As an artist, he’s had much to celebrate. One of just a handful of Nigerian artists to make it to single digits in the US Billboard Afrobeats chart with his “Mona Lisa” (which also happens to be the most globally Shazamed Afrobeats song of all time) Lojay has garnered much success alongside the likes of legendary Nigerian star producer Sarz, as well as Wizkid, whilst sharing stages with Tems, Boj, Amaarae, Ladipoe and more.
As a man, the ride hasn’t been so smooth. There’s wisdom in his voice, which comes across steady, fresh, and thoughtful even in his lower register – an almost unrecognizable tone against the ones we usually hear on the much more emotive, fluid love songs peppering his wildly successful 2021 EP, LV N ATTN (Love and Attention). Known for his remarkable ability to draw from his surroundings, infusing desire, lust, intimacy, and fun into ballads for the lovestruck, this year, like so many, he’s disillusioned. Cuffing season is officially over, and love today often feels like a minefield where one wrong move can have one sustaining lifelong emotional injury. In a time where patriarchal sentiments abound and go head to head with a new breed of women who are finding that they are no longer beholden to the desires of so-called mediocre men, it’s hard to imagine what love songs will sound like when vulnerability is so deeply entrenched in risk, as toxicity comes from all sides.
In his latest offering, Gangster Romantic, Lojay is a far cry from the man who was willing to risk it all to see his love requited. With past pining lyrics such as “I need your love and attention” on the self-titled track, to the present’s self-asserting “give me devotion properly” on “Yahweh,” Lojay turns love inward. Speaking on his journey from heartbreak to breakthrough in seven breezy tracks, Lojay and PAM talk about love, lessons, and finding himself a rugged exterior that he hopes will protect his tender heart.
Let’s start with the title. Why did you call the EP “Gangster Romantic” ? Or rather, what does it mean to you to be “gangster,” and what does it mean to you to be “romantic”?
The project is an expression of what has happened between the last 12 to 18 months. I’ve met a lot of people, some genuine and some not so much. And in that time I realized that, although I am a romantic and I am a loverboy to an extent, I’ve also had to realize that at the end of the day, we are all in the streets. I’ve just had to toughen up and become gangster with my emotions just to survive the streets. Everything that comes with it says I’m still romantic, I still care, I still want love, but at the same time I’ve also learned that where I am, I need to be tough and close my heart to a lot of things. “Just move gangsta” quote, unquote!
I hear that! What’s scary for me looking out onto the dating world again as a newly single person, is seeing how there’s a new and mostly negative narrative going around that is now very prominent in young people. On one hand, folks like Andrew Tate are talking about “high value men” and “high value women” and bringing up very traditional ideas of patriarchy that border on, or are downright toxic; and on the other hand a new kind of femininity that sees women pushing back on this historic toxicity, more often with really high expectations from partners of their own. It’s overwhelming!
I mean first of all that whole narrative of everyone having to be a certain way, women wanting their men to do this or to do that, or certain groups having to be a certain way… I generally feel like that is sparked from two things: greed and, in a lot of cases, laziness. Those two things are now like… every day. I don’t know where the conversation around “high value” men or women came about or who decided to call people “high or low value” – that in itself is very toxic. I don’t think anybody who feels like those are good ways to describe people is mentally okay, personally.
Right, and even having emotional conversations about those ideas and expressing them is looked down upon. It all feels very transactional suddenly.
Exactly, it is looked down upon, so much. Don’t get me wrong, there are people that are very open to you expressing your emotions and yes, I agree with that, we must be expressive and let our feelings out. I also feel like with the way the world is, it’s not for everybody. That’s why I say you have to be tough!
What was the idea of love like when you were younger, and how much has it changed for you now that you’re growing, toughening up, analyzing your own experiences, and turning them into songs?
I grew up in a household where my father was the breadwinner and he took on certain responsibilities. I personally feel like love and relationship in itself is a partnership; that’s the reason why you come together, you have kids if you want to and you build a family. The fact that it used to be like, men take care of the outside [of the home] and women take care of the inside, it’s not because women are perceived as weaker. It’s because one person had to do one thing, and the other person had to do the other thing. Growing up, my parents at least showed me and my siblings a lot of what love could be, so my perception of love is that it’s soft; love is gentle, love is kind… That has always been my experience of love. That’s what I preach. But I also know that I live in a world where things are a lot tougher now, especially out in that emotional space. Anything that has to do with emotions… I just know that to survive this world, you kinda have to be mentally prepared.
So with the understanding that over the last year, things have been rocky emotionally and romantically for you, how does that come through in the music from the EP?
I mean I’m a very expressive musician, I like to speak from my heart and on what is going on in my environment. With this project I was in a particular state of mind where I was an anti-romantic. Gangster Romantic all in all is an anti-romantic project. That’s what I expressed more than anything. It’s tiring… I was in a space where I was tired, a lot of the lyrics are anti-romantic. Even though I say “I love you” these tracks are more of “I love you but it’s okay if you want to move the way you want to move. I’m going to step out of that; I’m not going to involve myself in the way you move. As much as I love you and have feelings for you, I am not the Lojay that is begging for your love and attention. If you have to leave and move on, move on.”
I know that feeling, and I’m sure there are a lot of people that resonate with this idea that we have to be accepting of ourselves as well as of others’ limits. So as a full body of work, can you explain your intended journey and what you hoped people would take from it?
I’m very keen on everyone listening to the project as one full body of work rather than picking and choosing. I created the story with all of the tracks in mind. So “Yahweh” is just an expression of this one bad girl who I met who spurned me off my feet. That sets the tone for the muse of the whole project and this person who we delve deeper into everything with. “Leader” was a self-affirmation song; me telling her that there’s more to life than just sitting down and settling with what we have here… I’m breaking the shackles of that perceived fake relationship that we were trying to start in the first place. “Moto” is a reflection about an old relationship that is long gone, but I still have feelings, basically. “Canada” is a fun song about a girl… well it’s about transactional sex, made into a fun song about this girl who just wants to have fun and live la vida loca. She’s for the streets, and it’s not a problem because some people are down for that, so have fun with it. Then “IYD” (If You’re Down) is me almost sending a message to my ex, an old love, asking her if she’d like to have a conversation and get some closure, and open up about what happened in the past. Then there’s “Availabu”. That was a very specific pick because I wanted something that was more lighthearted and I’m basically telling her that no matter what it is, if you ever need me, I’m available for you. After all that happens, we get to “Ova”, the last song, where it’s me closing the chapter of everything that has happened in the Gangster Romantic era. We knew this was never going to work out in the first place, so now let’s just close this chapter because it’s over. Going from meeting someone to [in the body of the EP] being with this person, everything I’ve been through, and then it’s like, okay, we’ve had a good run but now everything is over, let’s move on.
So do you have any advice for us, now that you’ve been through the difficulty of love and come out the other side a little wiser?
More than anything I would say that you should dwell on the moment that you’re in right now. If you’re feeling like things aren’t the best, it’s happening because life is trying to teach you something and you should pay attention. It’s not the best period but you have to take it with open arms because life is trying to teach you something very important about yourself that you need to learn – and it’s only a matter of time.
Lastly, what do you hope for now that the Gangster Romantic period is over?
You’ll see a lot of different sides of Lojay this year. I’ve slowly learned to filter what is not needed. Moving on, I want to delve into different sounds and different genres. I have a few more projects coming out this year; if anything I’m in a happier space now, so you might just get some more love songs…
Listen to Lojay’s Gangster Romantic, out now.