A generation of Nigerian high school kids spent their formative years in adoration of L.O.S (Loud On Sound)—a group of three rappers and a singer who made music for teenagers by teenagers. This was during the heat of Lil Wayne’s dominance in rap when punchlines were the holy grail, and L.O.S served listeners straight from the chalice. Their singer, Tomi Thomas, was recognized as a special part of the group, tying their bars together with sweet-toned hooks.
Outside of the group, Tomi was making a name for himself as a beacon of hope for Nigeria’s alternative scene. Inauspiciously, “underrated” was a term he became associated with. However, Tomi resisted the urge to follow trends and was focused on finding his musical core.
Throughout this process, love and romance remained constant themes in Tomi’s many experiments. In his songs, and on features such as M.I Abaga’s “Jungle,” ShowDemCamp’s “What You Want,” Lady Donli’s “Ice Cream,” and too many more to mention, wherever love was the message, he understood the assignment. “I would say it’s the better choice to sing about love than to sing about things that have to do with fear,” he tells Audiomack.
The Patience EP, released in 2015, was his first solo offering, followed by the Black Couch Vol. 1 album in 2016, which marked the culmination of a transitional period in Tomi’s career. When “Shaken” dropped in 2018, the evolution was evident. It seemed like the darling of the alternative community was finally blossoming from caterpillar to butterfly.
Each trial, tribulation, and success has led Tomi Thomas to the present of Hopeless Romantic, released June 3. It feels like everything is finally coming full circle for the singer, 10 years into his career. Hopeless Romantic is rich in picturesque lyrics, mesmerizing vocals, and tropical melodies fitting for the return of a summer to be spent outdoors. Its blend of reggae, root Afrobeat, soul, and dancehall is capable of stimulating a longing for love even in the most stoic listeners.
What does music, and making it, mean to you?
Music to me is life. Music is the rhythm of life. It’s love; it’s energy; it’s passion, for me. Making music is fun. Singing is always fun. At the same time, it’s serious business, [and] it takes a village to make these records. It takes a lot of time, energy, and passion as well.
Your EP is giving “summer in the tropics, falling in love in a hammock under a coconut tree” vibes. Did you have summer in mind when putting this project together?
I made this project between Dubai and Lagos, so just having that in mind, it’s more like tropical vibes, also with desert vibes. It’s like a mix between Lagos and Dubai. When I was in Dubai I was listening to a lot of reggae, proper roots Afrobeat, dancehall, and a lot of Sade. All of that mixed together and I got this project.
You made a banger with Buju Banton. How did hearing his verse on your song for the first time feel?
It was trippy at first, ‘cause I’ve made songs with a lot of people, but when I heard his vocals, it was energetically charged. I couldn’t comprehend it at first, but after I listened a couple times, I understood the magnitude of what had occurred. It took a couple listens to understand ‘cause that’s like real, proper dancehall stuff, real root rhythms. It’s phenomenal stuff he did.
I like the way you play gracefully with your lyrics to express some truths, like on “Love Me Now.” How do you know when you’ve gotten your expressions just right?
There should be some kind of cognition that goes on in the mind. You should be able to see a scene or see what the person used their words to convey to you. It’s like reading a book: you see the words and then you see everything in your head.
I guess when I play it back after I’ve written and arranged it, it should make me see what I’m trying to talk about in my mind and I should be able to feel the experience at the same time.
You drop bombs of wisdom in the middle of groovy love songs, kind of like a reminder to keep introspection close. Is this a balance thing?
Everything I’m putting out, everything I’m creating, has to have longevity. There should be some truths in there, no matter what. I like to put those in there for people whose minds are elevated, and [for] those whose minds do seek and wander. Those kinds of things make you be like, “Oh, wow, that’s something I should think about.”
So it’s basically just activating, or stimulating the mind in ways through the music. I guess that’s how I’m doing my own Christian work so to speak. It’s about dropping some gems and keeping it simple at the same time, keeping the balance between the two realms: playfulness and curiosity.
As Nigerian listeners become increasingly embracing of diverse sounds, does releasing music feel different this time around?
I would say Nigeria is evolving and the music is evolving. People are accepting… I guess Nigeria has always been eclectic with music. We made a lot of crazy music in the ‘80s and ‘70s, ‘60s, that people rarely speak about nowadays that’s like psychedelic, trance, house, deep house, funk, so it’s nothing new to us.
It’s the people who are in charge of collecting this data and actually [getting] the music to people. They need to be more open-minded and eclectic with what people are actually like, and not assume everyone likes a certain thing just because it’s popular.
By Nasir Ahmed Achile for Audiomack