“It was very intentional, that record,” says Afropop supreme Wizkid of Made In Lagos. Released in October, his sensational fourth LP featured artists from across the Black diaspora, connecting from Nigeria through the US, UK, and Caribbean with features that included H.E.R., Skepta, and Damian Marley, along with more of his nation’s greats, like Tems and Burna Boy, in one of the best albums of the year. But, even with the stellar mix, the most memorable tracks are Wizkid solo. It has never been hard to see why they call him Starboy.
Polo neck, Raf Simons; wool trousers, Undercover; trainers, Christian Louboutin.
© Rob Rusling 2021
A deliberate show of unity, those features proved “how artists from different parts of the world can come together and make amazing music, which is something I’ve always been about”, he says over Zoom, wearing a black graphic T-shirt and his trademark sunglasses from a family holiday in Ghana. “I can literally make music with anyone.” Mixing flavours of R&B, grime, and reggae with Afrobeats, Made In Lagos’s addictive stew of sunshine sounds functioned as a timely beacon of Black light and joy for its 50 million streamers, at the end of a year that saw protests rise across the globe in response to state-sanctioned killings of Black people: Black Lives Matter, then #EndSARS.
Far from a response, this album was first promoted for release three years ago. When protests started in Nigeria, it got pushed back another two weeks. During that time, “I wasn’t even thinking about the album, I’m not gonna lie – I literally forgot about the whole thing,” he says. “I was hurt. I was angry. I felt it was time that the government actually did something about the police and SARS brutality in the country.” Instead, he was protesting on the streets of London, boldly calling out President Buhari on social media, and ended up verbally sparring with Buhari’s aide.
“When I said I was gonna make an album named Made In Lagos, I didn’t know how important it was,” he says. “As each day passed by, I think the meaning of the album got stronger for me. I was like, I have to make this one of my best albums… That’s where I was born, raised, my whole life. Everything I’ve learned, I learned from Lagos.” By the time it was ready for release, “I wanted to bring some light into the world, so I’m glad it came out like that. I’m happy that people love the music, and I’m hoping and praying for a better Nigeria. It’s crazy out here.”
Although Wizkid doesn’t, and will likely never, make political music (“I hate it because I feel like it goes over their heads, you know? I love to make feel-good music,” he explains) the impact has been huge. Indisputably the man — though just a child when he started out — that catapulted, and firmly kept, the current iteration of Afrobeats on the global stage, the music has helped to rehabilitate the much-maligned image of the continent, more accurately shining a light on its creativity and excellence. In recasting negative Western perceptions, for the African diaspora, including African-Americans disconnected from their ancestral roots, it has encouraged reconnection and heightened pride.
“That’s why we make the music,” he agrees. “To touch people in different ways, make them feel proud of their culture and where they’re from.” It’s a conscious part of the process. “I always say to my friends and my peers, you have to be aware of the impact this music makes.” It has reshaped the UK scene, giving rise to one of our own greatest musical exports, the hybrid genre, Afroswing. Wiz himself is “a big fan – I love everyone who makes it”.
Below, he catches up with Vogue on his album-making process, fatherhood, a pivot into filmmaking, and his love of Nollywood — and lets slip that a new “special” project is on the way.
What did your 2020 look like?
I was in lockdown. I just spent my time in the studio working. I made music every day. I finished the album and had another project that I was working on. It wasn’t an eventful year for me either, just stuck in the house.
What’s the other project?
(Laughing) I wasn’t gonna give that out.
You have to tell us!
That went through my head, like, ‘Oh shit.’ (Laughs) No, I’m working on something special.
That’s exciting. So, ‘Made In Lagos’ was originally meant to come out in 2018, three years ago. What happened?
It’s because I never stopped making music. I’m always making music, that’s one of my biggest problems. I made, like, three or four different [versions of] Made In Lagos before I came to the one that I released. Sometimes, I have a perfect one, and I wake up in the morning and just scrap it.
Are some of the unreleased tracks some of what we can expect from this new upcoming project?
What has it been like to have played such a key part in making Afrobeats one of the most popular music genres today?
It feels good. It feels good to be young and actually seeing the world appreciate the music, which is definitely something I’ve always been passionate about – having the world listen to Afrobeats music just like every other genre. I wanted them to love that music. There’s so much talent in Africa, and I feel like the world needs to hear that. From producers to photographers to filmmakers to actors to musicians, there’s so many amazing talents. There’s more to come from Africa.
Are you planning to lend your magic touch to any of those industries?
