“My past two full length projects have been trips” Mr Eazi begins, speaking of his latest EP Something Else released February 19th, “so Accra to Lagos then Lagos to London…but this project represents me in the airport, background music while I’m deciding, ‘Ok where am I gonna go next?’’
Not that Mr Eazi hasn’t been everywhere in recent years; hopping between Accra and Lagos for recording sessions, selling out stadiums in London, spreading his name across Africa with his emPawa music incubator, and launching the African Music Fund. Defying typecasts of artist and entrepreneur Mr Eazi is paving the way for an industry on the rise. As all eyes turn toward Africa as the next music Mecca, Eazi is sitting comfortably behind the controls, mixing and mastering the wheels of fortune with African ownership in mind. It can be as hard to pin down Mr Eazi as it is to pin down his latest EP which marks an artistic break with past projects. We met with Oluwatosin to speak about Something Else, what it means, and how it relates to the growing world of African music’s newly anointed Don.
“I’d come to this point where I’d gotten bored of just making records for hits,” Mr Eazi says of his latest project, “making records because you wanna go party with the records and want everyone to be singing it at the clubs. Coming to the point where you’re like, I wanna make music for myself and I wanna make what I wanna make cause I’ve earned a place to not chase after something. I decided exactly what I wanna give and what I wanna share.”
Hits are no problem for Mr Eazi. The singer has come out of a particularly astounding year of chart topping collaborations with Major Lazer and Nicki Minaj on “Oh My Gawd, J Balvin on “Lento”, and a link-up with DJ Neptune and #emPawa100 album Joeboy on “Nobody” which was the No. 1 single of the year in Nigeria, generating over 100 million streams worldwide.
“You get carried away by like the charts and the news and the blogs,” Mr Eazi says, reflecting on his recent successes. “This one is saying this and the comparisons and, ‘Oh my god this has how many streams?’. At some point you’re just like, wait a minute this is not the reason that I stepped into the studio for the first time. When I stepped into the studio I was trying to make music for me. Then, after me, my friends. Then it just happens to spread to the whole world. So I guess that’s the message from Something Else. Some people have heard it and speaking to me like, “Oh Eazi we didn’t expect that sound!” and I’m like yeah, that’s the point. I don’t need you to expect any sound.”
Defying expectations is a calling for Mr Eazi. Much ado has been made about his entrepreneurial past, from phone sales to gold mining tech, but the businessman truly emerged when Eazi married his entrepreneurial spirit with his success in music. In comes the idea of, The Don, the lead-up single for the EP and a crucial musical derivation from Mr Eazi’s famous, upbeat Banku style. The Don is menacing and epic in the best way. The falsetto of a faraway voice, the echoing choral piano, and Mr Eazi’s baritone “Zagadat” is enough to give the listener chills. With this, Mr Eazi adopts a new persona that reckons with the idea of these two worlds coming together for the first time.
“It’s the amalgamation.” He says, sharing the story of The Don’s inception. “Fun fact is like, before I recorded The Don, I had been flying three producers, E Kelly, Killertunez, Kel P, to Accra like every other week. Every time I’m in Accra I fly them out and I would go out and leave the house early in the morning to have all these meetings. I’d come back late in the night, I’d tell them I’m coming and then just pass out. At some point they’re like, ‘Yo we keep coming to Accra to record you, we think it’s a camp, and you’re pursuing all these other businesses and don’t have time to record.’ So I remember Kel P threatening me he’s like, ‘You know what, I’m not gonna be coming to Ghana anymore.’ I said, ‘Yeah but you’re working with other artists,’ and he’s like, ‘I didn’t come to Accra to work with other artists. I respect them, I love working with them, but I came to work with you.’ That morning, I woke up and I just heard them. They knew the time I wake-up so rather than waking up later they woke up early. I just heard that sound coming from Killertunez room and I was like, “Jeez what is this.” I felt it was perfect timing because that was in-between me en route to another meeting, to close some other business, and that instrumental and the darkness kind of like spoke to me.”
