After the release of his multi-sensory album ‘The Evil Genius’ last friday, Nigerian singer/songwriter, record executive and pioneer of Banku music Mr Eazi has finally returned to our airwaves. In this conversation, we touch on the highs and lows of his career, navigativing the corporate world while starting businesses across Africa and what his new release ‘The Evil Genius’ means to him.
Bambo: You are an established artist and businessman but, some people might be coming across you for the first time. Could you just give us a little introduction into who you are, where you’ve come from, and what your journey has been like so far?
Mr Eazi: Yeah, I’m Tosin also known as Mr Eazi. Very early on, I wanted to be free. I wanted to be free probably since I was 15, and that ended up taking me to school to study Engineering in Ghana at a very early age. My quest for freedom led me to start throwing parties, where I brought Nigerian and Ghanaian artists and DJs. I finished university and went straight into starting a couple of businesses. After couple of huge failures, debts and a few successes led me to the VC world in Nigeria. I had no hobbies so music was a very nice hobby, and people started to teling I was good. So fast forward, to 2015, I actually started to consider making music so I put in some of the money I was making from my businesses on the music. I took a loan in 2016 from my VC of £12,000, did my concert in London on the 22nd July 2016 and sold out the O2 Kentish Town and from there, I haven’t looked back. That freedom has been driving me and my career, I’ve been experimenting with music. So, from ‘Accra to Lagos’- my first project, blending High Life, Hip Life, Azonto and from there to ‘Lagos to London’. In 2021, when I started thinking, I’m not going to make any more music, I linked up with Kel-P in Accra and recorded the first song for the album and ended up making an album that dropped last Friday. That’s the reason why we’re having this conversation and more exciting, being able to marry it with Art is super exciting.
Bambo: That’s really amazing! With what you said about freedom, it makes a lot of sense as to why your journey has gone the way it’s gone! When you started making music, who were the people that were inspiring you?
Mr Eazi: A lot of Lil Wayne, a lot of Drake, a lot of Jay Z and a lot of 2Face (2Baba). Damian Marley, Burna Boy, Majek Fashek and some JHus. Yeah, a wide range of inspiration. Beanie man too! My tag ‘Zagadat’ is from Beanie Man.
Bambo: Cool! We’re going to move on to talking about your music now. It’s been a while since you’ve dropped a body of work. After the release of your mixtapes, the Life Is Easy volumes one and two, this is your first album! Why was now the perfect time to drop your debut album, ‘The Evil Genius’?
Mr Eazi: I think the whole of my career, I’ve always felt that I’ve always put so much seriousness behind the name, album and, especially coming from listening to all those Lil Wayne and Drake mixtapes, seeing them in album mode and seeing the concept behind it. If you listen to Jay Z’s 444, you can see there’s a theme. My other projects were mixtapes because I was showing you sound. With this album, this project is the first project that’s personal to me, my personal stories and it is the first project that was made with zero thoughts of commerce. It was just made as pure art, putting my thoughts on the canvas. I’m telling my story. Usually, when I’m dropping a project, the usual me would be so stressed out because I’m about to drop a project. Now I’m relaxed. It seems like I’m sharing with the world a record of two years of my life. It just felt like it was the right time. It’s a feeling, and it’s beautiful to be able to follow that feeling.
Bambo: Okay, nice! You recorded this album in loads of different cities around the world over the last two years. You’ve touched on it already but, what was the inspiration for this album why did you feel the need to go to different cities around the world to gather that inspiration?
Mr Eazi: As I was making the album, I was indeed travelling across Africa. I wasn’t travelling across Africa because I was making an album. No, I was travelling across Africa because I was setting up businesses or running businesses across the continent. That was the driver for travelling, not the music. The music was what I would do when I was mentally tired from all the meetings and couldn’t sleep because I was thinking about how to solve issues with business and then I’ll go to the studio and record. It kind of reminded me of how I used to record in the beginning of my career because I was involved in gold mining in Ghana. Anytime I leave the mining sites and come back to the city as a way of relaxing, I’ll go into the studio and make music. That’s why you could not compare my first sounds to anything else at the time. I was just making my truth, like, having fun with the sound and that’s how it’s been. I was telling somebody that in restaurants, you might hear music, but the music is on a very low volume and people are eating. In restaurants like Bagatelle, the music gets progressively louder to the point where it’s not about the food or conversations – it’s about the music. I think that’s how it’s been in my life and how it’s always going to be, is that music will be in the building, but the volume of the music is going to be different at different times. That’s what happened with this album. I think music helped me go through the most difficult two years of my life because getting into the real corporate world as a young African guy doing business across Africa has been tough.
Bambo: Like you said, you’ve married the worlds of Art and Music together on this album. Where did the idea for the multi-sensory exhibition come from and why did you decide to go down this route as well?
Mr Eazi: It was very interesting because again, I was saying how I felt caged, stuck and imprisoned right? The Art brought my music back to life and it made everything. It became a new journey that didn’t have any rules. Each song inspires a painting and every painting has been commissioned. The art is now like the B side of the album. That was a strong driver. Beyond that, I was recording the music in Benin. The hotel I was recording in had African Art all around it and every month they will have a different artist showing. I just had Art all around me. I think subconsciously I didn’t realize that I had started appreciating and taking note of it. One day I came back from one of my trips and I saw this painting by Patrick Corell – I was spellbound by the painting. It was two skeletons holding a rose. As soon as I saw it, I would have said that it was occultic because I’m in Naija boy from a Christian family but, I actually saw the beauty in it. I never saw myself as an Art person but I was looking and reading meanings into everything. That was the point where I knew that Art was going to be the thing that puts this album together and I started that journey to make it happen. I’m so proud and humbled that the album is out. Having the album released and now doing press is a success for me. I said in 2021, that I never wanted to do press and interviews again. Now, I’m taking interviews, I’m talking and it’s exciting to me. It’s beautiful to see the healing power of Art and Music.
