In the Nigerian music industry, Terri’s case is as peculiar as he is articulate and confident. His ability to adequately express himself portrays an underlying intelligence. For a 20-year-old, he provides surprisingly concise answers to even the most difficult questions.
Speaking with him was as interesting as it was eye-opening - not for any reason other than a view into his mind and story. He is also open and introspective. For example, he says that he dislikes being ungathered and loves being composed.
With gusto, he goes, “You might go crazy, but all that craze should end in your space. The optics matter and people will say things. Sometimes, that might not mean anything because people will talk regardless, but not caring is how people get a bad reputation and gather things that will haunt them.”
He then continues with realism, “You might plan, but things dey happen wey fit make all your plans rest. But as much as you can, you have to stay in control.”
Not being carefree in life led to how Terri refused to go see some of his uncles who came to visit him in the thick of COVID-19. Terri jokes that, “Bro, I love them - they’re my family but I can’t be careless, so I refused to go see them and they understood. I have been indoors for too long (laughs).”
That was the start of our conversation and it continues with a jump…
Terri joins Starboy
In February 2018, the Lagos-born and bred Edo State indigene, Akinre Terry - the first of four children - signed to the Wizkid-owned label, Starboy Music. This was after he got a message from and had a meeting with Mut4y - one-half of Legendury Beatz and Head of Music at Starboy.
Terri was discovered after he performed a cover to ‘Oshey’ by DJ Jimmy Jatt featuring Wizkid on Instagram in January 2018. He was posting those covers of songs like ‘Ponmile’ by Reminisce on his Instagram page to gather buzz for a mixtape he planned to drop.
At the time, the lean 18-year-old had just left his Marine Insurance admission at the University of Lagos after only a few weeks to pursue a career in music.
Then in March 2018, he featured on a song titled, 'Soco' which became one of the biggest African songs of that year. The song was recorded on one of Terri’s earliest visits to the Starboy residence.
For a teenager who grew in the Ifako-Ijaye area of Lagos, linking up with his only idol, Wizkid - with whom he was obsessed and - proved a turning point.
Terri went from starting making music purely for female attention, to paying for studio sessions with his saved-up lunch money when he started recording at 15 after people unexpectedly took his music seriously, to enjoying the attention and love music brought him, to having an ambition for a career in music at 17, to living in a home with a fitted studio at 18.
He moved out of his parent’s house and took on a risk that might or might not pay off. When asked if his decision scared him, Terry says, “I feel like everyone will always have doubts in that situation, but you have to always make decisions. I took solace in the terrible educational system in Nigeria.
“But bro, a sponsor is important for confidence. If I didn't have a sponsor, I probably wouldn’t be doing music - I make music for my family. My three junior siblings look up to me and that alone is both pressure and inspiration. I have to protect them from the ugly parts of the world and hardship - that’s why I mask bad times with good vibes.”
Nonetheless, he had a dream - to be one of the best and biggest Nigerian Afro-pop artists. He had found a home at Starboy and a hit in ‘Soco,’ but he needed his own niche, his own fan base and his own star power.
Singles, pressure and criticism
‘Bia’ dropped and it was supremely praised by critics and fans alike. But in the early parts of 2019, criticism started flowing in. It didn’t help that the first quarter of that year ushered in an artist-backed new guard like Rema, Joeboy and Fireboy.
Nigerians began to pelt Wizkid with questions about Terri, the talented teenager he signed just a year earlier. The truth is, those questions were not reasonable because Terri was always recording and releasing music.
As Pulse Nigeria stated in the review for AfroSeries, Terri was on six singles and two other songs in 2019, people weren’t just paying attention. On all of the features, Terri was not just decisive, he was the star of the show.
The criticism from fans was both an exhibition of excitement for Terri’s talent and unwarranted cynicism from some who just wanted to criticize. However, other critics also failed to realize that every artist has his own journey.
Like Northboi told this writer when he visited the Pulse Nigeria building in 2019, Terri never stops recording.
Terri confirms when he says, “That’s because you never know what’s going to be a hit. You can’t wake up and say ‘I want to record a hit today,’ nah. When you want a project, you have to record a lot of songs, so you can then pick the best. Killertunes still called me last week about a song I have with him - I had forgotten it. You can never record enough.
