The first time Joeboy met Mr Eazi in Lagos, he had to rely on charity for his bus fare back home. But a string of coincidental decisions has conspired to make him Africa’s pop darling.
“I won’t lie, I was a dead guy,” Joeboy declares raising his hands in surrender as if to confess his greatest truth. “I had only one shoe. Nike. It was fake. I know. But I wore it like that. It was all I had,” he continues, before offering me a slice of pizza.
Joeboy is pure. You can feel it from the start. The 23-years-old’s mannerisms are simple. His eyes do not dart, they stare steadily into yours. When he laughs, he throws his head back and instinctively moves a hand to his mouth as if to prevent an explosion. He is laughing now, as he tells me that he’s been blessed by the music. He’s been blessed by Mr Eazi. And he’s been blessed with a special talent for delivering killer hooks through his music. Those hooks form the backbone of his records. Those hooks are the secret to his hitmaking run.
In this serviced apartment in Surulere, Lagos, JoeBoy is camped with three of his closest friends and co-creators. It’s been a rainy Saturday. Though he’s rocking a hooded sweatshirt to keep out the cold, his knees lie exposed in his shredded jeans. The room is bare with minimalistic art, or decor, but the centre table sat transformed into a mini studio. The crew is mid-session with recording equipment scattered everywhere. Two huge speaker monitors, positioned just right, ensure the audio is pure. A lone guitar sits on a nearby chair.
Oxygen Mix, Joeboy’s sound engineer and old friend sits on a sofa, beside instrumentalist Jayse, and producer BeatsByKO. They are all here together in this production camp, making music for Joeboy’s second album. “We don finish work for the first one,” Oxygen Mix says, proudly. Joeboy affirms: “We are recording for another project for after my first album. I treat music like a bank, the more you record, the more you can withdraw with options,” he says.
All three musicians have worked with Joeboy long before success called. They not only contribute to his art, the old friends keep him grounded in life. “Omo, they are very important,” Joeboy gestured towards the trio, fiddling with instruments and computers at the other end of the room. Oxygen Mix held the guitar in his hand. “If you’re singing rubbish they’d tell you straight up. Like you know me as Joeboy; if I play you a song now, 70% chances are—because you don’t want to hurt my feelings, or you don’t want me to feel bad, or you don’t want me to not like you—you’d say ‘ah the jam is okay, it’s cool.’ But Oxygen Mix, if I do something and he doesn’t like it, he’d say, ‘guy you’re singing rubbish.’
Born Joseph Akinfewa Donus, Joeboy was raised in the inner cities of Lagos as the last of four kids. From the start, he harboured conventional dreams of school, a corporate job, and the endless rat race of a 9-5 gig. But at the age of 10, his older brother Bariga, who had links with legendary producer, ID Cabasa, exposed him to the music industry. “At that point Cabasa just signed Olamide. So we saw Olamide when he was shooting ‘Eni Duro’ video and everything. I was like, ‘me too I can be an artist now, small thing.’ But my brother was just laughing at me so I just dead everything,” he says.
He would abandon music for years, until his teenage years when he accompanied a friend to a studio recording session. While fumbling with studio equipment to combat boredom, he accidentally created a song, which a producer fell in love with and paid for the recording cost. Even with a glimpse of his early potential, a lack of further funding kept him away from a true professional run.
And then came Mr Eazi. The Nigerian musician and entrepreneur found a clip of Joeboy’s cover of Ed Sheeran’s smash hit record ‘Shape of You’ in 2016. He reached out via Instagram, and established a relationship. A year later, both artists met at Lagos’ Eko Hotels & Suites. “I knew had to wait like 11 hours to see him,” Joeboy tells me about the day. “He was at Eko Hotel and I didn’t have transport fare to go back home. I can remember. He was like ‘meet me at Eko at 3pm. I showed up by 3pm on the dot. I called him, his number did not go through again till 9 o’clock. There was a show that day so I was sitting down in the lobby. I could not even go anywhere. I didn’t even have money to go back home, so where I wan go? We spoke that night. He was like okay, we should link up later during the week at his house.” At the end of the day, he made the right decision. The wait was worth it.