All my life, I’ve been approached with movie scripts and roles and shit. That might be something I do, maybe later… Maybe I would make, or produce, some movies, I think that would be something.
What do you think of Nollywood?
I love Nollywood! I am the biggest Nollywood fan. I literally watch that every day. Sometimes, I just watch it on YouTube – the old ones. Any movies with Aki and PawPaw in it are my favourites. Any movies with Patience Ozokwor, she’s like the funniest. Yeah, you can see I really love watching that (laughing) I love it, I love everything.
Would those be the kind of films you’d want to produce, or what would your vision be?
Maybe… Definitely something like that… Or maybe… better? I wouldn’t want to talk down on everything that is out right now but… (laughing), but, yeah, definitely I would want to make crazy movies. Yeah, something crazy – the art, how it’s shot, the script.
There was a lot of talk about you turning down collaborations for ‘Made In Lagos’.
You really want to ask me this question? (Laughs) I’m definitely not telling you nothing!
I’m thinking maybe it could be in the bank for another project – a no isn’t always a no.
The truth is – let me put clarity on that statement. The truth is, I make music with my friends all the time. You can have two artists go into a room and make amazing music every time they go in. But, not every time they go in – you can’t use all the music. Like me and Burna, we have so many songs together that we haven’t even put out for years. It took us three years to put out this “Ginger” one. Same with Skep – ones we’ve had for years. We’re not saying it’s not amazing, or it’s not a good song. At that time, maybe it’s not right for what we’re working with. That doesn’t come from a place of hate, or from a place of me being like, I’m a bigger artist than anybody. If it’s great and it works for what I’m working on, it’s definitely gonna come out. An album is like painting a picture, you can’t paint two portraits at once. One at a time. I’m just bringing clarity to everyone that I took out their features from the album.
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You have perfectionist tendencies, so how do you know when a record is done?
When it’s out.
How do you know that it’s ready to be out?
When it’s out – because sometimes I still touch up the record the day before it comes out.
Did the Black Lives Matter protests influence your album at all?
That is definitely a statement around the world. That is a statement, something that is important, that the world is talking about, and needs to be addressed. Just as SARS needs to be addressed, police brutality. For me, I’m just showing love – black, white, green, blue. Spreading love is spreading love. All those conversations are very, very important. Black Lives Matter just like all lives matter.
You have intense fan love. They slaughter cows for you.
(Laughs) I love my fans. I love them to death.
When it was your music against Vybz Kartel’s in the No Signal clash, you won by a landslide – I read 72,000 votes, more than many politicians.
You wanna know the crazy thing? Honestly, I didn’t even watch that, you know. But I heard about it. I’m not really a big competition guy. I’m really just here to spread love. I have a lot of love and respect for Vybz Kartel. He’s my friend, we talk, so yeah. It’s all love.
Music gets made so competitive. Fan communities, including yours, are always at war with others. Is there ever a little undercurrent that follows between you and your peers?
I don’t do competition. It’s love. The sky is big enough for everybody to shine.
Thinking of Kendrick Lamar’s verse on “Control” naming peers saying “I got love for all of you, but I’m trying to murder you n–s”, where competition and love are not mutually exclusive. There’s never any of that energy?
That’s so different. Let me break down why. That’s rap. That’s the culture. Rap and hip hop is about who’s the best rapper, so you have to say shit. You definitely have to prove to the world why you are the best emcee, but the kind of music I make is so different. I’m not here to prove to nobody that I’m the best. I don’t even watch the tracks, I don’t watch numbers. I’m just here to make people feel something and feel good – that’s it. I’m not here to watch how many awards, or who’s the best. I’m here to take care of my kids, enjoy myself, live life, and take care of family.
What has your experience of fatherhood been like?
It’s made me a better man. I love my kids to death. They put structure in my life, the three of them. I love them so much. Everything I do is for my kids.
What are some of the changes you’ve seen in yourself since?
I definitely had to grow up quick, because I had my first son when I was 21, so I had to be 30, like, next day. And, I’m very thankful for that because it made me put my life in perspective and just grind. I’m blessed with those kids right there.
Do you ever try and guide their direction?
Nah, I just let them do whatever they want. I think I’m the coolest father because I’m gonna let my kids do whatever they want. I’m just here to be my kids’ best friend. Give them what I never had. Not saying – my dad gave me the best because he’s an amazing dad, and I love my mom so much. They gave me the best life that they could. So, it’s now left to me to give my kids a better life.
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