In Conversation With: Crayon
An instant decision made at the entrance of an exam room changed the course of Crayon’s life. He decided not to write the paper and instead pursue music full time."At the time it was the craziest decision to make,” he admits. But a residency at the Don Jazzy founded Mavin Records, two projects under his belt, and many collaborations later, the young afrobeats star is far from regretful.
Crayon stormed into the scene with a debut project playfully titled Cray Cray, "a bold step from me and my team," he recalls. There's certainly more at stake with a debut project. While a debut single simply offers a snapshot, and may not be enough to make any conclusive opinions about an artist's sound, a larger offering naturally leaves more space for critique. The other edge of the sword, as Crayon optimistically puts it, is that the EP "gave people more room to understand [him].” So Fine in particular, was extremely well understood. The up- tempo melody paired with an adorable profession of love is undoubtedly the breakout star of the EP, and still firmly holds its place as party starter to date. Even he agrees; “it never gets old.”
Crayon would trek back and forth from his hometown Ojo to the island of Lagos before he eventually moved into the Mavin Records HQ. Here, he soaked up as much industry knowledge as possible. “I was finding my sound, studying the music business and branding.” Crayon was also hanging out with all the superstars whose careers were also cultivated under Don Jazzy’s expertise. “I watched Tiwa Savage record,” he tells me, “I watched Raekado, Korede [Bello], D’Prince, I was always with D’Prince.” The headquarters is also where he met Rema, who would become his label mate in 2019 when he finally signed with Mavin Records.
By the time he was being signed, the singer/songwriter had already done a lot of heavy lifting by himself. “I started making music in 2016,” Crayon began, “I dropped like seven songs in a year. No label, no sponsors, no manager, literally just me. I’d take the CDs to different radio stations in Lagos by myself to push my music.” One station played his music, making him the first artist from his hood to get radio play, “that was big for me, because I did it myself.” As alignment would have it, this radio play is what got him noticed by Baby Fresh and Don Jazzy.
His next project, Twelve A.M came from much different circumstances. Shortly after releasing a track in February 2020, the world launched into lockdown leaving the afrobeats artist feeling defeated; “last year was a bit difficult for me,” Crayon reveals, as he talks about not being able to follow through with the planned rollout for the track. The singer/songwriter describes the sudden halting of everyday life as we knew it as “craziest time of [his] life.” But it was this whirlwind of a time that also deepened his connection with his fans; “my fans kept me going. They kept sending me messages saying 'we need new music,' which kept me going.”
Partly as an offering of gratitude to his fans, Crayon released his second project titled Twelve A.M symbolising, “a new day, a new era for my day one fans that have been with me from the start.” Twelve A.M is a compact, yet holistic offering. With only four songs, the project is able to cover a lot of bases. Features from prominent artists who do their bits justice: his label-mate and friend Rema who has has had a mammoth year on the club banger Too Correct; an afro swing infusion from the British-Nigerian artist One Acen on Man Dem and Bella Shurmda on Jackpot.
This project is not the first instance where Crayon embraces features. In fact, on the 2020 single release No Ansa , we saw the singer/songwriter collaborate with Jamaican native Tessellated, extending his reach to the Caribbean music scene. “I like to diversify and try new things and tap into different environments,” he begins before saying with a tinge of cockiness to his tone: “I feel like I owe a lot of UK artists a hook.” He goes on to list Drake, Stefflon Don, Lil Mosey and Bad Bunny- “I want to work with everybody honestly.”
A really strong contender for the highlight of the project however, is its opening track; a stripped back offering that shows off his vocal ability and writing alike. In In Sync Crayon holds his own, needing no feature to glide along this mid-tempo serenade. This is when he's at his best.
Although the final project is a carefully curated four out of very many songs, the actual creation process is much more fluid for Crayon. “I can’t really narrow it down to say ‘oh this is how I write my music,’ sometimes the melody comes first [and] I'll randomly record it on my phone and see if it fits the beat the next day when I’m at the studio.” Sometimes, he’ll listen to the beat over and over again until something comes up. And other times, he’ll be in the studio with his producer and they will make a song together from scratch.
Living and working closely with label-mates Ayra Starr and Rema, who Crayon refers to as “geniuses,” as well as other incredible musicians like producer Ozedikus, is unquestionably immersive. But Crayon has always been surrounded by music. His dad, a former MC, also used to sell CDs of just about every artist. “50cent, Fela [Kuti], Davido to Westlife, 2face. Like I used to wake up to music every single day. Drake, Justin Bieber, Bryson Tiller, Chris Brown. just so much music.” His mother, also a music lover, used to wake him up around 6am with gospel blasting through the speakers. More recently, she has also added afrobeats to her playlist, says Crayon, “she listens to my music everyday.” Even outside his immediate family the artist recalls being exposed to an array of sounds; “I had a lot of yoruba friends and when I went to their houses, their dad used to play [King] Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey, just legends."
Before music took over the artist’s life, Crayon reveals to me that football was his first love. A Manchester United fan, who wanted to play himself, he foresees a sports brand of some sort at some point of his career- anything to keep him tethered to football. On the music front, his current love, “[Crayon] just wants [his] music to be the soundtrack for beautiful moments in everybody’s lives.” And for the afrobeats genre he says, “I want to get to a place where I see a number one record on billboard top100 from an afrobeats artist. I want to see Grammy's creating a category for afrobeats like they do for reggae and dancehall.”
For now though, Crayon is just enjoying being Crayon. He's sat on a sofa with music vaguely playing in the background,
He gushes over all the bits about being a musician, “I love writing music, I love being in the studio, I love performing, I love the interviews.” He continues, “I get to bring my brothers and sisters along this journey, and just live life...every bit of it is fun for me.”