Just three years after debuting his single “Baby” – which topped the charts across Africa and beyond – Joeboy is already fast approaching superstar status. The Nigerian singer’s warm, down-to-earth energy can be found throughout his 2021 debut album. Somewhere between beauty and magic, a beautifully dreamy celebration of love in its myriad forms. He continued his hot streak with last year’s “Sip (Alcohol),” which amassed more than 50 million streams in less than a month, and this year’s “Cubana.”
Joeboy’s songs capture the innocence of young love and the pain of teenage heartbreak. Though it seems we could be on the verge of a change: “People might not get that lovestruck Joeboy in my upcoming releases,” the 25-year-old tells me, “because I’m not on that wavelength right now.” We met Joeboy, as he embarks on his Young Legend Tour – his first ever headlining trip in the US.
How have you held up on tour?
This is my first big tour in the US and it’s been hectic. I’ve traveled back to back and at some point I got tired of it, but I’m used to it now. It was really fun connecting with people from different parts of America and it just shows how far Afrobeats is going. Sometimes you can be skeptical about visiting a new place to perform and not knowing if they know your music. But to have people turn up by the hundreds and thousands and sing my songs word for word – that’s just beautiful. It’s like they look forward to seeing you a lot more than you think. It’s so beautiful and I’m having fun. However, I miss Nigerian food [laughs].
Yes, this is your first US tour. Are you enjoying it?
It is great. I’m having the time of my life. When I’m done with the tour, I can’t wait to get back in the studio and write down all those experiences and sing. You give me a lot of ideas. I meet a lot of people – special people. It’s such a fun experience and I think it’s something every artist should do.
Let’s go back a little. What got you used to music first?
When I was much younger I was always curious to see what was going on outside. But I mean where would a seven year old go? [Laughs.] I have two older brothers and one older sister. My older brother was in the choir and played bass guitar, so I used to go with him and watch. So I started listening to a lot of gospel music. But I think the biggest influence came from my older siblings. They played a lot of Nelly, Boyz II Men, Sean Paul and Destiny’s Child. Then, in my teenage years, I watched a lot of music videos. I was just very interested in the idea of music, but I didn’t think I would become a musician. My brain was like a music library back then. But becoming a musician was like my destiny. I had a friend at the time who started making music and I remember going into the studio just to have fun. Then I did a cover of Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You and it exploded on Instagram. That’s what really introduced me to the music industry.
They are part of emPawa Africa, an incubator program that funds music videos and provides career advice to young artists, founded by artist Mr Eazi. How did you meet him?
I met Mr Eazi in 2017. At that time I was reading for exams in Unilag. Then I got a message from a friend that Mr Eazi had just commented on my Instagram page. I honestly thought my boyfriend was lying because it sounded so impossible it was funny. I checked the commented account and knew it was legit like he actually commented on my post. I thought about what to say and immediately got a message from him that he loved my sound and everything.
Next, he dropped his personal phone number. It was shocking. He asked me straight out if I wanted $5,000 or if I would do a song and make a video that he would promote. I didn’t even have a bank account. Most people told me to just take the money because he really didn’t owe me anything. So I called him and told him I’d rather make a song and make a video. That song was “Faaji”. From then on he spoke to me about the emPawa Foundation and told me to apply and I did. I was like Top 10, and that’s where I got the money to do Baby, and before you know it, it blew up. On the spot we decided on an official agreement and it was really good.
Their first single “Baby” remains one of the greatest Afropop songs of all time. What do you remember about your first experience in the studio with this song?
As I was writing “Baby” I was depressed because I was in my senior year of college. There was this pressure of what I wanted to do with my life after I finished school. And I used to be scared of the idea of Nine-to-Five. My spirit doesn’t fit this kind of rigid lifestyle. I knew I had to do it when I had to, but it wasn’t something I was happy about. So that came up, and I just prayed to God that this music thing worked because I just couldn’t get from nine to five.
After I finished writing “Baby” I took it to the studio to record it. Then I sent it to Mr Eazi and he loved it. At that point we had already started talks with a Ghanaian artist and were about to make a video of the song I did with him. I called Mr Eazi and told him that I no longer want to release this song with the Ghanaian artist and prefer “Baby”. We dropped “Baby” and it exceeded our expectations. I assure you no one saw this coming. I knew the song was great, but I didn’t see it that big.
How has your sound and message changed since 2019?
I think it’s one of the most important phases of my career because people might not realize it now but in a few years they would understand. For me, my sound is evolving and becoming more edgy. There are some things I wouldn’t normally talk about in songs in 2019, but now I can open my chest about those things. I think my music is becoming more and more diverse.
Many of the songs on your debut album come from an incredibly vulnerable place, whether it’s from a past relationship or your longing for something new.
At that point, I was really absorbed in the idea of love. I tried to turn these love fantasies and experiences into songs because that’s what I was focused on at that moment. I think that’s one of the best ways to make music – when you make music based on the way you feel naturally. People can relate and connect because it’s real, and that’s what I’ve always tried to be, and it usually works for me. But right now I’m just living life and feeling myself [laughs].
Which song was the hardest to write?
I really don’t find it difficult to write because I write from my soul. But I think the song that was the hardest for me to write was “OH” produced by Tempoe. I tried to experiment with this particular song because I was trying not to be too careful with it.
You describe your latest single “Cubana” as probably the most playful song you’ve ever released. How was the creative process?
We were just in the studio viben. The plan was to even do a heartbreak song. I didn’t write this song – it was just spontaneous. I felt that way at that particular point, so I decided to pitch it.
What does it mean to be an African pop star and a ‘young legend’?
For me, being an African pop star means visiting different African countries and realizing that they actually know my music word for word, and also touching people in different parts of Africa. Sometimes I’m in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Ghana and it just feels like I’m in a big country and people know my music all over Africa. This is what it means to be an African pop star. When I call myself a young legend, I’m saying I know I’ll be a legend. I know there is so much greatness ahead of me, and that’s why I’m just speaking it to life. people are like that sometimes “What doesn’t make you call yourself a young legend?” I’m the only one who knows what I’m seeing, so I don’t expect anyone to understand. It’s just so funny that people are always against you when you make yourself big. Honestly, there is still so much big stuff ahead of me and I can’t wait to show it to the world.
https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/joeboy-nigeria-baby-new-music-tour-1357014/ Joeboy: Nigerian Star on ‘Baby,’ U.S. Tour, New Music