Olamide: Afrobeats’next global superstar

The internet has made the world a smaller place, we’re now able to instantly communicate with someone on the other side of the world; the art of writing a letter is all but forgotten. Pen pals of yesteryear, now come in the form of “Facebook friends”, a group of people we interact with from the safety of our computer screens. This group of people has grown exponentially since the internet’s inception; to the point where we probably interact more with people on the internet than we do with people in our everyday lives. The vast reaches of the World Wide Web, means that we could be liking someone’s picture from Brazil, sending a message to someone from Australia or watching a video of someone in Nigeria. In isolation these may seem meaningless, but we’re now able to enrich our lives by digesting a broad range of cultural commodities like never before, and in doing so, developing new found understanding and appreciation. Where previously we’d have to rely on old media like newspaper, TV and radio for information; the internet has democratised its dissemination.

Music has obviously been a massive beneficiary of the broadening of our palate, we’re now sampling flavours from Latin America, Korea and of course Africa. Although African music is at the root of all genres that currently find themselves the dominant forces, it really is only the beginning of a cultural phenomenon. Currently 34% of Africans are online, which might seem like a paltry sum, but this amounts to more active users than the entire United States. Naturally, this influence is something that is going to be felt across bandwidths the world over. The takeover has been spearheaded by dance crazes ranging from the Shaku, to earlier cultural behemoths like the Azonto and viral moments like the #GunmanPose. Olamide - who’s 2013 album cover for Baddest Guy Ever Liveth - was responsible for thousands of #GunmanPose Instagram posts, remembers a time before Afrobeats was front and centre.

14 years ago Olamide was just a plucky teenager trying to make his way in the music industry as part of rap group Naughty Pound. He wouldn't have his breakout moment until four years later (as a solo artist), and his debut album Rapsodi came a year after that in 2011. As a member of the old guard, Olamide understands the importance of patience, something that is lost on the new generation raised on instant gratification: “I spent six years in the studio just studying the game, I didn’t record anything, I was just learning every day”. This was what it took for Olamide to have his first taste of success with “Eni Duro”, a song he says was originally a remix of Lil Wayne’s “A Mili”. This would be the start of a very long and illustrious career, and Olamide has pretty much released a project every year since his debut album, so not only does he understand patience, but he knowns the importance of remaining consistent in an industry that is notoriously fickle:

The craziest thing is when it takes so long for you to be able to showcase what you have, its going to be everything to you for the rest of your life. Everyday when I wake up I don't wake up feeling like a superstar, I wake up feeling like I need to give god and my fans proof that I’m worthy of these blessings and this success. I don't wanna wake up feeling like 'yeah I'm a superstar', I wanna wake up hustling and writing like I ain't ever made no money in my life you know? It's not really about money for me, it's about the passion, it's about being heard, it's about doing what I love.”

Olamide’s industrious work rate was combined with an extraordinary talent, and when the two collide, success is usually inevitable. The music during his formative years was the soundtrack to life in inner city Lagos, and although Olamide began rapping in English, he would later mix in Yoruba and Pidgin, expanding his reach and appeal in the process. Despite conquering the Nigerian market and becoming one of the most successful rappers in the country, many fans and critics alike still doubted Olamide’s ability to export his sound globally, he hasn’t taken it personally though:

“I'm like the king when it comes to street music. People don’t foresee street music going further than the borders of Nigeria or Africa. For me, I understand why people think like that. I don't blame anyone for thinking like that you know? But right now, there are bigger doors opening, and there are more opportunities available. So people are going to be getting a way different sound than they’re used to. They are not aware that I can do different type of styles, and tap into different genres.

The crazy thing is that I try my best to educate myself musically, and it helps me add different elements to my music. I started with street music, but that is not where I want it to stop. if i feel like adding rock music to my record Im gonna do it. I think that they never saw this. With the Carpe Diem album, I've been able to you know showcase that there is no limit to what I can do, and right now a lot of people are starting to believe that, Olamide is not just a street music artist. There is so much more to the brand that is Olamide and people are finally starting to see.”

Rather than basking in the glory of silencing his critics, Olamide got straight to work on his long awaited international debut, Carpe Diem. Having been an independent artist since his second album, Olamide is supremely self sufficient, so it should come as no surprise that he has not relied on hackneyed and contrived international features in an attempt to force his cross over appeal. Instead, he’s just done what he’s always done: pushed himself creatively. Fans of “voice of the streets” Olamide, might be aghast to discover just how seamless his pivot to singing on this album has been; but really it should not come as a surprise to anyone who’s followed his career thus far. At 31 years old, one of his biggest fears is stagnating, so his way of avoiding this pitfall has been to open himself up to anything and everything on the artistic spectrum. As well as the genre blending on Carpe Diem, Olamide has spent longer working on this album than anything he’s released before:

Every other album that I recorded in the past was recorded in a very short space of time, maybe like a week? But with Carpe Diem I took my time, we were working on it for like four/five months. I knew at the back of my mind that life sometimes gives you only one opportunity, only one shot.

“ You have to maximise every opportunity you have, so now that the world is paying attention to African sounds, and I have a deal with a distribution company from the US, why not put in extra work like I have never before? So yeah Carpe Diem took a lot of time because a lot of creativity went in to it.”

The work has not gone unnoticed. The album has scored the second biggest opening week of 2020 in Nigeria, only bested by Burna Boy’s Twice as Tall. This is old news for an elder statesmen like Olamide, after over a decade in the game he’s no stranger to national plaudits, but for the first time the acclaim has started to come from further afield. “Loading” in particular, has been performing well over here in the UK, landing the number ten spot in the Afrobeats chart, and amassing over three million views on social media with the “Loading” challenge.

Olamide’s music can no longer be contained by borders, whether that’s the borders of a nation or a genre. After working tirelessly for over a decade, the next chapter of his career has required a certain degree of recalibration, he reveals how he’s gone about this:

“For me having a distribution company working with me like Empire, it just gives me more hope and it helps me expand my creativity. I don't limit myself no more, I'm just able to dream beyond my boundaries, I've dreamed beyond Africa right now. So when I'm making my music I'm not thinking about just Lagos, there is no limitation to what I do now. Knowing full well that I've got this company behind me that is willing to plug my sound and my music globally, It’s a blessing for me.”

Now with his focus firmly on world domination, Olamide hints at capitalising on his British foothold by teasing some collaborations with some of the finest purveyors of UK music, “I definitely wanna get back in the studio with Skepta one more time, I’m gonna work with Mist and Odeal too. Me and Odeal been speaking on the phone, something is gonna hit you guys soon.”

Olamide’s ethos has been to seize the day ever since he wrote his first lyrics at 10 years old. When you approach anything with such dogged determination, for such a prolonged period of time, ascendance becomes the only possible outcome; and that is what we’re about to witness.

Originally featured in print. Graduation Records Issue One.