Joeboy is in a better space today. For a man who started 2019 in obscurity, he ended the year an African superstar signed to Eazi’s music incubator, emPawa Africa. Thanks to his smash hit single, ‘Baby’, and a string of subsequent hits, Joeboy has escaped life as a struggling Lagos hopeful, and jumped straight into a new existence as an artist selling out capacity venues across the continent. He’s toured major and far-flung cities, performing in spaces where he never expected his art to take hold. He says he loves Ethiopia for the beautiful women who crowd the stage screaming their love for him. Kenya and Uganda, have a place in his heart because “those people know how to rock. They turn up with you from the start to finish.”
We spend an hour talking about his life, his climb to great heights, and why he believes hit records have to be easy sing-along records. His creative formula is potent, Mr Eazi taught him the secret to crafting bangers, and when he got his first check, he went straight to the shoe store. This time, the Nikes are real.
How does it feel to be a star?
Omo mhen, that question. Most of the time, I usually don’t know how to answer it. Because for me, I don’t feel any type of way. I’m usually just excited that people like my music enough to vibe with it. How does it feel to be a star? Hmmm. I would say my major happiness is just, I like the fact that I get to tour. I like travelling a lot. The fact that I get to tour and watch people sing my music and be happy. That’s what makes me happy.
What’s the difference between your past life and this one?
I’d say more money and the fact that I can’t move. I can’t visit the places that I used to visit. Before now, I could just go to somewhere in Akoka, my hood and just hang out and nobody would disturb me or come and ask me for anything. But now, I can’t do that comfortably.
People get to mob you?
I won’t say mob. But you’re not as free as you used to be outside anymore.
Do you miss it?
I’d say I’ve had enough of that life. Yeah, I’d put it that way. Sometimes you might want that back. But in the end, this is what I wanted. I wanted to be a big artist. I wanted to blow.
I’ve heard some people respond to this question with ‘I don’t like fame, it’s affecting me…’
No. There are pros and there are cons in the fact that you get to become a target. Sometimes that people come at you for no reason in particular. You get lashed a lot on social media, especially that place they call Twitter. You cannot avoid it. They’d enter you. But there are so many advantages that come with it. I’ve met a lot of people. People that I could only watch from afar. But they’ve reached out to me, we are friends. So I think that it opens more doors for you. Apart from just the music, I could decide to run a business now and the fact that ‘na Joeboy dey run this business’, people would want to patronize that business. There are so many advantages, so I don’t look back. Because at the end of the day, if they asked me like four, three years ago that ‘do you want to be a superstar?’ I’d have said yes. Now that I’m a superstar, why would I want to go back to being a normal person?
A lot of people kept saying Joeboy doesn’t act like a star. He doesn’t have that presence. Did you hear that?
No, what I used to hear was ‘you no even dey do like star.’ Because at that point, it didn’t get to me that much. To be honest, it didn’t get to me. Because at the end of the day, I was always surrounded by people that knew me from way back, so it’s not like I was being treated like some king. It’s been people that knew me from five, six years ago. Like Oxygen Mix, we’ve been working for like six years now. So you don’t expect Oxygen Mix to be treating me like a star. It took a while. It took a while to get used to that fact that so now you’re a star. To be honest, I felt like it didn’t matter. But I’ve realised that when it comes to branding, you just have to play that part.
But how important are your Day-1s?
Omo, they are very important. If you’re singing rubbish they’d tell you straight up. Like you know me as Joeboy; if I play you a song now, 70% chances are—because you don’t want to hurt my feelings, or you don’t want me to feel bad, or you don’t want me to not like you— you’d say ‘ah the jam is okay, it’s cool.’ But Oxygen Mix, if I do something and he doesn’t like it, he’d say ‘guy you’re singing rubbish.’ I believe you need that honesty in your life when it comes to music. Because there’s this thing that comes with fame. It’s called ego. It gets to a point that you just feel like you can do anything and people’d accept it like that because you’re a celebrity. Everybody likes you. But I understand that day ones are very important when it comes to being honest at work.
