Legendury Beatz: The producers of Wizkid's 'Essence' discuss their journey and the spirituality of music [Pulse Interview]

Legendury Beatz tells Pulse about making 'Essence' and 'Ojuelegba' for Wizkid, Sarz, iLLBliss and more.

Legendury Beatz. (Rolling Stone)

Sometimes in 2019, Wizkid would always tell his longtime collaborators and friends, Legendury Beatz about how much he admires Tems’ talent, and how he would love to work with her.

Mut4y describes the Starboy boss as “obsessive,” for how he sees, evaluates and appreciates the culture, which usually revolves around Nigerian music.

Then came the D-Day at Oriental Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos. Wizkid had flown into Nigeria, as work continued on Made In Lagos, his now immensely successful fourth studio album. Tems met Wizkid, who asked Mut4y to play some beats.

As usual, Wiz picked their weirdest beat. Never in my life would I have thought that he would pick that beat. I didn’t even think it would be what it is today,” Mut4y says. “I was like ‘What is this medley that we’re doing? [laughs]. But that’s the thing about music. That’s why you give the music your best because you just never know, bro. But one thing I would say is that Wiz can always see what has potential.

Tems knocked out her now globally famous ‘Essence’ solo in minutes. Mut4y and Uz3zi were mindblown.

But before ‘Essence,’ there was ‘Ojuelegba.’

Ojuelegba

Legendury Beatz was living with Wizkid as he made Ayo, his last album with EME. Recording was done and dusted. But Mut4y - who was more familiar with FL Studio - was trying to learn how to use Logic from Maleek Berry, who was also living with Wizkid at the time.

After learning how to record with the software, he was messing around with the producing effects on it. He was playing with the riffs and percussion on the original ‘Ojuelegba’ beat, when Wizkid heard it from his room upstairs and came downstairs.

He asked what it was and I replied that I was just messing with Logic. He then asked if he could record one of those ‘ideas’ on the beat and I obliged,” Mut4y reminisces. “We loaded the microphone and he recorded on the looped 8-bar thing, which became the hook. He then went back to record like 10 more minutes on the beat without writing a word. We found a way to chop into the song you now know.

In Wizkid’s house at that time, a brotherhood was formed between Legendury Beatz and the likes of Maleek Berry. Their bond with Sarz also grew much stronger, from living in the same space. Together - alongside Wizkid, they also shared an unspoken will to take this music to the ends of the earth.

Once ‘Ojuelegba’ took off, everything changed for the brothers. Mut4y left Nigeria for Los Angeles, California, US with Wizkid. They also moved out of Wizkid’s house and started branching out into bigger things. But to every story, there is a beginning…

Born in VI, bred in Shagamu and made by UNILAG

Legendury Beatz is made up of brothers Uzezi ‘Uz3zi’ Oniko and Okiemute ‘Mut4y’ Oniko.

Born into a comfortable background, these brothers had their earliest years on Victoria Island, Lagos. But their parents soon divorced and their mom took them, and their three other siblings to Sagamu, Ogun State, where they learned and lived.

We went from the good life to the more ‘reasonable’ life, but it was cheaper and operable for our mom, so it was fine by us,” Mut4y says.

When Uz3zi was of age, he got admitted to study Building Construction at the University of Lagos [UNILAG] while staying with an aunt in Mende, Maryland, Lagos.

There, in his teens, Uz3zi met friends who taught him the intricacies of beatmaking. Still in high school and curious to see the world, Mut4y picked production from his older brother, on one of his breaks back in Sagamu. Their bond became stronger.

The interesting thing about [Mut4y] is that he knows how to find interesting sounds and mould them. Music also became the only way for us to communicate because we used to bottle up a lot of emotional baggage,” Uz3zi says. “I was always blown away by [Mut4y] because he took to the music like something I’d never seen. He would listen to a Don Jazzy beat and stay up all night to find a particular baseline.”

It didn’t really start as finding a connection for us. [Uz3zi] is the oldest and we all looked up to him. But I was also bored, even though I was always creative - I was the best art student in my high school class,” Mut4y adds. “I had a whole UNICEF award and all that. We were also into Hip-Hop - 2000s Hip-Hop, mostly.”

Becoming Legendury Beatz: The influence of Sarz

When Legendury Beatz started making beats professionally, Mut4y had gotten into UNILAG to study Microbiology and also lived in Mende. Around a year later, they met Sarz, whose studio was in Fadeyi.

My friend, Alex, was always a fan of our music. And he knew about Sarz. In our minds, we had these global takeover dreams and encountering Sarz changed a lot for us,” recalls Uz3zi. “We used to think of ourselves as ‘the sh*ts.’ But when we met Sarz and played stuff for him, he was like, ‘Hmmmm… It’s okay.’ [laughs] I was like, ‘Who is this one?’ [laughs hard]

Then he took us to his studio. It was our first time in a studio as well [laughs]. Living in Mende and meeting Sarz introduced us to a larger creative sphere,” Mut4y interjects. “AY.COM, Don Jazzy, EME, Cobhams, Chocolate City and more were in and around Mende while Surulere was strong for being a creative hub. I think the modern Nigeria industry started from that place. We then started taking the music seriously.

