Lojay… Melodies from Africa’s gangsta romantic
The air was still, with nothing but the air conditioner humming in the distance. The silence that enveloped the room was almost as wide, but equally as stunning as its decor. The ‘Orange Father’ by Anthony Azekwoh hung solemnly on the wall. Besides it rested another portrait painting, a Driky masterpiece of the singer himself.
The gaming console on the TV stand joined in the staring contest, signalling that there was a gamer in the house. Serene. Artsy. Vast. Lojay’s living room felt very little like him. The RnB maestro boomed to life, as he joined me in space. And, instantly, all attention rested on him, as if the portraits and consoles knew it was his turn.
When Lojay, born Lekan Osifeso, broke out into the limelight, in 2021, Nigerians had just started to increase their demand for alternative music. The euphony of the Wizkid-era of pop music had fully begun to fall upon everyone and it was fresh grounds needing fresh voices. Acclaimed music producer, Sarz, stepped in to fill this role, midwiving Lojay’s discovery with a joint EP dubbed, Love and Attention.
Like it did with Wurld’s 2019 breakout record, I Love Girls With Trobul, Sarz’ production genius and brand influence served as fuel to Lojay’s spark, igniting him to stardom. And with A-list remixes from Wizkid on LV n ATTN, and the US heavyweight Chris Brown’s on Monalisa, within the space of two years, Lojay became a voice to reckon with within Africa’s music scene.
With Lojay, it’s not really about the simplicity behind his complexities. It’s also not his relatable lyricism. It’s also really not too much about his vocals. He sings well, as is obvious. However, his most intriguing expertise is in his ability to meld everything together and just find some bit of eccentricity to lace the releases. In every Lojay song, there is a stylistic difference. From chord progressions to vocal arrangements, to double entendres in his lyricism, he keeps the songs radiating with an extra spice.
From his debut EP to his just-released sophomore, Gangsta Romantic, Lojay keeps his passion tucked in between his sleeves whenever he tries to make music. And this, seemingly, raw demonstration of vulnerability that is buried within his melodies and content continues to spotlight Lojay as that artiste one should really be listening to.
Unashamedly a romantic, the young singer prefers to tow the terrains of love whenever he is brewing an idea for a song. And this Lojay effect has put him on several key collaborations from Nativeworld’s Runaway, to Rexxie’s Asiko, and the Ghanaian star smallgod’s Automatic, among others.
In today’s edition of Guardian Music, we open the curtains behind Lojay’s musical ascent, delving into the colourful world of romance that inhabits all his ideas, as well as exploring the intriguing themes behind Gangsta Romantic.
How do you normally de-stress when you are not working?
I draw, I play games; I sometimes just go out, maybe on the beach, somewhere just calm. I’m an experienced person rather than a material person. There is no wrong being materialistic. Some people will rather buy stuff, that’s their own way of distressing. My own way is experiencing something.
With your new EP, it felt like there was a shift from your debut.
The shift was just life.
Yeah, my music is just based on real life experiences. I am very keen on painting pictures of real life experiences and whilst I was making the EP, that was literally just where I was. I was just in a space of being a romantic, on the street, especially the street of Lagos with this newfound fame where like a lot of people want to be around you now. And they just want the light, the experience of just being around you for that period of time. And also being new to the game, I met a couple of those people, put more than I should have put in.
Is it safe to say that you kind of blew up fast?
Yeah, it happened a lot faster than most people.
So, what’s your general view? Do you feel it’s more good than harm?
I feel like it was more good than harm; it was very good. I’m an independent artiste, so everything that happened with Love and Attention opened me to so many opportunities. Just like I’m an independent artiste and a lot of people that are signed don’t even have the opportunity and that’s just based on the work I did. From that project, all the momentum that this project has gotten is based on the work that I did on that project. I’ve never seen blowing up as the beginning and end of a thing; it’s just a phase. There is the blow up phase, the post blow up phase.
I remember having a conversation with Sarz, and he said the industry is simply a wave. It’s up, down, up, down. Once you’ve had your moment, you can’t really just stay there. You have to go down, think, come up with new ideas. Like new ways of doing things and then come back up again. And I feel like for most of 2022, it was the period of me just touring; I wasn’t recording a lot of music. I was just touring and fighting battles behind the scenes, which most people would never know, because Chris Brown’s feature doesn’t come straightforward.
So, fighting battles behind the scenes, being an independent artiste and having to deal with labels and all these guys who just want to take advantage of you because they feel like you need them more than they need you. And whilst still doing all of that, still trying to make a project that I felt lived up to the expectations of people and lived up to my expectations as well. So, it was a rollercoaster moment, but like I said, it’s up down, up down and now it’s like going up again.
I want you to break down your song, the ones you produced. I know you produced Moto or co-produced it?
I produced Moto, but had people play like guitars.
When you want to make music, how do you know exactly what you want it to sound like?
I would say I have what I would call an ideal version of where I think the Afrobeats sound can and will go viral. I just have a perspective and it’s like with each time I am making a new project, it’s like I am getting closer and closer to what I feel like it should sound like or what an Afrobeat should sound like.