Did you doubt yourself after the success of ‘Baby’?
I believe every artist at some point there’s this doubt that creeps in. But what you shouldn’t do is let it control you. Okay, the fact that I’m scared that this song might not tap when I drop it, I’d now sit down and just wait and not do anything. I remember when ‘Baby’ was trending on Twitter at some point. It wasn’t number one yet and somebody tweeted that ‘yo this song can actually get to number one.’ And someone is like ‘lai lai, it’s not possible. who be the guy? Nobody know am.’ So negative comments don’t matter. It’s you results that actually matter. The work you actually put into it. Omo, I just focused on my work man, that’s the most important thing. You can’t care too much about what people say. You can’t let it get to you. You can only learn from what they say, but not in a way that makes you feel down or something. Don’t internalize it. Just take it and push it back out. So I’m like, whatever man. I dropped ‘Beginning’, it popped. So I guess it’s safe to say I’m not a one-hit wonder, abi?
Of course. How did you guys make ‘Baby’?
So big shout-out to BeatsByKO. He’s right there. He’s one of my closest guys. He produced ‘Don’t Call Me Back’. I remember at that point, I was like yo! send me beats now. And he was like he didn’t have any at that point but there’s this producer that’s a friend of his, Dera. That there’s this beat this guy has been trying to get people to jump on, but it’s not been forthcoming. So he just sent the beat to me. I was like ‘this beat is mad o.’ And I called Oxygen Mix that ‘let’s go to the studio, let’s record the song.’ And I recorded it…
In one take?
Yeah. I remember sending the song to Mr Eazi and he’s asked ‘who produced this song? Is it Sarz?’ He was actually surprised that a young producer can actually make that. I’m like it’s not Sarz o, it’s this guy Dera The Boy. At that point, I never met Dera when I recorded the song. It was after I recorded it that I now called him to come and finish it up. That was how the process was like. It was just a coincidence. It was not planned. It wasn’t even supposed to be the first release of that year. It’s supposed to be a song featuring Kidi from Ghana, but there were some delays. This just ended up being the first one.
Looking back, do you think it was fate. Do you believe in all those things?
I believe in all those things o. It’s good to actually put in your work and make sure you do the best you can do. But you know the dynamics of the music industry is crazy. You could feel like you have the best song and when you put it out, it might not work out as much as you want it to. And you might just put out something that you think it’s just there and it might just blow out of proportion. So after I record my songs, one thing I pray for is that people accept the sound. Because it’s one thing for your song to be good, and it’s another thing for your song to actually blow up. So I always pray for people to keep accepting my sound.I didn’t expect ‘Baby’ to be that big, to be honest. But it blew beyond expectations.
So how did you start? Where did you grow up?
I come from a family of four; two brothers and a sister. I’m the last child. I was born in Surulere, and grew up in Akoka. At some point, I lived in Bariga for like two years. Growing up was fun to an extent. It was rugged too because of Bariga. So it was fun and rugged. My elder brother was friends with Cabasa. I think that was the first music contact I had. So when 9ice dropped ‘Gongo Aso,’ I used to follow my brothers to album launches and shows. I was just that young kid that was with them.
How old were you?
I was like 10,11.
So Ajasa, 2phat, Reminiscence, Jahbless at that point they were like the big guys in Akoka. I used to roll around with them and everything. That was my first experience when it came to music and I kind of liked it. I told my brother at that point that I want to be an artist o. I knew I was joking at that point.
Were you singing then? Did you show any skill?
I was wack. But I was just whining him that maybe I could be an artist. At that point Cabasa just signed Olamide. We saw Olamide when he was shooting ‘Eni Duro’ video and everything. SI was like me too. I can be an artist now, small thing. But my brother was just laughing at me, so I just dead everything. The first time I actually recorded in a studio was a friend of mine. And the thing about this music thing is that I kind of stumbled into it. It wasn’t always the plan.
What was the plan?
My own plan was to finish school, get a good job and just..
Get a regular life.
