Exclusives Interviews 2 May 2023

GRM Exclusive: Pheelz Talks New Music, Industry Memories & the Power of Afrobeats

2 May 2023

Everybody should be talking about Pheelz. This multi-talented, Lagos-born musician is a testament to true artistry, with a journey that tells a tale of deep passion, dedication and pure, unfiltered love of his craft. Pheelz has talent in abundance and has spent his lifetime filling his world with art: he fell in love with music as a young boy and since then has never looked back. Although his success over the last year suggests an astronomical rise to fame, Pheelz has in fact spent almost fifteen years in the industry, gradually curating gifts that expand across all facets of artistic genius. He is a singer, instrumentalist, songwriter and producer who has built a name in all of those realms. The award-winning star has been named one of the top Nigerian producers and has created magic with too many artists to count, making him the perfect candidate for our latest instatement of The Architects.  

New fans may not be aware of the depth of his impact: he is responsible for ushering the new generation of Afrobeats artists onto the global stage with his expansive catalogue of music production. Pheelz created his first hit, “First of All” with his friend and Nigerian icon, Olamide at the tender age of sixteen. Since then has produced tracks and albums for the likes of Adekunle Gold and Fireboy DML, alongside working with stars including Davido, Akon and Tiwa Savage, to name a few. “There are just so many memories,” Pheelz reminisces. He’s a veteran in the game before having even reached the age of thirty. And he truly comes to life when talking about Afrobeats, a genre that is finally getting the worldwide credit that it deserves. “It’s beautiful to see how far we’ve come as a culture and as a sound. The things we are experiencing now are things we could only have dreamed about a couple of years ago.” But why now? 

“I think the world is just ready for us now. From the standpoint of Afrobeats artists, we’ve been making amazing music from day one, since the days of Fela Kuti and way before that. Nothing has changed about the quality of the music, but now that we finally have the world’s attention, we’re going to shake it up… I feel blessed to have been a part of the former generation and part of this generation, not just as a producer but also as an artist and performer. It’s mind-blowing for me and I’m just enjoying every part of the ride.”

Pheelz’s hit song “Finesse” was a defining track of 2022 and marks a pivotal point in his career. The song evolved into a worldwide hit, solidifying Pheelz as a household name within the expansive Afrobeats landscape. The track, featuring fellow Lagos-born star, BNXN (formerly known as Buju) is effortlessly smooth, with a euphoric chorus that quickly took the music scene and social media by storm.

“The inspiration behind Finesse was me just living carefree, man… it came so effortlessly. I wanted to create a vibe that I loved personally… I didn’t really know it was going to catch fire like that. Nobody expects that. It’s ridiculous how far it has gone and how far it’s still going… It took me a while to catch up with what was really happening. But when it finally hit me, I felt a huge sense of gratitude and disbelief. Getting to perform on huge stages and tour the world and have people singing my songs back to me, these are all experiences that I am so deeply grateful for. … I don’t take these blessings for granted at all.”

“Finesse” sits beautifully amidst eight tracks on Pheelz’s recent EP, Pheelz Good. The project is based on the concept of three emotions, described as “the lover boy feels… the bad boy feels… and the cultural feels”. Each song can be categorised within one of these emotional expressions and the cover art, created by Pheelz himself, further provides a visual display of this theme. “Pheelz Good” presents a cohesive and creative body of work, a project crafted with artistic foresight, authenticity and deliberation. When asked how his music has evolved since his debut EP, “Hear Me Out” (released in 2021) Pheelz explains: “my music has become more intentional, my sound selection, my vibe, the emotions, the intentionality behind it. Now I am mastering my craft and becoming more comfortable in my skin. So “Pheelz Good” is an interpretation of that.”

