Nigerian rapper LADIPOE is shifting the boundaries of what rap music rising from the continent can look like, using what he refers to as ‘lifelines’ to deliver potent messages with an experimental Afro-fusion backdrop.
A strong force within the alté movement, LADIPOE continues to take his craft a step further with his innovative spitting style allowing him to rightfully take up space in the charts. Take the track “Feeling”, featuring an addictive hook from fellow Nigerian Buju which has attracted over 80 million streams. Loaded with pure lyricism flowing from his mind to our ears and feel-good vibes, this is the only formula LADIPOE lives by in order to deliver meaningful music.
Having released a handful of singles dating back to 2016, the Mavin Records signee captured our entire attention with the track ‘Know You’ featuring the honeyed tones of Simi. Together the two create a scenario of falling head over heels for someone you barely know despite the climate of frivolous dating and situationships. For most, this was a bright introduction to LADIPOE’s poetic way with words earning him mass support within Nigeria’s hip hop community and similar pockets of communities around the world.
His debut project ‘Talk About Poe’ arrived in 2018 and is a 10-track installation of POE’s world-building lyricism, dynamic flows and punchy worldplay. LADIPOE continues to ascend as a rapper with an abundance of stories to tell presenting Afro-rap fusion in a brand new light.
One the way to a rehearsal, Poe is passing through unmoving traffic which is far from unusual in Lagos city. The setting sun casts purple hues across the sky as we speak all things music, from everything that went into creating his latest project ‘Providence’ to connecting with Birmingham rapper M1llionz.
Hi LADIPOE, how’re you? What have you been up to recently?
I haven’t slept in days. I’ve been performing, I’ve been in four states in the last 48 hours. I’ve been in Owerri which is in Imo state, I’ve been in Port Harcourt which is in River State and then I came back to Lagos, after Lagos we came to Abuja which is the capital of Nigeria and now we’re back in Lagos we’re heading towards a rehearsal.
How’s it been performing again?
It’s good, this is a different kind of performance. It’s funny because I was just telling my team the other day that I kicked off my introduction into performance with band music. I used to go to this spot called Bogobiri in Ikoyi, and it was an open mic with a live band and that’s how I really cut my teeth. So it was difficult and painful for me to work with the DJ and work with the DJ track because I was like how do you entertain and be dynamic through an MP3. So it’s been the opposite for me as opposed to many other artists in Nigeria where it’s done with an MP3 so it’s been interesting to wrap my head around how I can keep that dynamic because a lot of performances for me right now are with DJ tracks as I’m performing in the club a lot and doing short performances in different spaces so it’s been interesting.
What kind of things do you think about when bringing a track to a live performance and preparing for that live performance? What kind of things are you thinking about in terms of the live arrangements?
That’s my favorite style for performance. I’m a daydreamer, and I always think to myself when I get the opportunity, how do I envision myself on stage, how do I envision the performance going? And usually I’ll get caught up in a scenario and I try to take that to the band and tell them ‘okay at this point, I want it to be big here, then we’re going to strip it down here because I want the audience to be drawn into me. And then after we’re going to be explosive here’, that kind of stuff. And so I usually have the right people around who can help me translate to the band because I don’t know how to play an instrument, but I know what I want. So I have somebody there who can interpret what I’m trying to do and give it to the band and we work our way through the arrangement from there. For me, it’s an energy exchange, and I’m trying to control parts of the energy, up, down, feels emotional, hard, relaxed. That’s my own role, I’m an orchestrator of energy.
You were raised in Ikeja Nigeria, what kind of music were you surrounded by growing up? Is anyone in your family musically inclined?
