Odd Interview: Fireboy DML

by Angelo de Klerk & Amir Bagheri


Amir and I recently got to interview the young, talented artist,  Fireboy DML. We got to discuss how the Nigerian artist’s upbringing influenced him as a creative as well as his uniqueness in the Afrobeats genre. 

Amir: Fireboy, thank you so much for sitting with us at Odd Magazine here. First and foremost man, happy belated birthday.

Fireboy: Birthday? That was like last month [laughs]. 

Amir: That was last month, February 5th. What did you do, man?

Fireboy: I was in bed the whole day, just chilling. I like to spend my birthdays alone. 

Amir: Oh really? I tend to do the same. Do you also end up having these existential crises on your birthday?

Fireboy: [laughs] is that? Oh there’s a name for it, oh nice, that’s good. That’s a fancy name for it [laughs]. Maybe that’s what it is then, but I believe the best birthdays are best spent alone. You know, the reflection and just –  

Amir: No, I agree with you there, man. I want to get a little bit to, you know, before the music started, Fireboy, right. I know that you were born in Abeokuta, if I’m not mistaken?

Fireboy: Yessir, Abeokuta in Ogun State. 

Amir: Tell us about the city, what was that like for you as a child growing up in that environment?

Fireboy: Abeokuta is a big but kinda sleepy town in Ogun State, very close to Lagos State, where I live and work now. I didn’t go out much, I was not the outgoing child, I was mostly indoors. Partly because of the kind of person I am and partly because of the parenting style of my folks, to be honest. My dad didn’t believe in, you know, exposing his children to too many outside stuff, but I was mostly indoors – apart from school – mostly indoors just reading books, writing poems, writing love letters to imaginary girls or whatnot [laughs], uhm, yeah and a few friends. But basically everything I learned was at school… I learned everything at school, I evolved in school. Music, for me, you know, a little bit of influence from my parents but mostly from myself – just from being alone and discovering music online. But yeah, I was mostly indoors, writing poems, unknowingly evolving my heart and my artistic side. I always knew I could sing but music wasn’t – singing wasn’t the thing for me then, it was mostly writing and reading. But then I left… okay, primary and secondary education in Abeokuta, where I grew up, then I left for another town to go to college and that was when I actually really discovered music. Or let me  say where music discovered me and I started music professionally in school back then. Shuffling music in school, my grades started dropping but then I found purpose so I didn’t give a fuck, you know, I just wanted to sing and I just wanted to make music. And that was it… after school I came to Lagos and that was it. Straight up. 

Amir: You said something about… I think, your parents kind of, for lack of a better word… strictness when you were growing up back in your hometown. 

Fireboy: I don’t think it was from strictness. I think they were just being cautious, to be honest, you know? Yeah, they wanted to bring me up in the – what you would call, uhm, not really home-schooled but you know – just stay at home, go to school, come back home; don’t make too many friends, don’t go out there and expose yourself to too many stuff out there, because it’s so tough bringing up a child in Nigeria, to be honest, you have to really focus on them; you can’t be too distracted bringing up a child in Nigeria. So I understand why they were like that. 

Amir: Absolutely. Do you think that was helpful to who you are as a person today? And indirectly, do you think it contributed  to your career in terms of being more disciplined and stuff or?

Fireboy: Definitely! Definitely, in a very huge way. It brought me up as this kind of person who understands loving oneself, spending time with oneself, getting to understand yourself and not exposing yourself to too much negative energy outside because there’s so much negative energy out there if you expose yourself too much to people. The world is a beautiful place but people? Not so much, you know, so it’s helped me to be careful within relationships. It also helped with my artistic side, like I said, you know, I was mostly in my room, just reading, writing, building up my vocabulary, and it developed a very strong usage of words which has really helped me right now and helped to carve a niche in this Afro-beats world that is just filled with beats and instruments and just dancing. It has helped me to bring my own spice to Afro-beats – that’s lyricism, being intentional with direction and song writing. 