I swear. That was the plan I had at the back of my mind. Music was just like a hobby. At some point, I didn’t even feel like I could actually blow. I used to look at blown artists like these ones are gods on their own level. The first time my friend was trying to record a song, he was like ‘yo, come with me now, let’s go and record this song.’ I went to the studio with him. I was just freestyling. I was just playing inside the studio and the sound engineer said ‘yo, you should record on this song.’ That was the first song I actually ever recorded. It was a feature. People liked it. People in the area liked it and someone paid for my first official single. Like the first song that I recorded that it was just me. I was singing in the bathroom and my brother’s friend was like yo, this song is actually nice, you should put it out. I was like, ‘I don’t have the money to record it.’ And he said, okay I’d pay. And that was it. After I recorded it, someone else put the song online for free. At that point, putting songs online was like 20k. I was using Nokia torchlight so I didn’t have shit. Somebody paid for that too and that was how the journey actually started. But the major breakthrough, like what made me actually realise that this is serious, was when I made a cover of Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of You’. I put it on Instagram and it kind of went viral even before Eazi saw it. When Eazi saw it, he was like this was mad. Sent his number, we started talking. He introduced me to E-kelly. We started making proper songs.
How did you feel receiving a call from Eazi?
It was actually a message on Instagram. One of my friends called me and said ‘yo Eazi just commented on your video.’ I was like ‘guy no dey whine me.’ Because we play pranks a lot. And he said I should go and check Instagram. I saw his comment, and as I was thinking that what is going on, I just saw a message from Eazi that what’s up? Next thing is his number.
I even remember. I was asking Oxygen Mix what will I say to him now that he’s commented on that video? I didn’t know what to say. So while we were thinking about what to say, he just sent a message like ‘yo, holla, and dropped his personal number.’ I hit him up on Whatsapp, he told me ‘guy you’re good.’ We should work together. Before we started talking about anything, he introduced me to E-kelly. Then I started visiting E-kelly to record songs.
Before you guys even did anything, he just took you to E-kelly?
Yes. You know Eazi used to tour a lot. So he wasn’t even in Lagos. I didn’t meet Eazi until a year after we started talking on Whatsapp.
Yeah. I didn’t meet him in person.
But you guys had started working?
We had started working. He introduced me to E-kelly, Sarz and everyone. He was just introducing me to people in the industry. It was a year after that he came to Lagos around December 2017. So I started rolling with him, met people. I met Wizkid at that point. And my friend used to ask me ‘what was the sign I’d see that I’d know that I’m going to blow.’ I told him the day I shake Wizkid, nobody can tell me anything. I’m going to blow. And when Eazi introduced me to Wizkid, Wizkid stretched forth his hand and shook me. And I’m like ‘e don happen.’ So at that point, every form of doubt just disappeared. That was why those comments never got to me. I was like Wizkid shook me, guy get out (laughs). Because I was a big fan – I’m still a big fan of Wiz. So he’s one the people that actually inspires young artists to make a shot. Because before Wiz, every other blown person was like the late 20s. Wiz was like the fresh youngest artist blown in Nigeria. He’s like a legend to us sha.
When you met Eazi, did you hug him or something?
I was actually speechless. I could not say anything. He asked ‘what’s up now’ and I was just looking. He asked me so what’s the plan? In my head I didn’t even have any plan. You just said I should come and see you. You know I had to wait like 11 hours to see him. He was at Eko Hotel and I didnt have transport fare to go back home. I can remember. He said ‘meet me at Eko at 3pm.’ I Showed up at Eko Hotel by 3pm on the dot. I called him, his number did not go through again till 9 o’clock. There was a show that day, so I was sitting down in the lobby. I could not even go anywhere. I didn’t even have money to go back home. Where I wan go? (laughs). And I was staying at Akoka then and had no cash. I was just sitting down there like he sha has a show here. When I see him coming in, I will jump and meet him so he’d just know that it’s me, Joeboy. That guy you talk to on Instagram. I had to wait so long, he later messaged me at night that he forgot and something like that. You know artists are usually very busy with a lot of things. So we sha spoke that night. That was the night I also met Burna Boy for the first time. We spoke that night, so he was like okay, we should link up later during the week at his house.
