From his come-up with “Sade” to his pop era transition into the mainstream, Adekunle Gold has now made a name for himself as a top tier artist in Nigeria. We spoke to Adekunle about switching up his style, growing as a person, fatherhood, and his most recent music.
Adekunle Gold is hailed for making one of the most exciting evolutions in contemporary Nigerian music. The past four years have marked the singer’s discreet progression from highlife predilection to a now chiseled, long-haired pop sensation, with millions more streams and sold out international venues to match.
Despite resorting to a day job in the financial sector, his rise is merely by happenstance as he’d orchestrated a liaison with the music scene through his service as a graphic artist and brand specialist. At one point, he was touted as the “King of Photoshop” after an edited photo of him hugging Tiwa Savage went viral.
“Sade”, Gold’s rendition of “Story of My Life” by One Direction later exposed him – as an artist- to the larger public. With assist from Olamide’s YBNL and subsequent releases like “Orente”, “Pick Up”, Gold became a household name. The singer anchored his footing in the Nigerian music scene after winning Best Alternative Song with “Sade” at The Headies. The era wound up in 2016 with his debut album Gold, which peaked at #7 on Billboard’s World Album Chart. The project was singlehandedly engineered by his wife and co-creator, Simi.
Subsequently, Gold, knowing he can be more than highlife, threw his hat in the ring with “Call On Me”, which was met with mixed reactions. This experiment in sound goes on to make a bold statement in the singer’s sophomore album About 30, which he admits “is indeed special because it was the turning point for me.” Gold continues to explore the realm of pop music which manifested in his third studio album, Afropop Vol 1, housing hits like “Something Different”, “AG Baby” and others. The project has since garnered nearly 300 million streams – toppling his past records. His nomination at the 2020 MOBO Awards for Best African Act alongside pop heavyweights like Tiwa Savage, Wizkid, Davido, Burna Boy further indicates Gold’s eventual triumph. “It took me three years to be this confident about creating what I put out now,” he admits.
Here, we speak to the singer about the process to being AG Baby, as he’s now fondly called, his yearning to live – more than anything and his fourth studio album which he says is an upgrade from Afropop Vol 1.
Did you have a clue that “Sade” would be a turning point in your journey as a musician?
I had no idea. It was just another cover that I put out because I was already making covers before then. That was just one of them and it literally took off in two weeks. My life hasn’t been the same since then.
Crazy! How many had you put out before then?
I’d put out about three covers before “Sade”. Though I had three singles out already; one solo record and two while I was with boy bands called The Bridge and Non Breaker. One of them featured Skales.
You had a quick and interesting follow-up to “Sade” with “Orente”, “Pick Up” etc. What went into planning such a seamless progression?
It wasn’t exactly planned. I’d written “Orente”, “Beautiful Night”, “Friendzone” before “Sade” even. I didn’t release them because I wasn’t sure how it’d perform. So, if you say “Sade” was premeditated, you’re not totally wrong because what I did was release covers and gauge how people respond to it before releasing my original song. When “Sade” took off, I cued “Orente”, “Pick Up”, “Ariwo Ko” and the Gold album for immediate release.
From the artist that you were then to ‘AG Baby’ as you are known now, have you always envisioned taking this turn?
To an extent. What I did back then is like giving an evil grin. If only people had an idea where I’m taking this music to, I feel they would’ve loved me earlier. Of course, the sound that I was making then was and will always be beautiful but I just wanted to do something else because I get bored easily. I knew the sound I was going for when I made the Gold album and the day I released it, I said the next album was going to be an upgrade. I already knew my sophomore album will have elements of pop and highlife, which you can see in About 30 where I had “Fame”, “Call On Me” which are pop records; and “Ire”, “Surrender” with highlife influences. People thought I was crazy going from full highlife to “Call On Me”, a pop record. It was such a big switch and I feel it threw a lot of people back but it makes you see how long I’ve been trying to let people know that I am more.
Totally. So, when did you realize it was time to fully switch things up?
“Call On Me” had mixed reactions when it dropped but still became my most streamed song at the time. That was when I thought people were ready nonetheless – if it could do more numbers than “Pick Up”, “Sade”, “Orente” and others from the Gold era. I would’ve done it anyway, if they weren’t ready. The day I received a video of people singing “Call On Me” in Barcelona was when I knew this could be bigger. I wrote more songs afterwards and released About 30, which a lot of people didn’t understand at first until later.
Your foray into pop started with About 30. What was making that album like?
