- Words Hiba Hassan
- Photography grimmshots
There is no artist that is as delicately yet powerfully moving through the industry as Buju. We sat down with the Lagos born singer as he propels into the most exciting journey of his career so far.
Buju. There are countless meanings attached to the four-letter word that tells a lifetime of stories, legacies, and possibilities. At only 24 years old, Daniel Benson AKA Buju is fresh from his first sold-out headline show in London a few nights ago, featured on a Grammy-nominated album, and joined Wizkid in opening his three-night residency at the O2 arena – just to name a few milestones. Of course, not to mention, the success of his latest EP, ‘Sorry I’m Late’, a fitting title for anyone just coming across the star.
Born May 14th in Gbagada, Lagos, Nigeria, Buju is everything that encapsulates being an early summer baby; a vibrant energy that radiates into any room, an infectious smile all while withstanding a pure, genuine excitement for anything he gives his attention to. Music is at the forefront of who he is, seizing the interest of audiences from all over the globe, accumulating over 20 million streams on Spotify, and altogether, over 1.5 million Shazams to add to his roster.
It is truly special to look back at how Buju first came into his own. Music was a running constant in his life since high school, regularly writing verses, joining his local choir, and even taking the route of rapping while at university – which he eventually found was a place too saturated for what he wanted to create. So, he turned to icons like J Hus and Burna Boy who remotely guided him towards the art of “real rap” mixed with afro-fusion, two distinctive voices in music that curated the distinct sound upheld by Buju, today.
The name Buju was born from various avenues; his father’s love for the reggae legend Buju Banton also heavily influenced his direction into music, finding himself turning to other reggae artists like Bob Marley, which commenced his love for music at a young age. The term ‘Buju’ is also a form of endearment for anyone ‘chubby’ he says, and most specifically, it arose from a poem that was written by Buju at a young age. To which the meaning “Beauty Underneath Just Understood” was born.
While performing at London’s Lafayette venue on 30 November, it was clear to see the direction Buju is gearing towards. This past week, London has witnessed an incredible amount of Nigerian talent performing live, from Wizkid to Notion 89 cover star Tems and now Buju, this path to stardom the trajectory he has taken. His ability to make any song distinctive while keeping the audience engaged is all we could want from a live show. But how best to describe the sound of Buju? A powerful vocal range with a sweet undertone, playfully travelling through a melodic and rhythmic production. Wizkid even likened their collaboration on the track “Mood” to sounding “like sex”. The concert was sold out, something that is still a surprise to Buju, saying “I was amazed – I was like HOW? It was when I got to London, I realised how crazy it is.”
Yet, it is all but crazy as he is working hard to where he needs to be, as, for music, Buju says “I try to be better than what I recorded yesterday”, and we can only realise this while we delve into what this means during our very special interview with the insanely talented, Buju…
How are you? How are you finding London and being in this cold?
I just woke up; it is cold as hell. It’s just too cold. I got here a few days ago. Lagos is different – when you have time you need to come! December is the best time in Lagos, everyone is around, parties and things to do.
I had a show in Birmingham, it was madness. It was packed and the energy is off the roof… it was amazing because every other time I’ve come it has always been London. And this was like a whole different city and the vibe was crazy, I’ve got a few in North Hampton, Manchester, I was so surprised that people were coming. The promoter said to me, the last time that had happened was for Burna Boy.
From the young boy in Lagos to now selling out shows globally now!
It is mind-blowing. It is something that I don’t think I can get used to. I’ve been making music since 2017, I have always written but not recorded. I started recording back then, music was everything to me. I was trying to see almost what I am seeing now, back then. But now it is 1000% more. I don’t think I can ever get used to it.
You dropped your first track in 2018, “Catch a Vibe”, which you rated a 3/10, how would you rate your EP, ‘Sorry I’m Late’?
People were telling me the flow was nice etc but whenever I hear critical feedback, which people started doing with this track, I started to realise what they were saying. It was not up to the standards that I should’ve done it, so when it was released, I paid attention to how I sounded and how I can improve that. The second release after that was more motivational and I learned from the mistakes I did in that track.
I would rate my EP 10/10! No Lie!
It’s different because it is a project that nobody, asides from maybe Burna Boy, that can do it. I took it to a different angle. I chose mid-tempo songs, besides Kilometre and Daniel Benson, I put those there because my team to have a break from the slow songs. The project was serious for me, I wanted to show people a different side to the happy, party guy that makes people dance. I wanted to give people something unexpected, songs someone can play and feel inspired to do something because it has inspired me too. On the project, I am preaching confidence. It’s about my journey, what it’s like to be me, being a priority, and having confidence. I wanted to show off my writing ability.
You can see that’s what you’re trying to do with the first track on your project being your full name…
I give my manager credit for that, that wasn’t supposed to be the first song. Listening to some of the records that I had done from 2020, and when I recorded that, I just thought it was one of those songs… But when I listened to it again I realised that it was a true reflection of what I wanted to do. I sing in Yoruba and I basically say, “this is how it is now” and “look at me, Daniel Benson.”
Favourite track on the EP?
“Something Sweet” it’s just me. followed by “I Do” because it’s my reality.
What kind of kid were you in school and growing up?
I was a good kid! I used to sing for my seniors growing up. I knew every song that was loved, they would make me sing songs and I would do it. Everyone loved it as well, I was really fun-loving, and I wanted to be happy.