And you guys linked up?
How did you get your transport bank?
His manager, Doregos. I didn’t even need to ask him. His manager just brought out 10k and just gave me.
I was looking for the right way to ask. But I could not even say anything. After we finished talking and I was already turning back. E be like say I go sleep outside today o. His manager Doregos now called me like ‘yo how far? Take.’ Like he knew (laughs).
What have you learned from Eazi?
What I’ve learnt is that smart work is most important, and consistency. Like okay, you’ve dropped a hit song now. You’re done with that. Is that your satisfaction? Do you want to do more or you want to stop here? If you don’t intend to stop here you have to keep working and working. That’s why even when I had hot songs out, I was still recording and recording. I think that’s the most important thing. Consistency, smart work. Those two.
Do you have a formula for making hits?
How would I put this? Oxygen do we have a formula? (laughs). But to be honest, for me, when it comes to recording music, I record a lot of choruses. On my voice notes I record a lot of choruses. It’s good to have choruses in your head. I think it’s the foundation of every song. If you have a good hook, I think your song is good to go. So I record as many hooks as I can.
How do you recognise a hook when it comes to you?
It could be just…right now, this is a remote control. What does a remote control do? It controls stuff. So I could say something like (starts singing): “You control me like a remote control, you control me like a remote control.” It’s just the rough work. It might sound funny at first, but trust me. When there’s a beat or an instrumental, it’s way better. So I record as many hooks as I can.
And from there you convert to songs.
That’s a very interesting way of doing it. Some others do it differently.
I almost always start with the chorus. To me o, I believe that once you have the hook the rest is just beans. Because the hook is what people’d like. It’s what people listen to. Like “I don’t wanna see you with nobody, nobody, nobody.” As you can see it’s just one word but that repetition just gave it some type of vibe. So yeah, hooks. Catchy hooks.
How did you get the ‘Baby’ visualizer?
That was actually coincidental too. It wasn’t planned. I remember we were supposed to put out the song and I had visa issues. I was supposed to shoot the video in SA, but my visa was delayed before the song was meant to be put out. We couldn’t shoot the video before the song, and Eazi just came up with the idea that ‘yo let’s use visualizers. Let’s just try it.’ Because at that point, I didn’t think that just dropping an audio without dropping visual representation was going to make any sense.
Eazi was like ‘let’s do a visualizer and we’d just drop that one so when the video is ready, we’d just put that one out.’ We put out the visualizer and it actually started going viral in East Africa even before it blew up in Lagos. ‘Baby’ was number one in Uganda for like two months before it blew up in Nigeria. Before it got to top 50 in Nigeria. I remember the first time I met Mavin Records producer Altims. He asked ‘are you Nigerian? Where are you from?’ And I said ‘I’m from Ogun state but I’m Nigerian and I’m Lagos-based.’ He told me the first time he heard my song, he heard ‘Baby’ in Uganda. And he was asking that ‘what guy is this?’ And they were like this guy is a Nigerian. So ‘Baby’ was so big that it actually blew outside before it even blew up in Lagos and Nigeria per say. So the visualizer played a very huge role because I noticed that East Africans love those animations a lot. Even a considerable amount of views for those visualizers are from East Africa.
What was different about blowing first in East Africa before Nigeria?
The difference is that ‘Baby’ was already hot in East Africa and I’d still walk on Lagos roads and nobody will spot me, and say that’s Joeboy. And it even took a while for them to recognize my face. I know that. So the difference is, you feel it more when it’s actually somewhere that you live in. Somewhere you’re based in. When you actually blow, you’d know. When the song was number one in Uganda, I was still doing random stuff here like a normal person would do. But when the thing blew in Nigeria, it made me realise that ‘omo things don change for real.’ Because now I’ve actually witnessed it. I couldn’t talk at that point, but now I can actually witness the blow.
And what has money done for you?
Omo, money has given me confidence. I could do stuff easier. I can take care of my family. I can help people out conveniently now. Money is good o, to be honest.
How important do you think it is in music?
Money is actually important in music because imagine you’re very famous and you don’t have as much as people think you have in your account.
