Meet Djaji, the young rapper focused on leaving a legacy and 'ExPRESSION' provides a starting point
''One very arrogant thing that drives me is a legacy.'' Djaji Prime
Late in 2018, one of my favorite rappers, Paybac released the collaborative project with producer Charlie X, 'AutoPilot' and one song that particularly stood out was 'Flight Mode', not only because of the brilliant execution of the record, but moreso because of the guest artist, Djaji.
Djaji is someone I have known for a while, but was never fully aware of his musical interests and having caught our attention, he soon proceeded to release his debut EP, ''ExPRESSION'' early this year.
''I've always loved music,'' he explains to me, ''But in my household, my parents have been about you have to finish school.
So not only was school on my mind, music was actually kind of pushed away because I started writing when I was 13.''
Living a fair share of his early life in Australia, Djaji, the half Nigerian, half Senegalese son of a Diplomat grew up as the only black person in his school and had to find his identity at a very young age.
Hopping on a plane down to Nigeria without informing his parents is one decision he is not exactly proud of but it remains one he was glad he took.
The journey has come with a lot of challenges, one driven by an insane passion to make a difference, one fixated on the need to leave a legacy and one constantly driven by his vision to inspire young Africans to find purpose and tell their stories right.
His musical influences are quite diverse. From Skepta to A$AP Rocky and even Sheck Wes, Djaji has found inspiration to battle with his own demons, communicating his experiences in the 12 track tape, one he considers a classic.
As we sat down after exchanging pleasantries, what was supposed to be an interview instantly developed into one of the most enlightening conversations that I have ever had.
Read below the full exchange Pulse had with Djaji Prime
Let's start from your name Djaji
''My surname is Danjaji, it translates literally to ‘’From Djaji,’’ there is a town in Kaduna called Djaji, I like that name more because it sounded more African especially when I was in Australia.
I was named Anwar Ibrahim Djaji, after the former Malaysian Prime Minister, the word Djaji means the head of the caravan that ensures the safety of the Trans Saharan Trade route that runs from Senegal, Mali across Africa and the Middle East.''
Who are your major influences?
''I am a real Kanye [West] baby. Kanye opened that door of the true multi-platform creative and that is what I am trying to be here.
I love Charlamagne, It was because of Brilliant Idiots that I started doing podcasts.
I remember when I first started listening to Skepta in 2013, even though I was a bigger fan of his brother JME and wishing he could touch Nigeria, I remember sitting in my dorm room and seeing Skepta do BBK and doing all the merch.
I am looking at ASAP Rocky, who has different deals with brands, he has understood that creativity is not just you, its better when you bring everyone in. His videos are very expressive.
Look at what he has done for people like Playboi Carti, that is the game, you get in and you bring in more people.''
Take us to the very beginning, how did this passion for music all start?
''I started writing when I was 13. The first song I wrote then was called 'Money Man.' So I used to write and then my Mum found the book and she hid it.
Later on, my Mum would use it against me. So I was making YouTube reviews, I noticed while in University in Australia that nobody was making reviews about Nigerian music.
I was inspired by Anthony Fantano and I also wished he would cover Nigerian music, I lived in Australia for seven years, my Dad is a retired diplomat so we were in Australia from 2003-2007 where I did my Primary school and then I went back to Uni.
Living there as the only black guy, the only Nigerian, everybody hits you with what they expect, so its like what is Nigeria like, literally ask you if there are lions on the street? Then when Boko Haram was a thing, it was about how dangerous it was.''
How was that like for you at that age?
''Maybe because of my father's position, I had to learn early enough to represent and it was instilled like African kids would be used as a reference for everything else.
I was taught early on that you are representing a lot of people, so from the jump, I had to come correct.''
You mentioned owning your own podcasts?
''In 2016, I started three channels and a podcast.
I started Djaji Prime music where I talked about African music, then Djaji Prime where I talked about Africa touching on topics like Thomas Sankara.
At that time, it was like nobody knows anything about where I am from and I can't keep waiting for them to tell my story.
Fantano cannot talk about Wizkid like we would do and until we take the initiative to talk about Wizkid, you can't be upset that he is talking about it. He can't understand the reality of entering Danfo.''
How important was it for you to maintain the African connections?
''Where I am at now is I am able to see broad things but as a young kid, I was trying to fit in. But you being a proud person and your parents telling you who you are.
It's like you are in an ultimate paradox of adapting or retaining who you are, so the way I speak because I studied Australian English and sometimes my parents will be like don't forget who you are then I come back home and speak pidgin and my parents will be horrified.
I went to Government school in Abuja and I had an accent and they will say I am speaking through my nose, so I have to adopt again.
Younger me was trying to fit in and then being constantly told eventually you have to come back. It was hard but it taught me how to adapt, that is how I could hop on a plane from Sydney to Lagos and my parents didn't know.''
