For whatever he was asked, he had a theory. His theories led to principles and principles lead back to Joeboy.
You might not know the name, Joeboy now, but you will.
On a rainy day loaded with interviews, my phone rang as I stepped out of the studio after I was done with my second interview of the day.
"Boss how far, na Taiwo,how we go take reach that side?" said Joeboy’s manager, Taiwo. I described the office and in no time, they landed in front of our building. Without the usual hassle, they were in the lobby of the TV wing.
Pleasantries led to our first conversation - an organic one that carried us into the studio. He looked very young - confirming the change of guard in Nigerian music. Despite his age, he was informed, calm and at the same time, thought so respectably of himself.
Confidence might now be a subconscious requirement of contemporary artistry, but not to this artist. Introducing himself, he said, “I’m Joeboy. You might not know me, but you probably know the song (sings his hit, ‘My Baby’).”
The wording was important and seemed organic. He continues, “I am happy and I feel blessed because of the challenges the song had to overcome to breakout in Nigeria. It’s been amazing, the song grew organically; people just kept sharing (it).”
He likened the song to a “virus” and credited listeners and Twitter influencers for making the song grow. Contrary to popular opinion, he says, “I actually did not pay Twitter influencers - for real.”
The principle of personality
He is a student of the University of Lagos. Although he didn’t admit it, it felt like he visited Pulse Nigeria in between lectures.
Born Joseph Akinfenwa, he is also a dancer who has been making music for two years - he started in 2017 with a viral cover of Ed Sheeran’s smash hit, ‘Shape of You' which made him take music seriously and it led him to Mr. Eazi - an unexpected encounter.
"It (meeting Mr. Eazi) was through my cover of ‘Shape of You’ (In 2018)… The funny thing is that, I didn’t even know the song until a day before I recorded the cover. (Recording the song) It was actually my friend’s idea… Then I used to listen to a lot of rap music… So I did (the cover) for it and the song started going viral…
“And then, I met a female friend on Instagram who is friends with a bunch of artists. She didn’t know me, but she said she was going to send it to a bunch of artists. She sent it to Wizkid and so forth.
“The next day, I was reading for my exams jejely o and I saw a notification that Mr Eazi liked my video with his verified account. Next, Mr Eazi commented and then he messaged me saying, ‘sup.’ Next thing, he dropped his number. Next thing, he says, 'Call me.' I said, ‘Jesus’ (laughs)," he says.
He continues that, “That (Shape of You) cover was like that step that just started the process for me. That’s how I met Eazi, we started talking and we started working together.”
Then, he released the single, ‘Realest,’ a trap-tinged sound that was the result of a random studio session with his studio engineer, then named Triple N, whom he also featured on the song. He does passively admit his prowess, but calls his music, afro-fusion.
“It could be trap, it could be R&B, or house, but once you hear it, you’ll know this guy (him) is from Africa - Nigeria, he’s Yoruba,” Joeboy says.
Yes, he is Yoruba, he is not Ghanaian. He is from Ogun State, Nigeria. He only made ‘Fire’ with a Ghanaian, King Promise.
The principle of consistency
Between ‘Realest,’ ‘Faaji,’ and ‘Mind,’ there was a change. The sound got more streamlined and less experimental and became 'that' afro-fusion. The E Kelly-produced ‘Faaji’ sounds like mixing dancehall beats per minute and strings with afrobeats percussion.
It was mildly productive, but its greatest achievement was sending Joeboy on the path to ‘Baby.’ He says, “I would say I grew… I think I understood the market better because at the end of the day, we don’t make music for ourselves. There’s a market you’re actually trying to sell to… It’s just about finding a balance.”
He also credits constant recording with coming up with great sound.
The principle of consistency: Finding the ‘Baby’
It’s funny that ‘Baby’ was not meant to be Joeboy’s first single of 2019. Apparently, it was meant to be a collaboration with Ghanaian act, Kidi for which both acts planned to shoot a video. Nonetheless, ‘Baby’ was recorded in 45 minutes and it was out.
On how the song came alive, Joeboy tells a story, “Before then, I didn’t know Dara The Boy (The producer of ‘Baby’). My producer, BeatByKO actually sent me a beat… He said that Dara was looking for someone to kill the beat. That he’s not feeling what they (those who have recorded on the beat) were doing…
“Normally, the way I write, I record a bunch of hooks. I start my songs with choruses; I just record a bunch of choruses, then I just try to find the one that actually fits. I could be talking to you now and I would just get a chorus (in my head) so I would sharply record it on my (as a) voicenote and keep it.
