10+ Issue 5: Wizkid Is On Top Of The World

A meeting with Wizkid is an exercise in observing superstardom. When I arrive at the studio in Haggerston where his 10 photoshoot is due to take place, the artist is not there yet. Rolling up a couple of hours late to his 2pm call time, our interview ends up having to be rescheduled as his fitting runs into the early hours of the morning. It’s already been sandwiched in between touring, other interviews, photoshoots and more.

When the time comes to talk, his label rep warns me that Wizkid is, understandably, tired and we only have minimal time for the interview. Surely, I suggest, the artist will let them know when he is too spent to continue? The response speaks volumes about why the star is exactly where he is in the entertainment world. I am told that Wizkid will not say if he is tired – ever the showman, he will simply keep going.

It rings true if we look at his trajectory over the past 10 years. The artist, real name Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun, is one of the biggest Afrobeats artists in the world. The accolades that run by his name are as endless as they are monumental; his last album, 2020’s Made in Lagos, was the first, and so far only, African album to go gold in the US while its smash hit single “Essence” (featuring fellow Nigerian singer Tems) went double platinum and achieved gold status in the UK. He holds a Grammy for the song “Brown Skin Girl”, a collaboration with fellow superstar Beyoncé, her daughter Blue Ivy and Guyanese-American rapper Saint Jhn. Last autumn he sold out The O2 Arena in London three times and recently played to a packed house at the Accor Arena in Paris.

trousers and sweater by LUDOVIC DE SAINT SERNIN, slippers by LANVIN

More difficult is the task of encapsulating his magnetism as a performer. Weeks after our interview I see him live at an intimate concert at the Roundhouse in Camden, part of by Apple Music Live. It is clear that he is a famous person’s famous person: Naomi Campbell, Daniel Kaluuya, Skepta and Winnie Harlow are just a few of the names in attendance. And then there is Wizkid’s onstage energy: he gyrates while performing, chest bared, his linen clothing windswept, to the appeal of women (and men) who squeal as he peers at them through shaded glasses.

When we finally meet it is in a more intimate setting. He is a rare sight sans trademark glasses, sprawled on the couch while stretching his slides onto the coffee table. In good spirits, he laughs often despite the stress of his schedule. “When you do it for so long, you get to master being calm through the chaos,” he says in an Americanised drawl, as if moulded by Los Angeles rather than his native Lagos. “I think that’s how I get things done.”

He is in London to work on the final stages of his new album. More Love, Less Ego is announced days after our meeting. My concert preview of the new tracks had revealed a joyous, luscious offering that inspires bouncing and slow grinds from the crowd, who are fuelled by wine and spirits. The songs embody an even more mature sound than his earlier releases. “It’s pretty much a representation of where I’m at in my life,” he says, denoting it as an album created for the joy of returning to the open after a global pandemic.

vest by LOUIS VUITTON

“I tailored it to where we are at in the world. We’ve been stuck at home for, like, two, three years; now, everyone’s just happy and thankful to be outside. I made the album to make people feel that, giving a soundtrack to their lives.”

This will be his fifth solo album since appearing on the scene with 2011’s Superstar. The native Lagosian, who is 32, grew up in Ojuelegba, a suburb of Surulere famously immortalised on his track of the same name. Those humble beginnings and the stark change in his social positioning since finding superstardom are not lost on him. “Everywhere I go I meet someone from Surulere!’ he says with a laugh. “Even if I’m outside Nigeria, I can’t run away from it even if I wanted to. So I take a lot of pride in where I’m from.

“I still go back and see the daily hustle. You know, government isn’t doing much; nothing has really changed. If you’re blessed and lucky, you get out the ghetto. If you’re not [able to], it doesn’t make you less of a person.”

His own blessings came through a surprisingly early start in music at the pint-sized age of 11. This happened in part due to his household; he absorbed the music shared by his parents, particularly his father and his eldest sister. He’d take in Nigerian fuji as well as jùjú artists like King Sunny Adé and Ebenezer Obey, developing a knack for melodies and a near-echoic ear for remembering tunes that would become key learning for how they feature in his songs now.

“They just stuck to me,” he says. “Somebody’s song that I didn’t even know I knew, I hear them again and the melodies come to me. I’ll be like, ‘Shit, I remember that from when I was young.’”

