Over the years, I’ve come across an interesting variety of music, especially as a new dawn of alternative sounds came upon us, the listeners, as a community. Although there are several artistes creating their own stars on this “alté” walk of fame, there is one who has particularly caught my attention and left me with several questions after every listen. Moody beats and ambiguous topics are characteristic of his artistry, and I was fortunate to get an hour to know what makes him tick. On this week’s RADRPlus, I caught up with Elomaina Mafeni, whom some of our readers know through his unique moniker of AYLØ. Under his guidance, I was taken through his musical journey, as well as some insight of what is to come from the genre-bending genius.
“Before I think about it, I’m making music. It’s one of the things that was gifted to me.”
There is a temptation to say that he was born with a mic in his hand. But, just like everyone else, AYLØ is a product of what he listened to from a young age. “My mum listened to Gospel so that came into play at some point; my dad was on jazz and Bob Marley, my uncle was on 2Pac and Biggie, while I used to listen to Chris Brown and Destiny’s Child. So that’s a wide spectrum before I was even 10.” In the middle of all this, he also wanted to be Michael Jackson, and could hold his own in a dance battle if he ever needed it to save his life. Nonetheless, music has always been his primary form of self expression, right from the time he would perform his lyrics a cappella to his classmates. “I recorded my first song during my JS3 long vacation. It was a Yoruba afro pop song. I can’t speak Yoruba so I had a friend translate it, and we recorded it as a group.” This group was called Just to Soj (or JTS for short). His music identity has always been evident in the names he used as monikers, transitioning from his gangster rap days as Young F2D to his afro pop days as Feni Baba. It was not until his time as an undergraduate that he decided on the name he would use until now. “I wanted everyone, especially white people to stop messing up my [real] name. That’s where the ‘aylo’ came from.” He is quite particular about his name being spelt as he created it; the “Ø” carrying a big significance. “What I was tryna say was that I will always be the same, but being the same entails me not doing the same things; just because you’ve heard me do this type of record doesn’t mean you won’t hear me do another type of record.” He continued, “I could change as I want to. And if you were to tell me otherwise, I probably wouldn’t listen to you.”
His adolescent years were heavily influenced by J. Cole, whom he credits as his inspiration to start producing his own music. “Two people who made me wanna get into production were J. Cole and Bridge (LOS),” he said. “They’re the ones who gave me insight that you can really do all these things yourself.” His introverted personality has given him room to better tap into his senses. “I feel like that’s when I make my best music and learn the most, when I’m just by myself.” That would explain why it is difficult to come across him often.
“It was the first time I changed the kind of music I was making; a different thing I was trying to express.”
As a project, Honest Conversations is conceptually different from his two subsequent releases. On this project, AYLØ went down a more lyrical route, although that is not to take away from the quality of production of the tape. He spoke particularly on two songs, “Dreaming and Melanin was the first time I was picking topics and speaking on them,” he said, adjusting himself on the pillows he used to sit on the floor at the corner of the room. “Dreaming is about being a young African boy in a foreign land, and having dreams that are foreign to the African mentality, along with the lessons that come with trying to chase those dreams.” With “Melanin”, AYLØ discusses that part in the life of a man when he starts to fully discover the beauty of a woman. The content of this song came as a result of a relationship he was having at the time. As the project name implies, he uses it as a medium to speak honestly about certain topics. It set him up nicely for the sound that we have become accustomed to today.
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Upon listening to this tape for the first time, something that struck me was the title. Back then, I thought he was either trying to be fake-deep or just didn’t have a title for the project. “No, no, that was the title,” he said, with a wry smile. “I know that some people might not have understood what each song is about. So rather than give you a [definite] title, the title of the project is whatever you want to hear because you’re gonna have so many questions.” At the time the project was released, it felt like a breath of fresh air. From the melodiously strung ‘Gardens’ to the intense soliloquy that is ‘133’, AYLØ keeps us in suspense of what the next song might sound like. Like he rightly expected, some songs were misconceived, as in the case of ‘925’. “When people hear the song, they think it’s about having a 9-to-5. I was actually talking about drug dealers in London.” As an artiste who is constantly experimenting, it is quite natural that his listeners might misunderstand the motive behind each song. But that factor is what makes AYLØ the creator that he is. He will give you the map and throw you the ropes, but wherever you end up is up to you. With ‘wys?’, he gives us a more commercial version of his music, but still executing it in his own laidback way.
Even without hearing the words, the mood ‘Paris!’ brings to a room is one of intimacy, romance, gentleness and affection. It would prove to be an insight into what the rest of the project would sound like. ‘I Listen To You…’ comes off as a hybrid of a serenade to an absent lover, and an alcohol-fueled soliloquy assisted by simple piano notes. Lyrics to ‘xozhu’ started off as an assignment from his manager since the days of <insert project name/>. “I picked from Jamie Foxx’s Fall For Your Type, Drake’s Marvin’s Room and Find Your Love. So I just did a mashup of all of those and decided to unleash it.” There was also a sample from ZHU’s ‘Money’ which he heard off FIFA 17. “I’ve never been one to title songs and work around the title. I just work and whatever feels good is what I use.” The title of the song is simply a combination of XO (from Drake’s OVOXO) and the band name ZHU. On ‘Pretty Mama!’, a guest verse from Chicago rapper Myquale and Higo’s sound engineering brought the anti-catfish anthem to life. “It’s basically about girls who look just as good in real life as they do on Instagram.” ‘Nintendo’ is cut from the same cloth as his highly euphoric 2018 single ‘Litt!’ featuring the evergreen Tay Iwar. These elements come together to form a darker, more moody foil to <insert project name/>, and dnt’dlt seems like a project destined to be the soundtrack to many kickbacks and intimate chill sessions for years to come.
“Part of the cruise is that it continues to unfold.”
While some of his friends chose the life of 9-to-5s in suits and ties, AYLØ decided on sleepless nights with pens and mics. “Since I was 7 it’s all I’ve ever enjoyed doing and what I’ve always wanted to do, aside from acting. I’d get into that when I can.” The work never stops for AYLØ. He is set to announce the details of the new project he has coming out in 2020; a project he had already finished before he dropped dnt’dlt. He also revealed that he has a show coming up in Lagos this December, and further information will be provided in due course.
As the sun continues to rise on a new culture of refreshing and different sounds in the Nigerian music industry, it is difficult to ignore the genius that is constantly displayed by these artists. To witness a musician of AYLØ’s artistry is a privilege, and we must protect him at all costs. The present is exciting and the future is even brighter, and we sit in eager anticipation for what the Benin City-born musician has in store for us.