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Mr Eazi Anytime I go somewhere, I absorb

Accra to Lagos and Lagos to London. The titles of Mr Eazi’s first two EPs give an instant summary of his life. The Nigerian artist moves between countries, from Nigeria to Ghana to the UK, and his crossing of borders is clearly reflected in the many influences in his music. IfeOluwa Nihinlola met Eazi in Lekki, Nigeria, to chat about his journey.

Collages by Shane Ramos.

In April 2019, Nigerian artist Mr Eazi will take the stage at Coachella, one of the world’s most popular music festivals. Two years earlier, in 2017, he performed on James Corden’s Late Late Show to promote his second mixtape, Life Is Eazi, Vol. 1 – Accra to Lagos.

Two years before that, Mr Eazi was Oluwatosin Ajibade, a young entrepreneur working out of his office in Lagos and hustling on the streets of Computer Village, Ikeja, a sprawling mix of stalls that make up Africa’s largest tech market. For Oluwatosin, music was an afterthought, “a hobby and distraction from the pressure of investors.”

I meet Mr Eazi at his studio in Lekki, a city about an hour’s drive east of Lagos. He owns several properties here, but spent less than 20 days in Lekki in 2018 because he splits his time between Lagos, Accra and London. The estate where the studio is located is in a blackout – typical of Lagos – so we hop into a car and drive to the house of his friend and colleague DJ Spinall.

Mr Eazi speaks with the quiet, casual confidence of someone used to selling his ideas. He was born in Port Harcourt, a city in the South region of Nigeria that is home to many international oil companies. His family moved to Lagos when he was still in school but he left to Ghana for university, studying Mechanical Engineering at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST). His parents had lent hard on him to study something sensible, but it wasn’t an immediate fit. “My first week was hell,” he remembers. “I was so pissed at my mum, you know?”

But hungry for experience, he threw himself into life in his new country. He found work as a club promoter, setting up his own company called Swagger Entertainment.

“Anytime I go somewhere, I absorb,” he says. “I was a little bit of a hot head before I moved to Ghana; I was becoming a rascal. But going there developed my temperament because Ghana is very calm and things are moving.”

What defines me is fusion. That whole concept of accepting everything as one.

His music tastes too were wide-ranging. Mr Eazi and his roommate would listen to Tracy Chapman, Bob Marley and lots of European EDM. He was particularly obsessed with Dr Alban, a Nigerian born Swedish artist who had international hits in the 1990s like It’s my life and Hello Afrika. He related not just to Dr Alban’s dual identity but the way his music mixed techno, house and dancehall.

Mr Eazi went home to Port Harcourt to work for an oil company for a short time, before going back to Ghana for his Master’s degree. His graduate thesis was on the economic and environmental effects of small scale mining in Ghana, but his real passion was in starting his own companies. Soon he was a serial entrepreneur, but something was missing.

“I was doing well in my gold business, but I was bored,” he says. He would go to Labadi beach, where he hung out with Rastafarians and took part in reggae night every Wednesday.

Encouraged by his friend Klu, whose one-room apartment doubled as a makeshift studio, he decided to start making his own music. In just one week staying at Klu’s, they recorded more than 20 songs, which became the mixtape About to Blow. It included songs like Pipi Dance and Bankulize, which were cult hits in Ghana, fusing the popular Azonto sound with the dancehall he imbibed on the shores of Labadi.

After completing grad school he went back to Nigeria and joined 440NG, an accelerator program for tech start-ups. During the day he developed his phone trading businesses, and at night he went to a studio owned by Yung6ix, another Nigerian artist, to make music.

He only considered music as a career when a random email popped into his inbox offering to pay him to contribute to a record. “Can you imagine? This guy wants to pay me $1,000 to do a verse,” he told his friends. “Is it not to shout zagadat?” In the end, the client added another $500 for recording costs.

"Zagadat", meaning "spiritual", is a slang word Mr Eazi uses in multiple songs.

Around this time, British-born Ghanaian DJ Julian Nicco-Annan, popularly known as Juls, approached Eazi to remix his track, Bankulize.

Juls slowed down Mr Eazi’s sound, a trick he had performed before for Show Dem Camp’s Feel Alright. At the time, fast, heavy beats were in fashion, but Juls’ alchemy proved irresistible. Eazi and Juls worked together on more tracks but for the first year they never met in person – Eazi would record sketches with producers in Nigeria and send them to Juls in the UK. Together they were creating a mix of Nigerian, Ghanaian and British music which took influences from – and found fans in – all three countries.

That cross-boundary approach had its definite advantages. Long before he made any proper career choices, he was already popular internationally because young Ghanaians and Nigerians were traveling with his music.

But mixing like this has not always been straightforward. In Ghana, he was excluded from the country’s national music awards because he is Nigerian. But in Nigeria he ran into trouble when he tweeted that, “Ghana’s influence on present day ‘Naija Sound’ cannot be overemphasized!!!”

Controversies notwithstanding, Mr Eazi believes that embracing many cultures drove his rapid rise. And creatively speaking, his sound is so much more interesting because of his open-minded approach to new influences. “What defines me is fusion,” he says.

“That whole concept of accepting everything as one – accepting that everyone is unique to their beliefs and cultures, to their skin, to everything, but at the same time we’re all the same. Every opportunity to live that is fulfilment to me.”

When things crash I just move on... I don’t attach myself to anything.

He doesn’t pin down his sound, nor does he pin down what his career should look like, laughing off the idea that after three mixtapes, it’s time he gave his fans an album.

“To be honest, I’ve not thought of doing an album,” he says. “I’m anti-status quo and mixtapes give me the freedom to move. Maybe I’ll make an album, but you’ll still see an a side and a b side. I always want to have freedom.”

This restless, relentless energy is intoxicating. “When things crash I just move on. I don’t attach myself to anything, so I’m just a nomad.” But there’s method behind the moves he makes, and that comes from his business background.

He still approaches music like an entrepreneur, paying attention to his brand, collecting data as feedback, and seeking out the right collaborations. “I’ve come to a point where I don’t really care about where the glory goes,” he says. “I just want results.”

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