Lojay’s had a wild ride but he’s only just started
Supa Group is a cohort of 5 Gen-Z artists consolidating on the territory claimed by the Alte movement as a viable alternative to the by-the-numbers afropop movement that preceded them. Chosen for their distinct but complementary approaches to the music business and their individual successes, Clout Mag celebrates the collective power of a new movement that has married the subversiveness of the alte-generation with commercial viability of Naija music’s Golden age, producing a hybridized template for what it means to be a pop star in 2021. Meet our wild card, Lojay.
Lojay has the singular quality of being both magnetic and unassuming. It is this quality; which manifests physically as a smouldering intensity that distinguishes him from his small team when I meet him for the first time at the Clout Studio where he has come to shoot a photo spread for this profile. He sits, at ease, in a sleeveless shirt and customized jeans, a mask over his mouth. We are after all in Covid times, and his voice, his singular most valuable asset needs to be protected. But even with half of his face covered, his star quality is undeniable, as is his candor when we spar over the course of an hour, going through the incredulous turn of events that have defined the three years since he became a full time performing artist.
It’s obvious after the first few minutes that beneath the unassuming facade he presents, Lekan Osifeso jr is self contained and harbours a vast interior life that informs his music and his world view. I see this quality in the way he takes a moment to consider each question as we discuss his life and work, feeling his way to a response that best expresses his views. He has had a lot of time to understand and articulate this interior life.
Lojay tells me his first forays into music were all the way back in 2016, while he was still in university. These first experiments were the manifestation of a desire to make music that was present for as long as he could remember.
“I always knew I was going to make music,” he tells me when I ask him to elaborate, “there is just a feeling of peace I get when I’m working and then the fulfilment when I finish a project. I don’t feel any pressure to blow as an artist, just a desire to get better.”
The reaction to his early experiments were positive but he couldn’t commit fully, partly because it wasn’t the right time and partly because of the pesky distraction of finishing his undergraduate degree. It was a bit of a struggle for him, balancing his desire to pursue music full time with finishing strong but the possibilities that lay ahead were enough motivation to go all the way. Working so hard to get a degree and then setting it aside to start all over again seemed counterintuitive but it felt right to Lojay, so he stopped hedging his bets and made the commitment.
“The worst thing that can happen is that you will learn a lot on the journey and you will find yourself on the other side, better than when you started.”
Lojay went pro in 2018, doing the necessary groundwork for a year before he released his first single ‘Ariel’ in 2019. A second year spent building momentum preceded his second single ‘Ogogoro’ in 2020, only for it all to get swept in the maelstrom of social distancing and movement restrictions that was the global response to Covid-19. The pandemic stripped away all the usual distractions like hustling to get performance gigs or the eternal churn of networking in the industry to get ahead. Lojay chose to interpret that as a lifeline. If he had started his career too quickly and gotten drawn into the cycle of chasing viral hits, the pandemic would have played out differently for him. There was little to lose and everything to gain from leaning into the mandatory isolation.
That stillness taught him to slow down and not rush things, a gift which he channelled towards articulating a long term plan for his music and his brand and mapping out the best way to execute those ideas his way. Executing his way led to his debut project, the LV N ATTN EP, a collaborative effort with producer Sarz, better known for the projects created as result of his subversive pairings with Afrohouse juggernaut Niniola and indie darling Wurld, both of whom have gone on to enjoy global success.
Lojay is very diplomatic when I ask him to talk about his music, sensibility at odds with the abrasive honesty that characterizes many Gen-z artists. He is open but concise and makes sure to correct any generalizations around the sound and image he is building for himself, especially the idea that there is a Lojay the brand vs Lekan the person. He briefly touches on the comparison with Niniola because of the compositional similarities between their iterations of Afrohouse, clarifying that while he has a lot of respect for her craft, there is not nearly enough music for anyone to describe him as a clone of anyone else.
‘My music is me, it’s an expression of myself,’ he tells me when I ask what inspired his sound. ‘I set the tone for how I want my art to come out.’
Lojay is reticent about describing his sound within the rigid limits of genre, a healthy fear considering how both Niniola and Wurld often have their work reduced to well worn tropes. While he is fluid about genres he explores, the only element Lojay doesn’t not compromise on is a heavily melodic sound, big bass and cinematic drums sequences. Vocally he is restrained, conveying emotion through small flourishes woven into his verses, teasing the listener and rewarding their patience by pouring his soul into catchy hooks and unforgettable choruses. Those elements, evident from his very first release, 2019’s ‘Ariel’ and 2020’s ‘Ogogoro’, truly matured on LV N ATTN, his first ‘cohesive’ project.
“It was originally supposed to be a single.’ he explains, delving a little into the Sarz connection, ‘he heard the music and invited me to join his bootcamp. We came out on the other side after three months with LV N ATTN.’
