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How Blaqbonez is Orchestrating Mainstream Success

Blaqbonez is comical but he’s not just about the jokes

Gbagada is a densely populated area of Lagos, Nigeria, spanning both sides of the Gbagada-Oworonshoki expressway that leads to the city’s indispensable 3rd Mainland Bridge [the longest of 3 bridges that connects Lagos Island to the mainland]. A largely residential neighbourhood with banks, shopping centres & offices situated within. Gbagada is different things to different people, but for today it was going to be where I will be meeting Akumefule Chukwuemeka George, otherwise known as Blaqbonez, in the fairly serene neighbourhood of Gbagada Phase 2.

I walk into the compound, and I’m greeted at the front door by Blaqbonez himself. His clothing hue is toned down as he appears comfortably retro rocking a long-sleeved blue denim shirt, black ripped skinny jeans, and a pair of Nikes. He is tall and lean, his most prominent feature is his dreads. With full shiny dark hair; it was almost as if he had thick ropes wound on his head. He has since dyed his hair pink. We walk through a corridor that leads into the building. A whiteboard hangs on one side of the reception with block diagrams, numbers and a bunch of other things written on it, it appears they just had a meeting. He’s in the company of his manager and two others who I presume are on his team. There’s a corporate feel about it, no loud music blaring, no smoke in the air, no liquor in sight. It was a reminder that truly the music business is no joke, there’s a lot of deep thinking and plotting behind the fame that its stardom brings.   

“Rap will not come back until rappers decide to focus on making music.”

Blaqbonez is a fairly regular twentysomething from a modest Lagos home now learning to navigate fame. He reveals he doesn’t remember a lot from his childhood, “the memories really started forming from 10 when I entered high school” Blaq says. I was really troublesome – almost got expelled on 3 different occasions, and then I was really short, my two best friends were also short and we went about looking for trouble together. I remember we found this leaf that when you put on someone’s skin, it makes them itch, so we used to put it on people’s neck and just turn away like nothing happened. Till the day some girls in school caught us, it was crazy”

Blaqbonez is hungry, between his manager, Aisosa, and everyone else he keeps asking with childish imagery “when are we going to get food, I’m hungry”. It was a little past noon and for some reason, he hadn’t eaten all day. That had me worried a little, I wondered if it was going to affect his mood and disrupt our conversations, although food came minutes before the interview ended, Blaqbonez was all good energy. Our conversation led to unravelling some of his views ranging from his interests – he’s a big fan of Bryson Tiller’s TRAPSOUL, he hurriedly answers Channel Orange when asked what his favourite Frank Ocean album was –  to more significant takes like when he says “rap will not come back until when rappers decide to focus on making music”.

The prestigious Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), where he earned a Computer Engineering degree, serves as his launchpad. With a student population of 35,000, Blaq was known amongst rap heads for loose bars, but his recorded songs hardly got a listen. He describes the crossroads he found himself, “I’d been in OAU for like 4 years but none of my songs was popular, I was just known as the guy that could rap”, Blaq says. The web he was caught is common in the industry-  gaining popularity than actual loyalists of your music. Navigating through this while schooling must have prepared him better to curb the recurrence of this now he’s hit the mainstream scene. He was notorious for battle rapping and dissing artistes who played wack shows at the university’s amphitheatre. “Back then everyone knew if you come to OAU and your show was wack be assured that Blaqbonez was going to diss you instantly”, Blaq says. In 2015, one of such diss tracks was at highlife singer, Adekunle Gold, who was rather unknown at the time, titled ‘Give Us Our Money’. Blaq is less confrontational these days and he’s realised he may have burnt bridges in his past. Days after the release of Bad Boy Blaq, he took to his Twitter to offer a public apology to Gold. In his apology, he described that phase of his career as ‘wayward’. Gold who now has a large following had just posted the new album on his Instagram story, telling his fans “Look this up!”, Blaq also used the tweet to thank him for this gesture. Free Promo.

I’d been in OAU for like 4 years but none of my songs was popular, I was just known as the guy that raps.
Blaqbonez spent the early part of his career battle rapping,  today he’s making cult tunes like Mamiwota, Consent & Good Boy.  The transition from tough spitter to the radio-ready musician is one many undoubtedly gifted rappers have failed at and will continue to fail at. With that background, rave attention to his music must feel sudden and surprising, but for Blaq, it isn’t. He seems unamused about all of it, it feels almost like he preconceived all of it. His last EP before Bad Boy Blaq was mysteriously titled Last Time Under. The title has now served as a prophecy of sorts for the events that have now unfolded in his career.  “Last Time Under was the first project I focused on making music so I was sure of the direction I was going. It was the first time I had a hit in school, The first time I had songs people liked was off that project so I realised I may have finally figured out how to make music that could move me from being unknown so I titled it Last Time Under.
He is confident in his talents and the path he has now chosen to tread. He sounds assured as he says “Rap will not come back until rapper decides to focus on making music. People feature the same rappers now, it’s either Psycho YP, Dremo, YCee or Blaqbonez, there are a lot of rappers so there must be a reason why these are the guys getting features. A lot of rappers want to rap for acclaim. I only discovered 2 years ago, I was in that space too, all I wanted to do was prove to you that I’m the best rapper.

