To Be Honest (TBH) the album by Simi is a bold move and Simi is no stranger to making bold moves. In 2019, she started her Record Label Studio Brat, and has since released various chart-topping singles, an EP, and now TBH. Duduke, her first song as an independent artist has been described by her as the biggest song of her career with over Fifty-Four  million views on YouTube at the time of writing this piece. After 3 studio albums and 3 EPs, TBH was Simi taking control of her narrative.
“I just wanted the opportunity to be able to tell things from my perspective. There are various stories on different blogs of what people think i’ve been through. I wanted to say that being here isn’t an accident; It took work and time. I’m proud of that and giving myself flowers.“
Simisola Bolatito Ogunleye  fondly called ‘Simi’ has come a long way from Ojuelegba where she was born not very far from Wizkid as she chimes in ‘story story’. But this relationship with music didn’t just start. From the age of 10, she began singing and writing songs eventually joining her church choir. In 2008, she released her first studio album Ogaju. However, it was not until Six  Years later that she shot into the limelight of the Nigerian Music industry. Simi signed with X3M Music and released “Tiff” which garnered so much critical acclaim that had her nominated for Best Alternative Song at The Headies in 2015. And so it continued, the story which began over 20 years ago in her church choir has now spanned into 4 studio albums, 3 EPs, countless award nominations and wins with an album debuting on the Billboard World Music Chart. This woman is a big deal and she isn’t shy to let us know.
TBH was more than a stone throw outside Simi’s perceived sound.
Simi is tenacious and this has built her into this incredible woman with many talents. She isn’t just a singer-songwriter, she’s a sound engineer, who after learning to mix and master from YouTube, has gone on to mix and master many projects including hers, and is now running her own label which she admits comes with its own challenges.
“I am the only artist on the label. I started the record label for me and not because I wanted to sign people. I have to pay more attention to the business side, make and approve decisions. And then deal with the consequences, good or bad. The team is still small, I’m working with people I have worked with for years. Trust is very important to me and my team has become family.”
Simi wants people to acknowledge her range with this project. She hopes that this album puts her on the radar of people who have not previously heard of her and makes her fans proud of her.
While sitting behind my laptop screen, I hear a ping and Simi’s picture pops up letting me know she has joined the meeting. “Hi Simi”, I say slightly starstruck. Her voice is soft, welcoming, and warm like a hug. We begin to talk about everything from her childhood to being a mum, her family and friends to music, and her newly released album. After 40 minutes of beautiful conversation with Simi, I feel like I have talked with a friend and I get a little more insight into this woman who wants to be heard.
Rose- Congratulations on the release of your album. How are you feeling tonight?
Simi- Very Good. I would like a little more sleep but besides that, I’m great!
Awesome. On the opening track, we get a little bit of insight into your journey as a Musician. Why was it important for you to give us this back story leading into the album?
I had the idea for TBH 3 years ago. I’ve heard and read many stories on blogs about when people feel I blew up or how much work they think I’ve put in. I wanted a chance to say things from my perspective. It was my way of letting people know that being here [at this stage] isn’t an accident. It took work and time and I’m proud of myself and giving myself my flowers.
Get your flowers, Girl! How did the conversation about you wanting to do music full time go with your parents?
It wasn’t difficult for me. I grew up with my mum; my parents got separated when I was 9. My mum was worried after I finished school and she advised me to do music part-time. But she’s always been supportive of me. When I was still doing gospel, she would give me money for studio time and CDs. I let her know how much music meant to me and she created an environment for me to thrive creatively.
Grateful for parents who support our dreams no matter how unconventional they might seem. How much of your life inspires your music. Did your upbringing influence your art?
I don’t think so. Nobody in my family was musically oriented. I didn’t start listening to music until I was in university. I was listening to Lauryn Hill and other projects. My music style is influenced more by my personality, values, and what I enjoy. When I write about anything, I think of what I would say in that situation and how I would like to be responded to.
