Oxlade Interview: Boy Ox is Breaking Through with His Love-torn Melodies
It is often argued whether stars are born or made or vice versa, but an incontestable reality is the fact that over time, several dots come together to launch a star into their moment of stardom. For Ikuforiji Olaitan, fondly referred to as Boy Ox, a lot of dots both detectable and otherwise have cascaded into and over the other to forge him into the Oxlade we know now.
A formidable voice and face of the new age of sound in the fleet-footed Nigerian music scene, Oxlade had broken through the mould as an independent artiste with melodious handfuls of what he attributed to being his hallmark-- strategic collaborations. His debut project, Oxygene EP, despite being released in the heat of the unprecedented pandemic was met with widespread relish that further cemented his revelationary moment unto the scene, simultaneously serving to bolster fellow independent acts to keep polishing their craft.
Following a hiatus from releasing solo records, but amidst features from notable musicians, such as Ice Prince, M.I Abaga, and more, Oxlade reintroduced himself in the latter end of August 2021 with a four-track EP that highlights and reinvents one of the aforementioned and in this case in-built dots, that have made Oxlade into the singer we know now; one that's never too wrapped up in norms of masculinity to expand fetchingly on themes of vulnerability and transparency. A cohesive and novel blend of elements of Afropop, Highlife music and RnB, it was received with a sturdy stamp of approval from listeners and critics. Notjustok sits down with the honey-tinged falsetto-voiced singer to have a bare-all conversation that captures the domino-chain reaction that has resulted in making him the star he is while discussing his latest project in collaboration with DJ Coublon, Eclipse EP and the Oxlade brand.
Hi Oxlade, you recently put out the Eclipse EP, making it your second project so far, how are you feeling?
I feel blessed like it's been a long time coming and I've got a lot more to give you guys and I'm eager to keep going on because the reviews from Eclipse has motivated me to say ‘Yeah I got a new sound and I got more from where that came from.’
How would you describe your journey as an artiste from being an underground act to being The Boy Ox we now know?
I don't know how to explain it but it's been a rollercoaster of the good, the bad, and ugly experience because I didn't pop off from any major label or co-sign but we still kept on going. I started with Mamiwota, then to Sing with Fireboy then I put out my own song, Shuga. Then I started doing strategic collaborations like Causing Trouble, Wait for You. These ones were properly planned and they gave me the diaspora love and chances to perform alongside Wizkid at the 02 in 2019. Some people shut doors, some opened but now everyone's saying I've always known you were going to be the shit. It was political, it was emotional and the fact that I'm stubborn at what I do, ‘I would make it regardless’, that's always been my energy. So against all odds, I was climbing the ladder bit by bit, then I put out Oxygene and the whole story changed. Away became a hit even in Covid with zero promo and zero press because I couldn't go anywhere.
Imagine you blowing but it's a waste? All I was doing was digital performances, it was a madness but good music will always speak for itself and the longevity of Away is bonkers because it still has the guts to bully other songs that were put out then at concerts and that's how you know a timeless song.
So putting out Eclipse is different cause Oxygene was simply “Hey guys, my name is Oxlade and I can sing hope you guys will like this.” But for Eclipse the EP, I don't think there's any sound like it so I was really scared to put it out that's why I gave you guys four but you guys really liked it so hopefully, I'll be bringing out more.
What would you say kept you going through these points in your career?
The first thing that made me know I was in the right place was when I stood in front of 20,000 people at the 02 and they were singing Causing Trouble back to me and I was like, they can't mistakenly know my song, this is destined to happen, this is what I was made to do. And all the naysayers and bad vibes didn't make any sense anymore because God will not take me this far to make me meet you guys on the road to tell me that I can't be it, I am it.
So from there, my confidence started to boost and I went back into my craft to reforge the weapon and find myself. I stopped listening to some type of music and I started listening to very different sounds. I started reading books and digging deep and had series of therapy sessions cause I was going through some ill things mentally.
And everything just makes too much sense by putting out Eclipse EP cause this is a new Oxlade, you can hear the pain, heartbreak, vulnerability. Eclipse is typically me letting you guys understand that it's a new phase and sound from Oxlade.
What was growing up like and what inspired you to do music the way you do?
First of all, it takes a winner and a fighter to survive the streets and also flourish and break out. Any artiste wey don make am naturally, I give dem the maximum respect because it takes not just talent but a lot of hard work and perseverance to even be anything you want to be, talk more of when the odds are against you because you come from the ghetto and nobody is there to support you. But I feel like the fact that I had no one to do that, triggered me to help myself cause I had to run away from the house when I dropped out of LASU in my final year and nobody was there to understand that. But I can't go back and write JAMB and nobody understood. Even my grandma who did couldn't say anything cause all her kids were all up on my neck like I was the bad egg in the family.
