Welcome to the #cruisebeat rabbit hole. Look out for virus sounds, “e dey shakes” and free mp3 downloads. This is where you find wahala djs and TikTok deadends. It’s DIY sonics that saturate speakers and a pollyannaish punk ethos made for carnal relief. Hold on tight. The waters are deep and it’s hard to keep up. Who did, what’s hot and how it came to be is all on a content treadmill that moves at the pace of a trigger-happy TikTok feed. Signposts? Some Afrobeats melodies, an amapiano log drum, a sample from your favorite Nollywood actor or televangelist. Otherwise it’s less talk and more vibe. The slappy sound’s name, cruise, means funny after all. Or to smile in a serious situation. Good vibes. Catching content with your friends. To play… it depends on who you ask.
Native to the urban outskirts of Lagos, it’s Nigeria’s emergent people’s music, breeding online and providing the soundtrack to apartment parties and footwork dancers hunting for more bpms. It’s an alternative to the 800-pound Afrobeats gorilla that flexes its American production collabs, 25k clips and sold out O2 Arena shows. “Who the fuck are you? You don’t know Kaywise?” shouts DJ Kaywise on “Who the fuck are you”. Is he talking to the 70% of Nigerians under 30 in Africa’s largest nation, ready to cruise amidst political and economic strain. Maybe he’s calling out to the international ear that’s often a prerequisite for newcomers before earning cred at home. The point is, cruise is calling banging bashing mocking and murdering the beat for a new West African club music that is turning up all the nobs. “Cruise Beats does not have limits,” DJ CORA confirms with a laugh.
Speed it up DJ, we wanna cruise
DJ Yk Mule’s Instagram bio reads, “cruise beat originator, you’ll dance, you’ll laugh”. Short and sweet from the man behind some of the first cruise sounds to appear online. Digging into the origins, Yk reveals how a few tweaks to his dance instrumentals, some necessary feedback from creators and crews and a personal need to innovate spawned the early cruise records. In the beginning Yk was making music purely for dancers, blowing up online around 6 years ago with his “Dance Instrumental” track that has been remixed in footwork videos all over the internet. In it, you can hear the early essence of cruise. The drum machine, repetitive synths and creative breaks with a solid bottom. “I used to drop official dance instrumentals before. Made for dancers. Club bangers, DJs… Just like EDM!” Yk explains, though it’s a liberal take on the term “EDM”, and a common auto-misnomer for many African electronic genres be it EDM or Techno. Digressions… Then, one day, “I was just thinking of what to add to my craft. So I thought about adding vocals, live funny vocals And people love it. They dance to it. That’s where I got the cruise from.”
But something was still missing, and it boiled down to the age-old feedback loop between DJs and bodies, now transposed to the digital sphere. It needed juice. Gas. Energy. “Before I didn’t used to make it fast. I normally put it on like 125 bpm, but because of my TikTok fans and TikTok dancers, I have to make it faster so that it will be danceable for them.” Ask and you shall receive. DJ Yk turnt up the speed and it didn’t take long for the first cruise to break the internet in the form of “Zazu Beat” around 2020 featuring the online comedian Portable Zazu. Now a music sensation, before Yk and cruise, Zazu was known for his raunchy and outrageous humor. Right place, right time and right attitude; Zazu was made for cruise. Since, the mechanics of cruise have evolved into a science.
Voice notes, TikTok dancers and 150bpm beats
“Send me a voice note now. I add a beat to it. Then turn it into a dance, take it to TikTok and people vibe to it,” Maxivibes breaks down with straightforward precision. Cruise is a genre that lives online, and since the Yk breakthrough, savvy cruise beats producers tap into digital trends for audio samples that can make a cruise record pop. Take DJ CORA’s “YEYE BEAT” for example. The vocal riff is snagged from a scene on the Yoruba Comedy Series, Saamu Alajo, with actor Odunlade Adekola screaming, “are you fucking yeye me Dajo?” roughly meaning “are you trying to mock me?” DJ CORA ripped this hilarious and salacious slur for “YEYE BEAT” packing precog and snickers. The vocals are chopped and blasted, slowed down and grafted upon the track making it ripe for viral potential.
