ⅛ of the love and acceptance that I’ve gotten from Nigeria. I’m not denying my identity, it’s just that the connection to Nigeria is so thick. My team now even has a majority of Nigerians, you know.”
Ghana might not connect with her music now, but Amaarae isn’t worried or downcast by it. She feels like the Nigerian audience is just more naturally disposed to consuming her music and hopes that her Ghanaian audience comes alive soon.
She also salutes the ever-evolving Nigerian creative agenda. She feels like Nigerian artists deserve praise for how they consistently push the envelope.
“I like being a part of that [Nigerian] competition. I like being a part of that hunger to know and to do more. I like being in that space,” Amaarae says. “Seeing my peers transform and consistently bring the heat gives me perspective and energy that I need to fight for my spot.”
Is Amaarae still a rapper?
Amaarae might not see herself as a rapper anymore, but a publication recently named her the hottest rapper of 2020.
“I thought it was funny [laughs] that people were so up in arms about a list, right?” she clarifies. “I thought it was an interesting choice because if you’re talking about a unique approach to rap, my verses from ‘Body Count,’ ‘HELLZ ANGELZ,’ ‘CELINE’ and ‘Nasa,’ had a unique perspective.”
“I don’t think I’m a better lyricist than MI or Olamide, no. But my perspective is so unique that I do get [my inclusion]. If you’re a Hip-Hop head and someone calls an Afrobeat artist the best rapper, you have a right to question it,” she continues. “I definitely think I deserve to be on this list because I shook things off in terms of what rap should be as regards young Africans right now, maybe not at the top of it though [laughs].”
Amaarae’s record label
These days, Amaarae’s music is also released on her label, Golden Child Entertainment. The label was founded because her team needed a company to do business with. In two or three years, Amaarae might want to sign producers and writers when she’s more established, not performing artists.
“Bro, artists are expensive! It’s no joke o, hm [laughs],” she jokes. “If I have producers and writers, they are easier to manage. For artists, you gotta drop bank! We’re talking marketing, PR, evolving videos… It’s a war, really.”
In the end...
Amaarae wishes she didn’t have to deal with the pressure of releasing music in quick succession for our microwave generation.
“There’s just a lot of pressure, bro. Everyday! [laughs]. You’re just releasing, releasing, releasing music like omo,” she jokes.
Amaarae is also working on a remix project; three songs off ‘The Angel You Don’t Know’ will get features and a remix. Then 2022, Amaarae will enter sophomore album mode.
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