Exclusives Interviews 31 October 2022
Author: Itty Okim

GRM Exclusive: BNXN talks working with his musical heroes, globalisation of Afrobeats & more

31 October 2022

For an artist who only stole limelight for himself in late 2019, BNXN – who was formerly known as Buju – has had a growth speed that is very beautiful to see. In the space of about two years, the singer has gone from being another talent lost in the busy commercial city of Lagos in Nigeria, to having a song with globally respected names like Dave, Burna Boy, JAE5, Olamide to mention only a few.

His latest EP is called Bad Since ‘97 and had the biggest opening on its first day on Spotify as at the period of release; a feat that only Wizkid and Burna Boy had attained at the time. And this happens very shortly after his smash hit with ace producer Pheelz, “Finesse”.

“I needed to solidify my place in the space with a project after multiple hit singles in 2021, and that’s how Sorry I’m Late – my first EP project – came into the picture,” confesses the Nigerian musician in this interview with GRM Daily.

Real name Daniel Benson, the 25 year-old hails from Akwa Ibom in the South South region of Nigeria, but has lived his whole life in the city of Lagos, which has in turn greatly influenced his style of music. Bnxn talks about his journey so far, Bad Since ‘97 and hints at a coming album in this chat.

What did it feel like to have Wizkid, Olamide and Wande Coal on your project?

“It was crazy because I think it’s something not everyone can pull off. I don’t know how many youngins can do that in the industry right now. For these people to do music with you, it has to go beyond them loving your music. They need to be interested in you, your career and journey. When I got the Olamide verse, he told me he had been avoiding jumping on slow songs at the time. But he did it for me because the Olamide who sang slow songs was the one I fell in love with – the one from whose songs I learnt to speak Yoruba.”

What about your music draws people to you?

“To be honest, I put it all on the songwriting and the time I take to make the music I make, and create what I create. This is why I am sort of the bridge between what the OGs want to hear and what the younger guys think is popping at the same time. I think that’s probably it.”

Did your singing-rap style happen over the years? Was it something you built or is that always how your music has been? 

“You know how it is when you get into high school and you’re trying to show your seniors something that makes you stand out. For me at age 11, that special thing was rapping. It was when I got into the university that I realised that a lot of people were rapping way better than I was. I had to ask myself if I was ready to compete in that space or create a niche for myself, so I quit making music until 2017.

“While on that break, I was doing a lot of listening and that was how I found Burna Boy and J Hus. In 2017, I found SoundCloud and it started showing me a lot of my peers that were doing the exact things I wanted to do. I was like ‘who are these guys who are just like me and building their communities?’. I wanted that. They were the alté crew; the likes of Odunsi, Santi, Lady Donli et al and like them, I was trying to spark a change. So I started singing my rap lines.”

So your period of waiting was for self-discovery.

“Oh, yes. The period of waiting was very substantial. It was a learning period. I just wanted to master my sound and delivery, and how I wanted to come in. I wanted people to see that there was a whole lot of work that went into my art. I knew what I wanted to do and I was going to run with it till the end – to the max.”

What happened behind the scenes between Sorry I’m Late and Bad Since ‘97?

“It was another self-reflective period for me. There was a whole lot of stuff that was happening that I felt like I had to talk about in my music. 2019 was an amazing year for me, and that’s what a lot of people would say was my breakout year. 2019 was when I had a feature with Zlatan and Show Dem Camp. Then the pandemic came and my people were worried because I was being too silent for an artist that just signed a record deal. But I was working on my song writing. 2021 came and my deal was done but I didn’t want to renew it. I decided to be independent and then “Bling” with Blaqbonez happened. And then “Feeling” with Ladipoe, and then “Outside” which happens to be my biggest record so far. 

“Then I dropped Sorry I’m Late and the biggest song off that project was “Never Stopped” which has a slow tempo. I didn’t properly check my songs to make sure that the type of music I was making was the type people wanted to associate me with or with my style. I decided to take some time off after I put out the project. And then I decided to be more intentional about Bad since ’97. I wanted people to know that I was the highest-ranking in terms of Nigerian music. I wanted to let people know that I’ve been here for a very long time. When it dropped, it ticked all the boxes. I did things with that project that I didn’t expect I was going to be able to do.” 

I think most people expected ‘Bad Since ’97’ to be an album. What happened?

“I really wanted it to be an album, but I have a distribution deal with Empire and it warrants me to release two EPs first.”

So your next project will be an album?

“Yes, that’s where I’m at now. I want to take my time with this one.” 

Did you have any influence from hip-hop, and how did that happen?

“To be honest, I wasn’t introduced to conventional hip-hop music, but I was in tune with Nigerian hip-hop. You know, the OGs that were rapping in Nigeria; M.I, Ice Prince, Olamide. These were the rappers that were doing it for me because they were infusing things I could feel and could relate to. I couldn’t relate to what is going on in the UK, or Atlanta, or LA.  It was only cool to tell your friends that you knew the guys that were rapping outside Nigeria. But in terms of the music they were making, I couldn’t relate.” 

What do you feel about the globalisation of Afrobeats? 

“I feel it’s great. It’s good for our pockets. Nothing more. If anything, they start giving us the same level of regard and respect they give to the other guys from other regions of the world. Some of our OGs just recently started seeing good-enough money and it’s because of how popular African music has become. Unlike before, they now see that they are worth the big figures. Afrobeats breaking out right now is just better for our pockets. Any other thing is cap.”

What’s one thing about yourself that you love the most?

“I love how I believe that the trajectory at which I see God taking me is big, it’s beyond what my eyes can see and what the world can even see or touch. That’s why I’m really patient with my journey. I know when it gets to that time, I’m going to change a lot. It’s why I feel like many of these OGs mess with me a lot mainly because there’s something different that is coming with me.” 

What would you say your biggest regret is?

“I’ve sat down and thought, and there’s nothing. Anything that happened can happen again and I’ll still be me. Things that have been thrown to me would happen to anyone and they wouldn’t survive it. But I am here, and I’m thriving. I show love to who or whatever is showing me love, and love for what I’m doing and the people I am doing it for. Right now, I’m really excited about how far the music is going and the grounds it is breaking.”