Olamidé On The Ascent Of Afrobeats, Supporting Newer Artists & His Subdued New Album 'UY Scuti'
UY Scuti is a hypergiant star so jaw-droppingly massive that if it were our sun, its photosphere would reach the orbit of Saturn. But paradoxically, the album Olamidé named after it is his most subdued to date.
During a recent interview in a Manhattan hotel, as the Hennessy flows through his entourage, he speaks at a near-whisper. But when one of his associates snaps an Instagram photo of the conversation, scores of Nigerian followers are just about beside themselves in response. True stars are self-evident; they don't have to proclaim what they are.
The Afrobeats giant's last album, 2020's boisterous Carpe Diem, would have been worthy of such an astronomical title. These days, though, Olamidé is seeking something soothing, something therapeutic. "I just want people to listen to rich music," the Nigerian singer, songwriter and rapper says. "Beautiful, healing to the soul. Appealing to the ears. This is my music for relaxing and chilling. Life is good."
That sense of self-containment is exactly what UY Scuti exudes. On tracks like "Jailer," "Rough Up" and "Want"—which contain contributions from rising artists Jaywillz, Layydoe and Fave, respectively—Olamidé exhibits a quiet command of his craft true to his influences, like John Legend and Celeste. And with Afrobeats getting bigger by the year, he just might ascend to the level of American pop stars soon.
GRAMMY.com caught up with Olamidé in said hotel lobby to discuss the making of UY Scuti, why he made music for healing and what compelled him to extend a hand to underground artists.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
How would you describe your musical community in Lagos?
It's very entertaining. Very chilled, very lovely. The vibe out there is just so happy. Everyone just wants to be happy. There are a few people who sing stuff that's not about being happy, but most of the time, everybody just wants to be happy, make good music, make love in the club, nightlife and all that. Going to shows together and hanging out like brothers. We've all known each other from birth, you know? That's the coolest thing about it.
Sounds like a party atmosphere.
Yeah. We like to have a good time, man.
How about the Afrobeats community, specifically? Is that just a tag Americans pin on this music?
Yeah, I think, to an extent! Globally, the way people perceive the pop music that comes out of Africa is Afrobeats, so it's understandable.
I mix a lot with people from different sides of Africa, different countries in Africa. From my limited knowledge, I think Afrobeats is on the global stage right now. We are getting lots of love from all over the world. Everyone is praising Afrobeats right now. The artists and record label owners and everyone around Afrobeats culture, they're putting out their place to make sure that Afrobeats lives longer and longer.
Honestly, I feel like a lot of sacrifices [were made on the part of] lots of people who started the Afrobeats movement—the likes of 2Face Idibia. There's been some groundwork—the foundation that got us to the level of the Wizkids, the Davidos, the Olamidés, the Burnas. Everybody came, then Drake came and there was lots of work done by lots of people.
Awilo [Longomba], you know. He was massive. Awilo was tearing up stadiums and all that. African music has always been big, massive, explosive and all that, but we're happy with the fact that right now, the global market is paying attention and praising our sound and all that.
Yet, to an extent, I can agree with you that the influence of someone like Drake tapping into that sound really did a lot. People like Beyoncé and all that.
You raise an interesting point. While Drake and other mainstream American artists may have pushed it over the edge...
Right. The point being, that mainstream acceptance could only happen due to the sacrifices of African artists.
I feel like many people solely associate Afrobeat with Fela Kuti. Which other key players should they know about?
So many key players. The likes of King Sunny Ade, the likes of Majek Fashek. So many of them.
Out of that whole pantheon, who inspired the tunes on UY Scuti? I think of writing songs as a buffet, where you can pick and choose what—or who—is on your plate.
In most cases, when I'm working on a project, it's not really about my favorite artists or the ones I'm really cool with. If I think it's going to be easy for us to make something great out of where my head is right now—what I'm thinking about right now, the sound I want to make and all that—if you're in that lane, I'll holler at you. If you make good music.
Where was your head at for this record?
I was basically thinking about doing a timeless project that isn't about having club bangers or street acting. I just wanted to make beautiful, chill music. While working on the project, I listened to a lot of Lauryn Hill. I think her music was my major influence on this project.
What do you appreciate the most about Lauryn?
Her versatility. She's not going to hop on any random stuff. What I hear in Lauryn Hill is music that after 10, 20 years, you listen to it again and you say "Whoa. That's a bop." [Laughs.]
UY Scuti has a therapeutic quality, but it also has pop appeal. What techniques did you use to bring out both qualities?
My producer [P.Priime] has a church background. He's also a choirmaster and plays almost every instrument, from piano to bass guitar to trumpet—you name it.
In most cases, I don't know the right words for all the things in my head. [Guffaws.] I have good ears for music. I didn't join music school. I didn't join the choir. I don't know nothing about that. I'm just a street dude that fell in love with music, so all I do, when I sit down, is try to explain that. "This is how I'm feeling. This is what I want to hear."
What can you tell me about some of these guests and collaborators and your relationships with them?
Apart from Phyno—we've been cool Gs from way back, over nine years now. We've always been cool, doing collabos almost every year. But the other guys on the project are very new on the market. That's something I do on almost every project. I always try to scout for guys that are very talented but don't have the platform, people supporting them and all that. I was underground. I went through that stage, and I know how it feels.
How do you find these artists? Are they mostly in Nigeria?
Yeah, in Nigeria. One of them, my wife introduced me to her sound. That's Fave. I stumbled on Layydoe's freestyle on IG. Jaywillz, same thing. I saw one of his records playing on the Explore page and clicked it. It was dope! I clicked on the link in his bio to check out his whole EP and it was sounding good. I was like, "How come this dude is not popping yet?"
Since you record at home and do some production yourself, what did you learn from this recording process?
It was my major [foray] into Logic. I started production because sometimes I don't know how to explain to everyone, apart from a few people, how I'm feeling.
But most times, I'm not always at home. I'm out on the road and I don't have the luxury of doing the producer's life. So I have to always make sure I record my ideas and tell my guys to teach me one or two things. I'll make something tiny and skeletal, just put down the idea.
What have you learned so far in your adventures with Logic?
For me, I just vibe. I just do whatever, man. If I'm having difficulties with anything, I go on Google [or YouTube] and search. I don't pay a lot of attention to the tricks and all that. I just want to do my thing and get out.
What emotions do you hope to impart to listeners with UY Scuti?
I just want people to listen to rich music.
Rich in what way?
Beautiful, healing to the soul. Appealing to the ears. This is my music for relaxing and chilling. Life is good.
Have you tried to be harder-edged in the past?
I used to be like that, for like a decade! I outgrew it.
What are you listening to lately? What have you been checking out?
I've been listening to a lot of Justin Bieber lately. Celeste. Sebastian Mikael. John Legend.
Listening earlier, I noticed that you're switching between languages.
Yeah. Some pidgin, a little patois, some English, a tiny bit of Yoruba.
Is there anything else you want to express about this record?
Majorly, I just want people to take their time. Some people are probably listening to me for the first time, but you should give it a shot. It's a lovely and wonderful experience. You're going to love it!