Born Ezeh Chisom Faith in Anambra State, Rexxie learned to play the keyboard at his father’s church as a child. Who would have thought the son of a pastor would end up making music with some of the most scandalous artists of his country and composing some of the dirtiest (and biggest) hits of the year? When watching the video of “Coming”, featuring Naira Marley, one can wonder what remains of Rexxie’s religious education. But one thing is clear: he still knows how to play the keyboard.
Over the last few years, the superproducer has been instrumental in building Nigeria’s new urban sound. His big breakout was probably “Able God”, a song he produced in 2018 for Chinko Ekun, Zlatan Ibile and Lil Kesh. Funnily enough, he is dressed as a church pianist in the video, which today accumulates more than six million views and ends on the very recognizable “Yo Rexxie Pon Dis One” tag. From this huge hit, the producer started a close relationship with Zlatan Ibile, who was to become one of Nigeria’s hottest street rappers. Their track “Zanku”, released in 2019, completely overturned the country’s (and the continent’s) dance repertoire, and opened the door to a new kind of indigenous Nigerian rap, characterized by rapid danceable rhythm patterns, humor and street lingo. Naira Marley, an emerging rapper at the time, also found his voice in these sonorities that keep afrobeats dance elements while sounding raw enough for rapping. With hits like “Jappa”(2019), “Soapy” (2019) or “Coming” (2021), all produced by Rexxie, Marley’s rise to an international star status (and a national nefarious public personality) is inseparable from his quasi-attributed beatmaker. Famous for ruling street music, Rexxie has also contributed in lifting Nigerian music to the most sophisticated spheres, winning a Grammy Award for his work on Burna Boy’s Twice As Tall album.
Following his 2020 Afro Streets EP, the producer released his debut album A True Champion in June, fueling a new Nigerian trend of South African amapiano-infused afrobeats. The monster-hit “KPK (Ko Por Ke)”, which gained a remix with Sho Madjozi, is a perfect example of this overjoyed sound, that speaks to the streets in the same magnitude as Zanku did a few years back. The album features all the biggest stars of the subregion (Sarkodie, Davido, Teni, Naira Marley, Zlatan, Oxlade), and even expands to Europe with some vocals from artists like Midas The Jagaban, Ms Banks or Kida Kudz, portraying well the vibrancy of Lagos’ different scenes. PAM sat down with the superproducer to discuss his sound, his project and the dynamics of Nigerian street music.
You are known as one of the main actors of the Nigerian “street-hop” subgenre. What are the characteristics of this music?
Street-hop is street music. But it’s street music that’s accepted in the mainstream, that gets you dancing, that gets you in the vibe. When I say street-music, it means that it has the conscious sounds of the streets, and it has the motivational vibes that gets people from the streets moving. Inspirational vibes with this happy feel to get you moving. It’s basically pop inspired by the streets.
In this album, “KPK (Ko Por Ke)” would be your typical street-hop sound. It gets you vibing, and it has those street lambas that Nigerians understand. It’s a song made to ginger yourself. Let’s say you are feeling down, and people are making you feel less than yourself. KPK is you telling yourself: “who told you you are not plenty? You are plenty and a lot more!” It’s self motivation. You are plenty, you are so much, you are bigger than you think you are, you are a lot. That’s the feeling.
The streets clearly play an important role in your music, in terms of inspiration and audience. What is so particular about the streets of Nigeria?
That’s what happened with Zanku [a popular Nigerian dance style]. Zanku is originally just a vibe. But beyond the vibe, it also became music. Zanku itself means “Zlatan Abeg No Kill Us”, because we created this with Zlatan, who is also an artist who started from the streets. We were making fast tempo music, with conscious messages, and we always tried to infuse the comic vibe to it. You know, all the “whoo”, “ahhh”, the grimaces… Blend it together, and get people to smile.
It is important for you to be relevant in the streets of Lagos, and yet you collaborated with some European-based artists (Kida Kudz, Ms Banks…) on tracks like “Motherland” or “Booty Bounce”. Why did you make that choice?
Despite the fact that I love street music, I’m also a producer with different sounds. Me trying to produce an album and a body of work, I couldn’t just do a tracklisting up to down that would only speak to streets. I had to blend different vibes. And working with Ms Banks, Kida Kudz etc… I wouldn’t say it’s any different, because it’s just music! Once we connect, we just take it from there. It’s just different people with different talents, and different artistic approaches.
One very distinctive element from your music is amapiano, that you fuse with afrobeats. Why have Nigerians fallen in love so deeply with amapiano?
Amapiano is an amazing sound, big up to South Africa. And in Nigeria, we love to dance, we love to be happy! We love anything that can make us just feel good. When I heard amapiano, I just loved the fact that it makes you dance, it gets you moving. You can’t hear it and want to sit down. You want to move your body. And we always loved South African sounds, even before amapiano, West Africa always looked at South Africa for these kinds of Afrohouse sounds. This same time last year, I was listening to Kabza Da Small, Maphorisa and the rest. It was already getting to us, we were feeling it. But us Nigerians, we just love to be extra-creative with everything, we just can’t help it (laughs). So I tried to make the sound, but I just couldn’t do the same as them. So I decided to just pick one or two creative vibes from them and use it in my sound, like the log drum.
I heard you got some complaints about it…
Yea, that was the point when we got some backlash about Nigerian amapiano and all that, people complaining that we were stealing their sound because of that fusion. Some people want to name our version of amapiano “afropiano”, but you know, at one point, it’s just music! Their sound is their sound, we will never be able to do it exactly like them. And above-all, on some of the major amapiano-related songs I made, like “KPK (Ko Por Ke)” or “Coming”, we were able to get Sho Madjozi and Busiswa. Let the love flow! Let’s get African music everywhere.
Coming back to the project, you said it yourself that you wanted it to be full of hits. Do you think one day you will be tired of thinking about music only in terms of hits?
I make all types of music. But in music, when you make one kind of sound, people come to see you for that particular sound. That’s how my sound in my country has been classified. To go beyond that, I’m already trying to branch out and make different sounds and with time, it’s just going to click. Even on this album, there are already songs that are different from street-hop. “All”, with Davido, is a love song for example. Or “Frenemies” with Oxlade, which is my favorite song of the project right now.
West African producers have been overlooked for a long time by the industry and the audience. With guys like you, Sarz, Shizzy, Juls and many others, do you feel like this is changing?
Yes, it is really changing! When I was starting, I would’ve never imagined that it would be like this for producers. We had to strive extra hard. Producers weren’t getting what they deserved, they were not even allowed to see the potential of what they were doing. Basically, producers were just used and required when they were hot. But when they weren’t anymore, it was done. For me, this was the advantage of making my own sound. When I was able to find myself, it gave me that extra-longevity. Artists go around, but they still want to make that sound with me. So it made me understand that producers have a thing! We are the real deal. You just have to make your own sound, and keep it your own. If you look at the South African market right now, DJs and producers are getting more respect than vocalists, and that’s how amapiano influenced it! It allowed these guys to be more expressive on their tracks. It’s getting better for Africa in general, people are paying more attention to the producers and the guys behind the sounds.