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PsychoYP, keeping the Nigerian rap dream alive
© Iyare Eghiaruwa

PsychoYP, keeping the Nigerian rap dream alive

YPSZN3, the final installment of the 24-year-old rapper's outstanding trilogy, is proof that Nigerian rap is alive and well. Like Lil Wayne in '07, PsychoYP is building an empire, and a dream team to go with.

It’s widely accepted that Nigeria pulses to the bewitching rhythm of the all-devouring afrobeats, with the likes of Burna Boy, Wizkid, Ayra Starr and Asake topping the charts. But PsychoYP’s high-class, abrasive lyricism and game-changing approach to drill, trap and other rap subgenres just can’t go unnoticed. Since 2016 and his very first EP Lost in The Sauce launching his Soundcloud career, the young Nicholas Ihua-Maduenyi has remained consistent. In Summer 2018, he put his name and his city – Nigeria’s capital Abuja, on the rap map with his fourth release, the infamous YPSZN. A refreshing drop with tracks like “Oga”. The single later remixed with Dremo, Ycee and Blaqbonez, blew up and showcased his undeniable potential to broader audiences. In Winter 2019, he delivered the successful follow-up YPSZN2. The project received praise and critical acclaim from fans, media and awards ceremonies alike. Surely he wouldn’t be able to top it? 

Well, PsychoYP is not only extremely prolific, but equally talented. His joint project with Apex Village signee Azanti brilliantly explored the singer’s afro-fusion universe, and revealed the rapper’s softer side as the duo explored life, love and relationships on slow-tempo jams. Then his 2021 solo album Euphoria only confirmed what YP already knew, he’s bringing +234 rap back, and there is no stopping him. A year later, the release of his latest opus YPSZN3 marks both the end of an era and the beginning of something bigger. PsychoYP doesn’t have anything else to prove. He is now aiming at international rap icon status. 

We spoke with PsychoYP online while he was on the move. He detailed his world-domination plan as his chauffeur pierced through Lagos traffic, the sweet sounds of horns and driver feuds blaring in the background.

Albums and EPs included, YPSZN3 is your eighth project so far. If you look at the timeline of your career, where would you place the defining  “damn, I’m really doing this” moment?

After the first YPSZN. I think there was an appeal. Everyone was waiting for a second one. The first project was just some random piece. It wasn’t like I had anyone besides me. It was just me making music, and people really liked it. But people were waiting for a second one from me. And I’m like, “if people are looking for me like this, then that means I’m definitely doing something right.”

Having established this high standard and anticipation for your projects, what was the process around YPSZN3?

YPSZN3 is the one where I said “okay, I want to sit down and rap on this project”. YPSZN2 was more of a trap project. I was trying to own this trap sound. But YPSZN3 is more of a rap vibe. It’s to show you that this kid is a rapper. He’s not a singer, a trapper, or whatever. He can make trap music but he’s a rapper. He can rap for you. I feel like that is what I showed people on SZN3.

Tell me about your single “Bando Diaries” and the magic between you and Odumodublvck. 

“Bando Diaries” was meant to be a single off the project, like an official single. I went to the studio one day with Odumodu, and I sent him that song first. He liked the song and said, “let’s do a verse”. So he took it home and sat down, and thought about it. But then we did a whole different song in the studio. And when he sent the song back, I was like “no, this can’t be no remix. This has to be the official one”. We have so many songs, we have a project. I feel like the chemistry is just crazy and it’s a cool vibe. I think everyone enjoys listening to a YP and Odumodu track. Same as with an Azanti and YP album. I think it’s just up there.

Why do you think it works so well? 

I don’t know. I feel like there are just some certain people I make very good music with, Azanti being number one. With Odumodu, we have songs I didn’t even think I was gonna be doing. We have some crazy ass music that people don’t really expect to hear, but it’s gonna come out soon. I don’t know. It’s just God. He just brings certain people together, and we just make magic.

The strength of this project is also how diverse it is in terms of production. “Nigerian man” has this really cool Tokyo drift sample, for example.

It was intentional. That’s mainly on the producer Sphero. He’s this kid from England. He’s trying to put out this afro-trap, hip-hop type of sound. He puts his elements on beats that nobody really uses. So I fuck with the sound. And the whole Tokyo Drift sample is just an afro beat mixed with this sound, and I don’t think anybody would give you that. That’s why he’s on my project, on like four different songs. I feel there’s more coming from him and I’m definitely gonna help him. Watch out for that producer! 