Blessing I have no idea how I’m doing this because there’s no family member, there’s no one that plays an instrument, there’s no one that sings at that level or anything. So we used to have a lot of R&B and soul records, my parents are from the Al Green, Bebe and CeCe Winans era, my dad used to have a bunch of Martin Gay records. My dad went to his University in America, he grew up in Ibadan in Nigeria, but he went to University and he did his Masters in America so he has that heavy American influence in his musical taste. Of course there were a bunch of Nigerian records too, we had Lagbaja playing and Victor Uwaifo and a lot of old Nigerian records. It was a mixture of all those things and I grew up of course around rap and hip hop, the usual mix. I didn’t think it had that much of an impact on me in terms of music but I think what it was is that I love stories, I used to love being told stories and I read a lot growing up, my brother and I were into comics and making our own. I went to university in America as well and my guys Jeff and Kirk, it was the first rap group I was in and Jeff was working on a song and I told him to leave the song with me as I liked what he did with it and I wrote my first ever verse. There was nothing in my upbringing- besides loving rap music but it wasn’t just rap. That generation we used to listen to rap, pop, everything that was on MTV and we just took it all in so after I wrote my first verse I never went back. I have to add one of the best parts of starting to rap is the fact that my first producer was a white boy who introduced me to a wide range of music outside of rap just because of his own audio palette. Like Death Cab For Cutie who are a rock band and Postal Service, these are sounds that I would have never heard coming from Nigeria. All of these things fed into my style of not sticking to a genre and using rap as my outlet, a way of communicating my art but not seeing that one sound is the way to go so it’s been an interesting roundabout way for me to arrive at being an artist. It really wasn’t the plan, my parents are still surprised til this day.
Do you remember the first time you really connected rap music? What inspired you to start writing your own?
I don’t think there was a particular moment, we were immersed in it, it was everywhere and it was a part of the culture. I have my older cousin who was always playing me rap records and he would make sure I knew who the main guys were and made sure I knew the context. Vic Mensa was in a group called Kids These Days which I was introduced to and my cousin would be like don’t forget about Jay-Z, he’d make sure that I was connecting the dots at all times and not getting lost in whatever was currently popping so I really appreciated that he gave me a foundation. I think it was my tendency for melodies, as a Nigerian you’re surrounded by so many melodies, so many African rhythms that I’m always surprised when people in Nigeria look at you funny when you tell them that even if you rap in a different style, it’s still rap. We’re exposed to so much so how can we stick to a genre that was never fully one hundred percent made by us.
You studied in the US for some time, exposed to a completely different culture. How do you think that’s reflected in your music?
I learnt how to rap in America, there were a lot of rappers like Phonte from Little Brother, I really liked Drake, Travis Scott, Elzhi from Slum Village, Lupe Fiasco and they each gave me different things. Phonte from Little Brother taught me that your wordplay can be slick and you can really savour words, Lupe Fiasco was like your imagination has to be big, Drake was like there’s a different way to add melody to the music, you don’t have to be able to sing to Usher’s standard or like Chris Brown but there’s a way to give it to them. With Travi Scott it was that you and your sound engineer need to be close because you can create a distinct style so I learnt how to rap there but I understood what to rap about when I moved back to Nigeria because that’s where the stories were, that’s what I am and that’s where people really connect to my music because it’s not just the way I say it, it’s what I’m saying. When I say a verse like ‘how far with Lagos on a Monday, traffic is as bad as the news on the front page’ , they understand, they know what that means. Nigeria is a big part of my ability to connect and relate with people.
When did you make the shift to start making music? Was it something that you did alongside your studies?
I’m a Naija boy, I finished o! Dropping out of school was never an option, it was never on my mind that it would be something I would do, I come from that kind of family and culture where you finish what you start and you get that education. For one because that’s the culture but secondly when I went to school was when I really started to understand the sacrifice of my parents, not completely but to some extent. All children are entitled, especially when their parents try to block them from the rest of the world but I started to see through that because I know they are denying themselves so much that I’ve got to come through. So I did finish school but in the meantime I started rapping in school and in 2014 I released a couple of records, there was a song called ‘Adore Her’ featuring Funbi and the year before that I did a song called ‘Feel Alright’ with SDC who are a rap duo in Nigeria, they’re really a part of my story because they were the first people I started rapping with when I moved to Nigeria, they showed me the landscape. They really encouraged me to release my own music because people used to think I was in their group and they were like ‘look you’re too dope for people to think you’re just part of this group, they need to see you’. So I released a lot of music in 2014 and that’s where I was like I think I want to be an artist and especially coming out of Nigeria, that’s a major leap of faith.
