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Monday 30 March 2020

INTERVIEW: Oxlade Trauma Behind The Beauty

When he was a teenager, Oxlade took a ride with his father, who had spent long periods being absent after his mother’s death at 3. This father abandoned him at Ogbomosho.

When he was a teenager, Oxlade took a ride with his father, a Lecturer at Lagos State University who had spent long periods being absent after his mother’s death at 3. He had been drafted back into his son’s life because he had the inside connections and influence to get Oxlade admitted into the institution. 

When they got to Ogbomosho—a town five hours away from home in the neighbouring Oyo state—Papa Oxlade made a stop and ordered his son out of the vehicle. His reason being his discomfort with Oxlade pursuing music. He simply did not believe in his son’s art. Their family was renowned for their work in academia, and this son, who he was going out on a limb for, would not be the one to ‘loaf around’ while trying his hands with something as unstable as a career in music.

Oxlade recounts this incident to me. “Shebi it's music money you want to use and chop abi? Let that music come and carry you back home,” We were having drinks at my apartment. “I had to do this bricklayer job for two nights to raise N5000 to come back to Lagos. Yeah, my dad is an extremist,” he says. Oxlade came to terms with his status as a dispensable offspring. With 22 children from numerous women, the loss of one ‘wayward’ child wouldn’t be felt by his father.

Oxlade left home after the incident. He had seen enough of his only surviving parent. He would prefer to be without one at that point. “I ran away from my dad's house after the whole Ogbomoso P,” he explains. It was the beginning of a long arduous journey to chasing his dreams. “I started squatting at different friends' houses. I used to say I have countless mothers. Every friend that I used to squat in their house, their family used to take me in and they were my close friends. Their moms would call me, 'have you eaten? I'd lock you outside if you don't come and eat'. That type of love. Two families. Naya's family - Naya is one of the hottest video directors right now in the country. Then Ojabi who is my current manager and producer. My circle is small but very very effective. I squatted with them before I became shit and they're still my guys till now. And they'd always be my guys,” he says.

Oxlade is restless. He’s asking questions rapidly, offering heartfelt compliments, and beating his chest, at the same time, a weird mix of movement and speech. “I’ve always wanted to have an interview with you,” he confesses as I offer him a drink. His eyes are alert and bright, darting across the room as he tries to pour out words that match the pace of his thoughts. Buoyant, an omnipresent smile, and deep, resonant laughter are his obvious traits. When he talks, he maintains eye contact, and his face moves constantly to reflect the spectrum of emotions within. He gesticulates so hard I secretly wondered if he’d ever needed medical attention to pop an arm back into the socket, after flinging it wildly in excitement.

“Some people say you get paid to do this stuff,” he informs me. I attempted to brush away the rumour, but he wasn’t listening. It was my place to listen. “Even if they pay you. Even if, bro this is branding here. You're branding an artist. Now I'm just getting the raw insight that you're not getting paid for it. You're branding an artist for free. You're giving an artist a storyline. This is what Sony Music would pay people to do,” his hands bangs the table as if to softly relay his conviction.

This is Oxlade, the genuine one.

Possessing a pristine sincerity that has come to define his music and navigation of the industry in Lagos, Oxlade’s talent is stark and overwhelming. His sonorous voice and incredible creative range have raised comparisons with Nigerian pop legend, Wande Coal. Colleagues tell me that his knack for creating winding melodies has seen him ushered into numerous rooms to write and help the creative process for his more successful contemporaries.

“That boy is a marvel, he doesn’t even know the full extent of what he possesses,” a top A&R says of Oxlade.

Oxlade’s big break came from the unlikeliest of sources —a rising rapper named Blaqbonez. In 2018, Blaqbonez, newly signed to local record company Chocolate City, released an album Bad Boy Blaq. It contained ‘Mamiwota’, a refreshing collaboration with Oxlade, which gained critical acclaim. Prior to the release, Oxlade confessed that he had technically quit music, citing frustration and depression from the seeming lack of career progress. ‘Mamiwota’, a fresh interpretation of Afro-fusion music grew to become a hit, and launched a bidding war for the singer. Oxlade would later turn down an offer to sign with Davido’s DMW, choosing to work with a boutique music company, The Plug, while developing at his own pace.

