Exclusives Interviews 30 April 2024

Joeboy delves into his new label, afrobeats roots & unorthodox creativity

30 April 2024

When Joeboy enters the room, an air of confidence and effortless flair follows him. Perhaps this is to be expected for a rising icon and a force to be reckoned with in the afrobeats sphere and beyond. Discovered in 2017 by Mr Eazi’s music enterprise, emPawa Africa, Joeboy has since collaborated with a list of global stars like King Promise, Ludacris, Tiwa Savage and Mr Eazi himself; accumulated billions of streams across music platforms with smash hits, including the most notable “Sip (Alcohol)”; and recently launched his very own music label, Young Legend, in partnership with Warner Music Africa. As he sits down with GRM during his trip to the UK, Joeboy shows us that he is the embodiment of everything he wants his art to express: individuality, fearlessness, fun and pure love for the craft. 

Joeboy’s artistic aspirations are both simple and expansive: in 100 years time, he wants to be remembered for “making music that changed lives… for making music that brought positivity and made people happy.”

It’s safe to say that any Joeboy project will give you that boost. His music is fulfilling, fluid and rich in culture and identity. For example, on recent hit, “Osadebe”, the star pays homage to Nigerian icon, Sir Victor Osadebe, a trailblazer in the West African “highlife” genre.

“Osadebe was one of the pioneers of highlife in the 70s and 80s. His music was the soundtrack of that time. They used to call him the hypertension doctor because his music would make people feel relaxed and easy. My music also brings that kind of vibe, people tell me that it makes them feel good. That was the inspiration for the track.”

Without hesitation, Joeboy casually slides from conversation into song, tapping the table and flawlessly singing the words of the chorus, “I’m living life Osadebe, ye, osondi owendi… That phrase ‘osondi owendi’ means ‘to each its own’. In that part, I wanted to say that everybody has their own path to follow.” Joeboy’s path has been a special one that is only getting better with time.

Uplifted by the recent success of his two new releases, “Adenuga” (featuring the talented Qing Madi) and “Concerning”, Joeboy is filled with energy. This era is about experimentation as he explores different sounds and ventures into new corners of his creativity: he recently leaned into his acting talents with the release of a witty three-part short film.

Speaking of how this idea was born, he tells us, “In one meeting I was just like, ‘what do you think about making a short film to act as a rollout for the songs?’. I thought, let’s just try it… I wanted to give people a different side of me.” His team was initially sceptical of his acting potential but, in true Joeboy fashion, he didn’t disappoint. “I really embodied that role, nobody had anything bad to say about the acting. Hollywood? Netflix? Holler at me!”

This artistic spontaneity is integral to Joeboy’s character. “I always tell my team that no idea is too crazy, don’t hold back – if we need to go to the moon to make something work, just tell me, maybe there’s a way we can do it.” That audacious and fearless approach shines through the values within Joeboy’s new label, Young Legend, which aims to platform all types of creatives, from musicians to videographers and photographers. “One of our visions is for Young Legend to become the home of the unorthodox creative, a space for people who are different. We don’t want artists to create sounds that are just trendy and mainstream. We want our artists to come with something unique and peculiar… I want them to stand out so that whenever people hear the name ‘Young Legend’, they’ll know this will be something different.” 

The idea to create a music label has always existed within Joeboy. “Before I started making music, I was always in love with the process behind it. I knew that even if I didn’t end up being a musician, I was always going to be involved one way or another.” But now he is achieving both dreams, fusing his industry experience with business acumen and behind-the-scenes knowledge to build this label. 

The name “Young Legend” was inspired by a peer in the industry who said something that Joeboy would never forget: “In 2019, Tunji sent me a message like ‘yo, you’re a young legend’, and that kind of stuck with me. That was the first tattoo I got.” Here, Joeboy shows us the “young legend” tattoo on his now well-decorated left arm, displaying the impact that the phrase had on his self-belief and trajectory. “Since then, I’ve really wanted to have a platform to help other artists because I know that breaking through the industry can be very difficult. For me, it took a whole village… Looking back at my journey, I just want to be part of somebody else’s process. This is my way of giving back to the industry.”

So where did it all begin for Joeboy? He grew up in the inner states of Lagos, Nigeria and as a child, he was a fairly sensible, indoorsy, self-professed “geek”. Joeboy’s love for his craft was homegrown – it came naturally because he was surrounded by music-makers, including his father who played the keyboard and his brother who played the guitar. Absorbing his older brother’s music taste through an extensive CD collection, Joeboy was raised on an amalgamation of R&B and afrobeats, inspired by artists from Destiny’s Child, Boyz II Men and Brandy to 2Face, P-Squared and D’Banj. 

Creating music was Joeboy’s solace during the bumpy ride of adolescence. “You know during your teenage years when you’re going through puberty and there’s a lot going on in your mind? It can be a really tough time. For me, music helped me relax. I just liked making music, I didn’t care if it blew up… but in 2017, I decided to go for it 100%. Mr Eazi posted my cover of Ed Sheeran’s, “Shape Of You” and I saw the reaction. I was getting DMs from industry people that I looked up to. From then on, I was locked in. I knew I was going to give it my all and if it didn’t work, I would know that I’d tried my best.”

Now, Joeboy has blossomed into a hit-maker who spans genres but always remains rooted in the rich soundscape and culture of his heritage. He describes his sound as, “Afrobeats with different flavours… there are influences of pop, R&B and a bit of dancehall, with some soul too.” He rebukes the concept of being restricted by any genre, but is proud to embrace the label of an afrobeats artist, pointing out that the title reflects so much more than just a sound. “I think afrobeats is about the movement and the culture… Me, I’m not ashamed of the afrobeats label because once you listen to my songs, you’ll notice that there is always an African influence. Even when I’m singing R&B, I may sing some parts in pidgin and some in my traditional language of Yoruba… I’m always going to represent, no matter what the music sounds like. Afrobeats in general has always been a fusion and it goes beyond the sound… I don’t feel limited by the definition.”

Although the afrobeats genre is currently dominating the global music industry, Joeboy emphasises the importance of empowering Africa in the dissemination of its art. “I know there are a lot of foreign labels investing and trying to bring the [afrobeats] sound to the world, but we shouldn’t forget about home… We can also think big on our own continent. We should make sure that we have our own infrastructure, from our awards to our arenas… Let’s take ownership of our sound and our craft. Let’s tell our own stories, we can’t let other people tell our stories for us.”

As he explores the next phases of his career, Joeboy will home in on this type of wisdom-sharing, whilst nurturing new generations of talent through his label. Even now, the star shares some invaluable pearls for those who look up to him, “Don’t try to be like me. Be comfortable with your own sound and with who you are. And make sure your art is something that aligns with your soul before putting it out into the world.”

From Joeboy’s perspective, what are the other key ingredients to true artistic success? “Stay unique, stay consistent and love the process regardless of the results. Don’t record because you want to make a hit; record because you love making music. It needs to boil down to loving what you do. That’s what kept me going.”

It is this deep and genuine love of his art that will keep Joeboy around for a long time. Whether curating hits, exploring acting or creating a platform for others, he truly adores what he does. In him, we see the trappings of the ‘unorthodox creative’ that he intends to uplift and carve a space for. But when it comes to his own hopes and dreams for the future, Joeboy doesn’t like to look too far ahead as he prefers not to limit himself in any way. Therefore, he keeps it simple: “You never really know what’s next. So I’ll be as general as possible and just say… global domination.” For Joeboy, that may well be on the cards.