It seemed like 2017 was the year when Mr Eazi never stopped climbing. The 26-year-old musician went from strength to strength, releasing his first full-length, Life is Eazi, Vol. 1 – Accra to Lagos and lending verses to RAYE’s deliciously infectious Top 20 single ‘Decline’. Throw into the mix hit singles like ‘Leg Over’ and ‘Pour Me Water’, alongside a collab with French Montanna and Ty Dolla $ign, and you’ve got a veritable star on the rise. We sat down with the Nigerian musician to talk musical process, influences, and the impact of African music in the UK.
Despite such an impressive list of musical accomplishments, Mr Eazi, born as Oluwatosin Oluwole Ajibade, initially cut his teeth in the business world. As he explains; “Music was always an escape from business pressures, and then I started to get feedback in terms of love from fans all over the world, collaborations and bookings… I saw that music was a business on its own, it makes sense to do what I love. I run my own label, so it’s the best of both worlds.”
It’s clear that he’s retained his entrepreneurial spirit, and this is what pushes him towards musical innovation. Ajibade is highly adaptable, an artist who is constantly learning and developing, working to perfect his craft. Talking about how his songwriting has developed, he explains that; “Up until recently I’d just get ideas in the car, record a voice note of the idea and send it to producers, then they’d get back to me with instrumentals. I’d go to the studio and just vibe, to come up with a number of melodies. It’s totally different now; I’m in the studio with people, everyone exchanges ideas and I get to work with lots of different people.”
One such person has been RAYE, the R&B singer who broke onto the scene with the Jax Jones smash ‘You Don’t Know Me’ and who Ajibade worked with on ‘Decline’. Ajibade is full of admiration for the female star, relating how working with her in the studio has informed his own musical process; “Watching her write pop music taught me a lot sonically. Her [style of] songwriting is different, for me, songwriting is a feeling, but with RAYE there’s a vibe, and also a technique that you can see [progress] song to song.”
RAYE joins a talented roster of Mr Eazi collaborators, taking her place next to the inimitable French Montanna. Ajibade talks of his experience with Montanna, summing up countless millennial friendships with the question; “You know when you have a friend you’ve never met [in person] but have spent days texting?” He also hints at more collaborations in the pipeline, saying “we’re working on more stuff via email for his album and my stuff.”
These high-scale collaborations point to Mr Eazi’s increasingly important profile in the UK and US, which some have been quick to attribute to the rising popularity of African influence across the Western music scene. Reflecting Britain’s rich cultural diversity, the danceable bashment beats and complex afrobeat rhythms can be heard in summer anthems like French Montanna and Swae Lee’s ‘Unforgettable’ and the DIY success of J Hus’s Mercury-nominated Common Sense. Even those feigning indifference towards the shift towards African and Caribbean sounds in recent years, have to admire the swiftness with which the genres have come to prominence and climbed to the top.
It seems that Afrobeat especially climbed to the top overnight. However, appearances can be deceiving, especially to the uninitiated. As Mr Eazi puts “I feel like in the UK [African music] has always been hip, I remember African pop artists coming to the UK every year before I ever stepped into a studio. [Afrobeat] has always been a hit, like with Fuse ODG getting proper radio play and charting. The UK has been very receptive to African music for a time — it slowed down, but it’s picking back up now, though there’s a way to go after what Fuse ODG achieved and where we are now.”
If anything, Mr Eazi’s success is indicative of the true variety of music produced across Africa’s many countries, rather than being an embodiment of a sweeping trend amongst UK and US audiences. His music is rooted in specifics rather than generalities and comprises an idiosyncratic melding of Ghanian high life, dancehall, R&B and Nigerian rhythms, which the musician has dubbed ‘Banku Music’ in previous years. Reflecting his jet-setter lifestyle, Ajibade’s music is marked by a distinctively global timbre, taking on touches of local flavour from wherever he finds himself. As he puts it; “I kind of draw inspiration from lots of places, it’s a record of what’s going on around me at the time. In my first records, you could tell my sound was just based on whatever was going on around me. I was listening to lots of Ghanian music and Nigerian music. It just comes together in the expression, like when I hear a sound and I wonder why it sounds so Latin American after I spent a week in Cuba, just listening to reggaeton.”
Tasked with explaining why his music remains so resonate, despite dissonant musical influences, he clarifies; “It’s ultimately a lot of things [the musical influences apparent in his music]. But with the diaspora, a lot of people can relate to this music, to Afro RnB. People can relate to it, and so it gets played in clubs.”
However, this international reach is not limited to the songs themselves, with Ajibade using social media to extend his digital presence and widen his fan base across the continents. For artists like himself; “Instagram is like our own radio or TV station. People all over the world have access to it — all you need is a smartphone and some data. This makes it more accessible for artists doing non-traditional pop, most people who know my music found out about it via one of my social media channels.”
This transnational journey is reflected in the music itself, particularly last year’s release Life is Eazi, Vol. 1 – Accra to Lagos, soon to be followed up with a Vol.2, taking listeners from Lagos to London. As Eazi explains; “If you took a road trip from Accra to Lagos, you’d really understand. I told my story by making music.” This release resonated with audiences in both Lagos and Accra, as well as in cities across the world. Eazi’s next full-play effort will hopefully; “tell the story of my music going from Lagos to London. Hopefully, people in both cities will relate.”
It’s interesting that Eazi is still so closely associated with Ghana and Nigeria, despite, by his own admission, becoming invested in the London scene. “I’ve been coming to London so much… for two years now I’ve had a place here. Subconsciously listening to the radio and to people. I’m not a London boy, but I can relate to it…when I hear someone singing about ‘Addison Lee’, then I know what that is, whereas two years ago I maybe couldn’t have.”
However, despite all this globe-trotting and success, Eazi makes it clear he won’t ever change his core values, or forget the fans who have supported him from the start. “It’s good to stay true, for my fans in Africa it’s important I still sound like me. I must still be me, but I can be original in my evolution, and this is what guides me in every record.”
Mr Eazi wears Trousers Puma, Jacket Raus, Bag Raus, Top Christopher Raeburn.