Pheelz has mastered a unique art of music curation that transcends the limits of any defined genre: “to be honest, I don’t like describing my sound because I don’t want to box myself in. So I would call my sound ‘Afro-spirit’ because a spirit can merge into and become different things. I’m literally boundless with my sound and my creation and that’s how I like it.” This self-coined Afro-spirit soundscape is inspired by a concoction of different music forms. When asked what type of music inspires his art, he shares, “Afrobeats for sure, jazz, R&B, hip hop… I like Indian music actually, and Chinese music too. I just collect inspiration from different palates of sound. I listen to all types of music to look for inspiration and find a spark.” 

An illustration of Pheelz’s abilities to flip and fuse different sounds is clear in his hot new release, “Pheelz Like Summer”, where he takes K-Ci and JoJo’s iconic R&B ballad, “All My Life”, and adds his own magic. The track is inflected with a quintessential Afro beat, smooth saxophone melodies and airy vocals to create a wholly fresh but warmly nostalgic song. It neatly fits within the “lover boy” realm of Pheelz’s EP and serves as a vibrant and romantic summertime anthem. 

So where did it all begin for Pheelz?

“My first encounter of music was when I was five years old, I’ll never forget it. We used to have a kid church an adult church, and one day I stumbled into the adult church for some reason. Fortunately for me, it was when the choir was singing, so I saw first-hand the power that music has over emotions. It was worship, so people were on the floor and weeping. I was just mesmerised.”

And, in the style of a child prodigy, the gift of music came to him in an astonishing way:

“I just started picking up instruments. Everything I know has been self-taught. I would just go on the internet and play things by ear. To this day, I don’t even know how to read music. Everything I know is by ear… I play the keys, the drums, the bass and electric guitar, a little bit of saxophone, at one point I was playing the piccolo very well. Other instruments, I can just give them a go… But it wasn’t just singing and instruments: I loved art, painting, drawing, cinematography, shooting short films. I was a melting pot of creativity and I’m still that way. I still design my cover art myself. I make my lyric videos too, with the animations and everything. I’m trying to start another conversation with my art and I want the world to wake up to that. It’s more than the music… I want to show the world that we can still make real art that people love and respect, and music that people will write books about in the future. We can still have all that and all of this technology alongside it.”

And it is pure devotion that motivates Pheelz to continue mastering his craft; he was never concerned about the fame and fortune. “To be very honest, I didn’t really care about being a star when I was growing up. I just wanted to do music. That’s the truth. I just wanted to make this music and create art. Even if I didn’t make one penny from this, I would still keep doing it for the rest of my life.”

But in spite of that, Pheelz has carved himself a career filled with an ever-growing list of milestones:

“A highlight would be my first LA headline show. Working with Dr Dre was a huge highlight too. Meeting people from Usher to the Chainsmokers to Diddy, being recognised by those people is so crazy. My show in London a few weeks ago was amazing too… my life right now is just a bunch of highlights, I can’t even lie!”

And even when it comes to the lower points of his journey, he wouldn’t change a thing. “My highs and my lows are my own… you wouldn’t know what wins are without losses… Sometimes life doesn’t go your way because you need to learn those lessons. I’ve learnt my lessons, I take my L’s and I move on. The hard times have made me really strong, especially in my mind. To handle fame and being an artist, it takes a really strong mind.”

Whilst soaking in his success, Pheelz is able to look back at his journey and look forward to the greatness that is yet to come, whilst inspiring fans to never give up on their own dreams and to revel in the joys of life whilst they do so. “I don’t joke with my fans, no matter if it’s two fans or one thousand. I truly, genuinely appreciate them from the bottom of my heart, whoever they are, wherever they are.” 

Pheelz is a true rarity. He is an artist of innovation, authenticity and intention, a key figure within the world of Afrobeats, past and present, and a vision of dedication and talent. It is a privilege to experience art from such a deeply talented source, and he is only just getting started. Pheelz has so much more ahead: “I want to be selling out arenas and stadiums, I want to be a tech guru and make products… I want to shape the fashion of the future. I just want to keep doing what I love and keep changing the world.” And looking at his trajectory thus far, it is clear that Pheelz will do exactly as he says.