When I started working with Sess in 2019, he told me “I want you to do something you’ve never done before”. I became curious and willing to go all in. The first music we made was “Before You Wake Up” and after playing it to Fuse ODG and some other friends in Ghana, I believed people were ready. I released that song and it became my most streamed song at the time, topping my previous records. It started making it to territories that my other songs haven’t touched. I always knew that I’m more than the stereotype of being ‘the Yoruba singer’, which was kind of limiting. I didn’t switch out of pressure but I needed to change the narrative and everything really changed with that project.
About 30 is also one of your works you seem to reference more often. Is there an underlying significance of the project to your discography?
It is indeed special because it was the turning point for me. I simply wanted to talk about my life in 30 years. I wanted to go a bit more in depth about my life and that’s why I wrote songs like “Ire”, which summarizes the album. I talked about my love for God, passion, hurt et cetera. I wanted to be more transparent, as I like to be sincere, especially with my art. I want to say exactly what or how I’m feeling each time. I released the album when I was down; coming off the high of enjoying so much acclaim from the Gold era to getting criticism. There’s no preparing you for that, especially if you were used to getting good feedback and suddenly, criticism begins to set in. About 30 is where I poured all those feelings into, that’s why I’m very passionate about it.
On evolving into the popstar that you are now, what were some of the things you did to reach this point?
Interestingly, I had to lose people on the way including friends. Some people love you so much that they want to keep you for themselves and hope you don’t change. People kept making assumptions that I wanted to be King Sunny Ade (KSA). I made it clear that KSA is not going anywhere and there can never be another him, so let him retain his kingship and remain legendary while I go be my own person. When I started making songs like “Call On Me”, some people fell off because they probably didn’t get the vision anymore and for some, I had to do some convincing that it’ll work. I’m grateful for my manager, Niyi, because we went through so much resistance to get people to believe in the new direction. Also, my producers; Pheelz, Michael, and of course Simi were instrumental to the process. It took so much toll on me that at some point, I lost my confidence. Then, I started to write, listen to songs outside my go-to genre, and even listen to rappers. I started to write and work with producers that’ll give me something different. At one point, I’d follow Moelogo and other songwriters to sessions, just to see how they write. All these informed the pop star that I am now. It took me three years to be this confident about creating what I put out now.
Amazing! How did you make it look so easy?
If anything, I’m not one to give up. I wanted to grow and I was going to do it whether or not people got it. Today, I’m definitely not the same person who released Gold. I have a child now, my catalog is getting crazier, my numbers are insane, I’m buff now, my hair is longer. So much has really changed…
Very much so! Are there certain artists you listened to during that period?
Post Malone, unbeknownst to him, helped me find conversations. I used to say stuff to myself but listening to him really helped me say it out.
Has fatherhood affected your approach to life, career and things in general?
Absolutely. I’m doubling my grind so that my baby won’t suffer like I did. I’m also now mindful of how I live and living an exemplary life, so that my baby can grow up and see the absolute rockstar that her father is. My life is perfect; it feels good and you can tell it looks good on my career too.
With your fourth project in view, how does it compare to the 2020-released Afropop Vol 1?
Afropop Vol. 1 is definitely a sample compared to what’s coming.
What was creating this body of work like?
Initially, I was trying to do an ‘Afropop Vol. 2’ but as I wrote, the songs became bigger than that and I felt like doing something new. Then, I did a whole revamp and started to work with new producers alongside my go-to collaborators like Michael, Pheelz, Sess etc. I reached out to some people and even more people were interested in working with me. The international collaborations are also ones that I genuinely enjoyed. It’s gimmick-free and just pure connection.
Do you envision an impending transition from where you currently are?
The interesting thing about me is that you don’t see me coming. I don’t even know myself because I can wake up tomorrow and want to do something new. In two years, I’ll add more years to my current age and there will definitely be more experiences, so who knows? Just see me as unravelling.
What is one random thing people don’t know about Adekunle Gold?
I’m still very much grounded. I’m afraid of getting a tattoo and I blame it on my upbringing – growing up in a typical Nigerian home [laughs]. I couldn’t even tell my mom when I got a piercing because I imagined her scolding me. Imagine being this grown and still cautious of these things.
Having spent over half a decade achieving all that you have, what really matters to Adekunle Gold at this point in his career?
Right now, what matters most is my family and making sure I remain a good man, father et cetera. Also, as much as possible, I want to live. I really meant it when I tweeted “my limitations are gone” a while back. I’ve become unbothered about things I used to be afraid to do. I’m thankful to be at the point where I’m not constantly worried about how people will react to me living my best life. In popular Nigerian parlance, I want to chop this life because problem no dey finish.
Listen to Adekunle and Davido’s track “High” out now.