“The Truth Is Me” – An MM Exclusive With ODUMODUBLVCK
10 Nov 2023
ODUMODUBLVCK has enjoyed a wildly successful 2023. It would be easy to view the artist as a newcomer thanks to the viral success of his hit, ‘DECLAN RICE’, which dropped earlier this year. However, this could not be further from the truth. Across a career spanning the best part of six years, the rapper has managed to craft his own unique, instantly recognisable sound thanks to his inimitable voice and varied musical influence.
I sat down with ODUMO whilst he was visiting 0207 Def Jam Records to talk about his upbringing in Abuja, his first forays into music, the beauty of simplicity, and his latest project, ‘EZIOKWU’:
Talk to me about growing up in Nigeria. You were born in Lagos but raised in Abuja. What was that like for you?
It was a blessing because Abuja is kind of calm, you know? After being born in Lagos but moving to Abuja at the age of seven, it made me ten steps ahead of the people there. I would compare it to someone moving from New York to Houston. New York is very fast and so is Lagos, so I grew up on being very fast. I went back to Lagos for university then went back to Abuja to do music because that’s where my family stays.
The Abuja music industry, they could not rattle my cage. The industry is like a jungle – you have to be strong willed and have a good mentality. That’s the advantage I got by being born in Lagos, but at the moment I’d like to stay in Abuja because there are too many artists in Lagos and I’m the biggest artist in Abuja so I don’t need to go anywhere.
How do you think both cities have influenced your music?
Abuja made me not do what the typical Nigerian artists would do. Abuja is like an alternative box, but is spearheaded by people mostly. Lagos is more Afrobeats, but in my own case, like working on my new project EZIOKWU, I decided to mix everything up because I can do it. So why not do it? Afrobeats, Drill, Highlife, Ghanaian Bounce. I put it all on one project. It’s like merging two societies together and it has never been done before in the history of African music. Nobody has done it so I’m lucky to be the first person to do that. I hope more people can learn from it and make it.
How did you first get into making music? Because you wanted to be a footballer originally?
Yeah, I still play football. Even today I love football more than music, and I love music so much! My number one team is Barcelona but also Arsenal because of Kanu. Growing up as a Nigerian everyone supported Arsenal but my team is Barcelona. Now Declan Rice has moved I’m more committed to Arsenal (laughs). In Nigeria though you don’t have unlimited opportunities. You need money for agents, travel, whereas here you can just join an academy and if you’re good enough you have a chance. From there I needed to do something different.
I didn’t even decide to do music. My friend dropped out of school and told me he wanted to be an artist. He said, “Are you going to follow me? Or are you going to stay back?” I told him “Let’s go. I’ll be your manager.” We got into the studio and I ended up writing some bars. That’s how it started. I never planned it – It’s like music called me. I’m lucky.
What would you say your early influences are?
Apart from Wizkid and Burna and all of those guys, I listened to a lot of Nigerian music growing up. I listened to Fela (Kuti), I listened to 2Face, I listened to D’banj. I listen to a lot of music.
Since you started making music back in 2017, what do you think has changed for you from an artistic perspective?
You know, whatever you do if you spend 10,000 hours on it then you will become better. From day one I’ve always had the talent to do Drill, to harness melodies. As time goes on, you begin to understand yourself better. You begin to understand some different pockets within beats, you know? You just tend to improve.
It’s been this year in particular that you’ve kind of blown up to a wider audience. Have you felt that more from an international sense or also in Nigeria as well?
I think to an extent. I’ve covered 60% of Nigeria, and that’s a good amount for an artist. That also gives me leverage out here, because once you blow to an excess in Nigeria, the whole world catches up. In the same way if you blow up in London it can give you leverage in America, Canada. I don’t see myself as blown here, though. I need to put in the work I put in back home. That’s what we’re doing at this time.
We have to talk about ‘DECLAN RICE’. How did that song come about and what does it mean to you now?
It’s crazy because it was after I sang the song that I realised what it meant. It wasn’t premeditated. I didn’t go to the studio to sing about Declan Rice. The song isn’t even about Declan Rice, it’s just a bar. It’s catchy though obviously, so I recorded the song. My guy Will comes into the studio and he’s a West Ham fan, and he linked me to a West Ham fan page who linked my video to Declan.
West Ham weren’t playing well at the time but the song dropped, Declan scored for England. He’s a defensive midfielder. What are the odds that he will score” If I put a pound on Declan to score you probably would have like 17 pounds, or 20 pounds. From then onwards, the song became number one in Nigeria. It was the first Hip Hop song by a Nigerian artist with no Afrobeats features to reach number one. Considering Nigeria has Burna Boy, Wizkid, Davido, that’s crazy. The next thing, West Ham win the Conference League, Declan becomes the highest selling English player, Arsenal win the Community Shield. Everything kept going and Arsenal actually used the song to announce his transfer. We also won the best Hip-Hop record in Nigeria. It’s been a crazy run, trust me.
