Now, after some globetrotting exploits and several chart-topping singles, including a few with Colombian star J Balvin, the 30-year-old is ready to give the world his eagerly anticipated debut album.
There’s no particular formula to knowing when the time is right, he says, you just know.
“I’m now going through, ‘Okay this is what I think the album will be called’,” he says over drinks at a upmarket Johannesburg hotel he frequents during his visits. “I’m playing around with names. It’s obvious with the themes of the songs that this is a very personal project for me.”
Leaping is not easy
Mr Eazi’s professional music career began when he took a leap of faith by leaving a corporate engineering job to make music full time. It didn’t take long for him to find continental fame. He quickly became one of the continent’s top acts between 2016 and 2017 with his scorching early trifecta of ‘SkinTight’, ‘Leg Over’ and ‘Pour Me Water’.
He ran with this success and leveraged his global sonic appeal with the releases of his two hugely popular EPs, Life is Eazi, Vol. 1: Accra to Lagos and the aforementioned Life is Eazi, Vol. 2: Lagos to London. While he’s released music intermittently since then, his biggest focus has been growing emPawa Africa, a talent incubator that funds and mentors emerging African artists that he founded in 2018.
His biggest musical success over the past few years has come in the form of his 2020 feature on J Balvin and Bad Bunny’s infectious Afrobeats-leaning hit single, ‘COMO UN BEBE’, which was produced by the Nigerian production duo Legendury Beatz. The single has amassed in excess of 300m streams to date.
When most international artists make Afrobeats, they usually take a few elements of the sound and mix it up with their own. That wasn’t the case here.
I ask him how they managed to keep the song so pure. “I was making the record for myself in the beginning. I was making a song that would be a Mr Eazi song, and we then decided to collaborate on the record so it had to stay how it had to stay. And Balvin was very clear to say, ‘Yo Eazi, please I’m listening to you’. And even after he had done his verse he was like, ‘Can you arrange it? Am I singing it right? Is my timing right?’ He was very respectful and he was very keen on maintaining the authenticity of the sound.”
‘COMO UN BEBE’ didn’t fly out the gate though. Initially, it was the least streamed song on the project. But over time it grew to become an inescapable hit in the US. “It was different. And with anything that’s different, people take time to understand what is this. But the fact that it was the two biggest Latin American artists on Afrobeats, the song keeps growing and growing. There’s no time I go to New York randomly in a club that I don’t hear the record. It’s a huge song.”
These past few years have also seen him work with the likes of Nicki Minaj, Popcaan and Major Lazer. With Balvin, they’ve got three songs out together and a potential project in the pipelines. I ask him if working with such global stars is ever something he finds intimidating. “The truth is working with Balvin has been the most organic and comfortable collaboration I’ve done. So it didn’t even click to me that oh so you’re working with J Balvin, so you have to do this or do that. I knew exactly who I wanted to listen to it.”
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“To be honest, I wanted J Balvin’s fans to listen to it. I did that record [‘COMO UN BEBE’] for the Latin American audience because I’d just toured with him and I was performing Afrobeats in stadiums of 20,000 people night by night by night and that was the first time they were hearing it. So I wanted those people to hear this, and Balvin jumping on it was a way for them to hear it.”
Hit or miss
At the end of 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, despite all the uncertainty in the world around Covid-19, the pair found time to record a music video for ‘Lento’, their most recent collaboration. Mr Eazi uses this as an example of how this entire process and relationship has been like doing something fun with an old friend.
“Sometimes it doesn’t have to be deep,” he says. “It’s like me and my friend, we like this song, we recorded it and put it out into the world. We just want the world to hear it. We actually spoke about it the other day and we were like ‘Lento’ is such a good song and it should be one of the biggest songs in the world, but it is not. But you never know, two years from now or five years from now, it could have its own life.”
US Grammy award-winning producer Timbaland has spoken about how sometimes he thinks a song is a sure hit then it tanks, and other times he’s sure a song is mediocre but it becomes a hit. I ask Mr Eazi if he ever experiences this same dilemma. He tells me how it’s a slippery slope and explains how he knew ‘Pour Me Water’ was a hit because it sounded like ‘Leg Over’, which was already a huge hit at that point. But nowadays, he just puts out the music and lets fans decide.
“There are times where you feel like this is a smash, but it’s not. Because at the end of the day it’s down to how people receive it. But is the music good music? Yes. Am I capable of making music that’s not good? No. So I will keep on putting out the music. The fact that one is more commercially successful or more widely accepted doesn’t mean anything, it doesn’t change that the song is good.”
Evolution and sound
Over the past few years, some fans have bemoaned how Mr Eazi has deviated from the sound of his early hits. While he’s aware of this, he insists that he’s unfazed. “The thing is that when people always tell me about the sound, I say ‘What sound are you people referring to?’ I don’t even know what that sound is. It is evolution, it is me. It is me being somewhere and creating something with a producer. And that thing is real to me.”
“There’s no song that sounds like an original Mr Eazi song. You can’t sing like me, so at the end of the day it’s evolution. So for me the times I know I’m taking a risk is the song with Nicki Minaj.” He pauses for a moment, then offers an analogy. “Do you eat only one food? No. Yeah you might have preference for a certain food, but that’s not all you eat.”
He goes on to add that this upcoming album is risky because he’s shifting away from pop. “When I hear a song that sounds like another person’s song that is on radio, it makes me like that song less. But the safe thing is to just listen to the top 10. I can do that and be like okay this is the kind of song people like. But I’m choosing to do it differently, and that’s the risk.”