Man on a Mission: Mr Eazi Enters A New Life Chapter on 'The Evil Genius' Debut Album
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Mr Eazi PHOTO BY MICHAEL OLIVER LOVE
Mr Eazi has long been a musical innovator thanks to his unique Banku style. With over a decade of experience, the Nigerian-born artist is dropping his debut album, The Evil Genius (out Oct. 27). Each song is paired with artwork from 13 African visual artists and is a sonic autobiography. The LP showcases Mr Eazi as the artist, lover, entrepreneur (his investments include his emPawa Africa music distribution/publishing enterprise, Shoobs and PawaPay) and passionate creator who wants to continue Africa’s cultural takeover.
Patricorel, “Legalize.” PHOTO COURTESY OF ARTIST
How did you land on the title Evil Genius?
I've been naming all my other stuff mixtapes and I always felt an album should be as personal as possible. My other projects have been well thought through, but they really just been the exposés of sounds or my interpretation of sounds from one place I was traveling to the other so Accra to Lagos, Lagos to London. This one was very personal in the sense that wasn't traveling anywhere. It was more like therapy for myself. Whilst I was recording the album, I was touching on themes that I would usually not talk about because my music is made for amusement predominantly.
It’s meant to just amuse you and make you forget. But on this one, I start to talk about stuff. I never would have seen myself talking about real stuff to me as again, just making music for the vibes and enjoyment. For instance, on “Chop Time, No Friend”, I'm speaking about celebrating oneself. I was in a place where things that had happened to me very quickly in terms of deciding that I'm going to be an artist. I quickly became a global artist. I started making music in Ghana but I didn't even have time to do explore the Ghanaian music scene properly and tour around Ghana before my music got into Nigeria. I didn't even have the time to really tour around Nigeria properly as an artist and collaborate with lots of producers and artists before my music shot up to London and then the rest of the world. hadn't gotten time to even appreciate my growth.
It's been a very rapid growth.
Exactly. So , if you think about it, and not even being totally aware of it to the point where you underrate yourself, and to the point where you doubt yourself. That self-doubt, I think happens to us all, or you even forget about the growth. So it was a little bit of that and a little bit of reading through the comments and getting advice. Oh, if I were Eazi, I would do this. During and after COVID, I didn't even want to record. I didn't want to put myself out. I'm just gonna focus on doing business and being an entrepreneur. I would hear things people been saying for a long time. When I meet somebody and they say, “I saw Eazi at this show and imagine he didn't even say hi to me and he was rude.” That's just one thing, but then it stays. And then you forget all the other good stuff.
It’s always that one bad thing.
So it was a couple of bad things that I would hear about myself. Without realizing it, I started trying to prove that I'm not that guy who didn't say hi back. Or I'm not that guy who might be too smart. Sometimes your team does stuff that is, frankly, their job to protect the artists they represent. But if my team doesn't play a record for an artist as on my label, then the artist immediately takes it like, “Eazi has a vendetta against me. He doesn't like me.” It’s to the point where I'm tired of proving to everybody that I'm not that. I'm just whoever you think I am. And if you think I'm so bad, I'm the evil genius. I realized I have an industry reputation that is just totally fabricated because people don't know me. So on this album, I'm going to show you who the evil genius is. You expect it to be an album just full of darkness and bad vibes. But it's just me being vulnerable and speaking about love and my family. My mom's voice opens the album.
“SELF-INTROSPECTION IS THE FIRST STEP OF THE JOURNEY TO BEING A BETTER VERSION OF YOURSELF. BUT DO IT FOR YOURSELF AND NOT FOR SOMEBODY ELSE.” -MR EAZI
Mr Eazi’s The Evil Genius is his most personal work to date MR EAZI PHOTO BY MICHAEL OLIVER LOVE
That opening track sets the tone for the whole album of living your life to the fullest, not taking things for granted and being spiritual. I thought having your mother open it was such a beautiful decision.