True. That’s what happens with first hit singles.
Yeah. That’s what happens with first singles. The money doesn’t come in immediately. It takes a couple of months before you actually start feeling it. Imagine that. It’s like punishment. Because I can’t imagine being so famous and not having money. Because you could be outside and you know Nigeria na, ‘baba do something for us’, ‘bless us’. Them thinking you have money and you know you don’t have money. That would be really sad. So money is important. Really really important in promoting stuff too. Although there are some songs that you don’t need to spend much on, or you might not end up spending much on, because they are just amazing from the start. People just connect to it immediately. But at the end of the day you just need money.
Which of your songs didn’t need much push?
I think it was ‘Baby’. Like the moment we put ‘Baby’ out, every single person that listened to it…I can’t remember. There’s one celebrity I sent the visualizer to before it actually blew up. I was like, if you don’t like this song shoot me. I was so confident in ‘Baby’ that 80% of people I’d play the song for, they are going to love the song. ‘Baby’ just had that magic that you’d just listen to, and you’d be like ‘who sing this song?’ So I think it’s ‘Baby’ that I didn’t need to spend much on.
Fun fact: like three days before I dropped ‘Beginning’, I met up with Eazi in London and I told him that I don’t want to drop this song again.
I don’t know. Fear just catch me. And Oxygen called me and he was like ‘guy are you sure you still want to drop ‘Beginning’? I’m like ‘omo, we don shoot video o. He was like ‘guy you can still stop it now. Let’s just chill and drop another one.’
Why? You guys didn’t believe in it?
The problem was we played a bunch of songs for people. Let’s say I play you like five songs and I’d tell you to arrange your favourite. That’s how I pick songs sometimes. And ‘Beginning’ was always coming last. So Oxygen just called me that ‘are you sure you want to put this out now?’
But did you choose to release it yourself or some other person picked it?
That’s the thing about we artists when it comes to creating stuff. I think when we listen to our music too much before it comes out, it’s actually a problem. We tend to get tired of our music and start looking for faults. So at that point, I thought I had listened to the song too much. I didn’t want to drop this because it started sounding very plain in my ear. Eazi was like ‘guy don’t worry, it’s going to enter. He said ‘even if it doesn’t enter, ‘Baby’ is still hot.’ That if it doesn’t enter, we’d just quickly drop another one. So we put it out.
When did you know it had entered?
That was like two weeks after I put it out. I went for a show at Afe Babalola University. I was still trying to introduce the song. I said that I dropped a new song and the crowd screamed: “we know, we know, we know.” Then DJ just played the song and everyone was singing it word for word. I had goosebumps on my own body from my own song. I knew that this one too enter. So at that point, I was just thankful to God, that ‘God thank you o.’
Apart from pop songs, what other sonic expressions do you have?
R&B is like my comfort zone. Eazi was the one that actually encouraged me to go into pop music. He actually taught me the basics of making pop music.
Yeah, he taught me the basics. Because I was always trying to prove a point on every song. When I send him songs—because he listens to my songs first before it comes out—he’d be like ‘guy just relax. You’re not trying to form like you’re the best singer in the world. Just give people music that they can enjoy and they can sing along to. You don’t need to overcomplicate things.’ Eazi taught me that part about pop music. Just make it simple and catchy. So apart from that, I do R&B music a lot. I think this project will just define everything for me.
Do you feel trapped in pop music in any way?
No. not at all. I’m just thankful for the way Nigerians are accepting new sounds these days. It’s beautiful to us like mid-tempo songs can actually get to number one, it’s amazing. Like Omah Lay’s EP is doing so well. So music like this can actually pop and that was actually my comfort zone. I just switched it up. The fact that Nigerians can accept different types of music, it just brings me out of the box. Now there’s no box. I can’t be scared of making a mid-tempo sig, I can’t be scared of making an R&B song now and pushing it out as a single. As long as I know it’s good, people would like it.
Why do you think the market is accepting a wider range of music now?