Amir: Got you. You said that music found you after you moved towns and went to college. How did music find you? Was it through some friends? Or did you meet someone that kind of like, pushed you towards that? Because I know as a child you were part of the church choir, right? So how – 

Fireboy: Yeah, but not for long. That was like a week. It was a – 

Amir: Oh really?

Fireboy: It was like a spell, it was like for a week… I didn’t feel comfortable, I was in the middle just singing “hallelujah, hallelujah” [laughs] – it wasn’t really fun for me. I was like – I didn’t feel comfortable man, I felt kinda choked, so I left. 

Amir: So how did music find you in college?

Fireboy: I was hanging out with the cool kids then – the cool kids in my college were the musicians, the journalists, the ones that went into media and whatnot. So, I was hanging out with them most of the time. When I indeed left my room to hang out with people, it was mostly the musicians, ‘cause I had a very… I have a very – I love art so much, and when I see you’re an artistic person, I kind of wanna hang with you. So I’d hang with them and they discovered I could sing and they were like “come on, let’s go to the studio and just, you don’t have to do anything, just sit down and just watch.” And I found myself in the studio one day and I made my first song and it was – it started like a joke. I go back to my dorm room that night and I listen and I was like “What? Wow this is something,” and for the first time ever, I felt alive, I felt driven by a purpose, that I had never felt before in my life. And that was when I knew that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. Fuck this school shit. This is it!

Amir: Yeah, I completely hear you. Now let’s fast forward a little bit to 2018, when you first, I think, released the song “Jealous”, which was part of this album, a compilation album by different artists that were signed to that label at the time. But I first heard “Jealous” in 2019, just before you released Laughter, Tears and Goosebumps, because it was featured in that album as well. How was that song received initially in 2018? Because I know it blew up in 2019 just before your album launch, again. Why do you think that was the case? Why do you think it took a year for it to really blow up? 

Fireboy: Uh, because, number one: it’s a very different song, and you know, when you know a song is different in this climate here, it takes a while for it to sink in and for people to actually get used to it, because there’s so many talents around here and sounds is everywhere saturated with music. It takes a while for different a sound to blend in. And also, as a relatively new artist, people loved me, people knew me – not that much but you know… not that much, they didn’t know me that much. And it was part of a compilation album so it was like a sleeper hit, it was just there – it was like a hidden gem in the album. And I knew it was gonna take time, but I knew I had made a great song. In fact, there was one other song that I had made in the album that people were saying was the one but I told them “Nah, it’s Jealousy. It’s this one!” When I really came up – was it me that came up with the idea? I don’t know but okay, when Olamide, that’s my boss who signed me, noticed that it was kind of getting a different type of traction, we came up with this idea to rerelease the song and shoot a video for it, you know, in March 2019, and that was when the song really blew up. 

Amir: Right, so you think the video directly, actually, helped the song to grow bigger in Nigeria as well?

Fireboy: Yeah, the video and pushing it as a single. Like, promoting it as a single did that. 

Amir: Now, let’s talk – and I’m gonna pass the mic to Angelo after this, this is more or less my last question as far as, I think, the music is concerned. In terms of like Laughter, Tears and Goosebumps, I think you made it very clear that you are someone who loves feelings, romance and human emotions in general, right? And I think, after listening to Laughter, Tears and Goosebumps, I completely understood that. But I wanna know, and I know you earlier mentioned that you used to write poetry to your imaginary girlfriends [laughs] but what was the real motive and inspiration behind this debut album? Where did it come from? And I have one follow up question but let’s answer that first. 

Fireboy: Okay, my debut album Laughter, Tears and Goosebumps came from the young, cheeky, dreamy, lover boy me – at the time. You know, I was just so excited about sharing my sound with the world and I wanted people to feel. That young boy that just wants people to feel, that wants people to actually not be scared to feel. It doesn’t matter if it’s love, it could be anger, it could be anything, I just want you to feel while you listen to my music and you know, my music has always been about Afrobeats with soul. So, that soul is what really what came out in that debut album. It was a dreamy, young kid who has a couple of experiences with women, not exactly love but you know, experiences with women and wanted to share it with people and that was just where LTG stems from. 