“He (Davido) shared his respect for me, for turning him down. Nobody does that in Nigeria,” Oxlade says.

Two years later, a Headies nomination in his bag, and an emerging, vibrant fanbase, his debut EP, Oxygene, was independently released over the weekend. Comprised of 6 love-inspired records, the project is the culmination of his efforts since his stock rose. It’s chiefly inspired by a toxic relationship, which put him in a draining love triangle. It was debilitating for him, but a silver lining is the raw material for weaving his first body of work.

We sit for hours, sharing stories about life, the beauty of creating through trauma, where good mojo comes from, and how community influences the new wave of music from Lagos. Joeboy and Fireboy are his bosom friends, and they will never fight over money or women.

Why did you decide to do this interview?

I've always wanted to have something with you. I'm not capping. I mean, I read your interviews and I expect your cut. Like there's this level of confidence you have when saying your things. And bro, you don't say things out of hatred, you say it out of you being a normal human being, how you feel.

But people would argue the opposite. Some people would..

Some people say you get paid to do this stuff.

Ask anybody in this industry. Let someone come out. Even in the last newsletter I released, I put it there that let anybody who has ever paid me for anything come out and say it. I'm still looking for that person. That's why I'm able to do the things I do or say the things I say.

Do you understand? But see ehn, I don't care. Even if they pay you, bro you do it right.

Nobody pays me to do it.

Even if they pay you. Even if, bro this is branding here. You're branding an artist. Now I'm just getting the raw insight that you're not getting paid for it. You're branding an artist for free. You're giving an artist a storyline. This is what Sony Music would pay people to do. The Camille Storms and the other guys.

When did you start music?

Man, it's shady. I lost my mum when I was three so I moved to my grandma's side, my maternal grandma...

How about your dad?

The story is long.

I'm an orphan so I understand. 

The story is long. And I don't want to say things anymore. Before my grandma gave me her blessings on my project, she said I had to forgive him. So I had to go talk to him after like three years, and it was so emotional. So we are cool now.

He wasn't present?

Yeah, most of the time. It was after my secondary school that he came back because he's a lecturer. My LASU was easy to enter because he was lecturing in LASU. Even my four years with him weren't ...He did a lot of things to me. He dropped me at Ogbomoso one day and said 'shebi it's music money you want to use and chop abi? Let that music come and carry you back home'. I had to work. 


I had this scholarship thing in Switzerland and I was the only Nigerian, the only African to have the music scholarship. It was like an orchestra. I used to do Orchestra in secondary school. So I just went for the audition and all I needed was a parental guardian to come to the embassy to drop his signature so they know he has somebody over him. The guy told me to go outside. Then he wrote that I'm mentally imbalanced, that I take narcotics. I didn't even know this one. It was when I was about to have sex with one chic and my condom fell under the bed and I wanted to take the condom under the bed that I saw the file. And I just said I should check it and I saw my father's handwriting. He wrote 'my son is mentally disturbed and he takes narcotics. I, as a father wouldn't advise your firm to take him in'. 

That's bullshit, man.

He didn't want me to do music. He did everything bro.

What did he want you to do?

He wanted me to be a lawyer that I didn't even now choose. I chose History and International Relations. So he was like any embassy in this world, that's where I want you to work. He just wanted me to do a 9-5. I mean, we are scholars in my family, so it's kinda understandable. The Kuforiji family in LASU is a scholarly name.

Oh, you guys are academics.

Yeah, and my grades are fire, I can't even lie. And it's not because I wanted my grades to be fire, but because I wanted to please him. I felt like if I did good in my education, he would let me do what I wanted to do. But it was still extra worse.

Why did you push forward through that?

I ran away from my dad's house after the whole Ogbomoso episode. I started squatting at different friends' houses. I used to say I have countless mothers. Every friend that I used to squat in their house, their family took me in, and they were my close friends. Their moms would call me, 'have you eaten? I'd lock you outside if you don't come and eat'. That type of love. Two families. Naya's family - Naya is one of the hottest video directors right now in the country. Then Ojabi who is my current manager and producer. So the circle is small but very very effective. I squatted with them before I became shit and they're still my guys till now. And they'd always be my guys.

You always refer to this part of your life where you "quit music."

