Not too long ago, genre-bending in Afrobeats was a far-fetched idea. Artists had to follow a narrow template to succeed. WurlD entered the Nigerian music scene as an outlier. His 2017 breakout single “Show You Off” featuring Walshy Fire of Major Lazer and Afrobeats producer Shizzi took the industry by surprise, simultaneously following and breaking the strict high-tempo rules of Afrobeats.
On “Show You Off,” WurlD woos a romantic interest with silky smooth words as he rides an exuberant wave of Afrobeats and soul. “[“Show You Off” is] what happens when you take Afrobeats rhythm, and you add new conversations to it, slow it down, let people hear everything you’re saying,” WurlD explains. With that single, he found his winning formula, operating outside the boundaries of popular Afrobeats sounds.
WurlD began making music in Atlanta, writing songs for Timbaland, B.o.B, Trinidad James, Mario, and more. He staked his claim in an industry which did not readily accept him by staying true to his sound and letting the music speak for itself. “I try to make the songs as human and natural as possible,” he says.
WurlD’s upward trajectory furthered following the 2019 release of I Love Girls With Trobul, a collaborative album with heavyweight Afrobeats producer Sarz, and a stellar performance on Davido’s “Sweet In The Middle.” His 2020 release, AfroSoul, was a full-circle moment of acceptance for the turquoise-haired virtuoso.
Millions of streams later, WurlD’s existence in the Nigerian music space makes a case for individuals who would rather not compromise their art to fit in a box.
You have a unique way of telling stories. How important is your songwriting background every time you create music?
My songwriting background, for me, is everything. It’s a blessing. I spent several years in Atlanta, writing songs for other artists, from pop artists to R&B artists, to rap artists, to country artists. I found myself working with different producers, collaborating with people on the backend, helping them create songs, and I think for me, that work and time I put into it really helps me a lot in telling my own story. When you write songs for people, you tell their story with your skillset, so when I’m creating music for myself, I assist myself in telling my own story. I think the best thing is being able to do it and not have to find someone to help me tell my story.
What was the defining factor of your move from the US to pursue your music career in Nigeria?
“Show You Off” was when more people saw me and the blue hair for the first time, and that song was my journey back home. I remember when the video came out, I would wake up to hundreds and hundreds of messages. I was living in Atlanta at the time, so fans from different parts of the world, but mainly Nigeria and different parts of Africa as well, [were] like, “Yo, come home, where are you, we need you here.”
That was a calling for me. For the first time since I left Nigeria as a kid, I felt reconnected with my roots, and that was the most amazing feeling. That’s why I’m here today. “Show You Off” brought me back here; that was the defining factor for me. It took me another year to get myself together, ‘cause this is a guy that has been gone for over 17 years, and change doesn’t just happen, and I’m still trying to adjust. I’d moved to LA, then I started working on more Afrobeats stuff, and “Show You Off” was my first attempt at creating an Afrobeats song.
Why do you think you got it right on your first try?
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Going back to the idea of songwriting, I paid attention. I studied the market, and I found a comfortable space for myself with the music and my approach. “Okay, how do I want people to see me in this market?” I studied what was happening.
Everything was very fast-paced at the time, more high-rhythm, and my goal was to create conversations. I was like, “What happens when you take Afrobeats rhythm, and you add new conversations to it, slow it down, let people hear everything you’re saying?” That’s what “Show You Off” is. It’s easy to listen to; word for word, you can understand it; it was all intentional. That was my approach, and it’s been my approach ever since. I’m happy people actually appreciate it.
Do people often try to put you in a box, and how do you react to that?
Happens every time. On social media, every day. Some of it isn’t intentional. Some people thrive off just getting a reaction out of people, ‘cause it makes them feel good knowing that somebody they look up to retweeted, commented, or responded. That just made someone’s day, regardless of whether that upsets you or not. I had to learn that.
People compare me to different artists, but I feel like I’m an artist of my own. I don’t feel like there’s an artist like me in this market as of right now. I know more will come later. I’ve learned to accept it and just focus on my goals, knowing that where we’re going is where we’re going.
Every day we’re building. The fans are growing every day. I’m just blessed to have people that support me, people that fight for me, and I don’t even know who you are, and I appreciate that. It means the world to me.
Your music can be vulnerable. What makes you comfortable baring your soul to strangers, and how do you infuse soulful emotions on fast tempos?
I just create music as I feel. I create music from the feeling perspective; that way I can express myself in the most authentic form. I don’t create music to create it catchy first—that’s not my first priority. My goal is to communicate, and I always try to add new conversations because I know somebody out there is feeling what I’m feeling. I try to make the songs as human and natural as possible. While you’re having a good time and dancing, I wanna hit your soul too. I call it mind, body, and soul… and waist. Because while you’re dancing, I wanna add gems in it.
“Trobul” is an easy record, but I also put gems in it while still being entertaining. “Ego” and all these records on Love Is Contagious, there’s still an essence of education in the songs. I try to make sure I’m putting real values in content while entertaining. It’s important for me because we need to keep inspiring others. Somebody needs those lyrics. I never feel content when I create a song that has no depth. If it’s 80% just fun, I’ll go back and find the 20% in there, and I’ll throw some gems in there, and I’m like, “You know what? Now I feel good to be sharing something true.”
You’ve worked with a diverse bunch of people over the years. How do you take shape in each collaboration you do?
There’s this video of Bruce Lee where he says, “Be water,” and I try to emulate that. It’s not completely natural, and I’ve had to put in work, learning through songwriting, working with different people, different types of artists, and understanding what works in different genres. They say after 10,000 hours your mental becomes natural to it. So I just try to stay authentic to what I’m doing at the time, focus on communicating and back away from what feels forced.
What would you say to a younger you who may have been considering compromising their art to succeed as an Afrobeats artist?
It’s not easy. You’re gonna wanna give up a million times. You’re gonna wanna give up when you wake up. Don’t stop. Find different ways to recreate a new you every time. Find your own voice and stay true. Everybody’s different. Find yourself through practice, and be patient. The difference between you and the next person that succeeded is the fact that they never stopped.
By Nasir Ahmed Achile for Audiomack