At the beginning of November, Joeboy released Only God Can Save Me, a track he describes as a channel to express the loneliness and despair he felt during a strange two-week period in his life. He recounts the revelations from the strange time period; “I discovered a lot of negative things going on around me, and I started seeing people around me for who they truly were. I needed certain people to be there for me, but they disappeared on me.”
This track became the leading single off the EP, Body, Soul& Spirit, released not too long after his second studio album Body&Soul. The EP is a sort of extension to his sophomore era- a more introspective look at the themes Joeboy covers in Body&Soul. “I wasn’t trying to make bangers,” Joeboy explains, "I wanted to make music that I really connected to at that point in time; it turned out to be the most vulnerable project I have ever worked on.”
In Body, Soul& Spirit’s opener Only God Can Save Me, Joeboy sings of the fickleness of human nature. “Is you my friend only in good times?” he questions, before definitively declaring,“if you no go dey when it’s war time/ No go show your face when my sun shine.” Instead, he informs us that he chooses to turn to a more reliable, higher power: “I don’t trust nobody (nobody oh)/ Only God can save me (oh).” And about halfway through the track he stops addressing listeners and speaks to God directly, “Save me, save me/ Baba, save me/ No forsake me (‘sake me).” The stripped back Debo.x production puts Joeboy’s pleading vocals to the forefront.
Turning to a higher power is not particularly new to Joeboy; in fact, spirituality has kept him down to earth on his musical journey thus far. In a career that has spanned a little more than five years, Joeboy has garnered himself the reputation of being a certified hitmaker. We see this from his introduction to the mainstream afrobeats scene with the EP Love& Light, whose lead single Baby garnered 80million views on Youtube, to the multi-platinum selling Sip (Alcohol), and the collaborative masterpieces love nwatiti with CKay and Nobody with DJ Neptune and Mr Eazi. Whilst his ascension has been exciting no doubt, the sheer speed of it has been a little breathtaking. “I mean it helps that I’m an adrenaline junkie,” Joeboy says. “I love all the crazy things. I’ll skydive, zipline, bungee jump, anything exciting. I don’t mind the unknown, I’ll travel and immerse myself in cultures I know nothing about.” Ironically, he reveals that it's his thrill-seeking nature that has kept him grounded through the rollercoaster that is his career. But it has also kept him yearning for more. The afrobeats star quotes a proverb his father has recited to him many times; a child that's ever been out of his father's farm will think his father's farm is the biggest.
This devil-may-care attitude and thirst to expand his world have undoubtedly helped him stay focused on the bigger picture: joy. But sometimes, the industry and its sleuth of tough times has required the young star to seek solace. “I’m very spiritual and have had to stay that way in this business. It has helped me think long term. Even if I’m going through a tough time, spirituality keeps my head up, it keeps me focused on what matters most,” he says.
Three out of the five tracks in Body, Soul and Spirit were recorded in solitary. He recalls; “I recorded Only God Can Save Me, Telephone and Surviving by myself, and it was a really beautiful experience.” Joeboy shares that the time alone allowed him to tap into a more vulnerable and experimental space that he would have otherwise not reached; “sometimes you don't really want to go too deep because there are people in the studio, so this gave me a chance to express myself freely.” Both Telephone and Surviving explore love and romance. But whilst Surviving echoes feelings of desolation like those in the project opener, Telephone is a bright spot exploring love’s euphoria as he serenades a love interest. “So, I wonder why I feel high/ When I dey with you, you feel like a breeze on my face…/Na only you go ease all my pain, oh-oh.” The two remaining tracks are 24/7 and Enemy. The former is a self pep-talk of sorts, but one with resentment rather than genuine confidence. In one part he sings of the joy after a tough time, “Me, I want to dance and flex and feel alright/J’aye lo, party lo, 24 seven oh brother/,” but in another, “Carry my matter for my head I no dey foh, I no dey send/ ‘Cause if I carry last today, nobody go reason me, nobody go care.” The latter, Enemy, is almost the antithesis of Telephone. In this track he blames himself for a toxic love affair he wishes he never got involved in.