What drives you?
''Various things. One very arrogant thing that drives me is a legacy. Issac Newton can never not be known.
''Newton Laws of Motion'' are a fundamental law of physics, no matter who you are you will know Newton. I understood that and I said that is what I want.
That was why I started reviews and through reviews, I found a way and interviewed Adekunle Gold around the time that 'Gold' dropped, then I interviewed Simi.
I am driven by a legacy and I am driven by hopefully creating a dream that is inspiring others so we can lift ourselves up.
All my peers can't dream, they are telling me why come back to Nigeria, there is nothing in Nigeria, we have to dream, even the OGs I look up to are getting jaded.
So when these guys stop dreaming, how far do you want us to dream if you are not dreaming. Just like Obama said 'Yes You Can', that inspires me.
The thing I am trying to shout to other people is no matter what Nigeria is throwing at you, that does not mean you stop dreaming.''
Who was the first person you interviewed?
''The first person I interviewed was Lindsey Abudei, after she released ''The Bass is Queen'' album
I reached out to AngryMob [Obinna Agwu] and he made it happen. It is because of Angrymob that I am here now, he introduced me to Osagz, to Charlie X.''
Let's talk about the EP, 'ExPRESSION', How much of this drive do you think you were able to capture in your songs?
''I brought everything, see the album cover, it is like its exploding, that is how my mind works. ''ExPRESSION'' is my story, it captured last year for me.
I was able to tell the story of the struggle. If you noticed it starts off with very high intensity songs and then ends more solemn.
That is how it is when you get in the game, it's like you have this energy, this passion, you have this drive like yo 'I am the best.'
That is the inspiring part, the drive to see a vision and make it happen, I have been talking about making a tape since I was 13, but along the way you find out that you are human, maybe there is a lot to learn.''
Let's do a break down of the project
''Pot' is just lit, that song was written, produced as an Asap Rocky tribute and a tribute to Pop in Nigeria, that is why I shouted out D'banj.
D'banj is the pinnacle to Afro Pop, I don't care what anybody says. He and Jazzy gave us a valuable listen, I don't know if we will pay attention to.
'Pot' is a tribute to the industry, I was trying to create a hip-hop masterpiece, my goal is to create a hip-hop classic.
'Hottest in the streets', I really like that song because that was the first song I recorded for the tape.
We used a Japanese sample and Charlie just made something incredible, funny enough I wrote the hook to that song to Eva's 'Deaf', because I love the production.
That is just a nice song, I wanted people to have energy at the start of the project before they got into the main meat of it.
I was trying to create a complete project and in introducing yourself, you have to catch people's attention and I felt like having more upbeat songs that are me but I will tell you this, everything was written to old hip-hop, it wasn't written to trap.
I knew 'Expression' was going to be the title track, It is in the future, it is not now, the first verse is when people are listening to me, I have been begging people to listen to me for four years.
The second verse is more real, the hard grind of it, people ignoring you, not taking you as seriously, human beings process so much information and you need to have credibility for them to take me seriously. But the people close to me seeing the grind and not supporting.
So at this point, they are listening but being the type of person I am, people think I am arrogant, so 'Mumu' is people trying to take advantage.
I wrote 'Mumu' to Wu Tang's 'Shadow Boxing'. I wrote it as a hard song but it was delivered soft. I wanted to channel presence for example and Wu Tang had the presence.
Boogey's verse was incredible. Boogey is an interesting case to me, he is working on two projects now, just dropped 'Never Enough' and people have already moved on.
After that comes 'Paranoid', and naturally when you are at that point in life, you become paranoid. You start thinking maybe people are paying more attention to you and you start paying attention to them.
The song is all over the place because that is how a paranoid mind works. Dizzying thoughts and it gets exhausting because you are paying attention to everything, so I tried to rationalize the song by saying that ''sometimes though people behave, but they mask it''
Your dudes are there calling you bro, but when it's behind closed doors, that bro energy is not there, because most of them will sell you out for money.
Paranoid was written to Outkast's 'Elevators'.
For the production, we were listening to Sheck Wes. Sheck Wes is very inspiring for because he is Senegalese and I am half- Senegalese.
He has this song on his album where he was talking about wilding out and his parents sent him back to Senegal.
My parents sent me to Dakar, Senegal, but this time it was different, my parents wanted me to go back to school because I dropped out but I came to Nigeria, this was around 2017. then I started working at Pulse, so on that Sheck was talking about being the streets and I can relate because me too I was lost.''
Who was the special person you were talking about on 'Can't Let Her Go'?
''Can't Let Her Go', that song is for someone, in fact, if there is an anchor person for the whole project, that song was written for her, it was a public love letter and I hope she appreciates it.
After that is 'Scrap', it follows from the paranoia, I was somehow influenced by Ma$e, ''Niggas wanna act'', we were just chilling and ODC was there and he walked out the room, came back and immediately he spat like three lines, my head wanted to explode.
