“I Used Music To Explore The Dark Place I Found Myself In” – An MM Exclusive Interview With Omah Lay

Joe Simpson

By Joe Simpson

Joe Simpson

18 Jul 2023

Since breaking through in 2020 with his ‘Get Layd’ EP, Omah Lay’s rapid rise to the top of his field has been nothing short of spectacular. His ability to convey emotion coupled with a strong sense of musicality through his time as a producer has made the artist a leader of a new generation of Afrobeats talent. Omah Lay’s innate sense for relatable lyricism and hard hitting melody has also seen him work with some of the world’s biggest artists, including the likes of Justin Bieber and Metro Boomin.

Fresh from releasing the deluxe version of his deeply personal debut album ‘Boy Alone’, we sat down with Omah Lay to talk through his musical journey so far, the impact of the death of his father, the light and dark of his latest work, and the evolution of his sound:

Talk to me about your upbringing. Did you get into music from an early age?

I come from Port Harcourt, Rivers State in Nigeria. I started off as a rapper and then I ventured into music production and started writing music for people. Later, I decided to try my hand at the solo stuff myself and I discovered that I am very good at it, so I just stayed with it. I first started getting into music seriously at around the age of 14 or 15, and then started professionally around 19.

What was the transition like moving from being a producer to a solo artist?

It wasn’t quite easy at the start. I think I was like other artists at the start. In the beginning I was still trying to find my way to being in front of the camera and being in front of everything because for years, I just stayed back in the studio and made beats. It was like a different world for me to come out of – you start having to face the crowd and everything that comes with fame, but as time went by I started enjoying it more. And yeah, I’m enjoying the whole process right now.

From your first steps as a solo artist to now, how do you think your sound has changed and evolved?

I think this changed a lot from my start on ‘Get Layd’ to ‘Boy Alone’ and ‘Boy Alone Deluxe’ right now. You can just hear the change. The person is growing, so the music is changing the mindset and experience. Everything is changing so it’s definitely affecting the music. Even between ‘Boy Alone’ and ‘Boy Alone Deluxe’, there are two different stories, two different ideas. ‘Boy Alone’ itself was me in a dark place, but the Deluxe is me in a new place. One thing about music is I make my music out of real life experiences and places where I find myself at any one moment.  As long as I keep growing, as long as I keep changing my environment and allow myself to see new things, I will be able to keep growing and moving forward. I think that has been happening over time anyway from ‘Get Layd’ to ‘Boy Alone Deluxe’. I can’t point out any exact moments but there has been a constant shift in sound and message across my music.

Do you think your influences have changed across your discography as well?

Yes, definitely. My influences change out of necessity. On ‘Boy Alone’, it was just like me doing therapy through my music. I used music to explore the dark place I found myself in. With the Deluxe, I think I am more upfront and able to give advice to those who are in similar situations. I’ve also managed to travel a lot and see new cultures. I do make Afro as well but it’s Afro Fusion, so the influence is constantly changing and the more I see and do and travel, the more I am able to fuse all of these influences into my Afro sound.

Tell me about ‘Boy Alone’. What does that title mean to you?

‘Boy Alone’ refers to my father’s name – my late father’s name. The name means a lot because somehow it represents me. It represents my journey. I feel like I do a lot of stuff myself and I feel like what I’m doing is very unique. I’m definitely in a very different place from every other person. ‘Boy Alone’ just manages to tell the complete story through the title. It summarises everything. I feel like I’m in a place where I’m the only one who’s there. I’m in my own lane and I’m running at my own pace. The title manages to tell my whole story whilst also being my Father’s name. 

How much was this album inspired by the loss of your father?

I wouldn’t say it was necessarily inspired by my father’s death, it was more inspired by my state of mind at the time when I was writing it. His name just spoke a lot to where I was at that moment in time. I was in a dark place. I was down, depressed, and my mind was racing. Yeah, I was just not in the best place, but I decided to try and make the album from that place. ‘Boy Alone’ was just about me dedicating something to my Dad and at the same time telling my story. When I was writing the album I was all by myself. I should have got therapy but I decided to use the process of making the album as my therapy. It all makes sense together because it definitely feels like my story.

Do you find it easier at all to make music from a dark place rather than a happier place?

No, I don’t think it’s easy in any way. I don’t think it’s hard in any way either, though. No matter what situation I’m in I always create based on my current reality. I feel like you should just make music from wherever you find yourself – happy or dark.

With the Deluxe version there’s a very obvious change in your mindset. What was the thinking behind putting the two sounds together?

I had already told one side of my story when I found myself in a dark place. When I moved to a new place I decided to show it because I think it makes more sense if you know the dark side of the story and you know the other side of the story, I wouldn’t necessarily call it the brighter side, I just call it a new place. I thought it made more sense if you listen to the one side, and then listen to the other side, too. It just makes the story complete. Yeah, I’m in a new place now. I was in a new place when I made the Deluxe. It just made sense that my fans connect with a new place as much as they connected with the old place.

Some people have described your sound as ‘Afro Depression’. How do you feel about that label?

I don’t know how I feel honestly (Laughs). But yeah, it doesn’t bother me the way people enjoy my music or the way people interpret my music. I think that’s one of the reasons why I make it. I make it so you can enjoy it. Anyway you want to enjoy it. If you enjoy my music as Afro Depression, that’s fine. As long as I’m getting to you when you connect with me, it doesn’t really matter how but as long as I get my music across to as many people as I want, I’m happy. It doesn’t really bother me how they interpret it.

At the end of the day, what we sell is African music, but somehow the ones that come from Nigeria are labelled as Afrobeats. Nigerian music has been Afrobeats. There are definitely other types of music from Nigeria, there’s Highlife, there’s Juju music, but at the end, somehow, we just managed to package the whole thing on the Afrobeats. In the end, everything that comes out of Nigeria is Afrobeats, and I don’t think that’s wrong.

You worked with a lot of artists on both the original and the Deluxe versions. What was that experience like for you?

My collaborations are very, very natural. My collaborations are mostly with people that I listen to, people that I enjoy the music of, and people who are telling the same story as me. Aitch, Justin Bieber, 6LACK, Tay Iwar, just to mention a few. These are people that I feel like can tell my story.  It just makes sense because we connect naturally and somehow we are friends and have a relationship. So yeah. All my collaborations have been very natural there.  They have not just been purely based on business, but because it makes sense.

You’re still at a relatively early stage of your career, but what has been your highlight so far?

The highlight has been growing. This has been the whole journey in general. I’ve been realising how important the process is and enjoying it. Coming from where I came from to where I am today? It’s something to watch and be very grateful for. Starting from where I started from to selling out capacities all over the world, selling out venues all over the world. Yeah, it’s a highlight on its own. 

As you carry on that journey, what do you see as your next steps?

I’m certainly in anticipation for what’s gonna come. Of course, I want a lot to happen, but I am also one of my biggest fans. I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m looking forward to more Omah Lay. Yeah, I’m such a big fan too. I’m in anticipation of what Omah Lay is going to do next■