In his recent single, “Yawa,” Abeokuta–born singer Fireboy DML incants over a relentlessly catchy snare: “Man on a mission / I see no competition / I mind my business / God as my witness / They don’t see my vision.” There’s this idea that great art comes from singular genius, and thus consigns those who possess this unique creativity to a life of loneliness. Some artists espouse the age–old adage: things are lonely at the top. However, the rhetoric of isolation being a hazard of success often neglects another facet of artistic prosperity: music is just as much a creative endeavor of community as it is one of solitude.
Great music comes from great relationships–those between artist and producer, between song and listener, between brain and body. To be a successful musician means it is necessary to facilitate these kinds of relationships: a musical “man on a mission” negotiates his own vision for himself with the one his friends, his foes, and his colleagues have for him. It’s lonely at the top, but nobody gets to that top-level peerlessness without being embroiled in the relationships that got them there.
And boy, is 27-year-old Nigerian singer and songwriter Fireboy DML at the top. The singer, known internationally for his anthemic discography, has maintained a stronghold in the upper echelons of the global music scene after he signed to Olamide’s YBNL label after his breakthrough 2018 single, “Jealous.” Born Adedamola Oyinlola Adefolahan, Fireboy DML rode the international Afrobeats wave alongside artists like Asake, Rema, and Olamide, and has since translated that initial success to become a mainstay of pop and R&B scenes across continents.
His first three albums appeared on the Billboard World Album Charts, with his most recent, Playboy debuting in the top five. His viral hit “Peru,” (which was remixed by Ed Sheeran) has accumulated over 500 million streams. Find him sitting alongside the catwalk at any of the ever-evolving international fashion weeks; find him nominated in the inaugural Afrobeats category at the VMAs; find him performing for his fans in the Metaverse. Fireboy DML is everywhere, undeniably a star.
Though the singer certainly has the accolades that necessitate grappling between loneliness and success–and he does grapple, especially in the vulnerable R&B album APOLLO–Fireboy DML’s music is a far cry from a singular, solo endeavor. His warm oeuvre, which often features reverberating ensemble elements as witnessed in songs like “Bandana,” features a number of artists from around the world: he’s collaborated with titans among the likes of Madonna, Jon Batiste, Ed Sheeran, Asake, and 6lack, to name a few.
With a blossoming fan base that transcends borders, Fireboy DML continues to differentiate himself from his peers for his ability to meld pop, R&B, Afrobeats, and soul into a genre of his own design. Fireboy DML is sometimes lonely. Fireboy DML is always a fashion sensation. Fireboy DML is not just an Afrobeats star. Fireboy DML is loved. Don’t just take my word for it: he is, above all, a wordsmith. Fireboy DML spoke with us about his relationship with fame, art made with his collaborators, and his sense of self as he continues to establish an unshakeable international presence.
Would you say your sound has changed as you’ve reached larger, international audiences?
I wouldn’t say my sound has changed per se. I would say my sound has evolved with the times and the growth of African music over the years. I have always prided myself in not being just an Afrobeats artist, but also being just an artist and a musician of African descent, who is capable of making any genre of music. My sound is a fusion of Afrobeats with pop and R&B. My sound hasn’t changed, and has always been multidimensional. I think that is one of my greatest strengths as an artist. In every single song I make, there is always that soul and identity there–that African, Nigerian, Afrobeat identity. I think that is what matters the most.
You of all artists seem to thoroughly understand the magic of collaboration. How do you think your art has improved as a result of your frequent collaborations?
Yes, yes, yes, I understand the magic of collaboration. It’s a beautiful thing. For me, collaboration is more than just making more money. It’s about building bridges and relationships that last for a lifetime. After all is said and done, we’re human beings before we’re artists. It’s important to connect to that part of each other. My art has improved as a result of collaboration, obviously. I’ve learned a lot from all the artists I’ve collaborated with and it’s contributed to my growth–not just as an artist but as a person too.
Connecting with artists like Ed Sheeran and Madonna has really changed my outlook of what success means to someone. Success doesn’t have to overwhelm other people. Success is just success, but people are different. Seeing how chill and human these people are despite the massive success they have amassed is just inspiring. It’s really helped me in my character development. I’m really appreciative of the artists that I’ve worked with, and I look forward to working with more artists in the future. I really want to work with Post Malone. I really love him, and I love his music.
What draws you to initiate collaborations with others? Is it their music, their personality, their fanbase?
It could be anything to be honest, but most of all it’s the music. I don’t care if it’s the biggest artist in the world...If I don’t find the song sweet or melodic, or I don’t connect, I’m not going to do it. That is just how I’ve been from the very beginning. Sometimes it’s not just the personality–the personality thing comes after. It’s the music first. The music has to draw you in, then you start to see their personality, then you tap into their fanbase. The fanbase thing I understand is very important for numbers and when joining forces with an artist, you guys share a fanbase, which is a good thing business-wise, but I’m speaking from a plain music point of view.
So much of music has to do with the translation of your own lived experience to a massive, anonymous audience. When you’re making music, how do you protect your own peace while still offering enough vulnerability to be accessible to audiences?
It’s kind of a conundrum because it’s almost impossible. You have to sacrifice one for the other. I think making music is just what it is–whatever comes, whether I’m vulnerable or whether I’m at peace, it still finds a way to give people what they need. I try to stay grounded. I really love my solitude, and I’ve found my ways to find my peace–spending time with loved ones, my family, my friends, my mentors, and people who care about me. I’m really grateful. I still get to make my music the way I want it–sometimes it’s vulnerable, sometimes it’s not, it doesn’t really matter as long as I have my people around me that care about me. That’s where the real peace comes from.