What music/artists do you listen to? Which creatives inspire you?
It depends on how I’m feeling at the time. My playlist is probably not how people think it is. I listen to music properly mostly when I’m driving. Right now, I’m listening to old-school R & B music. Hip-Hop also helps me calm my head. I also listen to Afro beats. I’ve had phases in my life where i am listening to J Cole for months.
Interesting. You’re intentional about the parts of your life you share with the rest of the world, how do you navigate being a public figure and protecting your personal space?
It’s important for me to remember as a public figure that my audience isn’t just the people that love me. It’s everybody, including people that don’t, people who are curious, and those ready to insult me. So I keep whatever I don’t want to be in the hands of people to myself. The moment I put something out there, anyone can do what they want with that information. This has been a guide for separating the things I want to put out there.
2019 was a big year for you. You started your record label ‘Studio Brat’. Big move! Walk me through the events leading to that.
There’s only so much you can do when you work for someone else. Even when the environment is conducive and supportive. It’s a safe space and you can always fall back on your label and say “my label said ‘’. I wanted to take more risks and chances on myself to see what more was out there for me without having to ask for permission. Basically, be my own boss.
I imagine it must be challenging…
Yes, it has. I have to pay more attention to the business side, make and approve decisions. I also have to deal with the consequences, good or bad. I’m the only artist on the label. I started the record label for me and not because I wanted to sign people. The team is still small, I’m working with people I have worked with for years. Trust is very important to me and my team has become family.
Yes, I have noticed in fact that you have a tight-knit circle. There are Names that quite often come up when people mention Simi. Like Oscar, Vincent, Iyanu, Wunmi, and Kie-Kie. What are the dynamics of working with friends?
Most of the people I work with, I’ve known for almost ten  years. The most important quality in a work environment for me is trust. I just need to know you have my back and feel safe around you. Even if you make mistakes, I can work through all that. Anything can be learned, the most important thing is knowing I don’t have to look over my shoulders working with them.
That’s so important. So we’ve had Restless I and II, Simisola, Omo Charlie Champagne Vol. 1 . If you had asked me to guess the name of your next album, It would have been OCC Vol. 2. How did you choose TBH for the title?[Laughs] I name my projects after the way that I’m feeling. My headspace wasn’t where I was when I made OCC Vol. 1. I was trying to be more vulnerable with this project. When I add a number or a volume to a project, it means that I expect I’m going to be in that feeling again.
You’ve said that you’ve been working on TBH for 3 years, did you stop working on it to do Restless II. How did you decide what songs to put on Restless II while still working on TBH
Just like the name, when I made Restless I, I wasn’t signed yet. I was restless and frustrated and trying to figure out “what now?”. For Restless II, I was in the same headspace. I was pregnant and had just left my label. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next.
Sare, So bad, Woman and Duduke didn’t make the cut for TBH…
That was intentional. Duduke was never going to be on any album. It is a movement on its own. I made So bad, Sare and Woman while wrapping up TBH. I was in that Restless phase and the album was tasking. I wasn’t sure where I wanted the sound to go, you know? I wondered whether to make an album similar to Simisola. A friend suggested I release singles. Woman was supposed to come out before I got pregnant but I didn’t want to be feeling as vulnerable and tired and sick as I was feeling then. When I put out woman, I hadn’t put out music for about a year. I wanted to make a statement. After then, I wasn’t sure what to do next. So bad’s release wasn’t planned. It was supposed to be balanced, but we had some issues 2 days before release. I wanted to drop a song before the year ran out, so I put out So bad instead. But I’ve always felt detached from So Bad because releasing it at the time that I did wasn’t planned. I put out Sare because it excited me and my friends liked it but I didn’t hear myself in it so much.
How did you feel at the listening party? Was that the first time you watched people listen to it? Were you nervous?