You are referred to as the ‘Leader Of The Revival’ for those who don’t know what is the revival?
When I first started using that phrase I think it was to make myself feel better because it felt like many people made me feel like there was no space for what I did – I rapped priamrily in Enlgish, it was not a street rap style which was really popular at the time. Artists like Da Grin then Olamide had come and those guys are popping and that was the way people were accepting rap now because M.I had come and done his thing and the landscape had started to shift. Afrobeats and Afropop records are becoming really dominant and it was like there’s no space for that, nobody’s trying to listen. I dropped a project in 2018, the last track is called ‘Revival’ and when I performed that at my first headline show and I said it on stage, I’m the leader of the revival. I took it to mean I’m bringing back that artistry, I’m not reinventing the wheel but I am bringing back that artistry and belief that the way you do the thing that you love to do is valid, you absolutely deserve that seat at the table and nobody can tell you otherwise. It doesn’t matter how different your sound is perceived to be, there’s a space for you in this landscape. For me, my fans are my mainstream, the little fans that I’m cultivating, that’s the mainstream.
You’ve spoken about creating a sound that’s parallel to the alté scene in Nigeria which is already a unique space. What are you trying to say with the kind of music you make specifically?
I’ve been used to the moniker ‘alternative’ from the very beginning, alternative was almost said in a way where it was like ‘you don’t quite fit so let’s just keep you in this box’ or ‘we’re tired of listening to the mainstream, we want alternative’. So sometimes it’s said in a positive light and otherwise it was said in a way that wasn’t so positive. I feel like my music, at the end of the day, I’m trying to create my own lane, a lane for myself where I want people to connect with the stories I’m telling as an artist I feel like you have to reflect the times and I feel like I do that with all of my songs. I want people to hear my music and believe that artistry from the continent is alive and thriving. It’s hard for me to say how I want people to perceive the music, I just know what I feel when I make it.
“Feeling” featuring Buju gained over 80m streams and earned you a BET Award nomination for Best International Flow. Did you imagine the song doing this well whilst creating?
No, mainly because I never really have those thoughts about most of my records but I’ve always trusted how I feel in the studio. In the studio we felt really happy, we just kept singing the hook over and over again even before I’d written the verse so I knew that we had a record. More importantly, it said exactly how I was feeling at the time, the year had some positive notes but there were also some really dark undertones so it’s just about reclaiming your happiness, that’s really what the song is about. I didn’t think it would resonate so strongly and have Nigeria in a chokehold and start to spread but I hoped it would. I remember on the day I dropped it I was nervous and I hoped people could hear what we were trying to say here and wow, they definitely did. Shouting out to Buju, he dropped arguably one of the best hooks of the year, possibly of the generation.
How did you guys even connect to make this song because it’s not often that you collaborate with people and make an instant hit, it also seemed very effortless.
You’re right by saying that. The Buju link up came about because I was working in the studio Andre Vibes who’s the son of a legend, Victor Uwaifo who’s a legendary musician in Nigeria who just passed away recently. Andre is his son and is a producer at Mavin, so we were working on some stuff together and listening to stuff that I liked so one of the beats that I liked was what became ‘Feeling’ and a few tracks. We created a LADIPOE folder and I had a record that we really liked, it wasn’t the ‘Feeling’ beat and I was playing it in the car for someone else and he suggested that Buju should jump on the track because he has that laid back flow and that unique voice, he would kill this track. So we invited him to the studio, and we played on that first record. As soon as he heard it he liked it. Once we were done with that record I told Andre to run some more beats but I’m not sure if it was the first or secord track he played but I remembered it when he played it so I’m nodding my head vigorously and I’m feeling it and Buju’s next to me and nodding too casually. About 30 seconds had passed and that’s the courtesy time and usually everybody nods their head, he hadn’t really said anything so I’m like ‘okay Andre skip to the next track’ and Buju’s like ‘no don’t skip to the next track’. He gets up, goes to the mic and drops the hook. Cold! One time. Just straight. There was no ‘let me tweak this’, he delivered that hook. To me when that happens that’s providence, it was meant to be. The right people and the right energy was in the studio, the right song was played. You know you don’t recreate situations like that.