He gushes about Psycho YP and it was slightly surreal seeing a budding star gush about another star the way thousands of others would gush about him, but maybe that’s why Blaqbonez is different, and why he resonates strongly with many people. The manner in which he spoke about Psycho, I sensed a collaboration was cooking and without hesitating, I asked, he couldn’t hide it, his reply “Ahh yes o, we are working, we have like 4 or 5 songs, I really like the way that guy raps”. Two months later after we met, I hear a YP guest verse on the remix to the song, Denied, off his Bad Boy Blaq album. Imagine what I felt.  

A lot of rappers want to rap for acclaim. I only discovered 2 years ago, I was in that space too, all I wanted to do was prove to you that I’m the best rapper.”

Blaqbonez is keen on making long-lasting music that will cut across different demographics
As an artiste, it’s really not about popularity or that social media hype from your 1 million followers”, adding in comical fashion as he quips “Are they listening to your music?” Many artistes are placing their focus on quick social media blow up, forgetting that you actually have to be making good music consistently. So are those your followers listening to your music, if they are not then as an artiste you’ve failed”. It’s the social media age, and for musicians using social media effectively is nearly as important as the actual music-making process he quips “Social media is a good way to see if people love a song, instead of just basing it on your team or friends around you, cos I could say something in a song and cos you know me it may make so much sense, but it won’t make sense to a stranger. I don’t do it to check what people are saying but to actually check how many people are talking. For example when Tekno dropped ‘Jogodo’ on his IG, the number of engagements he got on the post he knew for sure that it was a song worth releasing. So when I post a video of my song and I see the number of engagements, I know whether people like it or not. I did that with songs from BadBoyBlaq, I posted them on Instagram for about an hour, saw reactions and deleted after. I feel people should do that more often.”

He is playful when he speaks of his inanimate alter ego from the past, Biodun Lawal, born in 1942, I watch him speak about Biodun’s wisdom and humour seems to be a mainstay in Blaq’s life. His jokes add a familiar, average guyness to his aura. He is thorough in utilizing all the weapons in his artillery to get his music heard. Around the time of his album release, he posted viral videos on Twitter as part of roll-out, in one of those videos mentioning at 6 god, Drake, he holds an oyster fork to his neck threatening to kill himself if he didn’t listen to his album. His play-acting is emotive, and if you didn’t know anything about him making music you would mistake him for an Instagram Comedian. He tells me he comes up with the ideas for these videos, dropping his 2 cents on humour and how he’s using social media to push his music “I come up with the ideas, and it makes me feel for Instagram comedians, some of their videos are dead due to the time frame they have. They have to drop skits often and on some days a banging idea won’t come easily, then you now try to force it. I space how I share videos so people won’t start expecting videos every day, so there’s no pressure, I just let the ideas come.

Away from the shenanigans, Blaq is still in touch with serious issues and one that’s foremost on his mind is sexual consent. In his home country, Nigeria, consent is a big issue that awareness needs to be raised through any avenue; even through a trap song. That song is Consent, a record off his album, which he considers his favourite of the 10 songs on the album. “My favourite song off my album is Consent because it was the first time I sang that much on a song, it gives me this feeling of ‘oh I could do this, I didn’t know I could’, for that it holds a special place in my heart,” Blaq says. His effort with the record is intentional and he shared his doggedness in making sure it was included as part of the final cut of his tape “I told M. I if there’s any song that must be on the tape, it was Consent, you can remove any other song but not this one. I thought to myself that if I made a song about consent and made it sound too serious, slow and deep, people may see it as me making a big demand of them, but by making it uptempo and something bouncy it was easier to make it clear that this is how I expect everyone to go about sexual advances. This is the normal way to get laid.  The Nigerian society is so fucked up, because as boys it feels like we were almost trained to believe that when a girl says no, it means keep trying till you get a yes. Sometimes, I also believe that a few girls see some guys as alpha male so they are on some passive shit in turning down sexual advances they are not interested in, the right thing for everyone is if you get a no, no matter how passive it may seem to you, just lock up”.

For those who like to think they know better, it may seem Blaq has sold out. But he is unbothered long as he’s making music people love. “Bad Boy Blaq is my seventh project and many people still say some of my older stuff is better but I don’t think so, Bad Boy Blaq is my best project”, Blaq says. He adds Rappers need to realise that people can consume music without vocals, people make instrumental albums so people actually first listen to music just for how sweet it sounds. If the vocals you’re putting on a record is going to make it less sweet, don’t put it, if the people won’t feel the vocals, don’t put it. When people first listen they rarely pick out the content, they are drawn to the music first by how it sounds, the melody and all that, not really what you’re saying, but by listening to it more they begin to know its lyrical content that’s why I feel rappers need to first make a sonically sweet album, but puting good lyrical content on it is what will make it last because if it’s sweet but there’s no deeper layer, nothing else to discover, the music won’t last that long, it is just going to come and go.” Blaqbonez seems to have perfectly engineered his viral fame, polarizing the internet along the way but how long can he make it all last? Undoubtedly, he’s on an upward trajectory, but the lessons he picked from his time in uni have stuck with him like mice to glue. He minces no words or emotions when he says “Performances in OAU made me realize a lot of things, you see someone else perform and they get wild turn up from the crowd, then I get up to do all of my rapping and I don’t get any of that. The other guys were making music that was sweet, I felt something, like I was cheating myself.”

Photos : Seun Osipitan

Interview held in August 2018.

Spreading good vibes.