Do you have an interest in producing?

I engineer myself, so I mix my own stuff. But I have a whole bunch of producers sending a whole bunch of beats. I have a whole group of people I initially put in a chat when I started music. We all started music together. So it’s like 12 producers just in one group chat.

© Iyare Eghiaruwa

You toured with Rema in North America this year. What were your best experiences there? 

I think it was when I went on stage in Dallas. The crowd was crazy, man. I feel like they didn’t even know me, but the music I was performing was the stuff they fuck with. In Dallas and ATL, it was their type of music. So from the jump, I really enjoyed those two performances. I went to Philly and I played some unreleased music on a street, after one of the shows. And it was just mad people dancing. I think I played track three on a project. So it wasn’t even out yet, but people were just on the street dancing and I was just like “wow, that’s crazy”. Cause I don’t really see people do that here. 

Coming back to Nigeria, the country is dominated by afrobeats. But how do you go against the “afrobeats monster” when it comes to labels, radio play, etc?

I could drop “Bando Diaries” with Odumodublvck and it could take a couple of months to get, let’s say half a million streams on Apple music. But I could drop “Stronger” and it’s gonna be up, DJs playing it and all of that just because it’s afrobeats. But at the end of the day, it is what it is. I’m in Nigeria, so I can’t really complain. I’ll be focusing on pushing it where people are gonna listen to it. If I drop an afro track, it’s gonna go off easy cause it’s me. But then, you just have to put in that work for the rap. You have to keep rapping, just keep feeding them the rap. And that’s why right now, I feel like if there’s a rap conversation, my name has to come up, whether you like it or not. 

What advice do you have for upcoming rappers on the Nigerian scene?

Don’t try to be what you’re not. It’s still gonna catch up to you when you are outside. And the industry is crazy. So just be original and do what you know you can handle. The pressure is a lot, bro. People are putting in hours. So just do what you can handle and just leave the rest to God. 

Le’s talk about Apex Village. You’ve told PAM you grew up listening to Young Money artists. Do you feel like you’re building an empire with Apex, the way Lil Wayne did with Young Money?

That’s what I’m trying to do. But you know, being in Nigeria, a place where afrobeats is leading everything, you’re better off doing a whole afrobeats crew. But people have been asking for a new project. I just think letting everyone just grow on their own for a minute is the best thing for the group. Because once everyone has their own body of work out, like Azanti – he is already up there, signing with a label in America, once everyone has their own ground and it’s time to do the next project, I think it’s just gonna be bigger.

What’s Apex’s motto as a collective?

Well, we just trying to make it out of the trenches, bro. We’re still trying to do a lot for ourselves. Everybody knows there’s still a lot to do to be a big artist from Nigeria. You have to go through a lot to get on that level, you have to go through so much. So we just wanna put in work now and have this powerhouse at the back, which is Apex.

You call Azanti your biological son. But using the term the way it’s meant in rap music, do you feel like you have sons in the industry? 

Oh yeah. I do have sons in this industry. But that’s my real biological son, come on. That’s someone that I started working with when he was a kid. He couldn’t even mix his stuff properly, bro. So I just helped. Then, I told you I had a group chat with like 12 producers. I took him, put him in there to work with all my producers to help build his sound, for engineering and everything. So yeah, that’s my boy and it’s still going. I saw a bit of myself in him, like being so young and being able to do all of that, the way he writes, and his ethic. People talk about how fast I send back my verses, but when we started music together, it was just back and forth, easy. I would ask him to calm down at some point. He was recording a lot. So yeah, Azanti is my son, man. We’re literally the same. He’s just younger.

What would like to be remembered for? 

A person that brought rap back. I think 10, 20 years from now when people look back, they’re going to say “YP was the one that kept the rap lights on”. That’s if I don’t stop, but I’ll probably never stop. I don’t think there’s anybody else out there really pushing people to keep rapping and keep doing what they want to do like I’m doing right now. I’m still signing artists. Nobody’s trying to sign an artist right now. Buju is not trying to sign any artists and put them on right now. Victony is not trying to sign anybody right now. Who else is big? Ladipoe isn’t signing anybody to put them on right now. Rema isn’t trying to do that right now. I’ve done it, I’m doing it, and I’m in the process of doing it some more. I’m just trying to push the culture. I’m just here rapping. I’m not even trying to make the same music as the people I’m signing, or taking any of their sounds. I’m just doing me and allowing them to get whatever they deserve.

YPSZN3 is out now via Apex Village.