You recently met Birmingham rapper M1llionz, how did you guys connect?
You’re the first person to ask me that question. Shout out to M1llionz and his manager FK. Rema was in town and I came to link up with him and his team, we had done All Points East at Victoria Park and Rema pulled me up on stage to perform ‘Feeling’ and that was a new audience, it was just fun for me to do. So we did that and M1llionz was there, from there we all went to another show but I think a few days later we linked up for BoxPark Croydon and I was in the car with M1llionz and Rema just talking, he’s a cool guy, just clam and I really like his new project Provisional License. His manager’s a Naija boy from the UK and that whole connection was there. The energy was positive, it was after I got off stage because I performed at Croydon and wow. All I can say is wow.
Was it a good crowd?
It was a good crowd- All Points East was a good crowd but Croydon was like- they really knew ‘Feeling’. At Victoria Park you can tell that it was like ‘I kinda know that song’ or ‘I don’t know this song but I like it’ but Croydon was nuts. After that M1llionz was like you smoked it, he’s very quiet but after that performance he opened up in a different way. I like his Birmingham accent.
What’s exciting you right now about the wider rap scene in the UK/US or Nigeria?
To me, I’ve always felt like UK rap was something that is huge and it has a big market share because people listen to rap in the UK. that’s my perception so as a result there’s a lot of different types of rappers so of course, even before Skepta linked with Wiz we’d known him and then Stormzy and then Dave comes along who’s such a poeti and author, he really knows how to write and that to me is not an easy skill. There’s M1llionz, and I’m hearing Central Cee, Digga D and all these guys. My first proper manager is from the UK so I have that landscape and understanding of what’s popping out there and now I’m feeling Pa Salieu, I think he’s so dynamic, I never know what he’s going to do. I’m always going to be partial to people who have a preference for lyricism which to me is the peak of rap because that’s what I do. How do you manipulate the words to communicate a story for someone to relate? The UK rap scene is something I’m in awe of. The American rap scene as well but for some reason maybe I connect more to the UK. we all grew up on the American rap scene, the same guys that moved me are still moving me in the American rap scene. So Kendrick, Jay-Z, Drake and Travis. I really like Roddy Ricch, I don’t know what it is about him, his melodies feel like they’re from the heart and I think that’s the thing, you can’t deny something that feels authentic. Sometimes it’s an ability that people have to appear authentic and that is one of the biggest things that attracts me to music – authenticity. I want people to perceive that in my own music.
How would you describe your evolution between your last EP ‘Talk About Poe’ to now?
Talk About Poe was in 2018 where a lot was going on in my life and I felt that I owed the people that were supporting me some music, I felt I denied them for a long time. I also felt that they only knew me though one lens and a lot of people who had started to hear me in Nigeria had heard me through SDC who had a very traditional hip hop sound but my personality and my preferences are so expansive and I felt I needed to reintroduce myself in a sense and that’s what Talk About Poe allowed me to do. I tried to show the sonic landscape I was on, from ‘Voices’ which is a hip hop-type track to ‘Falling’ with Tems which has this R&B feel to it – I tried to show my range whereas now I don’t really create with trying to introduce myself. I am confident in who I am and I have ownership of who I am and I know who I am. The sound is refined.
There are a lot of drill, mellow hip hop influences across ‘Talk About Poe’ so what kind of sounds are you channeling in ‘Providence’?