Bambo: How did you go about picking the Artists that were going to make the pieces that correlate with each song?
Mr Eazi: I would literally go to exhibitions, art fairs, visit galleries. It’s vary hard for people to buy me gifts because I don’t really care about those things. For my birthday, my team went and bought me a piece that I’d seen in New York. I was like “Wow.” My team had realised that I’d gotten really into art and that piece hangs in my bedroom. When I wake up, I see that piece. The beautiful thing was once I saw an artist’s work, I will know that this artist is going to paint a particular song and 99% of the time, that’s how it happened. I then reached out to the artist and we’ll talk. I’ll send them the song and they’ll get back to me about what the song meant to them and how they feel. I gave the artists the freedom to do what they liked and all of them mad masterpieces.
Bambo: I picked out a couple of the songs from the album and I just wanted to talk about them because I felt like the features were quite interesting. The first one is the Angelique Kidjo feature ‘Orokoro’. How did you connect with her and why was Angelique the perfect feature for this song?
Mr Eazi: I recorded the song in Ouidah, Benin which is a very spiritual town. The original song was a sample of Angelique’s song ‘Wombolombo’. After working with Angelique with Kel-P on her song ‘Africa’, I asked her if she could jump on one of my songs in the future instead of charging her for the feature. She agreed but I didn’t know when that was going to happen. I mean, I didn’t even know that I was going to put out music anymore. When this record came, I knew instantly that I wanted sample Angelique. I wanted people to hear her voice saying ‘Orokoro’. We send it to her but she sends back a verse as well and she ends up making sure we shoot the video to that record.
Bambo: That’s amazing! The next song I wanted to touch on is Exit featuring Soweto Gospel Choir. Why were they the perfect fit for this track?
Mr Eazi: The first song I recorded on the album was ’Exit’ with Soweto Gospel Choir. I just felt like it needed gospel or some higher-level consciousness hook. The natural way to go would have been to go Jamaica so I hit up Chronixx to send him the record. I was even thinking of Damien Marley. I don’t know at what point we were listening to the song and I was like, “Wow, a choir could jump on this.” Somebody had mentioned Soweto Gospel Choir and I’ve always wanted to work with them. I DM’d their page and I got a response and they’re like, “Oh, do you have a brief? Do you have what you want us to do?” I didn’t want to tell them what to do so I sent them the song and let them do whatever they wanted. They sent me an arrangement and I was blown away! That’s why the song has only one chorus. I felt like that’s what the record needed and both Soweto Gospel Choir and Angelique are legendary. Initially, I didn’t want anybody on the album but the features I do have on this album are legendary!
Bambo: That’s amazing! So what was your highlight of making this album over the last two years?
Mr Eazi: I think the highlight of making this album is the freedom I felt. Once I knew the album was done, I went from sad, unsure, fearful and low to just wanting to party. When I started throwing the Benny Biza Chop Life Sundays parties in Benin and Chop Life Sound System along with doing my Hype Man thing with DJ Adu, I told people that I wouldn’t perform as Mr Eazi anymore. People told me that nobody would book me if I wasn’t Mr Eazi. This year, I’ve been able to do that- in some shows, everybody is excited and in some shows they’re thinking, ‘Why didn’t he perform his songs?” I think that was the highlight- completing the album, feeling like all the weight just dropped and I was ready to have fun. During the album-making process, I got to rediscover myself, be real to myself and accept that I’m not perfect. I’m far from it. I have come to appreciate all the people who love me because they see my flaws and accept me for who I am.
Bambo: That’s lovely! I want to go back to something you said earlier about the pressure of being famous and that constant cycle of making an album and then having to do press. How did you handle the pressure initially? How did you get to the point where you realised you had these feelings and knew you had to address them?
Mr Eazi: I never used to say how I was feeling. When I was constantly performing in 2019, I was always trying to end my performances quickly by rushing through my sets. When my DJ realised that I had performed my whole set in 15 minutes, he would end up elongating my set not knowing that I did that on purpose. I used to get so upset with that because I just did not want to be on stage and perform. I didn’t admit how I was truely feeling until COVID. I would see other people still recording and going to the studio in that time and I just didn’t want to do that anymore. I had no inspiration and I was really thinking about quitting. I didn’t want to say that I was quitting because I was more concerned with what people will say- they were going to say I fell off. I placed people’s opinions above how I felt. That’s why the album is called ‘The Evil Genius’ because it’s taking into account the worst things people have said to me and embracing it. You said I felll off? Okay, I did fall off, what now? I didn’t need to prove myself anymore and I started speaking about all of these things in my music. So, that’s why I end the first track on my album with ‘God please, lift me up, come lift me up’ (translated from Yoruba). Nothing in this album is just lyrics- it’s all the truth, spoken from the heart.
Bambo: That’s really amazing! I love the fact that you’ve used your music as a tool to heal yourself as well. Your album ‘The Evil Genius’ is out now, what else do you have planned for the rest of this year?
Mr Eazi: I have my festival Detty Rave in Accra, Ghana happening on the 27th December 2023. I’m also trying to throw some more parties but, I’ve not decided yet. For now, the thing I’m focusing on is this album and I’m looking forward to Detty Rave in December!
Discover more from GUAP’s Music section here