Split The Bill: Lojay @ Stork
Lojay talks making Monalisa, Afrobeats becoming the world’s biggest genre and what’s holding Nigeria back
Born in Lagos, raised in Ikorodu and then coming to study at university in the U.K. - Lojay’s sound is as global as his footprint.
Lojay spent his teenage years and early twenties being consistently inconsistent with music. He started rapping at 13 and after spending time in Sam Clef’s studio - the producer who made Wizkid - Don’t Dull - he experienced an internal shift. Still remembering the smell of the studio over 10 years later, he recalls “I just got this feeling I could do this [music] forever”. Reminiscing on a conversation that finally encouraged him to pursue music full time - his eyes widening with nostalgia - as he remembers how his friend gave him the push he needed: “Out of everyone in our year, I really feel like you’re going to be the most successful”. And Lojay’s career thus far has fulfilled that prophecy with him having worked with Wizkid, Ayra Starr, DJ Neptune and Sarz to make Monalisa.
We meet for dinner at Stork, a fine dining Nigerian restaurant in Mayfair. We’re met with a gentle blare of Tems, Burna Boy and Wizkid coming through the speakers as our cocktails and starters come out. “I can’t believe this is a Nigerian restaurant”, he says both confused and impressed, his feelings testament to how international Afrobeats currently is. His black-tinted glasses match my assumed bravado of an artist who’s experienced his success but he’s the opposite: personable, friendly and charming. We pretend to be YouTubers welcoming our audience to our channel, using the typical language of Gen Z and Millenials who grew up in the era of internet self-branding and watching others in front of a camera. “I watch a lot of random sh*t on YouTube” he confesses, “Yacht videos, drug trade, Shark Tank, music videos, sports, it’s all over the place”.
Lojay’s Dad wanted him to pursue one of the four career paths designated to Nigerian children; law, medicine, dentistry or engineering. “Growing up we weren’t necessarily poor poor like skipping meals, but my Dad wasn’t the richest for most of our lives. I watched him hustle, work and grind non-stop for us” he recalls, “So when I turned down a huge contract in 2018 to pursue music, my Dad was disappointed”. It created tension, but more inspiration because now he had to be successful.
He spent 2019 and the pandemic making music, honing in on his craft, living in the studio with his Dad’s disappointment still niggling in the back of his mind. He formed a friendship, both personally and professionally with Sarz, his co-collaborator on his mixtape LV N ATTN. “I was definitely putting a lot of pressure on myself. Sarz told me it sounded like I was trying to make a hit”. It was only after he stopped putting pressure on himself did he create the magic that was Monalisa. To date, it has garnered over 35 million streams on Spotify alone.
Over the summer, Lojay was brought out by Chris Brown to perform their remix to Monalisa. “I saw the crowd and saw like 50,000 white people. That’s the first show I’ve ever been nervous for ” - he recalls the mic being thrust in his hand, the song dropping, the crowd erupting and him seeing a sea of faces screaming his song back at him. It wasn’t the size of the crowd that made him nervous, but rather the surprising demographic. Coming from a largely monoracial nation like Nigeria, it’s understandable to assume that those who consume your music will largely look like you.
But the internet has shrunk our world and genre-blending has meant people across countries and cultures feel melodic and rhythmic similarities in music they’ve never heard before, and in languages they don’t understand. “My music is global but local so I think that’s why people resonate with it so much” he explains. TikTok has also given a platform to African artists and defied the language barrier - from Isi Nafta’s Love You More Than My Life, to Ckay’s Love Nwantinti. So the Wireless crowd was representative of how international Afrobeats has become.
“I personally think that Afrobeats is going to be the biggest genre in the world,” he says confidently. This is a prediction I can’t dispute. Wizkid and Tems’ success with Essence, and after Burna Boy’s inescapable hit song, Last Last, it seems that Afrobeats is perfectly primed to take over the world. But he admits there are barriers in Nigeria, and the continent at large that are holding the genre back.
“The price of internet really hinders creativity and accessibility. Even something like having a phone, that’s for the middle class”.
The average monthly wage in Nigeria is 30,000 Naira, and the price of a DSP like Spotify or Apple Music is 1000 Naira. In a nation with rising inflation, stagnant wages, inconsistent electricity and a middle class brain drain, paying for a streaming service is the least of the masses' concerns. “We still want to listen to music, but we just go where we can get it for free”. You can see this disparity in the streaming and subscription numbers. Apple Music and Spotify have less than 250,000 subscribers in Nigeria, a nation of over 211 million, whereas Boomplay and Audiomack (free streaming services) are the biggest in the country. “Once there’s a free flow of money in Africa and better access, we’ll take over the world”.
After such success post Monalisa, it’s only natural to want to match that level of success “At the beginning stage of making the EP, I did feel a lot of pressure to make a hit like Monalisa again”, he admits. But he’s dropped that pressure and is focused on giving his listeners value. He remains rather tight-lipped about what we can expect, not even divulging his favourite song nor any featured artists. But if the lead single, Leader!, is in indicator, we can expect a lot from his second EP.
Over the course of our dinner, I get the sense that Lojay almost feels indebted to previous generations of Afrobeats - 2Face, Dbanj, Burna Boy, Davido, Fela are among the many names he mentions. “You wouldn’t have Monalisa if it wasn’t for the previous generation(s). They paved the way for us new kids to shine and take Afrobeats further”. His mind is conscious that the position he’s in right now wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for Afrobeats forefathers. That’s why the focus for his new EP, Gangsta Romantic, is about melding the sounds of the past that inspired him, with the present infectious sound of Afrofusion.