For me, this is the magic, I love when I can set something up and someone comes and kill it. I was so happy with the song.
'Am I Wrong' is my personal favorite, that song to me, some people felt like I was sluggish, but at this point, after you have brought aggression and energy, I was naturally tired.
These are real conflicts, so I am chronicling them as the emotions moves, so sometimes you get perspective, so you start asking, 'Am I wrong for my thoughts'? I start looking at some of the decisions I made like dropping out of school, I caused my parents pain because I wanted to chase a dream, I am not as close to certain people because I am in the studio.
It is an honest reflection of my anger, so I am checking myself.
Then I get angry again, 'Last Night I Shot My Heart', I can understand why it confuses a lot of people.
Me and Paybac were supposed to work on a song called 'Naija Youth', so Paybac heard this beat while I was writing and liked it, so I felt let's put him first, so when I heard his verse, it contained a lot of disenchantment and suicide thoughts.
'Last Night I Shot My Heart' is actually a suicide note, that isolation, that paranoia they can make you feel like people are not there for you. So I felt maybe I would be appreciated more if I am not here.
The first verse I was talking about how I feel like people understand what I do but don't want to appreciate it and it is something I have had to feel with a lot of people. I have gone through those bags of depression and suicidal thoughts, I split my wrist when I was thirteen, those kinds of thoughts happen.
It leads to 'Jabi Lake Vibe', which is proving to be many people's favorite.
When I heard the beat, I knew it needs to be deeply reflective and Charlie tried to save it as Djaji, but he wrote it as Jabi and I was about going to Abuja, so I felt like the Universe was trying to tell me something. 'Jabi Lake Vibe' is kind of crashing off the high.
So I was kinda damning everybody because I had come to them for help but they snubbed me. It featured Mon Lee who took my flow and was able to express a very complimentary verse to tie the whole song together.
After that 'Closer', I wrote that song to Earl Sweatshirt. I feel like presenting yourself to people is a vulnerability.''
How long it took to complete the project?
''We started working in September, beats were ready in November, and we started recording in December, three weekends in December. Charlie did most of the mixing.
We didn’t get the production right initially and I wasn’t happy with what I wrote, so I kept rewriting and working on it.''
Are you satisfied with what you have put out?
''If I had more like industry push, I know people will call it one of the best albums out, like a salute to everybody that has dropped so far, but I think it is the best.
We need to expand so there is more for different people to consume.
My expectation was to successfully get the project and get people I respect and look up to listen to it. I will have to work hard to gain fans, I just wanted to gain a few people that will listen and become fans.
I didn’t put it out to see it charting anywhere, I think its album of the year but I don’t have that kind of expectations. Just deliver the music, package it and be consistent.''
Does the album bring an end to one chapter of your life and kick-start a new you?
''I will definitely explore different concepts and refine experiments that should work, so there are certain things I have done and would love to do again.
I want to make another record like POT or Hottest In The Streets, I listen to Fatoumata Diawara, I would love to be able to do something on that type of beat, I am open to exploring different sounds.
The only thing it ends is me talking too much, recklessness, now I have to be more cautious of how I present myself, but I am still me, all of this is a part of me, I didn’t just wake up wanting to make music, I have been making music since I was 13.
What is your take on Hip-Hop in Nigeria?
''I just feel maybe we have not developed the culture enough. I think its everybody's blame.
The artist plays a role, the media plays a role, the fans play a role. I think we don't sit with projects enough, Nigerians are very in the moment, maybe it is just a reflection of our society.
If you look at Americans, they are still playing J Cole, still playing Cardi, going back to listen to old Joe Badass. My goal was to create a classic project.
Hip-Hop grew because Hip-hop heads were sitting with the projects, writing about it, exploring it tirelessly. In order for our culture to do that, the literature behind it needs to be more.
We just have to keep pushing, we have to love it and push it tirelessly because that is the only way It can grow. Like Grime, they didn’t like to be called Grime artists.''
Let's conclude with Charlie X, how was it like working with him?
''Working in the industry working with Charlie is probably the best thing that could have happened for me and how seriously I am taking this game because it has helped me not to have expectations.
Around September, we sat, we discussed music, we talked about Trap, PlayBoi Carti, Sheck Wes and Hip-hop in General. So we discussed on the concept and the music I should be listening to.
This is what I think is like the truly brilliant thing about Charlie, I rapped everything to him before I heard any beats.
So the beats were developed to support my flow. I noticed like even subtle things I did when rapping, he produced in such a way to emphasize it. He told me just to keep practicing.''
''Create more content, I am super proud of having worked at two Nativeland. Make more music, collaborate, I am just a young Nigerian creative that wants to create.
This game is long and if you are in it for the momentary things, you will never go far.'' he concluded.
This interview has been slightly edited for clarity
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