Amir: Fantastic, thank you, my last question with regard to that album is the album is predominantly everything that you say that it is. It is about feelings and emotion and kinda like expressing, that hoping that it will be reciprocated. But on a few songs, you are actually not necessarily talking about all those loving emotions, but rather you are addressing social issues in Nigeria, right? And I wanna know where that comes from, like do you have an insider activist within you that wants to speak about these issues and hopefully change things along the way? Or not , just things that came to your mind?

Fireboy: I think it was Nina Simone that said that an artist’s duty is to reflect the times. I believe that as an artist, as much as you want people to feel stuff, you actually have to – your duty as an artist, especially when you’re becoming really known and popular, is you need to tell people stuff and let people know what’s going on. And apart from that, I didn’t want my debut album to be monotonous. Even at such, people were saying “oh, it’s predominantly love,” “he only sings about love,” but they ignore the other stuff that we talk about in these songs. It was a debut album with no features, so I didn’t want to bore people out with my sick love stories and shit. I also wanted to tell people about what’s going on in my head, what’s going on in my society and whatnot.

Amir: Sounds fantastic. Fireboy, I’m gonna pass on the platform to my colleague, Angelo, he has, I think, a lot more questions for you. Over to you Angelo. 

Fireboy: Thank you, Amir. Angelo, what’s good bro?

Angelo: Wassup, you good?

Fireboy: Yeah I’m good, I’m chilled. 

Angelo: That’s good, that’s good. So, uhm, I’m just gonna just straight into it and say that one of the first thing’s I noticed about you was your tattoo that you have on your chest, the treble clef with the lifeline, right? And so many meanings can be derived from that specific tattoo but I wanted to know, like, for you specifically, what does it mean to you?

Fireboy: Uhm, I think it’s really straight forward, it just basically means that music gave me life. You know, like I said, I was just – when I was growing up, I was just that young guy who really did not know where he was going with life. I was literally dead. I was just living life, existing. But when I started making music, I started feeling purpose. I feel like… I think that a man without purpose is literally dead. Like, you’re just existing and not living life. So, music gave me that purpose and that drive. And yeah, it just means that music gave me life, basically. 

Angelo: Right, and I think you are doing well with music, that really did give you purpose. And I can’t begin to imagine what the music industry is like but I remember I saw in another interview, that you had spoken about how people exploited your song writing abilities but you also spoke about people who affected you positively and that were really pleasant to work with. I wanted to know how working with these people, both good and bad, has influenced who you have become as a musician. 

Fireboy: Yeah, I did mention that. That was a long time ago, how did you get that? Anyways, [laughs] yeah, I have met a couple of people that kind of exploited my gifts and abilities. Which is generally normal when you are on the ground and you are tryna work your way up to the limelight. You meet people who mess you up, you meet people that will bring you up. So, on the bright side, people that exploited me actually made me [snaps fingers] “wise-up”, like we usually say around here. Like, you know, it increased my abilities to actually read people’s energy and avoid people that want to exploit you. And it also gave me – that was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. That was the last motivation I needed to actually work harder to blow up. You know, I told myself… I wrote a couple of hit songs for this guy and it was making waves, and it just, you know, discarded me like I was trash and I’m like, this guy cannot be making this success and I’ll be here on the ground, still hustling. I have to make it. If I don’t make it, that would be an injustice to me, everything I’ve worked for, the universe. Nah, I gotta go through with this. That was the ultimate changer I needed to actually really work hard and blow up. And, I’m grateful for that. It was a very terrible experience but at the same time I’m grateful, you know? And I learned quite a lot from him too because this person was really talented to be honest, vocally and I learned quite a lot from him, so you know, it’s all good. It’s all good. And I met people that helped my life too, I met Olamide, I met a friend of mine from Ghana, Douglas, who helped me with putting my songs onto platforms like Apple music, Spotify, because I couldn’t afford to at the time. I was using only Soundcloud. Soundcloud is a very, you know, free platform for young artists. From there, I met Olamide, I met other people that really helped my life. So, good and bad, shaped my life to what it has become right now. 