In this way, Something Else is a deeper reflection the current stage of Mr Eazi’s musical career than anything he’s released of late. While the 4 remaining tracks on the EP bring a return to the feel good Highlife, the tone rests in the space between, in the “airport between trips” as Eazi would say.
“In some ways sometimes it feels like there’s a block between both worlds.” Mr Eazi says of this reconciliation. “Yes, of course, everything I’ve done musically has gotten me to this point where I can do certain things within the music business, and then I do a lot of other stuff outside of the music business. I just suddenly realised that everything I can do now is as a result of the music. So in a way I was thinking in my head that they were two different, separate things. Then I just suddenly realised sometime last year that these two are intertwined because the reason why I’m able to do some things is because of who I am as Mr. Eazi, some things I’ve been able to achieve as Mr Eazi is because of my mind as an entrepreneur trying to build something.”
Hit singles and groundbreaking EPs aside, Mr Eazi has been investing deeply into the future of the African music scene. Most notable is his emPawa program, currently in its third iteration. The music incubator program has given funding and opportunity to hundreds of artists among tens of thousands of music entries including the young popstar Joeboy who recently released his debut LP Somewhere Between Beauty and Magic to critical acclaim.
“It’s one thing to have some individual stories scattered around, a few pointers of what I represent as the young African kid,” Mr Eazi says about the scope of his ambition. “But it’s a bigger conversation and it’s more valuable for us and to the world and Africans, Nigerians, Ghanians, when we as a community have multiple success stories that don’t sound alike. When you have a lot of things happening, that’s when you have an ecosystem, and when there’s an ecosystem, that’s true life. That’s when everybody eats and it’s bigger than one person. The probability of a full life circle, it’s no more a phase. You know it can be a phase when it’s like a couple artists here and there like 5-10 artists out of Africa, but it’s not a phase when it’s multiple. 20 African artists having global success stories. 200 artists having continental success stories at the same time. Then everything is bigger. And for me as an entrepreneur, it’s more interesting.”
With a recent injection of $20 million from the African Music Fund to finance up-and-coming creatives, this ambition is not so farfetched. In any case, there is no shortage of young talent.
“Everyday I hear a talented artist, boy girl, everyday I hear something that blows my mind.” Mr Eazi says. “In fact, I was joking with Kel P yesterday. Kel P is a videographer and he was asking me what I listen to and I was like, ‘Boy I’m not listening on Apple Music or Spotify or anything I’m just listening to demos that artists from all across Africa are sending to me’. I’ve not exhausted that. I don’t even know who the next artist or the next rapper in the US is or what they’re making or what’s #1 in the world right now. That’s how busy I’ve been just enjoying music from all these artists. For me, it’s just like, there’s still so many artists that have to be introduced to the world that will make their way and find their audiences and find their tribes.”
Between recording sessions and continental business dealings it’s hard to imagine that, “Life is Eazi”, as claimed in Mr Eazi’s past LPs. I pressed to see how someone maintains the nonchalance and smooth demeanour amidst so much activity.
“To be honest it’s like my mindset.” Eazi explains. “That’s just how I choose to see whatever is happening. I just say, ‘What’s the worse that can come out of this?’ whatever the situation. Worst case scenario if there is an alien invasion or if like there’s World War Z, the worst thing that will happen is that we will all leave, we will all die. Whether a bomb hits you, or you are 150 years old in your bed, at some point it’s just energy cannot be created nor destroyed, it has to keep passing for this whole engine to keep running. As life is beautiful so is death because it gives room for new life in different ways. That’s how I try to see things. So no matter how difficult or challenging things come, which they do come everyday, I choose to see this as part of the journey and just take it in. It’s a mindset.”
With that, Mr Eazi bid his farewell, surely off to another meeting, another studio session, another idea to turn into reality. Something Else is just that, a fresh expression of a multihyphenate with great ambition and talent to match. While Mr Eazi has called the project a “calm before the storm”, we’ll see how irresistible the persona of The Don remains in his future music. For fans, however, the fun doesn’t end there, as there remains a cryptic message hidden between the lines of the EP’s cover for a dedicated young Don to decipher.
To enter the mindset of The Don, you can listen to Mr Eazi’s EP Something Else here.