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Mr. Eazi: To survive, African artistes must focus on music content ownership

Nigerian -born Mr. Eazi, is music star and business mogul, he spoke with YUSUFF ADEBAYO on his music and development of African music into a business empire for the benefits of all. Excerpts…

You’ve been back in Ghana for a while now, what are you presently engaged with over there?

I’ve been basically just settling in and spending time with family. Just couple of meetings here and there. I try to have lunch and dinner with family, and just try to relax. I get updates from my team maybe like twice a week about everything. So, it’s basically really chilling out. I can’t remember the last time I was this relaxed.

For a long time it felt like you took a break from making music to become a music executive particularly since creating emPawa. Why the long break?

If you look at it, it’s like okay I took a break, but I didn’t actually take a break. I just took a break from dropping my individual project. In 2017 I dropped one, and in 2018 I dropped one. So seemingly I was doing yearly projects, but I just took a break from focusing on putting out a full body of work and all that energy, because frankly I was just bored. Luckily in that boredom I was able to find other things that inspired me, like building emPawa, trying out the experiment that was emPawa that ended up becoming what it is now.

What inspired your fascination with Latino music scene that you’ve been on to for a while now?

It is amazing. From 2018, rather than just doing my usual tour every year I just got back to Africa from around like September and toured back to back, but instead I chose to go open for J Balvin for crowds of 20, 000 capacity, per show, of people that don’t even know me or know anything about Afrobeats. That was more challenging for me than just performing for the same crowd on a norm. I appreciate that, but it just gets to a point where it’s just boring, especially if you have an active mind like mine. So the only break I think I took was not putting out a full body of work, but I channeled all my energy towards the Latino experiment. I had three bangers with J Balvin, Bad Bunny. I ended up winning a Latin Grammy and I don’t even speak Spanish. There’s the record with Nicki Minaj, Joeboy working on putting out his debut project. He ended up being perhaps one of the only true African pop stars in his class. I think he has performed in over 12 or 13 African countries. I don’t know how many people have done that in their first year, even with COVID – 19. So perhaps if there was no COVID – 19 he might have even done 30 African countries, you know. And the amazing work with Killertunes, E Kelly. It might seem like it has been a break, but really and truly it’s not been a real break.

So breaking into new international markets like you did with the Latin community, is that something you’d like to do often?

I get bored easily. I’ve had number one in most parts of Africa. I know what it feels like to have the most popular song in Nigeria or Ghana or among the African community globally. But with the kind of mind I have I also want to know what it feels like, say like when I’ve done that in Ghana then what next, you know? I went to Nigeria and did the same thing, and I’m like okay what next? And then I went to London and I did the same thing and I’m like okay what next? For me it’s the new challenge. What drives me is the challenge to do something new. You know one might say, you might as well spend so much time in Ghana and exhaust all of that. You might as well do the same thing in Nigeria or London, or across Africa. Because I don’t think I’ve toured up to 30 African countries. I don’t think I’ve toured up to 30 states in Nigeria, or even 20. So it’s not like I’ve exhausted it, it’s just that for me I’m just always on to the next one. Like I stepped out of Coachella and immediately when I came down from stage everybody was excited, but for me it’s like ‘so this is what it feels like, okay what’s next?’ For me, the fun is in the journey, not really the destination.

What drives you to continue on these international conquests?

Really, I think it’s the journey of ‘hey, I love this music, what’s it called?’ Okay. I’d like to make some of that music and mix Afrobeats with it. I’d like to speak Yoruba on a record that has the two biggest Latino artistes; Bad Bunny and J Balvin on it, and I want it to be produced by a Nigerian producer, Legendury Beatz. I want to be the first to do that, and I want to see how their fans will relate to it. I don’t care if it’s a smash hit or not, it’s a new challenge. And when I do it’s like yeah I’ve done it. I want to do it again. So for me it’s that excitement, it’s not like I sit down and just plan it. It’s like when it comes then I go for it. I’m still kind of on that tip, I think I still need to put out something like an EP, an Afro-Latino EP. I might just do that, and then it’s on to the next challenge.

You often speak on ownership and said things that show that you believe in ownership, especially African ownership, what is it about?

I just think it is common sense. I feel like Afropop is at the place hip-hop was in 1990 or 1991. If you look back or you think about reggae music and how big it became, the phenomenon it became. Reggae music was always reggae music, music from the Caribbean. Hip-hop has always been good music. It’s not like the popularity made it better. It had always been good music. But if you think of any culture that became something worth exporting, the people who gained the most from it are the owners. So if you think of hip-hop for instance, and you want to think of the biggest people who gained from hip-hop, it’s the people who owned the actual music and ended up selling it, maybe selling to Universal or the guy who ended up selling to Island Records or Island selling to Universal. It’s always about whoever owns the content. So I just feel it’s important for us as Africans to see that hip-hop was a phenomenon for how many millions of people. Afropop, this thing we have is a minimum of 1.2 billion people, and the demographic is a young population. Maybe like 60 per cent. At least 600 million people are the direct market for this beautiful culture we make, and I think we have to learn from the past and just think about what happened, and what keeps happening with natural resources and just learn from all of that. Learn from hip-hop, learn from reggae music and just fight it out if we can and own the stuff we create, or at least have equity in the ecosystem that we are creating. That’s how true wealth, true value gets passed down because it’s easy to take a cheque. That’s the easy part and no beef for anyone who takes a cheque. But I think it must be a mixture. To survive, African music must prioritise ownership.

What are your long-term plans as far as the music business is concerned?

For me, I’m just fascinated about the upsides that exist for the African music industry, because it’s still very much an open ground. There’s no real major player in the scene. So I feel like the upsides are crazy. If you think about how for instance if I put out a song right now, I just put out ‘The Don,’ and if you think about how many people are listening to the song but they’re not captured on any platform right now because they listen through different means. Or you think about touring, and how unstructured touring is but even with that non-structure, artistes were actively touring pre-COVID – 19. So there’s so much opportunity and for me, it’s just an obsession to find and develop those opportunities and keep investing and keep owning equity in all those structures.

When are you releasing your next album?

I don’t know. I feel like it is going be this year. I literally just recorded the first record, the first submission last week. It’s also going to be the first time I won’t be A&R’ing my own project. It’s going to be A&R’ed by E Kelly, Kel P, and Spellz. So I’m letting go of that power and just being a creative and just create, not thinking about which song is going be on it, and when is it going to drop.


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