“That was how I just found a perfect hook for that beat and that was it, but the beat is amazing… So, shout-out to Dara The Boy for that classic.”
He said, “We were planning on shooting the video (for the song with Kidi), but I was still recording. That was how I recorded ‘My Baby’ and I sent it to Eazi. He was like ‘who produced this song? Is it Sarz?’ I was like, ‘It’s not Sarz, it’s one small boy like that.’ He said, ‘The song is mad o.’
“So, he previewed it on his IG story and Twitter and people started asking about the song.” From there, ‘Baby’ was released on March 1, 2019.
Nonetheless, he pegs the song's success down to grace, “I’d say it’s grace. If the song wasn’t amazing, I don’t think it will blow up that way.”
When queried further on whether Nigerians are attracted to love songs above all else, he replies that, “Yes, we actually do. We love love, we just like to form hard guy for each other.”
The principle of Association
Joeboy is now associated with Mr. Eazi’s emPawa Africa. He says he was probably the first artist who knew about the idea for emPawa, which started in 2018.
For his career, he says emPawa has been invaluable, “ They helped me. That's why I'm doing all the shakara I’m doing for labels that are offering me N5 million now. Before emPawa, omo, I will jump on it o.
"But… They (emPawa) helped with knowledge, platform and how we can promote our music through our phones - like the easiest way through social media; how to promote yourself by yourself… For starters, it actually really helped and they’re still supporting with knowledge and back up and connect.”
Obviously, Joeboy doesn't really rate the label game in Nigeria. He says, “I just feel that as an artist, you find the deal you are most comfortable with. But I can’t hate we young artists, the industry is so hard to break into and most of the time we’re desperate to sign almost anything.
“But I think as time passes, we’re getting more informed on how to negotiate, but at the end of the day, it boils down to having a little fanbase before signing anything. That way, you have more level than just like bumping out of nowhere and packing yourself to a label… (saying) ‘Baba sign me, baba sign me’
“(That way) You’ve already sold yourself short. Now they know that you need them and they’re going to take advantage of you."
Nonetheless, he has sympathy for labels, “I’d say when it comes to like making profits, there are not so many avenues for a label to get their money back, but when an artist blows, you get that money… But it’s all about understanding and compromise.”
Joeboy says he will never sign to any label in Nigeria, but it depends on the deal. He says that he will never sign for the regular N5m, house and a car.
However, he doesn’t think emPawa has come to disrupt. He thinks they have just come to educate artists on right and wrong of record deals.
The principle of visualizers
“It (visualizer) is helping young artists because it is less expensive than an actual video. That comic effects it brings make people want to watch it… I see videos of children watching visualizers and they’re trying to mimic the dance (on visualizers)… I won’t like, it helped with ‘Baby, ” Joeboy says on visualizers. But to him, visualizers have not come to replace music videos.
He says, “They (music videos) will always be necessary (as a promotion tool). Dropping a song without a visual representation is like you have not actually dropped the song… I think there’s a lot of music out there that people won’t just download your music based on your artwork. They need to see something.”
Principle of camaderie
2019 has been an interesting year. The new guys are coming through at an alarming rate and it seems the established heads feel threatened. It feels like a ‘change of guard’ of some kind.
For the first time in 10 years, it feels like a change is truly upon us. While speaking to Pulse, a popular artist hilariously called it, ‘turbulence.’ This scribe quizzed Joeboy on the issue, but he refused to be drawn - choosing to remain calm and grounded.
He says, “I wouldn’t exactly call it a takeover, but just like a new breed coming into the market… I’ll call it a new product - a new sound entering the market. The funny thing is that we actually know each other, one way or the other.
“Before actually coming out, we knew each other like two, three years ago. Like Fireboy DML, we were in Rebel Music Academy… Oxlade, I met him on Ojuelegba road when I was buying something. I met Blaqbonez on Ojuelegba road too. So, it’s like we actually knew each other before everything and we’re supportive of each other… one love.”
For the rest of 2019…
Joeboy says going forward, we should expect new music, features and an EP that might come later in 2019 or early in 2020. In fact, we should expect a new single in a couple of Wizkid.
He says even though someone told him to name the EP Melody, he has not found a name for the it. He did say he has been recording a bunch of songs though.