Yeah! When things were really hard, I left music.

What does it mean for things to be hard?

I couldn't afford to eat once a day so I had to start working at a cyber cafe.

Doing what for them?

I used to sell tickets. I used to help them print, laminate all those kinds of stuff. And I was like 17. I was shuffling school, I was Osanle FC (laughs).

How old are you now?

I'm 23. I'd be 23 in April. It was hard. Everything was hard. I had recorded some songs and I had forgotten I recorded them. I was going through a lot at the time. I got to a point where my voice started sounding horrible to me, and I felt like this music thing had to chill. I have to eat. Like how would I be singing sad? I have to be happy with myself. My grandma didn't even bother to disturb me at the time. She used to cater to my younger brother. So it was just me in the whole world facing my own thing. I'd just get to the cyber cafe, come back to my guy's place where I squat, eat, sometimes get data. That time I was using one Nokia C3. So everything was really not smooth.

When ‘Mamiwota’ dropped I wasn't even on Twitter. Blaqbonez just called me like ' yo, your name is buzzing on Twitter. Like Bizzle, BOJ, everyone is looking for you. They are looking for who Oxlade is. ‘Mamiwota’ brought me back into music. So you understand why I cannot joke with Blaqbonez or I can't joke with that song or I can't joke with the early guys that shouted me out before whatever you guys think is going on in my life right now is going on. 

How was that period for you? 

Nah man, it was life-changing. That's the point I believed that I could sing. I had low self-esteem. I think I was so stupid. I didn't believe in shits I did. The only person that used to believe in me at that point in time was Naya. Every time I recorded songs, sometimes I'd record in hunger and that breathing disorder, sometimes my breathing hurts. And I'd go home crying and he'd be like, ‘guy why are you crying?’ I'd be like I just recorded a song and the song is rubbish. The song is dope but I'm not happy. My state of mind is not where it's meant to be and I'd play it for him and he'd be like, ‘guy this song is fire o.’ But he was the only one. If there were a hundred people, the self-esteem would be strong enough. But when the world got a sneak peek or a little idea of what I sounded like and they were crazy about it, that was when I knew that 'yo Ox, this thing is your thing.’ You're meant to sing. You're born to sing'. That's when I started to believe in myself and that's when I started to meet friends like Fireboy, Brainee. This thing is a community that's what people don't know. These guys wey dey pop now, we've known ourselves for three years. I've known Fireboy for three years. When we were writing 'Sing', we were eating Coaster and garri. It's that deep. I've known Crayon since when he was in Ojo. I've known Ozedikus before Mavin signed him. It's a community and more guys are coming.

That's how I made 'Sing' and it got viral. Davido, Teni, everybody reached out. Davido wanted to sign me but like that place is a jungle. And my type of music, I didn’t think I’ll have that freedom I needed at that point.

Let’s talk about your music on the EP. 

There is a song on the EP called 'O2' and I can tell you that no song on this sounds like O2'. And this is not me being cocky or proud. This is me knowing that these songs came from the deepest parts. I rarely hear people's music just to sound distinct enough. The only person you can actually affiliate me with is Wande Coal. There's a podcast I did, I said Oxlade is Oxlade. I need my musical freedom. Majority of the love songs on this EP are real-life stories. My ex, one girl made me write all my love songs. 

Talk to me about that relationship.

It was everything man. I finally found that person that understood my sensitivity, my body language, and that was ready to help my journey as an artist. Majority of girls complain that ‘you don't have my time.’ That's all they complain about. But this one was ready to build with me. She knows I'm an artist and she was ready to build with me. 

How long did this last?

It was just six months. So it was very illegal. She was cheating on her boyfriend with me so it was very toxic. We were guys, but her friends convinced her that she shouldn’t choose me because they felt that I wouldn't give her attention and love. She went with the other guy. The guy was always checking up on her and I'm doing the same. But because I'm an artist, they felt like he would do it better. So she was in the relationship and wasn't happy, so she kept coming back. We were madly in love. See bro, I'm not capping. This is the first person I'd love in my life. But it was too complicated. Her mum already knew him. 

