No musician operating today confronts the reality of being young and alive in Nigeria with the searing candor of Blaqbonez. From the euphoric high of a night on the town to dealing with the crippling uncertainties of upward mobility, Blaqbonez’s music presents an unfiltered perspective on 21st-century Nigerian youth identity. The music is rife with struggle, joy, hurt, ambition, and bursts of creativity.
That attention to detail and thematic rigor was birthed in the underground rap circles that provided a foundation for Blaqbonez’s now-ascendant career. “Being a battle rapper made me versatile and have range,” he tells me when we speak via Zoom. “Mentally, I feel like I am not limited in any way because there are so many things I can do.” The underground also instilled a fierce work ethic in Blaqbonez, who released over six mixtapes while still studying at university.
2018 marked a definitive turn in Blaqbonez’ life when he stepped out of the underground with Bad Boy Blaq, his debut album executive produced by rap legend M.I. Abaga, and ended the year with recognition from The New York Times as one of the new guards of Nigerian music.
Blaqbonez’s latest album, Sex Over Love, reckons with who he has become as a person and as a musician. On the project, he does away with the archetypal love tropes that dominate Afrobeats and settles for a conceptual focus on being loveless but fulfilled with where he is. Some may call it cynical, but Blaqbonez will always be true to himself.
How early in your life do you recall knowing you wanted to be a musician?
To be honest, I wouldn’t say early. I was 18. But I remember being challenged by someone who had heard a young rapper on the radio. He told me that someone quite young was doing this rap thing, and I couldn’t do it despite dissing Nigerian rappers. I told the guy that it wasn’t a difficult thing and that I’d go upstairs and rap. That’s how I wrote my first rap verse. From there, I started writing constantly and, at a point, I realized I was good at it and enjoyed it. It was an easy decision to go for it professionally from there.
Bad Boy Blaq marked a definitive turn for your career. What lessons did you take from making that project?
Bad Boy Blaq taught me how to be a profitable artist. Before Bad Boy Blaq, I didn’t know what it felt like to be a star. Or to have a song that is big enough for people to sing word-for-word with you. I didn’t know what it felt like to bring in money. Bad Boy Blaq made me realize, “Bro, this shit is real.” Seeing myself on the charts, seeing my numbers… it just made me realize this was serious.
That was an important moment for me because everything I do right now, I’m perceptive of how people react to it. That’s something I took from Bad Boy Blaq. When the project dropped, people gravitated towards “Mamiwota,” and it made me realize there was a particular thing people wanted. I just clocked that this was how the mainstream operated.
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Speaking of how you’ve grown, you’re pretty hands-on with the day-to-day concerns of your brand and all the non-music stuff. Where does that come from?
It’s just how I am as a person. I don’t think it’s something you can fake. You either care about those things, or you don’t. Even before I joined Chocolate City, I was always meticulous about these things: planning stuff and tracking numbers. But that’s just me. As an artist, you don’t have to be the one doing all that, but there has to be someone on your team who is doing all that.
Are you a numbers guy or a passion guy?
I’m a numbers guy. I care so much about the numbers.
You talked about how “Mamiwota” showed you what the mainstream audience was interested in listening to, and since then, you’ve been messing with more melodies in your work. How much of a learning curve has that been for you?
It’s been a big one. Right now, I feel like you cannot know what to expect from Blaqbonez, and I think that sense of unpredictability is important in keeping the audience around for the ride. The songs don’t sound the same; the beats keep switching, I can try to sing, I can try to do the Mr. Boombastic style. All those little things have just helped to shape the artist I am right now, and it’s been exciting.
Do you see yourself presently as a rapper or a singer?
It’s funny. I was talking to A-Q recently, and he said something about me pioneering a new genre, sort of, where even when I’m singing, it sounds like I’m rapping. It’s not like I’m singing like a Joeboy or a Fireboy DML—those are dedicated singers.
I’m somewhere in the middle because I’m still a rapper, but I’m singing. I’m sure a lot of people will say I’m a rapper, but that’s fine; I’m not concerned about what people call me. I’m concerned about people loving what they think I am.
You’re pretty invested in internet culture. What’s your relationship with it like right now?
The internet is everything for me. Without it, I don’t know where I’d be. I try to maintain an active presence there because it allows me to maintain a direct connection with my fans. That’s where the love is. That’s where the numbers are. I try to advise other artists to find creative ways to engage people. It’s too important.
What’s your new album, Sex Over Love, about?
Theme-wise, it’s me just putting myself out there and trying to share where I’m at presently. All this while, love songs have been the norm in Nigeria, and they are more likely to blow up. It pressures artists to want to make love songs, but for me, with Sex Over Love, I realized love is not real to me. That’s not what I experience on a daily basis.
Basically, the album is me embracing who I am and singing about my life. I’m sure there are people out there who will relate to how I feel on this album.
Why do you think people have not pursued this sort of theme on their projects previously?
I think it’s just not a Nigerian thing. Our artists would rather sing about love, and many of the albums out of here don’t necessarily have a consistent theme running through them. Sometimes, they are the loving type in track one, and on track three, they are no longer loving, and by track five, they are back to being the loving type. No one is really making the album about themselves—it’s just them picturing themselves in different situations. But I just wanted to be honest on this album and talk about myself, and I hope it works.