So, you recorded your viral hit, “Peru,” in San Francisco. Does the immediate environment around you influence the way you record your music? Do you have a preferred place and time to make music?
I would say as much as the environment matters–and sometimes it doesn’t matter to me–San Francisco did matter at the time because that was my first time in the United States. It just felt great to be there with my team, Empire, and I was just so excited. That is basically where the song came from–the excitement of being in a new place with amazing people. The atmosphere was beautiful. I had just flown in from Miami, as I say in the song. So in that instance, yes, that environment really influenced the song and how it came out.
Where in the body do you think the best music comes from – Head? Heart? Stomach? Gut? Conversely, where in the body do you think music hits the best?
It starts from your head and then your heart...You get melodies in your head, you write the lyrics from your heart, and when the music comes out just right, you feel it so much in your gut. You just have that gut feeling, that ‘yes, this is it.’ I think that whole combination just makes the whole process beautiful. Where music hits the best depends on who and what kind of song you’re making. Sometimes you feel it in your legs; you just want to dance and move. Music is freedom, it could just be anywhere, anything, anyhow, and that’s one of the most beautiful things that I appreciate the most about music. It could just hit you anywhere.
What can we expect from you in the next year, and how do you think your forthcoming art has evolved since Playboy?
Next year is going to be beautiful, I can just feel it in my gut. This year has been sort of quiet for me in a way that I think was very necessary. I’ve taken all that experience, I’ve packaged everything mentally, and I’m using that to walk forward. My upcoming project is going to be beautiful and my fans are going to love it–I can just tell. I’m just grateful for the experience that was Playboy. That was quite an era for me, but I knew it was going to be short-lived. Like I always say–it’s just a phase, it’s an era, and eras come to an end. New eras come. I’m excited about what’s coming next year. I’m currently working on my next album and I’m going to be touring a lot next year too. I’ll be touring more than I did this year. Right now, I can’t wait to get back home to Lagos and finish up the album.
It seems like you’ve been everywhere in the fashion world recently. What do you think about when you’re curating looks?
I’ve been popping up in the fashion world and building a network. I’m getting familiar with the industry, you know? Fashion is a whole different industry on its own and it’s been fun. Working with Michael Philouze has been great and the whole team at Empire and at FYI...it’s just been beautiful. I want to look like an artist, but I don’t want to look like I’m doing too much. That’s one thing I’m really particular about. I love to be comfortable. I love to stand out. I love to try out different stuff but I also make sure not to [go overboard]. I love to have a say in what I wear. It’s been exciting, generally, and I can’t wait to see what the next year holds for me fashion–wise. I hope to start thinking about walking the runways and performing on the runways, which is very thrilling to me. You guys might be seeing some of that next year.
What does success look like to you now, at this point in your career?
I think the idea of success changes as you grow as a person. Right now, success is when you’re doing what you love, making money from it, and you have some sort of fulfillment from time to time. You’re not always going to be happy. That’s one thing I’ve realized in life. No matter how successful you are in life, you’re not always going to be happy and that’s ok. You should feel fulfilled whether you’re sad, happy, angry, down or up, it doesn’t matter. If you can say, “I’m doing what I love. Yeah, I may not be happy right now, but if I died right now, would I die a fulfilled man?” If the answer to that question is yes, then I think you’re very successful.
How do you preserve your friendships in the face of astronomical fame?
I think preserving friendships is a two-way thing. My friends that I have now, some of them I met before the fame and some of them I met after, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is who they are, how they relate with me, and our understanding of each other. My idea of friendship is a little different from most peoples’. I’m not the kind of person who believes in constantly talking and checking in all the time. As long as you’re there for each other when you need each other–like when I really need you, are you there? When you really need me, am I there? That is friendship to me.
I’m just really grateful for the people in my life, not just my friends. I have some colleagues that I have very beneficial relationships with and those are the types of relationships you need, especially with “astronomical fame.” Surrounding myself with good people and people who care about me is what matters to me. Friends, colleagues, acquaintances–as long as you’re a good person, I like to keep you around. If you’ve been my friend for years and I start to see that my fame is changing the way you treat me, I cut you off and that’s it. I think all the friends I have don’t underestimate or overestimate their importance in my life. I think that’s key for me to really maintain friendships out here and that’s what matters to me the most.
How has your career been your friend? How has it been your foe?
My career has been my friend obviously because it’s kept me going. My career has allowed me to feed me, my family, and my loved ones over the past few years...But there’s always the low times and moments where I’m like, ‘Damn, I’m Fireboy and I can’t do x and y anymore because I’m [famous],’ but I just see those moments as the necessary sacrifices I have to make. It’s not easy to actually find purpose. I think finding purpose is one of the things in life that when you have it, you can just die a happy person. Those little things that pop up and make me sad are just the necessary prices I have to pay for getting to live the life of my dreams. You get me?
I don’t see it as my career being a foe. You can’t just have it your way all the time, there have to be moments where things aren’t going so great. There are times when I just want to go to the cinema to watch a movie, or go for a walk, or just do normal, basic human being stuff, and I can’t. There are times when the pressure that comes with my success over the years just weighs heavy on me, and I just tell myself, ‘Yo, this is the price you have to pay for living the life of your dreams.’ Once I tell myself that, I get myself back up, get back to work, snap out of it, and that’s it until maybe a day or two or a week later when I feel down again. It’s a rollercoaster of a life and it’s crazy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m living the life of my dreams and not many people get to do that. I’m just grateful. I’m blessed.
Styled by Michael Philouze
Written by Annie Bush
Flaunt Film: Pierce Jackson
DP: Alexei Topounov
Retouching: Dust Bunny Collective
Photo Assistant: Brandon Minton
Styling Assistant: Peter Hallberg
Location: Blanc Studios NY