The official “YEYE BEAT” audio has over 15k videos on TikTok to date. “If a clip or a sound is trending,” DJ CORA says over WhatsApp, “the faster you are to make sound, the better for you.” Or take “Warisi Cruise Beat” by Dj Yk Mule released in early 2022. The original vocal audio comes from a viral clip of some friends hyping up their buddy Warisi as he busts a move on video. Yk snagged the little jam that was already making rounds on mobiles around Nigeria and… cruise. “You know, I have a lot of fans. When they find something funny online they will tag me to the cruise, to the video, and say ‘Well, did you like it? We want you to do something on this.’” Yk laughs, “Then I get to it.”
Surfing the hype is tubular but it means nothing if it’s not fast. “Initially [cruise] wasn’t that fast,” says DJ CORA, reminiscent of Yk’s early cuts, “but people don’t really enjoy it because if it’s not fast they won’t be able to dance to it.” Clocking the average bpm of our cruise beats playlist we see the norm hovering around 135 with the more hardcore tracks being in what we call the “Tobzy range” of the mid-150s. This is approaching the manic keys of Singeli on the musical superhighway. “In Nigeria they don’t want songs like that,” DJ Tobzy says of the slower and sweeter Afrobeats. Maxivibes agrees, when asked what makes cruise popular, what sets it apart, he replies, “What makes it different is that it’s just fast. The tempo is very fast. It’s a fast beat.” Just fast. Very fast. Fast beat. Got it?
Listen to “Who ate that Bread (Cool Down) Water” off of Dj Tobzy’s 2022 TIKTOK VIRUS SOUND MIXTAPE (notice the eponymous vocal sample of a pastor and congregant on “Prophecy God Time” television). Or check out the recently trending and suggestive “Dindo Cruise Beat” by Omo Ebira which charted on Nigerian music blog City Trend TV. 150bpms of repetitive synths, vocal rips and a steady log drum. Need visuals? Take a mainstream cruise from Portable, Poco Lee and Olamide, yes that Olamide, on “ZaZoo Zehh” and its accompanying dance video. It’s broken glass, footwork and cutlass sounds. Shatter me ZaZoo.
The final layer in the cruise cake is, of course, dance. “All they want is danceable songs here in Nigeria,” explains cruise beat innovator and fresh Nyege Nyege signee DJ Tobzy. “Take ‘E Jon’ by Son of ika jamokay,” Tobzy continues, “If you listen to this song you will surely vibe to it.” Proof is in the pudding. The cruise with the most vibe is snatched up by dancers and dance crews who create challenges and interpret the frenetic step of the beat. Checkout Dance Life Machines’ breakdown of “E Jon” on Instagram. Or the lifecycle of DJ CORA’s “Skilo Dance Beat”. In theory made for legwork dancer Skilo Richie, a TikTok star who’s accumulated over 5 million views on the platform. After Skilo made a dance video for the song, it started trending in 7 countries. Another dancer from Guinea picked up the baton. Algorithms and young social medialites keep the cruise alive. “The sound moves on TikTok. It moves faster,” says Maxivibes. Some DJs conceive trends and choreography pre-release, or as DJ CORA, target specific dancers for organic promo. Others, like the savvy Maxivibes who has a background in music blogging and social media marketing, blast out 30 cruise beats a day and hope one sticks. How many cruise beats has Maxi made? “I can’t even count them,” is his answer. [Note: Maxivibes asked me to send over a voice note after our call. 20 minutes later he sent back a custom cruise].