Angelo: Oh okay, that makes sense. And, you mentioned earlier on that you’re an introvert and you also mentioned, again in an interview I found in the archives, that your creativity relies on you being in your personal space. So, I wanna know how the pandemic has influenced you making music, because we’re kinda forced to stay indoors, you know, we don’t really have a choice.

Fireboy: Yeah, uhm, you found a lot of interviews, wow, man. [Laughs] You should work for the FBI. Yeah, uhm, I was… you know, when the pandemic started, when the lockdown started, I won’t lie, I must confess, I was kind of grateful. Like “woah, finally, I have a reason to stay home all day.” But weeks went by, months went by and I was like, “Oh, shit is getting real. What is going on?” [laughs] You know, but at the same time, that was the time I started working on sophomore album, Apollo. Gave me so much time to reflect, because I wanted to make an introspective album. An album that comes from an artist who has grown as a person, as an artist, as a musician, and I wanted to make an album that shows my growth as a person. And I couldn’t achieve that without some moments of reflection and the lockdown gave me just that. It gave me time to actually sit down, rediscover myself and my gifts, and my person. It really helped me a lot while making my sophomore album and it reflects so much in the album, because you can see the growth from that dreamy lover boy in the debut to the young man who doesn’t give a fuck about you, who loves his personal space and breaks girls’ hearts and shit, [laughs] So, that was really helpful for me. 

Angelo: Okay and I noticed that the theme of love is really consistent throughout your work. From the poetry you said you wrote for your imaginary girlfriends, all the way to your popular songs today, right? Why are you so passionate about love? Or the idea of love. What does that mean to you?

Fireboy: I think love is the strongest emotion of all, and as much as we don’t like to admit it, as human beings, it has a really great effect on us. And it’s not just love in the sense of romantic love. In fact, I don’t really reach romantic love that much to be honest, I think it’s really rare to find and we, human beings, don’t really know how to express that. But, I’m talking love in its purest form, you know, the way you look at your dog, you know, your mother, your family, family friends, people that have come through for you – that’s love to me. You know, love for your country, love for what you do. Love for your heart – that’s love to me. So, it’s passed across different stuff. Love for a woman’s waist, you know, like I was saying in “Vibration”, I watched someone dance and I fell in love with the way she danced, that was what birthed my song, “Vibration”. So, it spans across different meanings and that’s why I think it’s a very strong component in my music. And to be honest, the most memorable, classic songs are m0stly love songs. 

Angelo: Yeah, that is true. That is really true. I saw that you were recently on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. What was that like? Wasn’t that like a crazy experience for you?

 

Fireboy: That was surreal! When my team told me of the stuff I was like “what!” Because I grew up into a musician watching predecessors and everybody on this show, and I was like it would be a dream to actually get on this show. It’s a really huge honour for me getting on this show so young in my career. It’s a lot, it’s a blessing. And big ups to my team, big ups to my fans who supported. They stayed all night because of the time difference. They watched it around 5:35am, they stayed up all night to watch it. It was a beautiful moment for me, it means a lot to me in a sense that it goes with my desire to push the Afrobeats sound globally. 

 Angelo: Okay. Nah, for sure, I get you. And apart from blowing up on the international scene, you also recently won 5 awards on The Headies, which is a Nigerian award show. What was it like, you know, winning those awards? A Nigerian thing, you know, what was that like?

