From Lagos To London With Mr Eazi
When is the last time you listened to an artist who from their lyrics to the beat of the song took you on a metaphysical escape to a world where Nigeria, Ghana, and London collide? Enter Oluwatosin Oluwole Ajibade, or simply “Mr Eazi” to his impressively growing following of international fans. The Life is Eazi Vol. 2 - Lagos to London artist returns with his new mixtape and third studio offering that features major artists including Diplo, Chronixx, Burna Boy, Giggs and more.
Born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria but also attending school in Ghana, the “Open & Close” budding star uses the followup to Life is Eazi Vol. 1 - Accra to Lagos, to deliver an amalgam of Kenyan Shen, Naija Pidgin, London street talk and Jamaican Patois. Ending 2018 with his US tour in support of Reggaeton superstar J Balvin, Eazi kicked off the New Year announcing his 16-city North American tour including a stop to perform Coachella in April with Nigerian Afro-fusion artist Burna Boy.
From sold-out shows to chart-topping records that compete with the acclaim of many US-based artists — Eazi dominates by creating his own lane. The 27-year-old is proving that he is becoming one of the most influential Nigerian artists of his time with over 1.7 million+ Instagram followers and 100s of millions of streaming plays across Spotify, YouTube, and more.
I had the opportunity to speak with Eazi, who recently released a video for the track “Miss You Bad” with Burna Boy, a break-up-to-make-up song just in time to deal with our Valentine’s Day angst, to discuss Afrobeats, “Banku”, and his plans to takeover 2019.
I’ve been following your music for a couple years now. Life is Eazi Vol. 1 took us from Accra to Lagos, in Vol.2 we are traveling from Lagos to London. What made you decide to move there?
First off London was the first place I got paid to perform. So from the year 2016 to last year, I was in the UK. This is always a funny question because in my mind I’m not fully moved because I’m still everywhere but once I decided to do the project Lagos to London, I said look here I’m making this project so I might as well go to the UK. In regards to traveling its just six hours away from New York, Lagos, London, Accra… it’s very close to everywhere that’s important to me. My girlfriend stays there as well so it presented a perfect place to work love or play.
How did London influence the mixtape?
This project was very influenced by London. Especially if you listen to the sort of unofficial B side of the tape from “In Molue To London (Skit)” to “London Town”. The major difference from this tape to the last one, the music on this one is more street and reminds me of my very first recordings. But this time it doesn’t sound like demos. It was fun working with people like Fred Gibson who had never worked with African pop music, that kind of fits between Lagos and London. It’s not all the way what you would hear in Lagos and it’s not all the way something you would hear in London. It’s somewhere in between.
The Afrobeats movement is becoming increasingly popular in the UK. Why do you think this rapid growth is happening?
I think it’s a mix of everything and nothing. The UK is a general melting pot for the African diaspora for those who are second generation, third generation. Every year there’s a new flow of kids coming in from all of Africa for school and you know how London is just six hours from Lagos, from Accra, we are the chief people who look to the UK for school. The diaspora of these kids has increased success stories for them in every field and we are bringing our culture along — our music, our movies, our fashion. So this rise in popularity that a lot of people talk about from Afrobeats is not just happening for the music it’s happening for the movies and the fashion. It is a general cultural pop movement.
Where does Nigeria fit in the spread of Afrobeats?
I feel like Nigeria, particularly Lagos, is the kitchen where everything is being made. If it’s not being made in Lagos, it’s being put together. One thing people don’t know about Lagos is that it contains all of the tribes in Nigeria, it is like the melting pot of tribes in Nigeria. So it has similarities with cities across the world that I visit like London or New York that have people from different nationalities and ethnicities. The differences between tribes in Nigeria can be as intense as coming from another country, but everything comes together in Lagos. So if it works in Lagos there’s a high chance it can work anywhere else in the world.
How did the collaboration with Diplo for “Open & Close” happen?
I went to his house and I was playing some songs from the tape and he played that beat and I just had to freestyle on it. When I got home I listened to it and I just knew it was the one. I told him “I’m taking this one,” because I felt like it fit what I was trying to explaining musically and it had the energy of Lagos.
Is there a secret to making a hit Afrobeats record?
Man… there’s no secret. It’s all about the feeling. There’s no one who has the formula, you follow the feeling and at the end of the day it’s down to what the fans would say.
What is that feeling you pull from?
If I’m able to listen to it and connect as a third person, connect to the emotions, then I know I’m on to something and that always works. On the dance records, does it make me move? If it can make me move the lyrics don’t have to make sense but does it move me? You can literally say gibberish as long as that translates into energy.
You are known for pioneering Banku music. What is the meaning of “Banku”?
Banku is just fusion, it’s afro-fusion. It’s experimental music, it’s a cross of who I am as a person who is Nigerian and had my formative years in Ghana from 15 to 22. It is a perfect blend of Nigerian and Ghanian music and influences. On this tape, I was mixing it with UK vibes. but if you listen to the lyrics on one line I can go from pigeon English, Ghanaian pigeon English, Nigerian pigeon English to Nigerian local dialect and Ghanian dialect. From normal English to Yoruba on just one line.
In your documentary Lagos to London, you talk about the importance of Nigerian artists telling their stories. What story does your mixtape tell?
I feel like my mixtape tells the story of how music made in Lagos, or music with influence from Lagos, is becoming more popular in London and influential to the industry in some ways. Right now you can go to a DJ set in Lagos and hear them play just UK music for part of the set which would have never happened two or three years ago. Then you can do the same thing in London, you can go to a rave there and hear a DJ play Afrobeats for part of the set — even the songs with zero English. My mixtape is a mesh of that influence and the generation of kids from Lagos to London and back.
Who are your favorite artists right now?
I think my favorite artist is this guy who I just found and he is a Ghanian artist and if you heard his songs — I like dancehall — if you close your eyes you’d think he was an artist from Kingston. If you check my phone right now he’s probably the most played. His name is J.Derobie.
Any American artist?
Right now I’m not particularly listening to a lot of American music. I’ve been so stuck on listening to emerging artists for the past 3 weeks from across Africa and then old school Nigerian, Ghanian, and Kenyan music.
Last year you were spotted with Drake at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party. Is there a future collab in the works?
I think it can happen anytime. I like Drake as an artist and I admire him as an artist. Speaking of which, I actually have a record that I was just telling my manager that I think Drake will sound good on.
With your background in business, what made you transition into music?
I think it was just the reaction. I saw the reaction and I just said to myself that it wasn’t until July 2016 I just kind of realized it had gone from being a hobby to being very tangible and being a business. In a week, I had done two shows in London with a total of 12,000 to 18,000 people and I looked in the crowd to see people singing songs that were not even radio songs in Nigeria or Ghana. It made me realize I was on to something. I went back to check the numbers and as a businessman, you could see it in real numbers, these are real people. I like to think I’m still doing business, I’m just selling a different product right now.
Yea…so social media is important to your “business”?
Social media is everything, it’s our TV stations, our MTV. The dancers, the guys on the streets, are pushing the music with their dance videos.
Plans to come to the U.S. in 2019?
Yes, I’m trying to do over 12 cities and do a couple colleges before and after Coachella.
Who makes the best jolof rice, Nigerians or Ghanians?
To be honest that’s where I run away. That can cause a war right now (laughs).
Merch for the mixtape - ‘The Life is Eazi, Lagos To London Collection’ can be found here.