Music is the product of formation. While some people only need talent that naturally manifests, others need an avenue to trigger their creative depths.
Through that avenue, they have to navigate challenges and roadblocks to success.
T-Classic embodies the every side to the two narratives above. On a rainy day and after a bit of rescheduling, he finally landed in Pulse studios for a chat. His aura was of a meek spirit that only lit up when conversations of music are concerned.
Dressed simply in a shirt, jeans, red sneakers and a dark shades, he withstood the rain for the chat. While he was initially silent, he grew into the pre-interview chatter with some jokes and comments at the studio manager for the session. What followed was a thoroughly interesting chat.
Born Ajayi Tolulope and raised in Agege, Lagos, as the first of five children, T-Classic's mom is a pastor - this explains the white garment Church-esque "seri maka buri" chants in his music.
Explaining that, he tells Pulse that his mom who would say it anytime she prayed in the spirit. When quizzed on what it means, he tells Pulse it means, "Let the angels come through." What angels he hopes would come in a song about sex is, however, subject to intense thought.
But before he made music, Tolulope was just a kid who loved dressing up like a 'smooth criminal,' dancing like Michael Jackson with reckless abandon. Anywhere there was music, Tolu was dancing - his first love, which also inspired his songwriting.
He says, "Back then, it was not really music, it was dance. When I was 10, I used to dance you know... (I would) go to birthday parties, naming ceremonies... Funny enough, burial ceremonies (to dance).
"(Looking back) It was awkward. I would put on my white shirt, my black trousers, my white socks and my black shoes and my hat, dancing (like Michael Jackson) anywhere. So, I just thought to myself that instead of dancing to Michael Jackson, why can't I write my own songs and dance to my own songs?
"So that's where the whole idea of doing music came from. My mom - you all these Christian mothers now - would play Tope Alabi, Sunny Ade... all these songs way back. So, my mom and I decided to write songs together. We would sit down and write. Anything I wrote, I would show to her and she would correct me for some parts."
'T' without the 'Classic'
The next phase saw the first seeds of his performative tendencies be planted. After graduating from Legacy Nursery and Primary School, T-Classic proceeded to Royal Camp Comprehensive High School, Agege, Lagos - which he calls a "music school" - from whence he graduated in 2013.
While enrolled at Royal Camp, T-Classic claims that their Principal encouraged creative tendencies through music, drama and even stand-up comedy by setting up weekly activitie. Every Friday was a swell day at the school.
The birth of T-Classic
Upon graduation, T-Classic got signed to Bang Music Entertainment, but there was a little problem - his dad. He wanted Tolu to further his education.
On the issue, he says, "First of all, my dad na disciplinarian. He used to boss me around, you understand... Like, 'don't go out, do this... This is what I want you to do and you have to do it.'
"But I think I overcame that with the help of my mom. You know our mothers now... (speaks Yoruba)... My mom found a way to settle those parts. She used to support me from day one, we used to write songs together.
"Even now that she's become a pastor, she still supports me like, 'Oh, this is what my boy wants...' She also found a way with my dad and everything just settled. Though, I still have some... some comma with my dad - some kinda p - but we're working towards that."
While with Bang, he made R&B with songs like, 'Sunmomi,' 'Desire,' and 'Your Love.' The influences of this genre can still be felt in the love-tinged music T-Classic currently makes. His biggest hit to date, 'Nobody Fine Pass You,' is what we call, 'wash.'
"I love making R&B music. As you can see, I'm a loverboy... I like singing for my girls," he says.
But even though he still makes love and 'wash' music, they are now more uptempo and dance-worthy in what was an intentional switch. He claims his reason for this switch was to enhance his needed versatility, and this was inspired by his producer, Killertunes.
For this, he uses an analogy, "If you eat eba all the time, you get tired! You have to mix it with rice today, tomorrow, amala and the day after, change it to Jollof rice or something."
In addition, he also claims that dance music is more acceptable on the street - which is coincidentally where the money is.
With his mom's eternal support, and after his contract ended with Bang, he joined Mix Naija Entertainment and luck started to smile on him. First, he released, 'Fall In Love' featuring Mayorkun. According to him, it was the moment people started knowing him as 'T-Classic.' He says, "It gave me a platform."
Nobody Fine Pass You
The biggest song of a maturing Tolu's career. As of today, the video has over one million views on YouTube. It is a love song that was recorded on Tolu's birthday, November 10, 2018.
On how the song was recorded, he says, "I can never forget that day, it was my birthday, November 10 - that was last year (2018) at IamBeatz's (the producer's) studio. I was at home when my CEO (of Mix Naija Entertainment) called me and said, I want you to do a song.
"I was like 'Baba, today is my birthday. You should probably be telling me 'let's go to the club'' or you want to take me out or something. Not... 'Guy, you want to kill me?'
"But he was like, 'Let's just go to the studio and vibe something, something will come out,' I was like, 'Okay.' We went to IamBeatz's studio and we started vibing. He (Iambeatz) started playing the beat (to 'Nobody Fine Pass You')... As he was playing the beat, I was trying to record another thing on it, and I was 'No, No, let me sing about my guy.'
"There was this my guy whose girlfriend left because of money, so I started writing... vibing (mumbles the words), but I was trying not to be abusive... I didn't want to offend my ladies. So, I just said, 'At the end of the day, you know I love you...' That's how the song came up.'
On whether he knew the song was going to be a hit, he says, "My guys - the whole team were shouting 'jam... great concept...' but I was scared. After the release of 'Fall In Love,' people were like 'the song got big because Mayorkun was on it, let us see what he can do on his own.'
"(There was) Pressure everywhere... My C.E.O (of Mix Naija Entertainment) posted it on his IG (Instagram) and people started dropping positive comments. So, he was like,'Classic, I'm dropping this' and I was like 'Ok, no wahala.'
"We dropped it, and the acceptance was mad! I didn't even believe it, it was beyond my expectations. I was think it was probably going to do small numbers. At the time, 'Fall In Love' had 600k views on YouTube.
"I am not downgrading myself, but I felt, 'For Mayorkun to be on this, 'Nobody Fine Pass You' could not be bigger. I was like (to the C.E.O), 'Let us feature someone on this...' He said, 'No, I want you to do this one alone, try do this one alone.'"
The song's video now has 1.6 million views on YouTube - as at the time this article was written. T-Classic says the song changed his life.
Is T-Classic a Mummy's boy?
With his clearly organic connection with his mom, the singer adds that he doesn't mind being called a "Mummy's boy."
He says, "I love my mom, people talk about that (my connection to my mom)... I tell my mom anything. I still fear my dad. If he asks where I am, I can lie. But my mom, I tell her anything."
Similarities to Kizz Daniel
With the current buzz around his single, 'KANA,' featuring Terri, Peruzzi and Haekins, conversation have begun about how his seemingly warped out voice is similar to superstar, Kizz Daniel's.
On this 'Classical Boy,' was pretty laidback. He says, "Kizz Daniel is not a bad artist. He is a talented and hardworking artist. If you compare me with a good artist, no wahala. Kizz Daniel is a good artist, (comparison means) you're trying to say I'm a good artist too."
For now, he says there is no new album on the way, but there he plans to drop new singles and features.
He said, "I have a song with DJ Brooke Bailey dropping soon. It's titled, 'Too Much,' and I have more songs with DJs, more visuals and 'Nobody Fine Pass You' (Ghana Version) featuring King Promise and Kwesi Arthur are dropping in July."
But for now, he's not sure about headlining his own show in December.