So I had to run away and I moved to Ojahbee’s house-- that's my current manager slash producer and Naya’s house. I used to squat at theirs for like five days and then switch. And I used to work as the conductor at the BRT bus stop at Barracks, collecting and selling tickets and I also had a part-time job at a cyber cafe where I also sold time tickets. So it was me even trying to survive as a human being first, I didn't even care at that point in time, it was hard to eat and feed. But luckily for me, the people I found myself around, was associated with, were actually pivotal to my career cause Ojahbee is a producer, Naya is a video director. All of us were helping ourselves grow and right now, these people are actually now household names in the music industry. Naya is arguably one of the biggest directors in Nigeria and Africa so to say. He's been shooting for everybody, Naira Marley, David, myself, and is still aspiring to do more and in my opinion, Ojahbee is one of the most respected new school managers and producers in his generation. So everybody really helped themselves grow, we strengthened ourselves and our weaknesses and loyalty helped us grow as well.
Your sound is very different, how did you discover your style of music?
So at a point in my career, I wasn't making music so all I was doing was listening so I feel like when you want to find a new phase or layer about yourself, I feel like you should break yourself and do things you're not used to doing. I started listening to Enya. It's spiritual but not necessarily gospel. I also listened to a lot of Lauryn Hill, Mali Music, and Jon Bellion.
My head was just torn into bits cause I was listening to all sorts down to Pasuma. And then when I was back to recording, I couldn't recognise myself. I just know that I bring out some weird sounds and melodies and I don't know where they're coming from. I realised that all these songs I've been listening to merged together in my art world to create what I'm putting out now. So I feel like it's what you consume that you'd put out.
What of your upbringing? Was there anything that pushed you to do music?
My mom died when I was three so I moved to my grandma's side and she is a musically inclined person and I picked that from her. I learned to sing from morning devotions, those worship songs we sing while we were half asleep.
And we all sang acapella. One of my uncles is a gospel minister, Lanre Bishop, the other one is a pastor his name is Tunde Akerepo, the third one is a sound engineer that handles concerts and stuff. So I come from music and I always say that I started singing before I started singing. There's this throwback video that surfaced of me and 2Baba, this charity thing that I was a beneficiary of, an NGO that sponsored my schooling-- Change Your Life. They happened to put me and some other kids with 2Baba singing and the video blew up and everybody was trying to recognise who that kid was and it was Oxlade alongside 2Baba and this is like a 10-year-old video so even before I started doing music professionally, I've been grinding and enjoying what I'm doing and I didn't know I was going to make money off it.
I wasn't even Oxlade then I was OH Boy or something. So literally the come-up has been the come-up. I passed through the process of being an upcoming artiste and being a developing artiste.
All those places like Shrine where people went to perform, I carried CDs everywhere. But if I didn't do this, nothing else made sense.
So when you made Mamiwota, could you tell that it would serve as a launching pad in your career?
I made the song when I wasn't even an artist so I didn't care about it when it came out. I wasn't even using my Twitter then. I met Blaqbonez through Alpha Ojini. He's the producer of Mamiwota and also a rapper.
Back then, I was in this acapella group of all these people that serenaded lovers so from church, we'll go to his place to record. So one day, I just begged him, ‘Bros abeg make I just jump on one of your beats.’ I jumped on it, he liked it and luckily for me, Blaqbonez was on the song. He'd blown up back then because way back in school at Ife, he was a menace and then I was a Blaqbonez fanboy so having him on the song was quite special to me. Then having him message me like ‘Yo bro, who the fuck are you? Why do you sound this good? What's your problem in life? We have to make music if you sound this good.’ Everything was just a madness and the energy was pure and then we made Mamiwota.
When he made Mamiwota, something happened within his management whereby they were saying the song wasn't ‘It’ enough and hip hop enough to make the project because they were trying to package Blaqbonez as the best rapper in Africa.
So when he told me, that was the period I was grinding my ass out to even feed myself. He told me they weren't going to drop the song and I was like ‘Oya now no wahala.’ So when he later came to tell me that they were going to put it, I was like ‘Guy just leave me alone, run your p.’ And then when he put it out months after, he texted me that day saying Mamiwota is buzzing and I should check Twitter. And I was asking if I could make money off the app cause I needed money so bad so I thought it was one thing that'll bring money. Then I got on Twitter and saw BOJ, Reekado Banks, and everybody tweeting about me and my music.
Let's go into the EP. It's love-centered yet titled Eclipse, what's the significance of the title?