The lone boy in a family of 12 siblings, he’d had a split temperament inside and outside the home. “I was mad,” he says of himself in childhood, eyes glinting. “But I was quiet at home. You know, growing up as a man, I can’t really talk to my sisters about certain things and have certain conversations.”

jumper by PRADA, trousers by COURREGES, jacket by AMI

Instead, the streets of his native area would be where he would find his community, hanging out with older people in the area. “When I was 11 my best friend was, like, 40,” he says, laughing. “He used to own a business down my street, and every time I’d come back from school I’d go sit with him, help him sell some stuff, chill.”

“I’d always tell my mom about him so she told me to bring him to the house. When I brought him she saw one old man and was like, ‘What’s going on here!?’ Just hanging around grown people, seeing how life works, really helped me grow [up] faster.”

Being around elders at a young age would also grow his ear as a musician. He’d hear international songs from being “in the streets”, picking up bootleg CDs common in Nigeria such as a Snoop Dogg and Master P mashup he’d hold dear in childhood, as well as the music of local greats like Fela Kuti.

jumper by JW ANDERSON

“I’ll never forget, it was the first time I went to link [with] one of my older friends close to the studio. I got there and everyone was just smoking weed.” It was the first time he’d seen copious amounts of marijuana smoke and from then on he’d play Kuti on repeat, falling in love “not just with the music,” but with “his person as well”.

He’d drop his first single around that age, nearly 20 years ago. In the years since that release his career has grown intensely, in part because of his own dutiful efforts. But Wizkid is strangely humble about his own trajectory; while he agrees it was challenging, he does pinpoint the internet for helping his name travel and insists his global rise was never calculated, rather a result of “things happening organically”.

“Those kind of things… you can’t plan them,” he says. “It wasn’t really [a surprise]. Your intention when you start making music is to get big, right? So every time I get more attention, I’m like, ‘Yo, now I need to prove why I’m getting this attention.’ It was always very important for me to make more music, crazy performances, collabs – just anything to elevate the sound and our industry in general.”

top by LUDOVIC DE SAINT SERNIN

Afrobeats has grown alongside Wizkid’s own career, with his status being one example of his genre’s current selling power. Essence received numerous remix requests from “big artists”, he says, narrowly avoiding naming names, so many speculated whether it was a marketing choice to feature Justin Bieber on a later remix. “That’s the problem – I wasn’t trying to help anything! The song was already big. When I heard [his verse], I actually liked it,” he says with a laugh. “It was why I put it out.”

“That’s the thing people don’t know about me; when it’s strategic, I don’t do it. I get sent records every day from artists that I’m a fan of, [but] sometimes it doesn’t feel right. Even if you’re Michael Jackson, I don’t care – I’m not going to do it. We need to be able to see each other and be like ‘Yo, we made a crazy record!’ Not like we don’t want to talk.”

On the topic of comparison with other genres, he is surprisingly pointed in his opinion of Afrobeats’ status over and above the rest of the music market.

“Afrobeats is the new pop,” he says, energy heightening. “I sold two million copies in America off of one song! Even some American artists don’t have a diamond record. If I’m being honest, I don’t listen to any other genre of music anymore.”

“I don’t listen to rap – that shit is boring to me,” he continues. “It’s dead now, it’s tired. These guys do the same shit, rap on the same beats, same flows,” he says, before pressing me to mention someone in rap that’s exciting me currently, to which I draw a blank when put on the spot.

The draw with Afrobeats, he says, is that the genre is innovative – it’s starkly new to listeners who have had to “listen to the same type of music 10 years, five years straight” and it consistently produces high-quality hits compared to other genres. “No disrespect to nobody,” he says, laughing, before suddenly turning diplomatic. “I don’t have anything against rap or any other type of music. I have a lot of rappers as friends, like a lot. So I’m probably the wrong person to say this.”

Besides music he is set to expand his label Starboy to the levels of “Roc Nation, [Drake’s label] Ovo, Universal, Sony, RCA shit!” as he excitedly phrases it. For someone who is an artist at the top of the mountain, one wonders what Wizkid has yet to achieve.

His answer speaks volumes about his drive and tenacity. “I’m an up- and-coming artist,” he says quietly. “I don’t think I will ever feel like an accomplished artist or person, because I see life so different, you know? I still have a lot of work to do.”

Pre-order 10+ Issue 5 – WORLD IN MOTION – here

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WIZKID: ON TOP OF THE WORLD 

Photographer MARIANO VIVANCO
Fashion Editor KAREN BINNS
Text CHRISTINE OCHEFU
Talent WIZKID
Grooming CLAIRE DE-GRAFT
Fashion assistant DEVON NICHOLAS
DOP OWEN LAIRD
Production BEN HARRIS and MUTALE KANYANTA

Jewellery throughout TALENT’S OWN

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