Thank you. We send her papers to clear the record. And she's like, “I need to hear the song.” I said, “Okay, mommy, but we can't because she's gonna share it with her friends.” She promised to delete it after listening to it. Then I send that link and she listens to it. And she's like, “Wow, this the gospel song. I love it.” It’s introducing you to this guy that people talk about in different ways. Who is this evil genius guy? It's a guy who loves his mom and loves family, who appreciates the sacrifice his dad has made for me.
In the song “Mandela”, I'm saying my dad has fought loads of battles, so I don't get into trouble. So , the piece that I’m supposed to fall into, is gone before me. I think it's just relatable to almost every one of us who have been gifted with parents who have to sacrifice time to make sure they can afford the family and where they could easily be deadbeats if they want to. So I talked about that. Then I talk about getting engaged on “Legalize”, but even when I talk about my relationship, it's not just fairytales.
I'm saying that because I let you down, that's why I'm singing this song and I'll sing you some more because I never had the time that you really wanted. That's me reflecting that I've been in this relationship for a long time. And even though it seems like a long time, I've not been around. Lack of communication was a reoccurring thing. I just went into the studio and the first thing I sing is, “lack of communication is what causes trouble. Sorry if have pissed you off. Let's talk about it.”
Even the topic of my family. I had heard things about people close to me talking about my family or talking about my devotion to my family, but not in the sense that is a good thing, but almost in a sense of exploitation. There's nothing wrong with being able to stand up for your family whenever you can, especially when you're not being compelled to. So it's me just putting that on on the records and bigging up myself from, from “Orokoro” going down to “Notorious” is just me bragging in a way. I will never brag on a normal day, but it's not bragging for people. When I hear that record, it's me motivating myself. “Advice” is probably the only dark record. And it's just me going on a mountaintop to scream.
You have so many EPs and projects. How does it feel to put out your official debut?
The good thing is I don’t have the jitters of somebody who’s dropping an actual debut. I just feel refreshed. It’s a new start. I always thought an album should be really personal. Right after I was done making the album, I just started to party.
I mean, at this point, you deserve to party.
I didn't feel guilty about it. I was like, “Where's the next party? Let's go!”
What I thought was so cool is that you have a visual element for each song.
Because of how personal this project is. I wanted to make sure I could carry people along. I wanted to touch multiple senses. One way I could have done it was to shoot all the videos, right? But sometimes, and I learned this on some videos, they're never gonna drop. From the treatment to the execution, loads of stuff just got lost. And in the end, we couldn't tell the same story. So visual art is the closest form in my mind. Coincidentally, where I was recording this the most was in a hotel in Benin where they always have different artists in residence.
So I was around art every day going to record and it just hit me: “Wait a minute, I could actually tell the story in this form.” Going from looking at art as this bougie thing where somebody will just draw some line and somebody will say, “Oh this line represents eternity” and blah, blah, blah. This time I could actually see especially because it was related to the lyrics and the music and the energy in the songs. So that's why I chose to tell the story via these visual pieces. I'm just blessed to have my own label. So there's no pushback. There's not going to be a pushback from any labels saying this is too expensive or it's too time-consuming. I have absolute freedom. That's one thing that's been really important to me my entire life, which is economic and creative freedom. It’s a blessing to have them and that's what has led me to be able to make this type of album and follow through with the visual pieces. For the exhibition, I'm just doing exactly what I want without feeling any pressure to put it out before it's ready. Every other thing I'm able to achieve, and I'm just so grateful for that.
How did you find the artists? Was it through Instagram? Or did you know some of them already?
It was a mixture of Instagram, going to physical exhibitions, art fairs,and even recommendations from the most random places including my lawyer seeing something and saying, “I think you're gonna like these guys' work.” She had been doing the paperwork for the commission and she started to understand my taste. It was a really fun process.
MR EAZI PHOTO BY MICHAEL OLIVER LOVE
We keep mentioning this is some of your most personal work. What have you learned about yourself while making the album?