Fireboy: At some point it became ridiculous. I was like “what the fuck is going on here?” [Laughs] Man! You know, you know they had called my name three times already… Fourth time? The fifth time?! I was, you know… everyone was looking at me there and I was spinning so, but it was a good thing.  It was a good thing because I feel like I deserved it. I definitely deserved it and almost everyone felt the same because there wasn’t any complaints about, “oh! Why did you give it to him?” You know, it’s such a good thing and it’s a good thing to be recognized for your heart and as much as I don’t really need validation, I feel like it’s a good way to start and even though, I think the greatest validation an artist needs is when your fans love your music and people accept your music. It’s also a good thing to get awards, you’re recognized for your art. Its only up from here man. 

Angelo: Alright, uhm, and would you say that it’s a bit intimidating being that introverted, Nigerian kid who just became a globally recognized superstar? 

Fireboy: Not really, because I had a lot of time to learn, to grow. I thought I was going to blow up at 18 and become this Wonderkid and shit but God had other plans, you know, the universe had other plans. God wanted me to learn and to wait and to earn it. So, that time between the age of 17 when I started making music and 23, when I blew up, or 22 when I blew up, I had so much time to learn and to prepare myself for whatever I was going to face. No matter how introverted I think I am, when I’m on stage I’m a different person.  When I’m making music I’m a different person, so it doesn’t really matter, there isn’t really anything intimidating about it. 

Angelo: That makes sense. And, do you have any specific artists in Nigeria that you would love to work with? As well as in South Africa, and then internationally as well?

Fireboy: In Nigeria, so many. There’s a pantheon of artists. I cannot mention all the names… Michael Biggs, the big daddies and big mommies up there, every single person is talented and I would love to work with them. South Africa, I love Nasty C, I love Cassper Nyovest, I’ve had a couple of link ups with Master KG and hopefully something comes out of that. So many talented artists, Sho Madjozi, uh man, I can’t mention everyone’s names. Internationally, I love Travis Scott, I think his brand and artistry is what really gets me to be honest, I’d love to be connected with that. And I love Jon Bellion so much, he inspires me in a really huge way, I’ve got his picture on my wall. [laughs] I love Chris Brown, I’d love to work with Chris Brown. Post Malone too, amazing artist. 

Angelo: Okay cool and closing off, what can we expect from you this year and just in the foreseeable future?

Fireboy: I’m working on my next single. I have two albums now. I dropped my last album 6 months ago but, you know, I feel like it’s time to start looking forward. But right now I’m not looking at – most of my fans are expecting another album but I’m not looking at that right now. I’m just trying to take it one step at a time, focusing on my next single. It’s gotta to be a smash and I’ve got to get it right so I’m taking my time. I’m definitely going to be performing on the world stage, planning my tour, hopefully corona stops being a bitch. Yeah, so, more collaborations. I’ve been on the solo run for a while now and I only have three features in my last album so I think the fans deserve more collaborations so I’m working on that. There’s so much in store, but let Covid-19 go first. 

Angelo: Yeah, makes sense. I’m looking forward to seeing that. Uhm, that’s all from my end, I don’t know if Amir has anything to add?

Amir: I just have a statement. Fireboy, look man, I have no doubts that in a couple of years’ time I’m g0ing to see you at the Grammy’s and hopefully you win some awards but I swear if you don’t thank your imaginary girlfriends, for making you write poetry, on that stage, honestly, I think you would have done all of us an injustice. 

Fireboy: You have a point there, I’ll shout out to them. I hope I don’t get too nervous and miss out on that. Thanks man!

Amir: [laughs] that would be funny to watch. But, it’s been real, man. I think half an hour is definitely more than enough and I don’t want to take much more of your time. I hope we can do more of these, especially when you’re in South Africa, maybe do it in studio together.  

Fireboy: Definitely. The trip is in the works. My team and I are working on that. I’d love to be in South Africa, you know, create with the media community, the artist community. Definitely, it’s in the works. I’m looking forward to that. 

Amir: We look forward to hosting you when you are this side, man. Thank you so much. 

Fireboy: Yessir.

 

Keep a look out for Fireboy DML’s single that will be released in the near future, and check the global scene for the world tour that is already being planned. Follow his social media accounts so as to not miss out on any new information:

Instagram/Twitter: @fireboydml