Whilst the inspiration behind the project as well as the process of crafting the five songs was personal, it’s not clear that this heightened vulnerability filters through the finished product. The songs seem to resemble a similar tapestry that the African popstar has weaved throughout his career and particularly in the sophomore album Body&Soul; sentimental lyricism, a simple piano arrangement, and a looming drum pattern to make the track meatier. This formula- in its slightly altered variations- punctuated by a vocal ability that quite frankly deserves much more mention that it gets, has worked wonders. Earlier on in the conversation, Joeboy expresses that if he had it his way, this five track offering would have been in the form of a deluxe album. The commercial reasons behind a label pushing for an EP are understandable, but craftwise, this is a clear case of the artist being right.
Regardless, there is definitely growth in Joeboy’s sophomore era (the album and EP). He reflects, “I’m writing more intentionally and using words more precisely. Also, I’m aware of which lines will catch on with listeners, or which ones might become captions that keep the song alive” He continues on, “if you go back to my music two years ago and then listen to my music now, you’ll see that there's an obvious improvement in the quality of the sound. That’s intentional too.” This growth is partly owed to his well picked collaborators. Fans have previously teased the afrobeats artist for his lack of features in the projects prior to Body&Soul, but he attributes it to needing to establish a connection prior to working with other artists. “I have never featured anybody based on the idea of, ‘oh, this person is hot right now, so let me get them on the song so it can gain traction’.” It is important for Joeboy that he and his collaborators establish a connection that feels natural and joyful. “I reach out to them and we just hang out, vibe and feel out the energy. If it feels right, then we can talk about creating music together,” he explains. He has to enjoy their music too, of course.
One such connection is that with DJ Neptune, as seen by how much work they have done together over the years. In fact, DJ Neptune actually managed Joeboy for a brief moment in 2018 before they became peers; “he was one of the first people to show me the ropes in this industry and introduce me to people, you know? He has been a very big source of support for me in the industry.” The afrobeats star goes on to praise the DJ’s care for all facets of artistry beyond making the music. He says, “you know some people just want you to feature so they can use your name for clickbait but what I love about working with DJ Neptune is that he will make sure the song gets out there. And even after that, he doesn’t relax, he’ll want to do a video shoot or interviews, whatever it takes to make the song bigger. He’s also a very straightforward person, and those are hard to come by in this industry.”
Although Joeboy has dabbled with other genres- and afrobeats itself has evolved into an infusion of many sounds- he has largely stuck to what we would refer to as the traditional iteration of the afrobeats. “I like to play the long game,” he explains, “I’m not one to jump on a sound just because it seems like the in thing. If I feel like making a piano I will but not because I feel like I have to. I don’t make fast food music, I’m fine dining.” When he looks back at this career, Joeboy hopes that it is clear that he stayed true to himself, “I never want to feel like I’m doing the same thing as everybody else because it’s what is in.” Many of the afrobeats’ juggernauts have managed to set themselves apart. Joeboy is right, he does not necessarily need to majorly deviate from the genre. Truly, the next step for the star seems to be to hone in on a corner of the genre and claim it as his own. Maybe through his leaning onto his reputation as a heartthrob via his lyricism, or another standout quality, but his next era should have listeners able to pinpoint a Joeboy song beyond the fact that it’s a hit.
This EP, and his sophomore phase by extension has at the very least proven that he has staying power, and a solid foundation to keep him as a household name in the game. But Joeboy has bigger ambitions. His ultimate goal, in his own words, is “global domination.” He shares a story of his friend sending a video from Oman with his song Countour playing in the background. “I’ve never even been to Oman,” he laughs before adding soberly, “I’m ready. I’m absolutely ready to be shutting down arenas, and stadiums and be the biggest song in I don't know, the Caribbean.”