You started off as a rapper and a choir singer until you went to university and saw that everyone was rapping. You became influenced by artists like J Hus. Everyone knows when it’s Hus on a track due to his distinctive sound, I feel like it is something you have as well. How did those inspirations come into your life?
J Hus is my big inspo! Rap for me at the time was something I saw as foundational, I started rhyming at like 11 and I stopped then because everyone was doing it and they were better. Then I started listening to Burna Boy and J Hus, at the time they were making something I call ‘reality rap’. I just got it so much, I couldn’t relate but it made me relate, it takes me to somewhere I think I am. I listened to J Hus in 2017 for the first time when I heard Did You See but it was playing slower than usual, it was a SoundCloud remix, and you heard every word he was saying. I EVEN questioned how well he was rhyming because it was JUST so good.
That’s when I started to watch my wording, he was a staple of energy. Out of this world.
So, will we get a J Hus X Buju collab?
I’m ready! I know he’s taking a break but as soon as he’s back that’s one person I am reaching for. J Hus is the only person I came into the UK to work with. The last song on my project [“I Do”] I wanted to give him… it’ll happen.
Speaking of collabs, your relationship with Burna Boy is more than just music, he’s someone who you’ve been inspired by since 2012 and directed you into that afro-fusion space. You were then signed to his Spaceship Collective in 2020, released the “Leno” remix, but decided not to renew your contract this year. Would you say that the student is now becoming the master? And what does it take to begin your journey?
It’s more of life taking its course. I appreciate the position I was in last year, it helped me to see things from a different perspective. I was working with my idol, I was able to watch him record and he was able to watch me and tell me how to adapt, it was a learning process. I also saw that I could also do it on my own, being under a label I realised I can’t make decisions for myself. I can’t wake up one morning and make a creative decision, you have to ask 4-5 people about it. Then I realised that couldn’t work for me, it was coming from a place of trying to handle everything, you have the power to make your music what it should be. Music has its way of connecting people and I wanted to do that.
When I recorded “Feeling“ before LADIPOE got on it, I was about to finish my contract, and it was about how I liked the way I was feeling for the start of a new chapter. Not everything was right, but that little sense of feeling great, I loved it. I didn’t want to drop it because I was still under my contract, I didn’t want to ask anyone either, so I dropped it when that had ended, and it was the best decision I could’ve made.
Throughout all of April 2021, I was dropping features, then in May I dropped Outside, it was a song that gave me the confidence to drop this EP. I wasn’t trying to make anyone dance, it was about being broke and still working towards something. It is my biggest single ever.
So, now that you’ve left your label, how have things changed for you? What kinds of things do you take charge of now?
I have never been richer ha ha, and I’ve never been more creatively flexible. At this point I’m back in 2018, it’s just me and music.
What’s the nicest thing you’ve gotten for yourself?
I got my apartment and I got a car, that was the most expensive. I had to reward myself, I’ve come from not having anything at all to finally putting out music for myself, to this. and I’ve just been able to put my people in better places. The first time I’ve stepped out of Nigeria was this year in August.
I think my favourite collaboration is definitely you and Wizkid with “Mood”.
Ahh yeah! We’re nominated for a Grammy as well! It was a random night about 10 pm and I was going through my messages and Wizkid texted me… I have to read it out because it is mind-blowing even now, he said “My G, link up for studio tomorrow”, and I was like “Rahh, it’s a lie”, so I checked the account and it was verified!
That’s so littt! What did you reply?
I told him if I don’t come I’m crazy. Then he sent me his number and I linked him the next day, and he was telling me about my song Confident and the video, it was so crazy. We recorded four songs that day, and after we recorded Mood about a week later, he called me and he was like, you have to re-record it. but I had lost my voice and waited a few days to record and send it back to him. When I did, he said, “Bruhhhhh… this is too much! This song sounds like sex.”
Music is your main form of expression; how do you express yourself outside of music?
I try to always have fun and have a nice time because life is too short. On days I’m not making music I play video games; I don’t know what else I do aside from making music. Music makes me happy, it’s something I’ve been doing since I was a kid. I just love singing. Being in this position right now makes me feel like there is really nothing I can’t do because I’ve never stopped chasing this. Everything I’ve worked for and experienced has led to this.
Your name is inspired by the reggae artist Buju Banton and by your dad who would play reggae music while you were growing up. What other musical influences did your childhood have on the music you create today?
At the time I was listening to a lot of Buju Banton, he used to play Bob Marley, I would listen to Yellow Man. I dived into reggae at a very young age and then again when I wanted to establish my sound. I listen to a lot of Hozier, he’s hard. Khalid and Frank Ocean as well, obviously Burna Boy… they’re the core of what I do now.
And me! I listen to a lot of my music; I make music so I can listen to it…
How often do you go back to Gbadada?
All the time! They have the best Amala!
What specific memories do you have from your mum and her music taste?
She used to sing Buju Banton’s “Destiny”. I remember that a lot.
In five years, time, where will Buju be?
I am always working; I have a lot of songs I want to put out. Just expect music. At this point, I am elevating. I want to be really happy, with money and an amazing support system. I have that right now, but I want it to grow. People who love me and my music as one. I want to make music that makes you want to wake up and want more from life.