It was around this era that we produced ‘Ko Ma Roll’ for Mo’Cheddah. Knighthouse - to which Mo’Cheddah was signed - was on the other side of Sabo, behind UNILAG,” Mut4y said. “Again, it was the effect of that proximity manifesting… Mo’Cheddah was also at UNILAG at the time. I think I met Mo’Cheddah through the late Zara. She was Charles Joseph’s cousin.”

A little later and after getting “tutorials” from Sarz - who incidentally walked into the house on the day that this interview was conducted, Mut4y and Uz3zi officially became a duo. People also started paying them compliments. But getting into the industry was hard.

Their strategy was simple; attend major events, labels and circuits with CDs filled with beats and impress a major star within three minutes. Their dynamic had also started finding its balance; Mut4y was the sound guy with great sonic ideas while the more extroverted Uz3zi had multiple functionalities with the leg work.

One day, Uz3zi came up with the name ‘Legendury Beatz’ and Mut4y ran with it instantly because it suits their big dreams.

We work because there is symbiosis. He could be producing a beat and I would tweak it a bit or some sh*t like that,” Mut4y enthuses.

He’s elite with Afrobeats, so he takes the lead on that,” Uz3zi adds.

Through Sarz, Legendury Beatz also produced ‘2Mussh’ for Reminisce. They then produced ‘Ara’ for Brymo. All of which were produced for free.

Lemme not lie, whenever Sarz would get paid, he would take us to the cinema to watch a movie [laughs hard],” Uz3zi reminisces. “When he would reject gigs over payment, we used to be like, ‘collect am now! [laughs].’”

Weird MC was the first artist to pay them for a beat. With her American exposure, her mentality and ideals were markedly different. So she paid.

Meeting Wizkid

In Q3 2011, Uz3zi graduated from UNILAG and went to serve in Shagamu. But he would frequent Lagos like he was living in Yaba.

While Legendury were dropping CDs at places like Knighthouse and getting calls back, they encountered Wizkid for the first time. They always had dreams to stop at nothing to conquer the world with music. The first time they met Wizkid, they knew that he was special and they always tried to work with him.

Everybody in the industry - including our mentor, Sarz - knew that [Wizkid] was special. There was just something about it that you would notice instantly,” Uz3zi enthused.

When I heard ‘Holla At Your Boy,’ I told my brother that, “This is who we need, find him. If you want me to starve and produce beats for him, I will [laughs],” Mut4y reminisces. “Then ‘Don’t Dull’ dropped and my yearnings intensified. Due to our Knighthouse connections, we were then trying to submit beats for Superstar - his debut album - but we didn’t make it.”

Osagie [Osarenz] was Uz3zi’s friend and he had given her a CD. Wizkid had also recently featured on ‘Let The Music Play (Remix)’ alongside Zara and Myst. It was the second single of Klem’s album, AfrofunkyDiscoSoul. The first single was ‘Sun Momi’ featuring Mo’Cheddah and Trigmatic.

Wiz had also heard some of our stuff and was longing to meet us. One day, I went to the club and he came through with Banky W and all of them. They were in the VIP,” Uz3zi says. “I begged ABK, who was my friend, to help me gain access. When I got there, I introduced myself and he was so excited to meet me. At that moment, he asked us to come to the crib.

The next day, Mut4y and Uz3zi went to Wizkid’s house. Within the first few minutes, ‘Baddest Boy,’ a single off Empire Mates State of Mind album by EME was recorded. It was meant to be Wizkid’s song, but Banky liked it so much that Wizkid put it on the EME album.

Some other songs like ‘Azonto’ were recorded during that session as well, but [Uz3zi] had to leave. But before he left, a friend of Wiz’s came along with new clothes and Wizkid got us some fresh clothes [laughs],” Mut4y reminisces with a smile. “Moving forward, Wiz saw the vision and knew he would leave EME soon - we didn’t know at the time. So, he said that he would want to sign producers to Starboy and we accepted the pitch.

‘Azonto’ also blew up by accident. Wizkid’s team took an unmastered version of the song for a social experiment at a club. Everybody went crazy and someone leaked the song. From there, it was hard to rein it back in, so the brothers let it go without proper sound engineering.

The period after this saw a reconciliation between the Onikos and their dad, who wanted Uz3zi to get a day job, but the oldest Oniko was then trying to avoid a 9-to-5. Instead, he went for his MBA in the UK, while Mut4y was in Nigeria.

To them, it was a blessing because Uz3zi used that opportunity and his ability to blend in to secure some of Legendury Beatz’s first international placements with Yxng Bane, Rihanna and more.

While Uz3zi was in the UK, Wizkid placed a call for the Starboy deal he had pitched about two years earlier. Uz3zi caught the next flight down to Nigeria. They signed the deal and moved in with Wizkid, for creative comfort.