“However, I understand the criticism because people now had other new artists to talk about besides Wiz, David and Burna but my journey is different. However, you can’t always control the narrative when you are in the public eye. I saw it as a demand for my music and it drove me to make good music. My vision is long-term.
“My talent will always be here. Fans will always have opinions as they should, but when I look at Koffee - the Jamaican singer, she’s 19 and she has a Grammy. People will compare [the new guys] but we can’t always allow that. It’s about the big picture.”
Terri would have loved to release music when people were criticizing him, but his label’s set-up felt he was not ready musically or psychologically and he was made to continue recording. He might not have liked it at the time, but in hindsight, he feels his label was right.
He says, “I’m signed to a label. As a signed artist, you can’t make decisions on when to put out music. Labels think strategically and mine had a different time-frame for me because they wanted it to drop before ‘Made In Lagos,’ so the timing had to be right. We had other issues with production and post-production, but now I’m ready.”
The decision on his psychological and musical readiness was made by Wizkid. After an incident - that Terri chooses not to make public - happened a few months ago and Wizkid saw how Terri managed it, the Starboy Honcho told his artist that, “You are ready now.”
Life at Starboy, relationship with Wizkid and mental health
According to Terri, life at Starboy has been amazing because it offers him a lot of opportunities. He also says, “I learn from [Wizkid] who is the biggest artist of his generation and who has been here for 10 years. He has seen everything and that helps me professionally and personally.
“I have changed a lot since I first came into the music industry. This music business is serious business - more than you realize before you get into it. You have to know what you are doing. It took a year to understand just how serious this business is. I had to find myself.
“Wizkid is the kind of boss that doesn’t impose. He gave me time to grow at my own pace, but he’s watching you at all times… Monitoring your mental space and work ethic. He understands that music is more than just talent and just talent and that your mental health is important.”
Finally, Terri gave fans a commendable 7-track EP titled, AfroSeries - his first major project and first project on Starboy. He went through the EP with no features because he was tired of proving things. Instead he says, “I wanted to make them know what I’m about.”
It’s led by the Sarz-produced madness titled, ‘Ojoro.’ When this writer told Terri that he didn’t like ‘Ojoro’ at first, Terri was shocked but understanding.
He says, “‘Ojoro’ na bop, so I get why some people might not like it at first - the beat is kind of different and it might take people some time to get to it. However, that’s a good song. Anything from Sarz is fire and you can expect fire after production. ”
Terri found the beat to ‘Ojoro’ by accident though. Sarz was in Terri’s house to work with the artist on some songs around April 2019 when he played one beat that caught Terri’s attention, but that beat had been chosen by another person. To console Terri, Sarz gave Terri the beat to ‘Ojoro’ which he reluctantly accepted but later loved.
Terri left the studio where Sarz was busy for a hotel where he recorded the song that became ‘Ojoro.’ According to Terri, Afro Series has been ready for a long time, the songs had been recorded, he just didn’t know which songs would make the cut.
Terri jokes that, “When it was finally ready, I didn’t even send it to producers who all wanted their songs to make the cut make dem nor go ask, ‘Which song bad pass my own?’ (laughs). The label picked the songs, but I had to fight for ‘My Chest’ to be on the EP.”
Separating ‘Starboy’ from the ‘Terri’
Over the past year, Terri has been trying to take the Starboy out of his name. When he first launched, most people knew him as Starboy Terri. In his words, “My management felt it was good for me to add ‘Starboy’ to my name. Ordinarily, I’ve always been Terri. They felt it would be good for buzz and I still agree with that decision.
“But now, people want to associate my brand with Starboy when we are different entities. My name is Terri, but the ‘Starboy’ part was meant to be only for my social media. But you know how it is, social media has power. The best I can do now is correct people, but you can’t always control how people behave.
“I can’t complain - it has helped me, but I’m thinking long-term. That’s why I’m trying to find the balance.”
Terri still wants to go back to school for a business-related course, “I would love to go back [to school]. I wouldn’t say I was smart in school, but I was good at learning and I have a lot of things going for me - I would survive in any school or course, no matter how hard it is. I just completed a one-year online course last month - I like learning.”
As the year progresses, Terri will like to keep recording music. The only problem Terri has now is keeping up with personal relationships.