He doesn’t really have a favorite song on the EP, mostly because of the serendipitous nature of how the project came about. The entire process of working closely with one producer to streamline his sound and translate the mood he was trying to conjure into a medium that was easily accessible to a mass audience was vastly different from anything he had done before. It was his opus, amplified by Sarz’s superior production.
It was clearly time, because of all the possible collaborators who could have put their weight behind Lojay and the vehicle Sarz was creating to birth his creative ideas, he got the biggest African artist on the globe.
“Just getting to be in the studio with him, especially on my first project, was exciting for me,’ Lojay tells me, ‘even more because he was the one who asked to be a part of the project. I always thought it was going to happen, but I never anticipated it would happen like this.’
This turn of good fortune seems to be one that compounds as Lojay’s career advances. Mere months after LV N ATTN dropped, Wizkid’s fourth studio album, Made In Lagos, got second wind as ‘Essence’ one of the songs on the album organically penetrated the nearly impossible to hack American market. After a steady climb that lasted almost two months, the song began charting on the Billboard charts thanks to the widespread embrace of the black diaspora. A remix with America’s most bankable artist, Justin Bieber, provided the momentum to catapult the album onto the Billboard Hot 100 charts and positioned ‘Essence’ as a legitimate contender for Song of the Summer.
This wave of positive buzz has been transformational for Temz, who lends her noirish sound and superior song writing to the original version of the song. Temz’s career parallels Lojay’s in many ways, they are both independent artists who made the decision to go it alone because they were unwilling to conform to the formulaic sound in the industry, both received a coveted co-sign from Wizkid. Now that Starboy has truly gone global following the runaway success of Essence, insiders are watching closely to see if some of that shine will rub off Lojay.
But Lojay is not concerning himself with things that are beyond his control. Now that LV N ATTN is out in the world and gaining traction, his next major focus is connecting with the fans in the real world. Nigeria’s performance circuit is notorious for its gatekeeping and its exclusionary practices. It is not uncommon for younger artists to waste precious years ‘paying their dues’ by performing for free at small venues and the occasional guest spot at one of the major concerts organized by the country’s A-list artists in partnership with major event companies. Save for the propulsive power of a certified viral hit, very little can help convince a major to back an upcoming act to headline a concert or festival no matter how much promise they show. But it is a testament to how unconventional Lojay’s journey has been that he managed to circumvent this circus altogether and headline his first exclusive concert barely months after the release of his EP.
LV N ATTN Live with support from the Guinness World Record winning Dj Obi was a closed event, the kind of rarity that even established acts jostle to score. Freed of the need to bloat the performance lineup with big names for legitimacy, Lojay was able to properly introduce the EP to his fans, with a show that matched his vision. It is as near to perfect a start to this chapter of his journey as an artist that he is excited to get back on a stage and connect with more fans. It feels like a whole lifetime away from the Lojay, freshly graduated and eager to take the leap into a full-time career in music. But he’s always been prepared for this moment, this is what he’s always wanted to do. It comes as no surprise that this concert is his most memorable experience as an artist.
“I have always preferred doing it live. So to have this moment was exciting.’ he says, one of the few moments during our conversation where Lojay is truly euphoric. ‘The turnout was more than I could have anticipated, especially with how little time we had to organize the event and put out RSVP’s.’
Lojay appreciates that this moment wouldn’t have happened without the fanbase that has embraced his music in such a short time and championed him as an artist. He tells me that thanks to streaming and the rudimentary structure it has created for independent artists who were shunted by Nigeria’s underdeveloped music industry, his fans can show him their appreciation for his music in tangible ways, which of course includes those very valuable royalty checks. But he also understands the parasocial nature of fandoms and how easily boundaries can be eroded if the artist doesn’t take care to reinforce them. He also understands that the internet is a smokescreen and that only the public figures who are able to sift through the droll for genuine expressions of love or appreciation survive. This is why he maintains a healthy distance from social media and religiously avoids wallowing in the dreaded comments section where careers go to die. The only person’s opinion matters whenever he steps into the booth is his.
‘I’ve never really been pushed by outside forces.’ he says, a motif that repeats itself in various guises over the course of our talk, ‘I want to create my art the way I want and if that takes time, the people that care about my art will wait, as long as we are both in agreement that what they are waiting for is top quality.’
This unwavering vision, and everything I learn about Lojay affirms the fact that he is truly the wildcard of our Supa Group, an independent artist crushing all the barriers without the machinery and support of a major label, focused on the craft, motivated only by his own lofty dreams. Even with new found success, he isn’t exactly raring to find a label and enter into the industry conveyor belt. His plans are more expansive and point heavily towards a future in tech. He talks about wanting to play around with innovation in agriculture, real estate and finance. He also wants to spend the next 10 years touring from Bueno Aires to Japan as the next savant at the intersection of tech, music and innovation, taking afrobeats to pockets of the world where it hasn’t touched yet.
‘I want to be able to do as many things I can with the little time I have on this planet.’ He tells me, a dream that might seem outlandish, but considering how far his music has already travelled, seems perfectly achievable.