My friends warned me not to do it but that was where 'Weakness' came about. You're my weakness and you're my sickness but I don't want to cure myself from you. Bro, there are songs on that EP and they are very personal songs. 'Hold On' is me being extremely helpless and a moron. Telling her that I can't do without her, that ‘hold on don't leave me run.’ It's like a normal pidgin lingo wey you go yarn based on say na love. There's 'O2'—you are the air that I breathe. Okay, this is a superstition: I'm asthmatic and I've never complained of breathing disorders whenever she's around me. So it was like ‘guy, do you bring air to my life?’ She's one of the inspirations of the EP Oxygene in the sense that if you look at the artwork, there's an invisible 'e' at the back that makes it the biological gene. The nickname of Oxlade is Oxy, so I'm letting her be a part of me in the sense of Oxy-Gene. But if you overlook the 'e', it's ‘Oxygen.’ Music is the air I breathe. If you look at the artwork, it was music going through me. That shows how much music means to me. Music is taking me to another realm. And I live for music because it's the only thing I want to do. It's the only thing that makes me happy. So everything that I sing about is what I go through. That's why the EP is so personal to me. 

People say Oxlade is a vibes king, like you can cook up vibes from anything. Where does the music come from?

To be very honest, the time I just gave up on trying to look for where it came from was when I asked my grandma: How do I do it? I don't write. The only time I wrote was on ‘Legend.’ The only times I write are conscious songs like 'Table Turn'. It’s the song on the EP that has Moelogo on it. That's the only feature I've done in my life. That's the first person I'm featuring because that's the first verified account to listen to my music, take me in, support me and groom me. So it's like me showing a sign of gratitude because gratitude is a must. I am big on gratitude. And when I was writing that song, the last song I heard was Molelogo’s ‘Ireti’. I didn't have a choice. It was impossible for me not to put Moelogo on it. The only songs I write are conscious music. The other songs are written in the realm I am at that point in time. Music is very spiritual. I don't know how the words come. And my grandma told me that I ought to know that I am not just a normal kid, and I should just leave it that way. She said I should not look for where they come from. She said I should just keep doing what I do; which is keeping my heart pure and being genuine with everybody. Because I don't smoke, I don't drink, so tell me where you think the vibes come from. When I hear a beat I do melodies then I put the lyrics inside the melodies after I've gotten the melodic patterns of what I want them to sound like. So I don't even write.

You know it's not normal, your level of talent and work. It's not normal. Do you ever think one day you might wake and up and not be able to do it again?

There's one day I tweeted: may the melodies never fade, may the fire never die. Every day, I'm always scared that this thing would go. But bro, I lose my mojo sometimes. I can't even lie. Sometimes I'm like ‘why am I even singing like this?’ And I have a problem with myself. I make sure I outdo myself. There's no other song in Nigeria that sounds like 'Away'. Do you understand?
It's one of my most played songs.

The logic was that we had to make it short and melodious and enjoyable. The shorter the song, the higher the repetition value. That's why 'Away' is the number five song in the country with no household name. This is music pushing itself. It's not that I don't know how to promote my shit but I just don't have enough resources to promote them, so this is pure grace. All the songs before it are arguably even bigger than it when it comes to numbers and statistics. The only song there by God's grace is my song. So I know that I have to bring something new to the table before I can be accepted. Spax asked me: ‘Do I want to pop or do I want to be there for a while? I don't know how true this is, but to me, there's none of my songs that are trend songs. We did 'Sing' when shaku shaku came. All the songs then were fast tempo songs. 

We did Sing and it still popped in December, a festive period. We just had the balls to do it. And when it popped, Fireboy just looked at me and told me: ‘Oxlade, nothing should change us in this life. We'd give them party jam o, but we should never lose our call. He said nothing should change us in this life. Women shouldn’t be the cause of our fight. That was what we said because that night was when YBNL announced him and everything. That word is the background to everything that we are going through right now. He's winning and I'm so happy. I'm genuinely happy. People say stuff like Oxlade is arrogant, that's why Fireboy is bigger than him. 

Twitter fans don't know that we are human. They don't know that we feel something. Some nigga was tweeting shit about me months ago, said I'm a ‘feature artist’—that I thrive in features. How many singles do I have out there? I dropped only 'Legend' last year. I've not dropped a single this year asides 'Away,' and it's already the number five song in the country. How am I a feature artist? 