One of the key things I learned very early while making it is how much of a people pleaser I am. I think everybody wants validation. But some of some of us want it more. And some of us don't even admit it. So it was admitting that first off, and now I'm still in the process of growing out of it. Before I started making this album, I'd never been in therapy. I've never had anything against people that do therapy, but I just felt like why will you go talk to somebody by yourself? But me making this album was me being in therapy instead of speaking to a therapist. Making this album made me start to self-reflect and say, okay, perhaps I'm not the most perfect guy on the face of the planet. I accept that and the things I want to change. Self-introspection is the first step of the journey to being a better version of yourself. But doing it for yourself and not for somebody else.
How have you been making sure that you take time for yourself now?
I've been spending my money on enjoyment and on things that make me make me happy not just on investment. I just celebrated my birthday with my closest friends in Mykonos. In the past when I spent money I'll feel some guilt. But this time I was able to spend it and say wow, that was money well spent. Money spent actually enjoying life with my friends is not a crime. I've been feeling free. I've been partying more. Now I'm touring. Usually, when I just land in a city, I do soundcheck, go back to my hotel room and straight to back to the concert.
Now I'm pacing it. Where can I go in this city? Where's the place that has the best food? After my concert, I'm going clubbing not for an appearance but because I actually want to go see what partying is like in this city. Spending more time with my family as well. So it's just been more trying to enjoy and actually taking credit to where I deserve the credit. So if I produce a record, I'm not shy to say I produced the record. Back in the day I will do some things and not even want to post them or not even want the press to report them because I don't want to brag. No, I worked hard for something and so if I did it, I might as well say I did it. I'm not lying.
Chop lifestyle system has been helping me to express that freedom to enjoy myself even onstage against the limitations of my own music, to curating the sounds and the beats that play on the sound system sets. And be essentially an MC-type of selector. I actually want to be at an event and curate the enjoyment for those two hours.
Samuel Tete-Katchan, “Fefe Ne Fefe.” “FEFE NE FEFE” PHOTO COURTESY OF ARTISTS
The last time that we spoke in 2021, you mentioned wanting the African music industry to become more sustainable.
Between then and now, there's been so much more investment going into the industry. There's been more artists [come up] in 2021. And now more Afrobeats artists have gone global. It's becoming less of a top-three conversation and more of an entire flood of artists from different parts of Africa taking over the world. And that's trickling down to the back end of the business. I was joking with somebody and saying, Now it's even become so expensive to put out music in Lagos. When you see that, you then know that everybody knows that this is a business now. It's no joke thing. And the quality of everything has been increasing. I think the industry is in a good place, and it's attracting even more local funding and structure.
Sinalo Ngcaba, “Chop Time, No Friend” PHOTO COURTESY OF ARTISTS
You launched the Empower Africa incubator in 2019. How have you seen African artists grow since you established it?
We've worked with artists and producers, we've seen them grow. Some of those producers are producing for the biggest artists in the world and earning hundreds of 1000s in royalty. Even outside of Empower, producers just used to be in the back door for Afrobeats. But now producers are also even becoming artists themselves and having hit songs on their own and touring as well and having more creative and economic freedom for themselves and more respect for the work that they do.
Some of the artists we've worked with have become local superstars in their countries and some have become regionals in East Africa or West Africa. Some have become African superstars to some global superstars so it's just been so cool to see the growth of these artists. It just makes you feel I was onto something. I might be a crazy guy but it’s all coming together. But I can't be everything at any time. And so now I'm just finding a way to sequence things and to partner with more people to achieve these goals. So that's where my head is at now.
Alpha Odh, “Advice.” PHOTO COURTESY OF ARTISTS
Do you have anything that you're working on right now that you want to talk about?
I've invested in two things, actually. Power pay, which is a payment aggregator. Africa is the mobile money capital of the world in that 70% of money transactions happen across Africa, over 400 million people have mobile money wallet, which is more than bank accounts. So one of the companies I've invested in helps to connect African merchants and international merchants to customers back home. And that connectivity is pretty important. So right now we’re in over 14 countries across Africa, collecting payments and helping people collect and disburse payments. And I think that that company’s trajectory, is going to soon hit a billion dollars. It's going to be a unicorn in the next few years, if the trends continue the way it's at.