According to Uz3zi, being with Wizkid also taught them patience on how to spot and make moves. He says that Wizkid made them know what to and what not to accept. Mut4y also called Wizkid a “visionary.”

iLLBliss

During this time, they produced ‘Emi Ni Baller’ for Chidinma, who was signed to Capital Hill/Goretti Company, owned by the legendary duo filmographer, Clarence Abiodun Peters and director, iLLBliss.

“iLLBliss met DJ Spinall, who has always been a really good friend and supporter of ours. The latter then told the former to look for us. iLLY obliged and hit me up,” Mut4y says. “I was a big fan of iLLBliss, Modenine and these guys, so I was honored to hear from him. iLLY also wanted to know about us and our dreams, not just about the great beats we could give to him.

He’s like a big bro to me. From the first time we met, he was always interested in our growth and anyone who has met iLLY would know,” Mut4y adds. “He inspired us and gave insights and asked about what we could do.

“But I was hiding my really faulty laptop from him because I was embarrassed,” he continued. ”When he found out, he asked me to come to the studio, sent his boy to computer village and bought me my first ever correct beat. He became a mentor and guidance.”

That was even before ‘Emi Ni Baller’ was made. When the record was finally made, iLLBliss’ A&R skills, to get such a record out of Chidinma blew Mut4y’s mind. In that moment, Mut4y found the “legendury way,” which makes artists do things they never thought they would do.

Spirituality - of music

In their essence, Legendury Beatz are responsible, married businessmen, who just want to create and excel according to their mandate from God. Yes, they are staunch Christians who revel in their spirituality.

Music is spiritual, but every song has a use-case - hence the need for genres. But people still consume music differently,” says Uz3zi. “Some people will say that Davido’s music is good for the night time. Some people also simply want music that they can just enjoy. That diversity is what we are as Nigerians.”

They also have a dynamic symbiosis, which makes their duo work. Uz3zi is the older one; more philosophical, a little more business-minded with the adult wisdom and great use of patience.

Mut4y, who is also the Head of Music at Starboy is the younger one. He’s a little more reserved and visibly, only warms up after a while. But he comes off as the one with the bigger music mind, with the astute storytelling and the pure Lagos energy.

In their respective ways, both of them are relatable. You just have to accept them for who they are. Uz3zi is more of a people person. Mut4y is as well, but he only talks once he feels comfortable.

As Legendury Beatz, our goal is to reverse engineer and direct emotion with music. People will complain about the political and economic state of things, but they’ll still go to the club to turn up,” he continues. “Other countries act out in protest, we don’t usually do that. We just want to live and be fine… Any which way na way. That’s why music is important. We have understood that we are providing a service for the industry.”

That’s why we don’t really get mad about the Grammy or Headies because it takes away from that fundamental thing we do; provide a service,” he goes further. “When we see people dancing to ‘Ojuelegba’ or ‘Essence,’ that’s who we are - as Africans - packaged in three minutes and 10 seconds.

The evolution and the motto: Conquer the world

In the earliest days, Legendury Beatz produced a record like ‘Ko Ma Roll’ for Mo’Cheddah, but it was pretty hard to tell who they were, because people didn’t really know them at the time. By the time they produced ‘2 Mussh’ for Reminisce, Baddest Boy’ for Wizkid, ‘Emi Ni Baller’ for Chidinma and ‘Many Men’ for iLLBliss, people could tell their sound.

Over the past five to seven years, that sound has heavily evolved. Either it’s producing an outlier like ‘Ojuelegba’ or the recently platinum-certified ‘Como Un Bebe’ for J Balvin, Bad Bunny and Mr. Eazi or even ‘Essence,’ their sound has become tantalizingly unpredictable. There is no template.

When we launched onto the scene, everybody wanted to be in the clubs. But that switch happens as we try to get to the world,” Uzezi says.

Everything in life is a journey. Back then, like my brother says, we used to put beats on cassette tapes and CDs and used to have just three minutes to impress anybody and everybody,” Mut4y adds. “The only way at the time was creating unique club bangers. But overtime and with our longevity and improvement, we learned and earned the right to evolve.”

Mut4y and Uz3zi also expatiate on their dreams and how they could finally start dreaming of conquering the world, as they formulated at the University of Lagos. Records like ‘Como Un Bebe’ and ‘Essence’ are an evidence of those dreams coming to life. For Mut4y, Legendury Beatz is only just getting started.

Upcoming album

These days, Legendury Beatz has ascended into the OG realm and they have become kingmakers. During the lockdown, Mut4y did EU4RIA EP with Elhi. Having worked with everybody, Legendury Beatz now wants to release their debut album. A dream project, they are taking their time with it. They are also looking out for versatile young talent to work with.

At this time, you can anticipate everybody that matters on the project. But even the brothers don’t know what will be on the album yet.

While the brothers are no longer signed to Starboy, the brotherhood forged in 2012 still goes strong. They still enjoy creating with each other and Wizkid continues to trust and appreciate his brothers.

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