The cruise alchemy, from hardship to laughter
October 20th 2020, Nigerian army officers opened fire on a group of peaceful EndSARS protesters on the Lekki Toll Gate, an event now known as the Lekki Massacre. At the same time youth unemployment in Nigeria is hovering around 20%. 79 year old President Buhari approaches the end of his second term and political prospects for his replacement look bleak. Two thirds of the Lagos megapolis live in informal housing, which includes over 380 slum communities spread throughout the state, according to Human Rights Watch. Gas shortages. Food inflation. In the brief words of DJ CORA “Nigeria is very hard.”
“I came from a family where everybody is just struggling,” DJ Tobzy explains over the phone. Coming up as an artist, Tobzy was self taught, using makeshift solutions on mobile devices for DJing. Tobzy Imole Giwa’s come-up was some uphill DIY. “Before as a DJ I did a lot of work like graphics, computer engineering and online stuff. So I make use of everything,” he explains. Progenitor DJ Yk has a similar story. “I really have a poor background. Before I was a Poor Boy, I was just trying, hustling,” he says with a rare solemnity. “Back then, it wasn’t easy. I was just keeping my strength, you know? No weakness.” For Yk, Tobzy, MaxiVibes and the cruise captains, strength is found in smiles.
“In Nigeria, now what we need is to smile. We don’t have to pay attention to the government because they are not really helping us.” Tobzy concludes; a common sentiment among Nigerian artists. During an Instagram livestream Afrobeats starchild Rema once said, “There’s nothing really sweet about Nigeria except music,” responding to criticism that his songs focuses solely on sex and love. “Tell me one thing that’s better than sex in Nigeria. I’ll wait…” he concludes. “The only way we try to make ourselves happy,” CORA continues, “is through music and through sounds like cruise beats.” Therapeutic or escapist? Keep your opinion to yourself. The rare beauty of laughter, like pain, is it’s involuntary. “When someone is not happy, when you are depressed and come across my sound, it’s too funny.” says DJ Yk. “Whenever you come through my post we always laugh. And you need to laugh. Even if you are struggling, you still gotta laugh.”
Though behind the cheap laughs of cruise cuts is often a snide criticism of the status quo, a poking of fun, a small sympathy for the plight of others. In Tobzy’s “SMOKE BEAT CRUISE” he samples an interview with a Nigerian marijuana smoker. The smoker laments getting busted by police, looking left then right before lighting up. It’s funny but sympathetic. “This smoker, when they wake up they don’t have any other job. Like it’s just for them to smoke,” Tobzy explains, not a smoker himself. “When you see that they don’t have any other job, it’s only cruise beats that’s there for them. That’s what’s fine.” Talking about the state of affairs in Nigeria, Tobzy meanders to the injustice of a new law that penalizes landlords of yahoo boys (a term for sophisticated young Nigerian internet scammers) to 15 years in prison. “Wow, that was bad. Not making sense. Like he’s trying to make money for a living and,” *ah* Tobzy winces. It takes some alchemy to cruise in harsh conditions while wincing at the darkside. CORA is also experimenting with some chemistry in the cruise lab. “You know, APC chairman Adamu is trending in a video now. There’s one word he said that was trending, but I am afraid to mix sound with it because I might get arrested,” CORA laughs, “but I’m very sure if I make sound with it, it is 100% greenlight. Everybody will like it.” Everybody?
Move over Afrobeats, cruise is coming
“There’s this huge delta between what’s been put out as the sound of youth culture and the funds required to make that,” Ian McQuaid, founder of MOVES Records and head behind the recent series of Cruise! compilations explains, comparing cruise to its richer, flashier Afrobeats cousin. “Only a very select few people can make that and that creates a void. Something is gonna rush in there and [cruise] is what’s rushing in; the punk energy and couldn’t care less attitude.” Featured on the Cruise! comps is DJ Slimfit, Professional Beatz, DJ Khalipha, DJ Stainless, Fela 2 and a bunch of other names that maintain the cruiseverse. It’s a mega-solid introduction to a sound that has until this point lived on TikTok backchannels, free mp3 blogs and the meta-data graveyards of Distrokid deliveries. It’s also fitting coming from a label that has defended, “pure, unfiltered urban culture”. “It’s a crass comparison but it works when you compare it to the conditions that created punk,” Ian says of cruise.