From my own end, I think social media plays a part. I think there are more people on social media now, and I think music has always been a game of numbers. When there’s a high number of people listening to a particular person it actually helps the person’s career. So maybe there’s a high number of people listening to calm music or different music now that is why he’s doing so well. But it all balls down to numbers. I’d basically attest it to the higher number of people on social media.
How important is social media for your work?
It is super important. I think it has never been more important. Now that there’s a restriction in movement, everyone is relating to their fans through TikTok, Triller, Instagram, Twitter. Social media is super important. They are even doing virtual shows now. I think it has even made way more important.
How did Covid-19 affect you?
One of the major stuff I love about being an artist is that I can travel a lot. That part has been cut off. So I think touring basically. It has affected my touring and shows. No shows for like three months. We’ve lost money on that part. But the good thing is, there’s still streaming.
If your streaming numbers were down. How would you have survived?
Omo, I’d just have hope that I saved. Because in Nigerian music, I think it’s just limited to just a few avenues of making revenue. It’s either you stream or shows or tours. Shows and tours are not possible right now. So the only viable point is streaming. If I wasn’t big on streaming, omo na savings I go dey use survive like this o. But thankfully streaming is good.
What was something fun you did when you first made money?
I remember when I started getting cool money, I used to buy shoes a lot. To be honest, I was a very dead guy. I’m putting it as it is. I had only one shoe at one point in my life and it was Nike. And it was fake (laughs). I knew it was fake. It looked fake but I didn’t care. It was the only one I had, so I used to rock it with my chest. I used to see shoes on a lot of people’s legs and I’m like ‘the first time I see cool money, I’m buying shoes.’ That is one part I know that I…but shoe money is not so much. But that is one part I really splurged on. I bought shoes. I bought a lot of shoes. Even now, I still look forward to buying shoes. I could just wake up and be happy. Why am I happy? Because I know I’m going to get a shoe today. It’s actually that simple. So I spent a lot of money on shoes to be honest. But apart from that, thank God for Mr Eazi and my parents. And my guys are very honest people. They don’t fall for all those blown shenanigans. They’d still tell me that if you broke, the fame no go sweet o. It’s a very bad thing to be famous and not have money. So I manage money a lot. Apart from buying shoes (laughs), I’m pretty much okay when it comes to managing money.
After the success of ‘Baby’, how was touring?
The first time I left after ‘Baby,’ was around March. ‘Baby’ dropped March 1st. Then I went to SA to shoot the video around the middle of March. The next time was around May. It was a 3-country tour: Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania.
What was your experience in East Africa?
It was amazing I love that place. I always look forward to going there.
You know I’d rather stay in East Africa than stay in London. If I had a chance like ‘yo, if you’re given a house in London or East Africa, I’d go to East Africa.
What’s so cool about it?
I’d say it feels more like home. You don’t feel out of place and everything is still balanced and I don’t know, maybe it’s the women sha (laughs). Who knows? But I love East Africa so much. That place will always be interesting to me. When I drop projects, when I drop songs, I always make sure that I push it there too. East Africa was amazing because I have the anxiety about performing in places I’ve never performed before. I’m always wondering if they actually know my songs? Next thing ‘give it up for JoeBoy’ and everyone is shouting and singing along with their phone lights on. I’m not even in my country and they’re feeling me like this. Yeah. And I’d keep saying it. East Africa has really helped me a lot. They supported my music a lot.
You get a lot of love there.
I get lots of love from East Africa.
Mr Eazi says it’s the most conducive place for music in Africa.
They pay more. And they don’t even pay in their currency. They pay in dollars straight up. One more thing; their show organisers and promoters. I was really blown away by the show promoters in Tanzania. Everything was on time. There was no problem, there was no fight. There were no issues. Tanzania was very very smooth. Okay, you land at so so so time, they’d come and pick you up. Immediately we landed, they were already waiting for us outside. They took us to the hotel, ‘we’d be back at so so so time to come and pick you up for the show’. Imagine a show that starts 5 o’clock, they came 4:30, dropped me at the show. As I was getting inside the show, they were giving me the mic. Not that I had to wait somewhere.