They're four beautiful love songs that have different themes even if they're love songs. And the only normal love song on that project is More because Ojuju has insecurities, frustration, pain, reality, and transparency inside it. Then Pay Me speaks about reassurance-- it's the most reassurance-filled song after Davido's Assurance. If you're trying to reassure your babe or man and you're trying to get your point across, just play them Pay Me. So it's not necessarily an ‘I love you’ song it's an ‘I need you’ song and you're letting them know they're the one. So it's a different theme on love.
I made Eclipse during the darkest moments of my whole life because I was home in Covid, there was nothing distracting me from observing my friends and the people I think were friends to me so it was quite mental but the only thing that brought light into my life were these particular songs I was making at this particular period of time. So after making this project, I’d already left that phase of darkness, it dawned on me that at every point of darkness, in every dark situation you are, there'd always be a beacon of light somewhere. Because every single time I was making these songs I was happy but generally, aside from the studio I was always sad and angry. That's why I named it Eclipse. So if you see the transition between the cover art of the Oxygene EP, I'm still floating, and I was in the clouds then but now the Eclipse has come to take over the clouds and now the aura looks like a darker person. I'm shirtless but still guarded and I look like I'm at the point where I wouldn't let anyone break me anymore.
How would you describe the transition from Oxygene to Eclipse?
On Oxygene, I was a very pure boy, a genuine guy telling you that you're the air that he needs to survive. He was a very fragile boy that hadn't seen life and eaten breakfast. But when I was served the breakfast in bed (heartbreak) the kind of songs I was making changed. I mean when life happens to you, you have to happen to life too. It's a boy becoming a man.
Would you say part of these feelings that fueled Eclipse was also the pressure to continue the streak you've been on?
Nobody can pressure me and nothing can. After DKT last year, I didn't put out any songs because I wasn't happy, I hadn't found myself. I was making music and I have thousands of songs and when I'm ready to put out an album, I can comfortably put out an album but it was the timing and place I was mentally and how I feel about this project.
So while I didn't put out musically personally, I also didn't have a silent year. Kolo was buzzing and if not for Feeling, it would have undoubtedly been the number one hip hop song. And any hip-hop song that'll beat those two are yet to come out. So after it started buzzing-- I put my own effort into promoting it, and then the whole rap game just decided to put out the songs they have with me since I'm buzzing. So the song with M.I came out, the song with Zoro and Sarkodie came out and everyone was like ‘Okay it's him.’
So I was giving everyone the time to take that in and also I was finding myself during months cause the last time I put out music-- DKT, was September last year. So I put out the video this year because I was finally ready.
And my project, my label didn't rush me, and were just hoping I'd get myself back together. And when I told them I was ready to put out music, everyone was happy. Artists that are pressured, you can hear this from drastic changes in their sound but my sound isn't changing, I'm merely finding new parts of me, you'll even notice that my lyrics, I don't use too much grammar so the layman can understand it.
Before your hip-hop run, you had a streak of singles with DJs and producers like Causing Trouble and Angelina, would you say this is a formula to launch your artistry?
Definitely, strategic collaborations is Oxlade. I think I'm the most featured artiste in my set. It's like I drop music every Friday with guys but I feel like it's a strategic thing to do. For instance, there's a song buzzing in the streets titled Frenemies-- Rexxie featuring Oxlade. I can't drop Frenemies and also Eclipse at the same time. So I use these producers to put out some songs that I can't personally put out a period of time because Eclipse was already scheduled and probably Frenemies is doing bonkers in the studio hard drive and we feel the need to put out a song asap so Rexxie decided how about I put this song on my album and I push it while you push Eclipse and everybody wins. I have to have personal trust with anybody I give my hook these days cause people have promised me heaven and Earth and didn't do anything to the hooks I gave them and you have to bring your market plan and if I trust you, you can fly with the song but majorly, we're helping each other grow and tapping into our fanbase.
So these features, how do they work out? What's the process?
It happens anyway. I could even give them the hook and the beats for them to go and do the verses or they could send me the hook to sing it. For example, African Girl Bad by Zoro was written all by him, I just sang what he gave me to sing.
For Kolo, Ice Prince gave me a song, I did the song then I sent him Kolo cause I was working with Edgarboi in the studio when he sent it to me. So I recorded it then I made another one and sent it to him. He'd sent me something in his style so I sent him something that would connect more to the new school and I'm happy that he trusted me enough to put it out.
What of the collab with DJ Coublon on Eclipse and how did you decide on the sound direction of the EP?
I didn't make it more than four so I don't overuse the newness and freshness of the sound. I was going to Coublon’s place the day that police caught me under Ojuelegba bridge. I've been recording Eclipse since last year August so all these dark periods were when I was making it and he was the only one that understood me at that point in time. Anytime I'm down, I just call him like ‘Bro wassup? My mind is heavy, I need to come and say things.' And he would be there for me and I feel like we still have more to give you guys. We've made a lot of songs that we're even asking ourselves why we made the EP just 4 songs. But Coublon and I are going to be here for a very long time.
