/  06.10.2022

Mr. Eazi is a Nigerian musician, entrepreneur and philanthropist. Born Oluwatosin Ajibade, he is a pioneer of Banku music, a fusion of Ghanian highlife and Nigerian chord progressions. After the release of “Skin Tight,” Eazi gained exposure to a global audience. The multihyphenate has gone on to collaborate with the likes of Beyoncé, Bad Bunny and J Balvin, amongst others.

The only thing more impressive than Mr. Eazi’s musical prowess is his entrepreneurial eye. Through emPawa Africa, he has created a platform for dozens of up-and-coming artists. To supplement this talent incubation and discovery label, Eazi founded emPawa Distribution to connect his artists to a global audience. One of these artists, Joeboy, went on to win Best Artist in African Pop at the 2019 All Africa Music Awards.

“Legalize” is the leading single from Mr. Eazi’s forthcoming debut album. The sentimental track blends production from an international team of Michael Brun (Haiti/USA), E Kelly (Nigeria) and Nonso Amadi (Nigeria/Canada). The video was shot in Venice, Italy and captures the moment that Mr. Eazi proposed to his longtime fiancée, Nigerian actress Temi Otedola. The romantic video was directed by Italy’s own Frederico Mazzarisi and features the Ca’ Sagredo Hotel and the Punta Della Dogana and Palazzo Grimani museums. Beninese painter Patricorel crafted the artwork for the track.

Throughout his album, Eazi leans into the themes of art and beauty. Each track on the debut project features uniquely commissioned pieces from various African contemporary artists. The artwork will be distributed via immersive events in the metaverse as well as carefully selected in-person events.

REVOLT caught up with Mr. Eazi at Hit Doctor Studios in Los Angeles for an exclusive discussion about his new single “Legalize,” engagement, entrepreneurial ventures, and biggest driving forces in his decorated career.

The past few years have seen a huge rise in the popularity of afrobeats. Do you see afrobeats surpassing hip hop as the biggest music genre in the world?

I think it’s possible. It’s 100 percent possible. Burna [Boy] did Madison Square Garden, right? And then it’s not just one artist, it’s multiple artists having global momentum at the same time. So, I think it’s possible that you can have artists bigger than anything.”

What is the importance of international Black music to you? 

To me, music is ‘soul food’ from anywhere in the world. I draw inspiration from all of it, from hip hop to dancehall to even folk music. Even gospel music. I probably listened to more Kirk Franklin growing up than any other artist.

You’ve often worked with Spanish-speaking artists — J Balvin and Bad Bunny, for example. What is the power you see in collaborating with other cultures and highlighting different languages?

I think it’s like being in one spot but traveling to another place. It’s so fun. And since it’s new, it’s also new territory, so it’s exciting. It’s beautiful to connect with other languages. To have Balvin singing a Yoruba song, that is important.

There’s a language discrepancy there. Did that ever get in the way?

If you listen to ‘Como Un Bebé,’ I think it’s one thing to love and be influenced by African music. I think it’s another thing to draw influences and actually go to actual African producers to make it. That’s where I big him up for doing that. Admitting, ‘This is not my world — Eazi what do you think about that?’

You and J Balvin became friends when you opened for him on tour. Who are your best friends in the industry?

I have a few, very few. But Balvin is more like my brother. It’s beyond friendship. Michael Braun from Haiti as well. He did the linkup between me and Balvin. Diplo is my very good friend. He came to South Africa when I started emPawa to support. And then back home, Small Doctor from Nigeria, King Promise from Ghana. And DJ Neptune. That’s my best friend period, regardless of music.

In 2015, you used a $1000 donation from friends to fund “Skin Tight.” That was 7 years ago. Do you ever get a chance to sit back and reflect on how far you’ve come?

Yes, I think COVID helped me do that because it made everybody pause. I was bored from doing the same things as well, even before COVID. So it helped me pause and post-COVID, go ‘Oh. It’s time to record an album.’

Talk to me about “Legalize.” The first time I heard it, I thought of watering plants. It automatically took me to a very peaceful and serene setting. What made you want to make it the leading song?

I wanted this album to be really personal to me. ‘Legalize’ is really personal because of the lyrics and what the song means. I just got engaged, so it’s basically saying I want to take my relationship to the next level. When I was recording the song, it didn’t even hit me that, that was what the song was about. When I was listening to it and writing the second verse, I realized it’s a song that represents the place I am in now. And then the video, my girlfriend was in it — this is the first time we were in a video together. The video was actually the proposal. She thought it was just a video. So I feel like it’s important to put that right at the beginning of the album and let everybody know this is where I’m at right now. Let’s go.

Speaking of Temi, with her being an actress and you being a musician, do you spark each other’s creativity?

Yes – she is a hard worker. I am a hard worker, but she is a really hard worker. So I think we rub off on each other, even creatively. I don’t want her to listen to this album. Because she’s very critical, she’s just going to tell you her two cents even when you don’t want to hear it. Sometimes I randomly play the album just to see her reaction because she has very good musical taste.

You and your fiancée host a podcast called “How Far.” Season 2 kicked off this year. How did that come about with your busy schedules? 