Just by connecting to our API, you can collect money from over 200 million customers to mobile money. Our app is just for the power of connecting Africa to the world and back and forth, which is the same thing like African music in African movies and African culture.
The other thing I'm excited about is Shoobs, which is in my portfolio. It’s the biggest ticketing platform for Black music in the UK founded by this very smart, female entrepreneur from Ghana. It was created where, at the time, there was no platform to really market and curate African and Black music events in the UK. And it's grown to be really part of the culture. And I've invested there and now what we're looking to do is expand out of the UK not just to Africa, but to the rest of Europe and ultimately, for the rest of the world. We’re seeing the demand already.
I think the business is in such an important place to empower not just the artists by helping them sell tickets, but even the small promoters who have been driving these parties. The promoters, the entrepreneurs who are doing those 200 capacity events, find at 501,000, the parties with the DJs that really are the underbelly of all the pop culture.
Very soon we'll be rolling out features that even help. When you sell on some platforms, you don't even have access to who your fans are but being able to connect the independent artists to their fans is one of the things I'm excited about.
And finally, I've been able to put everything on that the “Chop Life” umbrella, which I'm gonna expand into not just music publishing but also movies and we've been collecting art just to capture African entertainment, African culture, keep the ownership. We want to tell those stories in an organic or original way and show that this is business. It’s not it's not charity. The biggest form of support to equity vendors is by buying their products. So, so that's what we want to do. I just have fun whilst doing it. It's just been known for making top African entertainment content, so not just movies, but we've started investing in sports as well. Local leagues for boxing leagues. MMA very soon.
PHOTO BY MICHAEL OLIVER LOVE
How do you juggle all of this?
I think boredom is the biggest driver of my creativity. Whenever I feel bored, I push myself. And it's so funny that now I'm even still finding time between all of this to still spend with family, to still go see my mom, see my sister, be with my fiance, and still do all these things. I've gotten to the point of realizing that I don't have to do everything. I can support financially and be on advisory boards. So I don't need to start everything from scratch. I've seen the power of collaboration.
You also just signed your first movie production deal.
We've just green-lighted on the first movie. And it's going to be it's going to be a partnership between my company and my fiance's company. So she's gonna be leading on that we're gonna be co-producing on on that film. And I'm excited for that I am really begging her to find a role for me, as part of the deal. (laughs) There's a JAY-Z song that says, “What’s better than one billionaire? Two!”
It’s just so exciting because I learned so much. To be able to marry everything as part of this ecosystem. I think one of the biggest influences I've had recently is going to Professor Anita’s course at Harvard, the business of entertainment, media, and sports. I saw that everything I was thinking was not just me thinking in isolation, that stuff Disney has done. The stuff Jay-Z and even LeBron and Maverick have been able to do across sports content. That has been done in America and it's exciting to be able to do it back home. I'm not touring every day. So when I'm not touring, I'm able to express my creativity.
What I've noticed is that you make sure you keep the money within your culture and the African community.
Like I said earlier, I feel the best way to support creatives is to pay for their work. I know I keep quoting JAY-Z but he says, "If you don't take care of your family, you can’t be rich." How I interpret that is you cannot succeed in isolation. But when you're speaking about music, and then music is touching fashion, and it's touching art, and it's now a broader conversation. The pie gets bigger and the opportunities get more. Africa is always gonna be my home. I thought it was just Nigeria and Ghana. Last year, I lived in Benin the most and I have business interests in 11 African countries.
Of those 11, I consider four or five of them as home. I feel the best thing I can give back to this industry is playing my own part in developing the industry by supporting the industry via not just grants but via investing in local talent. The guy who does my digital marketing is in Ghana. I’m still able to be a global company, which shows that anybody else can do it, right?