Joeboy: Nigerian star on ‘Baby’, US tour, new music

Just three years after debuting with his single ‘Baby’ – which topped the charts across Africa and beyond – Joeboy is already approaching superstar status. The Nigerian singer’s warm, down-to-earth energy is omnipresent in his 2021 debut album, Somewhere between beauty and magic, a beautifully dreamlike celebration of love in its many forms. He continued his hot streak with last year’s “Sip (Alcohol),” which amassed over 50 million streams in less than a month, and this year’s “Cubana.”

Joeboy’s songs capture the innocence of young love and the sting of youthful grief. Although, it seems, we’re about to change: “People might not get this loving Joeboy in my next releases,” the 25-year-old tells me, “because I’m not not on that wavelength right now.” moment.” We caught up with Joeboy as he embarks on his Young Legend Tour – his first-ever headlining trek in the United States.

How did you hold up on tour?
It’s my first big tour in the United States, and it’s been hectic. I traveled back to back, and at one point it cost me dearly, but I’m used to it now. It was really fun to connect with people from different parts of America, and it shows just how far Afrobeats goes. Sometimes you can feel skeptical about visiting a new place to perform and not sure if they know your music. But to have people show up in their hundreds and thousands, singing my songs word for word, it’s just beautiful. It’s like they’re way more excited to see you than you think. It’s so beautiful, and I’m having fun. I miss Nigerian food [laughs].

Yes, this is your first US tour. Do you like this?
It’s good. I have the time of my life. Once the tour is over, I can’t wait to get back in the studio and write and sing all of these experiences. They give me lots of ideas. I meet a lot of people, special people. It’s such a fun experience, and I think it’s something every artist should do.

Let’s go back a bit. What first made you addicted to music?
When I was much younger, I was always excited to see what was happening outside. But, I mean, where would a seven-year-old go? [Laughs.] I have two older brothers and an older sister. My older brother was in the choir and he played bass guitar, so I used to go with him and watch. So I started listening to a lot of gospel music. But I think the major influence came from my older siblings. They played a lot of Nelly, Boyz II Men, Sean Paul and Destiny’s Child. Then, in my teens, I watched a lot of music videos. I was just really interested in the idea of ​​music, but I didn’t think I was going to be a musician. My brain back then was like a music library. But becoming a musician was like my destiny. I had a friend at the time who started making music, and I remember going into the studio just to have fun. Then I recorded a cover of Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” and it exploded on Instagram. That’s what introduced me to the music industry.

You are part of emPawa Africa, an incubator program that funds music videos and provides career guidance to young artists, founded by artist Mr Eazi. How did you first meet him?
I met Mr. Eazi in 2017. I was reading for exams at Unilag at that time. Then I got a message from a friend that Mr. Eazi had just commented on my Instagram page. Honestly, I thought my friend was lying because it seemed so impossible it was funny. I verified the account that commented, and I knew it was real, like they actually commented on my post. I was thinking what to say, and immediately got a DM from him saying he liked my sound and all.

Next thing, he dropped his home phone number. It was shocking. Right away he asked me if I wanted $5,000 or do a song and shoot a video that he would promote. I didn’t even have a bank account. Most people told me to just get the money back because he really didn’t owe me anything. So I called him and told him I’d rather do a song and shoot a video. This song was “Faaji”. From there, he told me about the empawa foundation and told me to apply, which I did. I was like Top 10, and that’s where I got the money to shoot “Baby,” and before you know it, it blew up. There and then, we decided to have an official agreement, and it was really good.

Your first single, “Baby”, remains one of the greatest Afropop songs of all time. What do you remember from your first experience in the studio with this song?
While I was writing “Baby”, I was depressed because I was in my last year at university. There was this pressure of what I wanted to do with my life after I finished school. And I was afraid of the idea of ​​a nine to five. My mind doesn’t fit that type of rigid lifestyle. I knew I should if I needed to, but it wasn’t something that turned me on. So it happened, and I was just praying to God that this music would work because I just couldn’t do a nine-to-five.

After I finished writing “Baby”, I took it to the studio to record it. Then I sent it to Mr. Eazi, and he loved it. By then we had already started talking with a Ghanaian artist and we were about to shoot a video for the song I did with him. I called Mr. Eazi and told him that I didn’t want to drop this song with the Ghanaian artist anymore, and that I would rather drop “Baby”. We dropped “Baby”, and it exploded beyond our expectations. I assure you, no one saw this coming. I knew the song was great, but I didn’t see it that great.

Since 2019, how has your sound and message changed?
I think it’s one of the most important phases of my career because people might not notice it right now, but in a few years they will understand. For me, my sound evolves and becomes more incisive. There are some things that I wouldn’t normally talk about in songs in 2019, but now I can openly talk about those things with my chest. I think my music is becoming more and more versatile.

A lot of the songs on your debut album come from an incredibly vulnerable place, whether it’s from a past relationship or your desire for something new.
At that time, I was really into the idea of ​​love. I tried to turn those love fantasies and experiences into songs because that was who I was at the time. I think that’s one of the best ways to make music – when you make music based on how you naturally feel. People can identify and connect because it’s legit, and that’s where I’ve always tried to be, and it usually works for me. But right now I’m just living life and feeling [laughs].

What was the hardest song to write?
It’s really not difficult for me to write because I write with my soul. But I think the most difficult song for me to write from that album was “OH”, produced by Tempoe. I was trying to experiment with this particular song because I was trying not to be too careful with it.

You describe your latest single, “Cubana”, as possibly the most upbeat song you’ve ever released. How was the creative process?
We were just in the studio, vibrating. The plan was even to do a heartbreaking song. I didn’t write this song – it was just on the spot. I felt like that at the time, so I decided to put it up.

What does it mean to be an African pop star and a “young legend”?
For me, being an African pop star means visiting different African countries and realizing that they know my music word for word, and also reaching people in different parts of Africa. Sometimes I’m in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Ghana, and I feel like I’m in a big country and people know my music across Africa. This is what it means to be an African pop star. Me calling myself a young legend is me saying I know I’m going to be a legend. I know there’s so much greatness ahead of me, and so I’m just saying this to life. People are sometimes like, “What are you doing to call yourself a young legend?” » Only I know what I see, so I don’t expect anyone to understand. It’s just so funny that people are always against you when you promote yourself. Honestly, there’s so much greatness ahead of me, and I can’t wait to show the world.