What you've gone through in your life, how does it influence your drive or your work ethic?

Like I always say, person wey suffer like me no fit see success, waste am. I came from the slums and I'm never praying to go back. If I'm ever going back there, it's to raise more lives and change more lives. It would definitely ginger you. It would definitely make your head straight. When you see three square meals, you'd be definitely grateful about it because you know that this time last two years, you weren’t shit. Last year, I was on 666 followers, now I'm on 100,000 followers on Twitter. I don't know these fans. I'm not trying to cap, but I think I have one of the most organic fans. People's AVI right now is my EP colour, purple. People are telling me not to worry about giveaways that I should just focus on my music and my fans. I can't explain how I got it. I was the first guy to have two million streams in Africa on Triller. I don't know how. I'm just doing my thing and these things are working out for me. I can't be this blessed and waste it.

You refer to blessing a lot. You refer to the divine. So it's okay to say you believe there is a divine direction to your music and your career. Is that what you would say?

I would say that times 1 billion. Because bro, I was in London, Wizkid didn't need to talk to me. I came for DJ Tunez show and he just asked me. After the show, I was gassed, I was tired, I just went backstage and he was the only one in the room. And he was like Oxlade how far and I was like I dey come. I didn't know it was Wiz. For me to look at my left and I saw Wizkid. I wanted to run mad. The irony of that time was till now, I still live in Surulere so everywhere Wizkid used to go, where he used to buy bread and beans, where he used to play ball, I know everywhere. We were just exchanging experiences. We were relating on every term. He told me to come and hug him when he heard I was from Surulere. And when I was about to leave he was like ‘how far?’ You go like show my event for 02. I was like ‘I can't afford it.’ And he asked ‘are you mad? I'm saying you should come and perform you're telling me ticket.’ Bro, do you understand? And a day before then, I had called DJ Tunez to ask him that I'd like to perform on his set. On DJ Tunez set. Now I'm getting it on a platter. When I saw my name on the artwork, Fireboy too was in London. He called me. And the Headies was going on too and I was nominated. It was too much.

Before I came one stage, DJ Tunez was playing his set normally playing 'Causing Trouble' and 20,000 people were singing 'Causing Trouble'. The floor was shaking. Fireboy wanted to ease himself and he was shaking, he was holding me like guy! I looked at him and said: ‘if they are singing 'Causing Trouble' like this, imagine how they would now sing 'Jealous.’ Bro, those moments were defining moments for us. That was when we knew that this is not a joke, we were born for this. We were born to make people smile at home and in another man's land. Coming to do what we love to do and it was through the platform of a legend. Do you understand? Everything that goes through my life is beyond the physical. 

How does it feel to navigate the industry as a genuine person?

That's a hard question. That's the hardest question I've ever heard in my life because the game is the game. You cannot change it. People would definitely not like you. Where did you come from? Why are you popping this much? Why do you sound this good? people would definitely not fuck with you in the game. But with the help of the right people around me, I think I have sort of a shield. 

Why do you have a lot of women in your fanbase?

I don't know. I've gotten rumours saying Oxlade fucks all his fans and all of that stuff. I go through a lot bro.

Do you fuck your fans?

I don't. Bizzle (my label boss) told me something; Don't eat where you shit. I trip for girls that don't even give a fuck about me. I think why I have a lot of female fans is that a lot of girls tweet it; ‘Oxlade's voice is sexy. Oxlade's voice turns me on.’ There's a genuineness in how I sing. There's a sincerity that comes with my music. When I sing about something that hurts, you can hear the pain. I have a lot more female fans than male fans and that's not my fault. Blame the music, not me. 

People compare you to Wande Coal. How's that?

It's a mixed feeling because there is no man on this earth that can be like Wande Coal.

At the end of the day, what do you want to look back and say you did with all of this?

That I made Afrobeats music that I wanted to make. Without anybody's review or say. I did music on my own terms. I have a song out there, it's not even a song. It's an interlude. It’s called 'Breathe.' it's Acapella. It's a soothing song. I listened to Enya all my life. I listened to Wande Coal, I listened to Dexta Daps, I listened to Bob Marleys. I listen to Tay Iwar. I'm an abstract guy.

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