Joeboy: The local superstar preaching the love message
Joeboy elaborates on what it means to be an African pop sensation and explains why he could be done with love songs as he begins his first significant U.S. tour.
Just three years after making his debut with the number-one hit “Baby” throughout Africa and beyond, Joeboy is on the verge of becoming a household name. The Nigerian singer’s 2021 debut album, Somewhere Between Beauty & Magic, a delightfully dreamy celebration of love in its many forms, is filled with his warm, down-to-earth spirit. With last year’s “Sip (Alcohol),” which received more than 50 million streams in less than a month, and this year’s “Cubana,” he maintained his hot trend.
The purity of teenage love and the sting of young heartbreak are captured in Joeboy’s songs. We caught up with Joeboy as he embarked on his Young Legend Tour — his first ever headlining U.S. trek — but it seems we might be in for a changeup: “People might not be getting that lovey-dovey Joeboy in my forthcoming releases,” the 25-year-old tells me, “because I’m not on that wavelength at this moment.”
How are you doing while on tour?
My first significant tour in the United States has been stressful. I’ve been traveling nonstop, and eventually it started to wear on me, but I’m used to it now. It’s been great getting to know folks from all around America, and it just goes to show how far Afrobeats has come. When traveling to a new venue to perform and not knowing whether the audience will recognize your music, one may occasionally feel uneasy. But it’s absolutely amazing to see people come in their hundreds of thousands and sing my songs word for word. They seem to be more thrilled to see you than you realize. It’s so lovely, and I’m enjoying I miss Nigerian Food though
Yes, this is your first trip of the United States. Are you having fun?
The best. I’m enjoying myself tremendously. I can’t wait to return to the studio after the tour is over so I can record and sing out all these experiences. They provide me with a ton of ideas. I’m getting to know a lot of unique people. It’s such a good time, and I think every artist should have this experience.
Let’s rewind a bit. What first sparked your passion for music?
I remember being quite young and being eager to see what was happening outdoors. But where would a 7-year-old be going, I mean? I have one older sister and two older brothers, [laughs]. I used to accompany my older brother to choir practices because he played bass guitar and was in the choir. I consequently began to enjoy gospel music a lot. But I believe my older siblings had the biggest impact. Nelly, Boyz II Men, Sean Paul, and Destiny’s Child were all played often.
Later, when I was a teenager, I watched a lot of music videos. I wasn’t planning on being a musician; I was just incredibly intrigued by the concept of music. My mind was like a music library at the moment. But becoming a musician felt destiny-like for me. I recall going to the studio to just have fun at the time since I had a friend who started recording music. After that, my rendition of Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” became viral on Instagram. That was the event that officially introduced me to the music business.
You are a part of the Mr. Eazi-founded emPawa Africa incubator program, which supports music videos and offers new musicians employment advice. Where did you first encounter him?
Mr. Eazi and I met in 2017. At that time, I was reading for exams at Unilag. A friend then informed me that Mr. Eazi had just left a comment on my Instagram feed. It sounded so absurdly implausible that I genuinely believed my friend was lying. When I looked up the commenter’s account, I could tell it was legitimate because he had actually left a remark on my post. While I was considering what to reply, I received a direct message from him saying he adored my sound and everything.
The next thing was that he gave out his home phone number. It shocked me. He asked me outright if I wanted $5,000 or if I wanted to write a song and do a video that he would market. Even worse, I had no bank account. Most people advised me to simply cash the check because, in reality, he owed me nothing. I called him and informed him that I preferred to write a song and film a music video. He then told me about the emPawa foundation and encouraged me to apply, which I did after hearing the song “Faaji.” When I was in Top 10, that is where I received the funding to film “Baby,” and before I knew it, it went viral. We decided to establish a formal agreement then and then, and it’s been great.
“Baby,” your debut single, continues to rank among the top Afropop songs of all time. What do you remember about your first time working on the song in the studio?
Because I was in my final year of college when I wrote “Baby,” I was depressed. The pressure to decide what I wanted to do with my life when I graduated from school was present. And I used to be terrified of the thought of a 9 to 5 job. That kind of regimented lifestyle does not fit with who I am spiritually. I was aware that if necessary, I would have to do it, but I wasn’t looking forward to it. So when that came along, I was just pleading with God that this music thing would succeed because I simply could not work a nine to five job.
I took “Baby,” which I had just completed writing, to the recording studio. Then I forwarded it to Mr. Eazi, who praised it. At that point, we had already begun speaking with a Ghanaian musician, and we were getting ready to film a music video for the song I had written with him. We dropped “Baby,” and it went viral beyond our wildest dreams. I called Mr Eazi and informed him I didn’t want to drop that song with the Ghanaian singer anymore and that I’d rather drop “Baby.” I can tell you that nobody anticipated that. I was aware of the song’s greatness, but I didn’t anticipate its popularity.
How have your voice and message evolved since 2019?
In my opinion, this is one of the most crucial stages of my career because, even though people may not realize it now, they will in a few years. My sound is developing and getting tougher for me. There are several topics I wouldn’t often discuss in songs in 2019, but I feel comfortable doing it now. I believe that my music is growing more varied.
Your debut album contains a lot of tracks that are really vulnerable, whether they’re about a prior love or your desire for something fresh.
I was particularly into the concept of love at that time. Because that was the path I was on at the time, I sought to turn those romantic fantasies and encounters into songs. Making music based on how you naturally feel is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to do it. Because it’s authentic, people can relate to it and connect with it. I’ve always tried to be that, and it typically works for me. However, at the moment, I’m simply enjoying life and being myself [laughs].
What song was the most difficult to write?
Writing is really not difficult for me because I write from the heart. But “OH,” a Tempoe production, was probably the most difficult song I had to create for this album. With that specific tune, I was attempting to experiment rather than be overly cautious.
You claim that your most recent track, “Cubana,” is one of your funniest ever. How did the process of creation go?
We were just grooving in the studio. Making a song about heartbreak was even on the agenda. This song just came to me; I didn’t write it. At that particular time, I had that sentiment, therefore I chose to post it.
What does it mean to be a “Young Legend” and an African music star?
Being an African pop celebrity for me is traveling to various African nations, discovering that they are familiar with my songs word for word, and interacting with citizens of various African nations. Sometimes whether I’m in Ghana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, or Kenya, it just seems like I’m in one giant country where everyone knows my songs. Being an African pop star entails that. I know I’m going to become a legend, which is why I refer to myself as a youthful legend. I’m just calling it into existence because I know I have so much greatness in store for myself.
People will occasionally ask, “What did you do to earn the title of young legend?”I don’t expect anyone to comprehend because I’m the only one who can see what I’m seeing. It’s absolutely hilarious how everyone is against you when you put yourself out there. In all honesty, I am so excited to show the world the greatness that lies ahead of me.