Mr Eazi is a power player in every sense of the word. The Nigerian singer, songwriter, and entrepreneur is building a solid business foundation, one he’s been crafting brick by brick since his early days as a college party promoter. After booking an artist who failed to appear at one of his largest parties, Eazi turned lemons into lemonade and launched his own music career.
The 28-year-old musician was born in Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State, Nigeria. Eazi attended college in Ghana and lived in the country for several years. As a result, creative influence from both cultures developed into his signature Banku music: An irresistible fusion of native Nigerian chords and progressions and Ghanian highlife and bounces blended with R&B, hip-hop, and pop. His smooth vocals have even been compared to the likes of legendary Jamaican reggae singers like Beres Hammond and Gregory Isaacs, adding to his undeniable global appeal.
“All of that is who I am,” Mr Eazi tells me. “The influences from both places that seep into my music and help define the crust of my sound, which I call Banku music, [blends] influences majorly from two of the strongest [and] most beautiful cultures in the world: Ghanian and Nigerian culture.”
To date, the Naija star’s most notable contribution to music has been emPawa—the talent incubator Eazi developed for emerging African artists. What started as an initiative to fund music videos for upcoming acts soon became a fully structured program and music imprint with backing from YouTube.
One of Nigeria’s hottest rising talents, Joeboy, received a massive push from the program. Alongside Ghana’s J. Derobie, Joeboy was one of the first 100 emPawa artists to earn an investment of $50,000 to help grow his business.
“Eazi taught me about consistency and has guided me with the best way to go,” Joeboy shared via email. “emPawa has given my career a huge push. They’ve helped me with growth and experience and taught me how to promote in the best way possible with limited resources.”
From the nightclubs and street dances to Billboard and the GRAMMYs, Afrobeats had its best year ever in 2019, along with its collective sub-genres and rising superstars. Mr Eazi was called upon by Beyoncé for not one but two tracks on The Lion King: The Gift, an Afropop-influenced soundtrack and a love letter to the Diaspora.
Mr Eazi’s journey has been one of blending musical tastes with business acumen, sharpened by experience in the field. In only a few short years, Eazi has gone from the world of contemporary African music into the mainstream playing fields of R&B, hip-hop, and even dancehall. May his fire never burn out.
Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: You were born in Nigeria and also lived in Ghana. How do those two cultures come together to create your Banku sound?
Mr Eazi: I like to think both places raised me. I was born and schooled in Nigeria and moved to Ghana when I was, I think, 15 going on 16, then stayed in Ghana for seven years. Both places shaped me, and it was when I moved to Ghana that I started listening to highlife and hiplife. I loved Ghanian church music on those bus trips to school. All of that is who I am. The influences from both places that seep into my music and help define the crust of my sound, which I call Banku music, [blends] influences majorly from two of the strongest [and] most beautiful cultures in the world: Ghanian and Nigerian culture.
Where did the inspiration for the emPawa program come from initially?
I occasionally had been helping people fund their videos… Everything came together when I was about to release my project, Lagos to London; I felt like it needed structure. I needed to structure it to reach and help more people and go beyond just funding, but to help more people start their careers.
There’s a joke my friend says: Fifty percent of my fans back home are musicians themselves. So it’s just like helping your community. But, since a lot of structures don’t exist, it’s beautiful to build the structure. So, with one stone, we can kill two birds: Help empower talent and also build a business at the same time.
What are your thoughts on staying independent vs. signing with a label when it comes to contemporary African music?
When it comes to African music… There [are] different roads. There’s a Nigerian saying that says, “Many roads lead to the market.” In terms of a worldwide conversation, a lot of people still consider African music, Afropop. I don’t think it’s an emerging genre, but in terms of worldwide commercial conversations, it can be presented as an emerging genre.
Staying indie versus signing to a label is just the risk of working with the label that understands what is going on and understands this is your music and how you make it. It’s going to be hard for an A&R in China or in America to tell a Nigerian artist how to make a Nigerian hit song or an African hit song. A record that works in East Africa might not work in South Africa [or] West Africa. Even within West Africa, a record that works in Nigeria might not work in Ghana, or that works in Ghana might not work in Nigeria.
What do you look for in an artist?
I’m always looking for some level of talent, but beyond that, I’m looking for artists who know what they want, who are confident and are hard-working. With just a little bit of talent, hard work, and the right attitude, and just knowing what you want, you can achieve success. I’m always looking for artists that have an entrepreneurial mindset. First, the talent will attract me. But beyond that, what we are trying to build with emPawa is a collection of artists we can be in business with, not just the traditional signing and handling.