Blatantly Blunt interview: Mr Eazi talks Bit Coin, Joloff Rice, Fela Kuti and the ‘Life Is Eazi Culture Festival’
Blatantly Blunt: Undoubtedly one of the global superstars of the burgeoning Afrobeat sound that’s been usurping dancehall’s dominance over the past few years, Mr Eazi is a name who’s been impossible to ignore. His hit Leg Over is one of the stand out tracks of 2017, and recently had the coveted Major Lazer remix treatment, with French Montana and Ty Dolla $ign jumping on the vocals.
Nick Russell spoke to Mr Eazi in the lead up to his ‘Life Is Eazi Culture Festival’ on September 23rd at the Roundhouse in Camden Town, London, which sees him curate a showcase of talent from the Motherland, such as Fuse ODG, Riton, Kah-Lo, Kwamz & Flava as well as DJs like Edu (from BBC 1xtra) and host Eddie Kadi.
Blatantly Blunt: I’m going to start off with a controversial topic, something that everyone has been talking about,, which country does the best jollof rice?
Mr Eazi: It’s Gambia – they just did a huge competition yesterday, where everybody brought their joloff and Gambia won, its also my favourite I think it’s just the taste.
BB: Okay so speaking of Africa, who are the iconic names that come to the top of your head fist?
Mr Eazi: Nelson Mandela, Kwame Nkrumah, Aliko Dangote, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Desmond Tutu, Chinua Achebe, Chimamanda, and the writer Wole Soyinka…
BB: You recently hosted a show on BBC 1xtra, and mentioned that Fela Kuti is your uncle. Is that true? Or is if just more of like figurative uncle?
Mr Eazi: He’s more figurative but I’m from the the Ogun state (of Nigeria), and I just feel like everybody is related, plus my dad used to play his music.
BB: Alright so speaking of your 1xtra radio show you called it ‘Detty radio’, what does Detty exactly mean?
Mr Eazi: To be ‘detty’ means free, to live free, to be rebellious. Not rebellious to the point of breaking the law, but rebellious in terms of being a high flyer. So when you have fun, you have fun to the max – don’t let nothing bring you down – it’s the feeling that anything is possible, having a free mind set.
BB: So was that the first radio show you’ve hosted before?
Mr Eazi: No, that was the second, the first one was on Beats One radio, it was Detty radio, and I played the most important Afro Beat songs that anybody should listen to.
BB: How does the sound and the feel of the UK’s ecosystem compare to radio back home?
Mr Eazi: Back home, it’s like 99% local content – in Nigeria you probably hear 10% foreign music, in South Africa the same thing, in Ghana, maybe more like 60% local music and 40% from everywhere. In Abidjan it’s like 70% local music, 30% foreign, as in global..
BB: in terms of African music, who are the greatest exports in your view? Who are the people that are really giving African music a good image around the world?
Mr Eazi: Majek Fashek used to do afro reggae, like he was doing this thing in the 1990’s, and there’s another guy called William Onyeabor, he used to do disco and electronic music. He inspired the name of my next project. You also have people like Fela, people like Dede Amachi, and people like Dr. Alban (who had the 1992 hit ‘It’s My Life’).
BB: I’m sure you’re aware that the African sound has been adopeted well in the UK – are there any names that have grabbed your attention?
Mr Eazi: Yeah, I usually call it the ‘UK diaspora’ sound, it is very UK specific, with a mixture of Caribbean elements, African elements and grime, with people like J Hus, Yxng Bane, Big Tobz and Maleek Berry. These guys are making that diaspora sound.
The biggest record in Nigeria might have at least 200 million people bumping to that particular song. I might not have the sales, the YouTube hits, the streaming numbers of a J Hus track. These platforms are not available back home for people to stream, streaming is a luxury, so I feel like it’s very good advantage for that diaspora sound because it could get recognised easily, it’s made here and people can buy the records.
BB: You’ve done a lot of parties here and back home how is that we party here, that’s different to how you guys party back home?
Mr Eazi: First, if you’re talking about Lagos, they have more alcohol than putting on five UK parties together. Part of party lifestyle is buying bottles – everything from beer to liquor, especially dark liquor and vodka. When I get to some UK parties and I’m just seeing people partying and I don’t see bottles, I’m like…okay? In Nigeria it’s almost a crime to take a girl to the club and not buy her a bottle of Champagne.
BB: What’s your view on the rise of bitcoin and ethereum? Do you think this is something which we need to invest in, and do you feel we’re in a gold rush at the minute?
Mr Eazi: To be honest, I get sceptical as I feel a lot of these things can be played with, so I’m a little bit conservative with that. We’ve seen a lot of things pass, and when it’s financial and it’s so free it’s kind of scary. I believe for anything financial there should be regulation.
BB: In terms of technology, what do you think is the thing which anyone in the music industry needs to know about?
Mr Eazi: I feel that the streaming platforms are hugely important. I feel like for instance for Afro beats, when the people in Africa get their hands on the streaming platforms you will find out that what you think might be hot is not really hot. Because you’re talking about a billion people. If all these people had access to these streaming platforms then a lot of genres will be looked at differently, because of the numbers they are showing. I’ve seen what some playlists do for me, or just because somebody had me on their record it then leads them to follow the breadcrumbs to my music to become a fan. I feel that the more the streaming platforms are available worldwide the more that music will become a fairer playing field. I feel Maleek Berry and Wizkid are using these platforms well.
Which social platforms do you think are most important for artists in 2017?
Mr Eazi: Mostly Instagram, because we all have short attention spans so Instagram captures you, especially with the shorter form of video content. Whether it’s of you singing or of somebody singing your record or somebody dancing to your record or some viral campaign, it’s key. Also you could quickly see everybody that’s ever posted something about your song, like when I do the hashtag #MrEazi I can see every post, and I can reach out to all of them say, hey, thanks for listening to my record!
To what extent do you think that Jamaican dancehall and reggae music has influenced Afro beats? African music?
Mr Eazi: To be honest there’s nobody who would not be able to link their art or inspirations down to a Jamaican beat. There are reggae artists we don’t know about who are playing almost every day around the world. It’s because people have bought into the reggae culture; not just the music. It’s the same thing for myself, and that’s why the upcoming festival at Camden Roundhouse is very important because I feel like attaching culture to the music gives it longevity and a better identity. It even generates larger revenue streams because if you break down reggae, there’s people who buy shirts just because it has reggae colours on them. Speaking as a businessman, the music might just be background noise and then the culture around it is what really holds it together. I feel like in terms of my music and African music becoming bigger, reggae is the closest form.
BB: Which artistes do you think are adopting that culture into their music the most?
Mr Eazi: Yeah, there’s a lot you know, but I’m biased. So if I bring it down to an artist that has really merged dancehall with his local sound and created something new is Shatta Wale, out in Ghana. In more general terms, in Ghana there’s a guy called Darkovibes who is doing amazing music.
BB: And last question would be which UK artists would you like to collaborate with?
Mr Eazi: It would definitely be Giggs…
BB: Okay, alright thanks very much man. I appreciate your time and I look forward to the show man, it’s going to be dope.
Catch Mr Eazi live in London at the Life Is Eazi Culture Festival September 23. Tickets are now available to purchase here.
WORDS – NICK RUSSELL
PHOTOS – ELLIOT NIELSON