And when you say pop influence, I am not someone that would listen to pop music, to make pop music. I’m not someone that will listen to Afrobeat music to make Afrobeats. It is the easiest way you can put yourself in a situation where you start sounding with someone else within that same space.
How do you do yours?
I listen to a lot of music that has a variety of elements that I can pick from and be inspired by.
So, which ones were you listening to when you were making this project?
When making this project, I wasn’t necessarily listening to music. More than anything, I was writing down my thoughts for the first time.
So, usually whenever I am making music, I don’t like to sit down and write, and then record. It kind of takes away an element from me, because by the time I finish writing and just want to record it, it just doesn’t feel the same way, compared to having a direct conversation with a microphone; closing your eyes like the person is there. You are just talking and before you know it, you have a song.
But with this project, for the first time, I wasn’t necessarily writing the songs, but I was fleshing out the ideas before I even got to like the inspiration behind the song. For example, like Over, I really just sat down and thought about one of my past relationships, how everything went and I just kept putting down my feelings. So, by the time I got to the microphone, it was like I had a wave of things that were already written down in my brain to just talk about. It was a different process and I think it shined a lot in my lyricism for this project.
How did you translate your sadness into that kind of euphoria that you recorded?
For me, I understand sounds.
Did you study it?
I can technically say I do study it, because I’ll be on YouTube understanding the science behind music basically. And the only reason why people feel like it is a heartbreak song is because of the core production of the guitar.
So you already knew?
Yeah, when I made it, I already knew that the core production of the guitar was already very sweet, like very beautiful and it just made it more interesting, because of the contrast of the lyrics. So, I kind of knew that this moment was going to come when people would say, ‘oh my God, this is actually a heartbreak song.’
You already said that you intentionally create new experiences; do you just sit down and have new relationship experiences?
The thing about me is that I take my emotions very seriously. I am very sensitive about them and I pay attention to them. And I know how to flesh it out, especially through music. It might not be a relationship, it might not even be an intimate relationship, it might just be a very few friendships and you write the story about friendship. It can be a song dedicated to my mum, but no one would know that I am speaking about my mum.
If I have to write about my mum, my relationship with her, there would be so much content that can come out of there. If I was going to write about my relationship with my brother or my sister or my manager, there is so much content that can come out of there and take those five people and write songs about relationships with them and you have five different songs that are deeply fleshed out, and they just carry so much weight. So, regardless of what happens in our lives, we will always have stories to tell.
When did this journey of discovering yourself as an artiste begin?
I remember prior to this, I was very melodic. In high school and university, I was just finding my sound; I wasn’t doing anything. I wasn’t intentional about how I wanted to sound; I was just enjoying myself and I was doing music. It wasn’t anything too deep at that point in time; it was just a cruise. And it started becoming deeper and deeper.
I think it was in 2016 that I started to really think about it. At this point, I was in the university. In my mind, I was like ‘bro, you are about to finish. And by the time you don’t, there is usually no time. And by the time you finish, you know that you are going back to Lagos. You can’t get there and not know what you are about to do. So, you have to choose what you are about to do right now. Like you have to do exactly what you want to do.’
I knew what the consequences of picking music would be, especially over a 9-5 where like my parents have put in their mind that, ‘okay, just come back and get a normal job and go about your life normally.’ Only for me to get back and say I don’t want a normal job; I want to go and do music. And at that point, music really caused a small rift between my father, which I can really understand. Especially when his perspective of the music industry and music on its own is very outdated.
Like in his mind, he was still thinking like the OG; money was not flowing like that. And in his mind, that was his biggest fear. But overtime, when I started taking it seriously, I really started crafting a sound for myself, because I knew that was the important thing. Like, if you don’t have a sound of your own, or a space of your own and I just wanted a space of my own where I don’t have to compete with anybody and just be on my own.
I just kept making music randomly and I remembered the first session I had with Sarz, he mentioned something to me and like from that one sentence, my whole pattern just changed. He has heard a lot of my songs; I sent him songs and was like what do you think about this and he said he really liked them, that I just had one problem; he said ‘you sound like you are trying to blow.’ From the moment he said I sounded like someone that was just trying to blow, that just took me back. I can’t lie; I probably spent like two-three days just processing what that meant.
Then after that, he explained it. He explained some things to me about that music- what it is. Like why do we even listen, what makes me pick this person or this person? And the only difference is just like the relatability of whatever truth that they are saying. The only reason why we listen to Adele is that in her perspective, she is giving us the truth about her life.
The only reason anybody wants to listen to Drake is because once you put on a Drake record, Drake is going to tell you the truth about his rich life and you really just want to absolve all that information.
If someone that we don’t know from Adam, we know that you have not lived that life; you are probably living somewhere that is not conducive for you. And next thing, you are rapping about the whole world; that’s not you bro. But it’s like that person has perspectives that Drake doesn’t have. That person has a perspective of living in a house that is not conducive. That person has a perspective of not having enough money, or of texting 10 bad bitches in a day and nobody is replying to him.
It’s about just saying their truths. And the truth about it is that there is hardly any perspective that you have that you can’t find at least a million people that share that same perspective or can relate.