I think the hardest thing is actually being in the same place to record the podcast because we don’t want to record over Zoom. Just recently, I was in Dubai for a few days, and we were together at the same time. So we just decided to go to the studio and get it out the way. And it’s fun to do it together. To be honest, I think it’s more for us — like a date.

On the podcast, Temi mentions “Detty Yasef” ft. Falz is one of her top five favorite songs by you. Does she act as an A&R for your music sometimes and suggest what to release?

100 percent. Always. She’s very direct. She will literally tell you ‘I’m not feeling this.’ After my first session, I played her a couple songs. Her favorite ones were not my favorite, so I said I wouldn’t play it. There’s no way she would have known which were my favorite ones.

What made you want to propose in Italy as you were shooting your music video?

I think it was a mix, but I wasn’t 100 percent sure where I would do it. I remember I was like, ‘Okay. If it stops raining, I will do it.’ And just before, I had my hair sprayed silver. Like, who does that? But once it was time, I realized okay, it’s time to do this. And Venice is nice. That video will always be a reminder. That viewpoint also. We love it there, so why not?

Let’s switch gears to entrepreneurship. For emPawa, there’s the side that gives back to musicians. You funded 100 videos for emerging artists you found through Instagram. Then you started the Empawa Youtube to release them. When the question of distribution came about, you started a distribution label. It seems like things happen very organically for you, and one thing leads to another. Why do you think that is?

I think it’s energy, to be honest. It’s just following the energy. Because I also have a short attention span, so once I want to do something, I just think okay I need to do this now. And that can be five things at the same time. And out of those five things, there might be only one that I actually follow through to the end. But that’s life. That’s the freedom. The most important thing is the freedom to be able to chase whatever idea you have. And not everyone has that luxury to chase every idea they have. So I think it’s a very important blessing. And so when you chase it, you just have to follow the energy. Sometimes it happens like it’s totally calculated, or it’s like one thing leads to the other.”

In an interview with CNBC Africa, you mentioned that you love reggae music and you learned how to play the keyboard as a child. You didn’t plan on being a musician, but it sort of just happened. What made you continue doing music? 

I think it was London, to be honest. That was it for me. Seeing everyone actually come out and sing each song back to back. Mind you, those songs were not popular sounds. There’s no songs that sound like ‘Skin Tight,’ or ‘Bankulize,’ or ‘Leg Over.’ That’s what made me say, ‘I love this.’ It was just that energy from seeing everyone come out.

Of course, music can also get very stressful. What do you do to ground yourself?

Music is mad stressful. It’s not even the making or the selection. It’s about putting out the music. That’s the part that becomes stressful. When you’re just making the music, it’s pure. But sometimes I feel that the moment you put it out, the commercial element starts to make it pressure. That’s why on this one, I’m happy to do exactly the kind of music I want and shoot exactly the kind of video I want and put it out.”

On that note, do you have anything that de-stresses you?

I think one thing that de-stresses me is hanging out with my girlfriend. Like, if I go, it’s disappearance. If my girlfriend is here, it’s, ‘Thank you very much. I’m out of here.’ You can’t find me. Outside of that, I’m always working. But this year, I decided to party. We have Chop Life Sundays. It’s a free party where I am the selector. So I’m the DJ, I’m the hype man. My mask will soon be ready. The ‘Chop Mask.’ Once I wear it, we turn up. And I’m giving people tequila. So it’s a mix of a lot of afrobeats with some hip hop — music I like. So you can hear Soukous, and the next second you’re hearing Lil Wayne. I think the next one will most likely be in Paris. We can do one in LA too.

You placed your music empire at a $400,000 valuation and you pitched it to a venture capitalist investor for a 20% stake. He laughed and gave you a $10k loan instead. How do you navigate doubt in your career?

You gotta do what you gotta do because the doubt doesn’t stop. Even after every level of success, there will be doubt. And sometimes, it’s not even doubt from the outside — it’s internal doubt. ‘Was this a fluke? Am I done?’ But there’s only one way and that’s to keep going. I remember speaking to Tyga, and he was telling me that he just kept on going even when a lot of people doubted him. And that’s how life is. Sometimes, you as a person have your lows. It’s a roller coaster.

After reading “Empire State of Mind,” a book that highlights JAY-Z’s business acumen, you really started to understand how music and business intersect through connections and networking. Who are your biggest inspirations in business?

It’s JAY-Z. It’s always been JAY-Z. These days, it’s Diddy. Jay is more reserved, but Diddy comes out to party. So I want to mix it so it’s the lifestyle side and the more reserved side. I’m just naturally quiet and chill — that temperament. But I recently have decided to turn up. If you see me at those Chop Life parties, you just feel like, ‘Yo, this guy.’ Even my girl sees the videos on the ‘gram. She’s never been to one. She says, ‘Oh, now you’re having these big parties when I’m not there.’ But she will probably be at the Paris one. At the first Chop Life, I ended up performing for two hours. The drinks were gone. I called the owner of the club and asked, ‘How much did you pay me?’ Whatever the amount was, I gave the same amount to everyone in champagne. It also came from touring with Diplo. They bring the party.

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