My friends had listened to it before the party. Interestingly, I told them I didn’t want any feedback. Many times, I would feel like the album was done but I give it a listen and think something was wrong which means I had to re-do the album many times. So I stopped asking for opinions on the album. The album is exactly what I wanted people to hear. The listening party was the first time seeing the reactions of people. I understood some people would like it and some wouldn’t but it’s my art, you know? It’s what I want.
It’s been one week since the release of the album. What has been the general reaction? How has that made you feel?
98% of the feedback has been amazing. It makes me feel like I can still trust my instincts. I saw a review where someone said the album was the same as my previous project and people are entitled to their opinions. People are going to like what they like. At the end of the day, my opinion is what matters the most.
As an artist, it can be very hard to hear criticisms about your work. How do you handle these? How does it affect your craft as an artist?
If you put work into something and people say bad stuff about it, it’s definitely going to make you feel some type of way. It’s impossible for everyone to like something. The way I see it, if twenty  people listen to what I create and two  people say this doesn’t work for me, I feel like it was a success because eighteen  people love my work. It’s so easy to amplify negative feedback.
You let us know how important your SimiArmy is to you on Story Story… You have built something amazing with them. What do they represent to you?
I have managed to get a fanbase that genuinely loves me. I was deliberate about mentioning them on the album. I’m aware, I see them. They don’t have to support me but they still do and it makes me feel really good.
Logba Logba is one of my favs on TBH. If I’m correct, Logba Logba had you alluding to Adekunle Gold. How do both compliment each other’s art?
He’s a fascinating artist. He’s good at what he does. He constantly pushes himself and he inspires me. I never want people to see what we create together as a thing of convenience. Because we live together or are married. If I do a song with him, it’s because he is great and he is going to do justice to it. kill it. I’m blessed to have him because he gingers me creatively. He has my back, he is the best guy ever
On Temper, You remind us that you’re THAT woman. Let me just add that Simi is who Simi thinks she is.[Laughs]Thank you. Temper is the song I respect the most. I had to put myself in that headspace. I’m not the type of person that brags. It doesn’t come naturally. I don’t say a lot about how much work I put in. But I decided I was going to be in-your-face with this album. I am aware that I’m that woman. I didn’t think too much about it. I wasn’t bothered that people might think I was bragging too much. I just did it
Well, we love it. There are not a lot of love songs on this album: what emotions were the major driving force?
There was some anger when I wrote No Joy. I felt underrated on Story Story. Loyal was about a friend that let me down. I added Naked wire and Nobody because I didn’t have any love songs. They were the last two songs on the album. I’m playful and sweet but I also get angry and I want people to see the full range of my emotions.
Fave is such a powerhouse… When did you know you wanted Fave on Loyal with you?
Loyal was a completely different song. Different feature, verse, and beat. It had to change for several reasons. I wanted to change the energy and I debated doing the song alone. My Team and I talked and Fave came up and it was just right. There’s something so rich about her sound. She killed her verse. It was superb. I was so glad it turned out the way it did. She was perfect.
Love on me seemed like something we would hear on Ogaju or Simisola. Have you ever considered going back or doing more gospel?
I don’t think I’ll ever go back to being a gospel artist. I’m still so attached to gospel sounds and God is important to me. I don’t rehearse or plan to do gospel songs. When It comes, it stays.
What was the most difficult song for you to write?
Loyal. Because I had to write it twice
What is your hope for this album, for yourself, and for the fans?
In my career, I hope it puts me on the radar of people who have not previously heard of me. I want people to acknowledge my range and for my fans to be proud of me. I want to give them bragging rights.
Will we be getting visuals for other tracks apart from Naked Wire?
Most definitely! The difficulty now is that every song is someone’s favorite. We want to do justice to the project so we want to find what people connect to. We’ll shoot videos throughout the year.
Thank you so much for speaking with me, Simi
You’re welcome. Loved it.
Listen to Simi’s Album To Be Honest here and watch the video for Naked Wire below.