So, you rather stick to telling the truth about how you feel?
Yeah, I will rather just tell the truth about how I feel.
How did you and Sarz meet?
It was through my lawyer actually; it was around that pandemic period. That period, everybody was on lockdown. I feel like that in itself was like a blessing, because Sarz was literally just at home with his mum and sister doing nothing. And next thing, my lawyer called him. I told my lawyer, because of everything that happened in the pandemic, obviously, everybody started to reevaluate life.
And at this point, I was doing music, but I had relapsed in the last eight-nine months before that because of life. I was just hustling, you know, Lagos life.
What kind of hustling were you doing?
Just different stuffs; I had a business partner at the time. His name is Hansel and we used to basically do contract work. So, we would go to Alausa every single day. Hansel had a company called WIVO and through WIVO, he had gotten a partnership with Microsoft. So, we were just taking that whole Microsoft gigs and just started selling everything to every arm of government, from local government to state government.
At some point, we were constantly going to Abuja and Lagos. It was going, but I wasn’t enjoying my life; it just felt like a struggle. And then the pandemic hit and it was almost like a wake up call. I remember having a conversation with my lawyer that I am not happy, that I wasn’t in a good space. We were literally living in the same house with sapa, just hustling and making music technically.
And then, the whole Oxlade and Burna Boy thing happened. There was just so much going on. And in my mind, I was like ‘I want to work with a producer,’ and my lawyer is also Davido’s lawyer, Bobo. So, I knew that he knew people within the industry. So, I was just yarning.
In my mind, I never even thought about Sarz. In my mind, I was just thinking that it’s anybody. I was like, ‘if I can get like somebody that can give me one jam and everything would just set.’ And then, he said he knows Sarz. In my mind, I was like, ‘no go put me inside gbese; I no fit.’ And then he was like he would speak to him and let’s see what happens. I remember one morning, he posted something on
IG and tagged me and said ‘@Lojay music, it’s about to be crazy.’
That was Sarz?
No, my lawyer. When I saw it, I called him and asked what was happening. He was like he had spoken to Sarz and he said he is very interested and wants to see me. At first, I thought about how to go about it, but we ended up meeting.
I remember that moment where said that he likes my tone, that it feels like there are so many things we can do together. In my mind, I was like, ‘maybe he wanted to do just one jam.’ And he said we should make an EP, this and that. When he said EP, I remember I sent text to my brother and was like, ‘I think Sarz wants to do an EP with me.’ Like I couldn’t conceptualise it and within a week, we had already started making projects. We went to an apartment to go and make the project. Every time I talk about things about that moment, I’m still like…
Do you feel it was an opportunity meet preparation kind of moment?
Yeah, it was. It was definitely an ‘opportunity meets preparation’ moment, because I met him at a time when I was ready. I was very ready and I was hungry. I wanted to prove something to myself more than anything.
So, do you feel like you have proven it to yourself at this point?
There is still so much to do; I have quite an interesting story when it comes to music. It’s not the regular. I’m not somebody that came from the gutter; I came from the bottom, but not like from struggle to now become the person I am. I’m here because I let go of many opportunities. I always say this thing- it’s easy to do music when you have nothing to do.
When you know that ‘okay, this is probably my only hope in life.’ Like when you have to give up a lot of things, just to get to that space, just to have people listen to you, just to have people say, yeah this guy is legit.
When you’ve gone through some of the lengths that I have gone through, you can’t think about it short term; I can’t think about music in the short term. Like, I can’t think about this as, ‘okay yeah, you had a global hit and yes, you’ve more or less reached places that some people would probably never reach.’ That for me is the beginning of the story.
That for me is like ‘okay, it started with this,’ because honestly speaking, I plan to be here for a very long time and not just be here. Like to be here and still be setting the bar for everybody because of this music thing, I know it. I understand it in ways that sometimes, it’s like how and why.
How did you understand production?
Everything musical, I learnt by myself; production, drumming, my little chord that I can play on the piano. I just pick up internments easily. Anything that has to do with sound, I just understand it easily. Like I relate with it in a different way. I don’t know how to explain it, but when I am weaving my melody and I am going up and down, I see it; it’s not random. I see it before I do it.
So, it’s like I can’t have that- to sacrifice so much in my own life just to be here and then now be here for two years, three years. I can’t, there is no way. I plan to be here for a long time. Everything that is happening now is the beginning stage.
It seems like you need less introduction these days.
That is exactly what I am saying. When you drop, everything will continue. There was a period where it started to get to my head, where I’m like, ‘bro, what is going to happen.’ And what I did in that moment was make music, but I couldn’t put anything out because this guy had just spent a ridiculous amount of time and money trying to get this feature to happen in the first place. The feature just happened. You can’t just drop; you have to give it some time.
One month into promoting Love and Attention, I had that song and finished it before Love and Attention dropped. Like I had songs. That video, if you watch it, my hair is still short; it’s a very old video. When I now dropped at that point in time, I dropped a snippet and that was I just being rebellious. I remember after I dropped that video, maybe like a week after, they played me the Chris Brown version.
So, to conclude, if you were to describe Lojay in one word, what would it be?