Mr Eazi, birth name Oluwatosin Oluwole Ajibade, is a Nigerian performer, producer, and label head. His work with his self-founded record label, emPawa, has allowed for artists from across the African continent to flourish, at a time when music from the continent has begun to infiltrate globally from Amapiano to Afrobeat and beyond.
A savvy business-minded creator, Mr Eazi melds with ease the modalities of running a label and the artistic genius that has characterised his career thus far. Moving from engineering student, to party promoter, to performer to now renowned mogul and artist, Mr Eazi draws on his varied life within his lyricism, adventurous with content and form. Having released five bodies of work thus far, fans wait with bated breath for his debut album, The Evil Genius, set to be released on October 27th –you can pre-order here.
Having contemplated an indefinite break from the booth, Mr Eazi’s return, with his debut album, is weighted and hugely exciting. The first single from the album, Chop Time, No Friend, was accompanied by a visually rich music video shot in Dakar, Senegal. This diverse visual element, moving beyond his birthplace of Nigeria and his adopted home of Ghana, is indicative of Mr Eazi’s broad artistic vision.
With his debut album, Mr Eazi has embraced yet another role, the role of curator, selecting thirteen artists from across eight African countries to make artwork for each of the tracks on the album, a cool sixteen artworks in total. Finding music to be both an escape and a passion, Mr Eazi is an artist for a new age, an operative visionary who champions equality and artistry, across Africa and beyond.
Hi there, thank you for taking the time to talk. What’s new in the world of Mr. Eazi?
I’m currently about to release my official first album, called The Evil Genius. It is a unique music and art project that I have been working on for about two years. Finally, it’s time for the world to see it. The accompanying art experience opened in Accra at Gallery 1957 during the Accra Cultural week, and we will be moving to London for the 1-54 Art Fair this October.
Outside of your work as a musician, you are a prominent philanthropist and founder of record label and incubation programme emPawa. What has your journey as a label head been like?
It has been fascinating, you know. The more I learn, the more fascinated I become. Sometimes, the backend fascinates me even more than the front end. There are two things that excite me about my job: number one, the studio. That’s because in the studio, I don’t care about anything else. My favourite part of all this is when I’m in the office sitting and crafting business deals and marketing ideas. I'm not alone, though. There’s an external team. You will only see me when it’s time to close deals.
You focus quite a bit on the importance of African musicians controlling and distributing the narrative and sound emerging from the continent. How have you embodied this in your own work as the head of emPawa?
As the head of emPawa, I prioritise giving African artists the platform to showcase their talent and amplify their voices. We empawa these artists to control and own their music and careers. They make decisions about their artistic direction, collaborations, and business ventures, maintaining their authenticity and creative freedom while benefiting from their success. We collaborate with African producers, songwriters, and creatives, keeping the entire creative process/ecosystem within the continent.
For those uninitiated with the musical style of Banku, how would you describe it? Do you feel a sense of pressure having pioneered a genre of music?
I was born and schooled in Nigeria, and I moved to Ghana when I was around 15 or 16 years old. I lived in Ghana for seven years, and both places had a significant impact on shaping who I am. It was during my time in there that I developed a love for highlife and hiplife music, particularly Ghanaian church music that I listened to on bus trips to school.
All of these experiences have influenced my music and helped create the unique sound that I call Banku music, which combines the rich cultures of Ghana and Nigeria. No pressure at all. If anything, I embrace it and use it as motivation to constantly evolve and deliver unique experiences to my fans.
You have a background in commerce and business, does this mindset come out to play in your music? Do you think creativity and artistry is at times at odds with some forms of commercialism and broader suit-and-tie culture?
Yes, it does come into play every time. I’m just wired like that. Every artist is a product. You figure out the idea –the music, what your unique value proposition is–, your sound, your loyal customers/fans, and you take it to market and test it.
I think there can be a conflict between creativity and artistry and certain forms of commercialism. Commercialism often prioritises profit and marketability, which can sometimes restrict artistic freedom and expression. However, there are commonalities like the need to invest time to improve and eventually become profitable. I also believe that creativity and artistry can thrive within the realm of commercialism with the right balance. It requires finding ways to combine creativity with strategic thinking and adapting to the needs of the target audience.
What do you think makes Banku music and the wider music world of Afrobeats so widely enjoyed?
The growth of Afrobeats has been driven by the internet and the diaspora, as well as the live aspect of the movement and industry. It is exciting to see because it will lead music companies and individuals involved in the music business to take the genre more seriously. I believe Afrobeats is on its own trajectory and we can expect to see significant growth in the next three years. The Afrobeats sound today is different from what it was in 2015 or 2016; it keeps evolving. Like it’s not just one artist, but multiple artists who are gaining global momentum simultaneously.
With Chop Time, No Friend, and the upcoming album, you are leaning into a new era of solo self-expression. Why this album and why now?
This album is a reflection of my growth as an artist and the experiences I’ve had during this time. It represents a new chapter in my musical journey and allows me to explore different sounds and genres. I chose to release this album now because I feel it is the right moment to share my art with the world and connect with my fans on a deeper level. It’s a project that I’ve poured my heart and soul into, and I can’t wait for everyone to experience it.
We only know you’re releasing your much-awaited new album later this month. What else can you tell us about it?
This is my most personal album yet. I wanted to be able to capture emotions from my life and bring people on the journey with me, even visually. It was an experiment to me also to be able to play the music for the artists and get them to create based on how they felt when listening to the song.
How do you balance having a very public role and job and still emphasising taking a very personal route in your music?
Music is a feeling, a vibe, an idea. That’s why I was intentional about the process, which is also why it has taken me so long to make this album.
Any other hints at collaborators for the upcoming solo debut album?
Pre-save the album, all the hints are there!
Growing up what was your relationship like with music and performance? I read you were part of a choir in primary school, where did this itch to sing and perform come from?
It was just a brief stint, you know. We had a music teacher and instruments in the house, but we always practiced and played from time to time. When I discovered music more seriously, I felt like it was something I could do without any judgment. I could simply go to the studio and sing about love, or someone I loved but couldn’t have. Initially, I recorded music casually while spending time with some artist friends whom I would book for shows at my university, as I was also a party promoter.
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