What’s changed for you since that point?
Everything. My fan base has increased by 3500%. It’s crazy in London and all over the world. A lot of Arsenal fans are tapped in and listening to my album. They’re so sentimental about it because they feel I’m one of their own. They feel like they have to listen to me and support me and luckily enough for me the music is really good.
Your new project, ‘EZIOKWU’ – what does that title mean to you?
It means the truth. Funnily enough I was going to release a project with that title in 2018, but I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to drop the quality of music that I make today. It would have been a waste of the title. A lot of artists say their stuff is different, but is it really different? You can’t say ODUMO sounds like this guy or that guy. The truth is me. Everything they said I could not do, I did and I got away with it. To get a Hip-Hop number one in Nigeria – the first time by an underground artist is crazy, bro.
What makes you different?
It’s my voice and my thought process towards making music. My icon, Skepta – he doesn’t do too much but it’s the simplicity that makes him great. Football teams like Barcelona and Manchester City play football in the simplest way. Nobody takes two touches but that’s the hardest way to play. The easiest way is sometimes the hardest, you know? I try to keep it simple.
Anytime I’m on the mic, people must know I’m from Nigeria. That is my truth. They must know from the get go that this guy is Nigeria. This is who he is, when you hear him, it is him, and what I’m saying on the records is real stuff. It’s the circumstances, my environment, and the people around me.
The artwork was also made by Slawn. How did that come about?
My brother, you know. He reached out and said that he needed to do the artwork for my album. We didn’t have any idea in mind, but Slawn wanted to do something totally different. The two faces facing each other shows that I need no validation from anybody. I know I’m him and I know I’m the guy. I’m the chosen one to lead a lot of people out of this industry bondage. When a lot of Hip Hop artists see me out here doing what I’m doing, they’re inspired. I sang all my hooks on my album. I didn’t call Wizkid. I didn’t call Fireboy. I didn’t call anyone to sing my hooks – I did it myself. I did it to show you can make exciting music all by yourself and it can pop off, but you have to believe it within yourself.
As you’ve alluded to you cover a lot of different genres on the album. You have a name for it, ‘Okporoko Rythms’. What do you mean by that?
It’s like traditional music, basically. It’s where the artist decides to sing from a sympathetic point of view. The melodies don’t make you hyped up, it just gives you a sweet feeling. Sometimes it can sound like the artist is in pain, but it’s nice, like Omah Lay and what people sometimes call ‘Afro Depression’. For me, I made it a little more traditional. I added some Highlife, some Afrobeat, even some church melodies. The songs kind of sound like lullabies because of the simple, traditional melodies. That’s why at my shows they are singing it back word for word.
You do work with a range of artists on EZIOKWU. What did you learn in that process?
I learned a lot. All of them are my friends first of all. Amaarae is my friend, Teezee is my friend, Bloody Civilian is my friend. I met Zlatan last year and he’s become like a brother to me. Nothing was forced. Everybody came with their own thing and I know I learned from each of them. For instance when I watch Asake I try to take as much as possible. Why is he standing still? Is he tired? He’s using his star power. He can just stand in one place, regain his energy, and get the crowd jumping again. I take away little details like that.
In terms of the African music scene, a lot of artists are thrown under the label of Afrobeat but you’re obviously a rapper first and foremost. Do you feel like you’re leading a path for Rap music at the moment?
Definitely. For me to be the flagbearer of Hip Hop and to secure a number one is big. Our album being number one shows how organic the reception has been. It’s not even up to me or any other person. They love the product. For other artists to see I could make number one, it shows that it can be done and hopefully it can inspire them. I’m not surprised by it though. I told them it was going to happen. I said it with my chest and once you do that, nobody can stop you.
You’ve mentioned Skepta but is there anyone else in the UK you look up to?
What do you like about him?
When you hear a J Hus song, you know it’s J Hus. Like if you hear me, you know it’s me. You can tell J Hus is an African. Even if he’s been in London for a long time, you can tell by his lingo, the way he goes about his business, his confidence. I like that.
Finally, in terms of your next steps, where would you like to see yourself in the future?
For this year I just want to take things as they come. I’m big on Christianity and the Bible, and they say God will bless you in a way that your eyes have not seen and your ears have not heard. I’m not going to use my mouth to limit my blessing. Let it be whatever God has in store for me.
I do have a goal I’m certain I will achieve in the next five years. I want to have a clique of artists in Nigeria. These four other artists will be in a situation where they will have reached my level or surpassed it. That’s when I can say I’ve fulfilled anything it is that I want to fulfil. When we get to where we want to get to, there is always something bigger in front. Everyday we wake up and keep going. We don’t know what tomorrow holds and we hope for the best■
ODUMODUBLVCK’s latest project, EZIOKWU, is available now.