I had to clap that these guys are good. Normally, some shows in Nigeria, they say pull up for 6pm, you’re there 6pm. You go sleep for green room till like 10. This one, there was no wasting time at all. It was just back to back to back. And once I was done, you’d just hang around at the VIP for 20 minutes. They are telling me everything I need to do. Hang around the VIP for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, they’d take you back to the hotel. It was just perfect and they are very straightforward people.
When people scream at you and obey your commandments on stage, how does it feel?
It makes you feel very very powerful in a way. It’s very easy to get carried away with that because you feel like ‘see how people dey feel me. I’m a bad guy and everything.’ But me I just learn to live in the moment. I understand that there’s a time to be the superstar and there’s a time to just be yourself. So it feels good. That feeling can’t be explained. It feels really really good. Your blood is running hot and everything and goosebumps just dey your body. ‘Let me hear you say oh,’ and everybody says oh. Just stand there and be looking. They’d be shouting. It’s like magic. I actually miss that. That’s one thing I actually miss.
How do you craft your performances?
At some point I just felt it was just going on stage and start singing. But I later understood that you need to understand the crowd, learn to carry the crowd along and learn to entertain them. Performing is not just limited to you singing your songs back. You could bring someone up on stage. You could sing to someone. You could sing a cover of a particular popular song in that particular area. Stuff like that. I kept learning. So my stagecraft has improved a lot. I like working with live bands now because it’s very easy to manipulate the sound when it’s not just the DJ playing.
When you’re playing with the live band, they can stop it anytime, they can switch it up at any time. Compared to when it’s just a defined loop on the system. Maybe I’m singing a part of ‘Baby’, I could actually bring lyrics from ‘Beginning’ and put it on the beat for ‘Baby’ and it’s still going to work because it’s a live band. They’d just tune themselves to what I’m singing. I can’t do that on a DJ playback. You just tell DJ, ‘DJ play ‘Baby’. I can’t stop it at any point. Only if I tell him to stop it. I can’t sing ‘Beginning’ on ‘Baby’ that way. My vocals on ‘Baby’ are on ‘Baby’ itself except I strip the song of its vocals. So a live band is very important. You can tell them that by signifying like this, they’d reduce the volume of what they are playing. It’s very dynamic. Not so easy to explain. But I’d just say that working with a live band is easier when it comes to performing. I was at Teni’s show, the one she had in December. I was blown away by what she achieved with the live band. She was actually making songs on the spot. It was amazing.
Does it feel repetitive as a performer to play the same music to a lot of people?
It does. Sometimes you just get tired of hearing your songs, but it’s now a job. You have to do it for the people. To be honest, even you as a person can’t keep listening to the same songs for one year straight. You get tired at some point. Imagine performing the same song for one year straight. It’s tiring at some point. But sometimes. you just get lost in the moment, enjoy yourself and make sure that it does show on your face that you’re tired of singing your songs.
Have you ever been told at any point in time that you need to improve your stage presence?
Yes now. I think it happens with every new artist. At the end of the day, there’s the beginners stage, there’s the amateur stage and there’s the top class. Some people get top class immediately, while some people take a while. Yeah, I’ve been told that. I remember I’ve been told that. On stage presence, because as I told you earlier, I thought it was just coming on stage and singing the song and just going back. But I understood at some point that it’s beyond that. You have to connect with the crowd. They have to feel you. They have to feel like you’re enjoying the music too. Because it’s based on your vibe that they’d actually respond back.
What do you do differently?
I put in more energy. Bring in some more dances here and there. Live bands are pretty much important when it comes to that. I’d keep on repeating that. Put in some more energy, I can sing acapella songs. Make them sing along, we can do call and response. So I made it go beyond coming on stage, sing and DJ playing back, and just going back.
What’s in this for you? What do you want out of it? This journey.
Omo, let people look back and be happy that this guy Joeboy came in, gave us amazing music and made us happy. I get messages a lot about my music taking them out of depression. I get a lot of messages like that and it just makes me happy. I’m just here making music. I have no idea how far my music is going. But I know it’s making someone out there happy. That’s the best thing to be honest.
Written By Joey Akan