I think for ‘Providence’ I wanted sounds that suited what I wanted to say. I wasn’t creating with any sounds in mind, it was more like finding things to accentuate what I wanted to say. LOTRII is a good example because in that track I was just rapping about my state of mind and on this one it’s no different. It was produced by the exact same person, it just felt like a great way to open up the tape by just saying where I am – ‘I can’t explain this moment of clarity, life is a dream but death is reality, I keep being me – authentic, pure, no additives, the secret to longevity is always rewrite the narrative’. I shared the track at a hard time, my aunt had just passed away and that’s one of the reasons why that line is there: ‘life is a dream, if death is reality’ because they had said that at her funeral and I wasn’t even able to attend because it was covid related. My point is that aspects of my life are heavily involved in the music so I don’t know what beat can carry that until it’s time to write it. The EP was definitely story first, beats later, mostly. ‘Love Essential’ didn’t turn out like that, someone sent me the beat first and I created the song and later added Amaarae to it.
What does ‘Providence’ represent about your current identity as an artist?
The title is very important in the whole framework of the EP, providence means timely preparation for future eventualities. I feel like that encapsulates my entire career till date, the fact that I’ve been working towards something that I didn’t know may even come to pass. If I could add another definition it would be ‘a timely preparation for future eventualities that may never come to pass’ because that is inherently the leap of faith that every artist takes when they say ‘I’m going to do this thing’, you really don’t know how it’s going to turn out. The idea of being prepared shouldn’t work in your favour, that really feels like my career in one sentence. There’s another definition ‘the protective care of God’ is something that I hold on to so that’s also powerful in itself and it plays a big role in what the project means to me.
Lyrically, covid/the pandemic seems to be a recurring theme – what ideas and emotions fuelled the creation of this project?
It was a turbulent time for all of us and it was so uncertain. One of the questions I always get is how did you create or get through it and I don’t think anybody had an intentional way, it’s just survival, you survive mentally, emotionally, financially and every other way. ‘Love Essential’ was the only track I made during lockdown and it was afterwards that I started to piece together my thoughts then I had written LOTRII and that’s why the project has two covid references in it as it’s around the time I also got covid in 2020. I saw it devastate a lot of people, my family included and a lot of people around me so it played a big role. It definitely found its way into the music as with most things. I have an OnlyFans reference that I think is articulately worded.
There’s also features from Rema, Amaarae and Fireboy DML, what were you looking out for when selecting who you wanted to collaborate with?
Like most people, I used to list who I wanted to work with but I really just want to move on mutual energy. People who fit the theme of whatever I’m working on and I want to work with people who want to work with me and sometimes the track calls the person’s name. In the case of ‘Love Essential’ it called Amaarae’s name and luckily she liked it. Fireboy and I have this mutual respect for each other’s art and we had a chance to go into the studio and ‘Running’ was one of the tracks we made, I think it was the third one. Rema is someone who has a big spirit and there’s mutual admiration there as well. I think we see the work that we both put in, I see the massive potential and I think we both know that we can make amazing music so we didn’t rush it. ‘Afro Jigga’ is just one example.
Now that you’ve released this EP, what are you currently working/focusing on?
To be honest with you I just want to make sure I push this EP with all my ability because I really believe in it, it captures me right now so a lot of visuals are going to come from this. Ultimately I would love at some point next year to do a show, I want to be in the UK, I want to be in Ghana, the US, I want to do meet and greets. ‘Providence’ is the springboard for all of those things so in other words it’s almost like the thing I’ve been waiting for for me to start launching this ‘Leader To The Revival’ propaganda and starting to really connect with the audience and the supporters in different regions. That’s my main goal right now. I call my fans my lifelines.
You also use that to describe your rhymes, instead of punchlines you have ‘lifelines’.
Exactly. I understood the power of punchlines, you can’t love rap without knowing about punchlines and there’s such flare, braggadocio and attitude. I also felt that I was leaning more to a different style of anchoring my music. I personally believe that lifelines stick with a person a lot longer than a punchline. I started to realise that and began connecting the dots.