Eclipse was put out in conjunction with Troniq Music, and we've always thought Oxlade was an indie act, are you signed to them?
Troniq is not a label but a management and I'm still an indie artiste. (This will help to clarify the relationship we have.) It's a collective group of people, me, my guys, and some egbons trying to achieve greatness through the brand Oxlade. There's nothing ghen ghen-ish or official, it's just me and my guys trying to make money.
What is the one thing other than capital that is the biggest issue you face while trying to navigate the industry as an indie artiste?
Cabal, godfatherism, and ass-kissing. There are caucuses, circles, and godfathers that want their ass kissed and there are some gatekeepers that use veto power, and over here, you have to know somebody to be somebody and you have to have your connections and roll with a certain set of people. And you have to please some people's ego before you can even break out. So I feel like we need more good people and more actual genuine love than fake love which is rampant.
You're presently throwing a spanner into that...
It was hard but I'm one of the lucky boys that got out of the streets. I got a message from one of my friends last week and he was like "Yo Oxlade, thank you for achieving it men, and making us understand that it's possible regardless. Thank you for doing everything I wanted to do." And this is an egbon that I used to look up to that I wanted to be like as an artiste. It hit me differently cause it's actually really hard to come out of the ghetto so it gives me more motivation to want to be bigger. Because the bigger you are, the happier and more motivated they are to break these boundaries the same way I'm trying to do it.
Going back to your music, how do you continue to get inspiration to make songs about love from different perspectives?
Different experiences with love. Am I in love? No, am I seeing someone right now? No. I'm solely into music right now and I just finished healing from one situation, I'm not willing to dive back in but literally, everything I sing about is personally related and from true experiences and I get paid to create art.
Also, the lucky thing for me is that majority of these songs I sang were sung in the worst state of mind. I had series of breakdowns when I was making Ojuju, I cried like three times and took breaks so I'm an undiluted artiste.
I had had a massive fallout with the person I was seeing then and I just called Coublon immediately so his availability too also helped out with processing the emotions.
You were in Paris to perform at the launch of a new store for Off-white by Virgil Abloh, how did that transpire and how was the experience for you?
So the Off-white thing is one of the things I went to do in France. I didn't get invited directly by them to come cause I had to go to France to expand my music. It felt great meeting Virgil, he's a wonderful guy and Off-white is family to me. And another side of me people are going to see is the fashion side cause I'm big on that and I'm very articulate with my fashion, down to the ink on my skin.
I plan my brand and everything else and it's articulately constructed so I'm dabbling into the fashion world a little bit.
I might act-- I can act and one of these days I might just audition for a cast or just put it out there that I want to kill the screen but that's by the way and not a priority. So, music, fashion, acting, and I'll also love to own an NGO.
During the lockdown era, Away was huge then but you couldn't go out to perform. How were you able to deal with that feeling?
I wasn't able to deal with it I was frustrated cause I never expected it. And the thing is, my homies, everyone was dropping albums and projects and killing it. I was so happy for them and when it was time for me to push my own stuff and enter the spotlight, Covid just comes and decides to bully me and I'm like ‘Why me? What exactly did I do wrong to the universe?’ And then I call my grandma frustrated and she said “For you shall thrive even in chaos.” That's the line she told me, I don't know where she got it from in the Bible but I held on to that light and that was what kept me going in terms of optimism and then I just started seeing my song chart. The only thing I had then was Instagram live, there was nothing to do. Series of Instagram Live and Zoom interviews. I talked, all my mouth wanted to tear but it was part of the promo and part of the grind and I felt good about it and on the other hand, my numbers were going mad on all my DSPs and I didn't even understand where these numbers were coming from but I was buzzing. My social media was going bonkers and any little content I post, everyone is crazy about it. I call Oxygene a miracle project.
So what's one thing you want people to know and take away from Eclipse?
I hope y'all know I'm still healing from the songs I made and I gave everyone a lifeline on how to win their babes back even they have fallouts. Just send them all the songs except Ojuju. In every song there is a love tool. I call Eclipse a love tool because it mends everything; bitterness, sorrow. You can hear Ojuju and be holding your babe tight thinking about how you're scared about falling in love. But the sad part is that the person mending relationships is not in one but it's the price I have to pay.
So we have the Eclipse EP now, what next for Oxlade?
I never say what's next. I didn't even tell you guys I was dropping an EP, I just did. After the visuals of Ojuju, I'll be shooting everything, it's Oxlade season because I'm putting out more music this year.