Not so crass when you imagine the super indulgent groups of the 1970s with synthesizers the size of school buses and a maturing music industry with its golden gate keepers and lofty sounds disconnected from the gritty suburbs of recession families. “The only challenge we’re facing with cruise beats is from Nigerian artists,” DJ CORA says. “Because they know this shit goes viral, and their own song that they use the whole year to produce doesn’t.” Sound familiar? Subvert the latest trends, open new channels and popularize production. Or in the words of Sid Vicious “Undermine their pompous authority, reject their moral standards, make anarchy and disorder your trademarks. Cause as much chaos and disruption as possible but don’t let them take you alive.”
The mocking of televangelists, inclusion of salacious content and expletives, the embrace of the inhuman and incomprehensible TikTok algorithms and the blasting of cruise-noise into the machine like you’re holding an AR-15 are all cruise trademarks. “I make a sound in 30 minutes and it can trend,” CORA boasts, even if cruise is far from its “Love Nwantiti” moment. Regardless, it’s no wonder the big cheese and Afrobeats elite are picking their feet up off the digital riptide. “In time, I think we’ll be entering number one, we’ll be topping charts,” predicts DJ Yk Mule.
“Everybody actually likes cruise beats more than Afrobeats” Tobzy continues. “When you play at an apartment party, most of the requests are cruise beats.” While cruise is still making its rounds online and at apartment parties, some notable clubs are taking notice. Fela Kuti’s legacy The New Afrika Shrine, a spot that has embraced people’s music and accessibility was said to book cruise DJs for closing hours, but a brief call with the Shrine’s manager showed he was totally unaware of the genre. Later, Tobzy hit us up to see if he could play Felabration at the Shrine…backward shit. So “real world” progress has been incremental and xenocentric musical make-r-breakers often gaslight local talent. “If I do a show in the UK, I will be more important in my country just because it was in the UK,” DJ CORA says, exasperated, “If you can see international likes, that’s when people will start respecting us.” A blessing or a curse for subcultures that need time to marinate and grow before being squeezed out by greasy hands worldwide (I’m looking at you Kumerica). As CORA says, “It’s still individual. Everybody’s doing it on their own.” But don’t undermine the interest. “They are always waiting for me,” Dj Yk says of his loyal fans, “like, ‘Dj Yk drop another one! We wanna dance!’”
The transcendent cruise
“Cruise Beats is very spiritual.” CORA says to me, dead serious. “Once you’re at a party and you put on Cruise Beats, people won’t want you to stop!” In a world of poppy-muzak and background noise, cruise demands the attention of the mushy stuff in your cerebral cortex. It’s impossible to ignore, insists on participation and carries a louder-is-better, faster-is-funner, look-at-me attitude. Dance damnit. And maybe laugh… “I play normal sounds before I indulge in Cruise Beats,” CORA concludes. Emphasis on the “normal”. The best music is always unexpected, maybe even unwanted, but totally and tragically out of your control. And so the strange marriage between the hardcore sounds and happy laughs makes perfect sense. You don’t choose what’s funny. You don’t realize you’re tapping your feet until you hear the happy smack on the floor. “We do believe in God,” says Tobzy, “I pray about it; whether I can go through it or not” he says of his cruise career, hoping that he’ll be able to provide his fans with more cruise. “More strength, no weakness,” in the words of Dj Yk Mule. “I do it for my people,” says MaxiVibes. The minds sampling and snickering at preachers seem to have a pulpit of their own. In the meantime, keep on the cruise, clap to the beat and have a laugh. Life’s too hard, too short and too ridiculous not to cruise.
For more cruise, listen to PAM’s official cruise beat playlist.