This interview was conducted in French and translated to English for this feature.
"How does it feel starting your tour," is the question I ask MHD, just 45 minutes before his Boston stop of his highly anticipated U.S. tour.
"[It feels like an] American Dream," he says. "It's a dream—to be 23 and to have a USA tour is something that is unheard of in France…I'm at a loss for words. At the same time, I'm not scared."
Two years ago, Mohamed Sylla better known as MHD uploaded a YouTube video that changed the trajectory of his life forever. Very rapidly, his first video amassed a following that led to more videos, a double platinum album, commercials for Real Madrid and Adidas, a gig as a Puma brand ambassador and concerts all over the world.
Today, the 23-year-old Afro-Trap pioneer has adjusted to fame despite admitting, "At the beginning, it's hard to leave your house and have to take photos every day or people asking you for autographs. I'm surrounded by a great team so I'm unfazed."
"I live in the center of Paris so going out to get a baguette is something that isn't the easiest for me to do anymore. I often camouflage myself with a hat and sunglasses," he says.
Like any artist, he's had some hurdles to overcome. "The hardest part of being famous is dealing with people's opinions or critiques," he says, "but I create my music and don't pay mind to the rest." He exudes the confidence and wisdom of someone who hasn't just begun to reap the benefits of the path set for him.
It should come as no surprise that this boy from the 19th arrondissement has made a name for himself in the music industry. He recounts, "I grew up in a home where traditional African music was always played. In my teenage years, I listened to French rap. These two genres were what I heard when I went to work, school and in the living room with my brothers and sisters—I wrote my first song at 17."
Six years later his body of work is comprised of urban and African instrumentals that speaks to a global audience. The artist, who assertively labels his music as "other", is more likely to collaborate with an African artist like Wizkid but loves the idea of juxtaposing his sound with someone who is the opposite of him like Celine Dion. His list of favorite musicians includes new school Drake and old school Tupac. He's overwhelmed when asked to name African musicians but fires off a few names, "Koffi Olomide, Salif Keita, Davido and Mr Eazi." Luckily for him, in August, he was the only French artist to perform at London's Boy Better Know Takeover and snapped a picture with Drake.
When MHD made that analogy, I was reminded just how much he loves soccer. His music consistently pays homage to the sport. "I always dreamed of being a soccer player. I still do," he says. "Whenever there's a soccer ball near me, I want to kick it. Football is my second wife. It's hard to detach myself." Much like Zinedine Zidane in his prime, MHD's career shows no signs of slowing down. "I just turned 23 a couple days ago, so I'm still young with a lot to say," he says. "I am sure there will be a time when I will have to retreat and focus on something else but for now I will keep making music." Why would he stop when he's backed by a family of 15 siblings and a diverse community that's proud of him? In Afro-Trap Pt. 5 when he says, "Marseille, Bordeaux et Lille, Strasbourg, Nantes, Paris m'valident," he lists off some of the cities supporting him.
While he was on tour, Puma's second collaboration with Daily Paper dropped with him serving as a model against a Ghanaian backdrop. The Fall collection came as part of an initiative to promote Puma's continuous partnership with African football and the building of a football pitch at the Accra Senior Girls School. When asked what causes move him MHD says, "African youth. I want to help them gain opportunities, get scholarships to study abroad, pass soccer tests and get cast in acting roles. They all have dreams. If I can realize my dreams, why can't they? There's so much hidden talent on the african continent that doesn't get illuminated." I hold that this kind of mentality is just what we need to move the continent forward.
Much like in his song "Bravo" he says, "Petit prince est devenu roi" which translates to, "The little prince has become king." The self-proclaimed King of Afro-Trap smiles and states, "I hope someone comes to take my place. I hope Afro-trap continues for decades to come and the movement touches Mexico, China, etc…"
The independent artist has completed 6 to 7 songs on his second album and boasts being able to take his time to finish it. We can expect authenticity from the project as he affirms, "You won't hear me talking about jet setting here and there or driving Rolls Royces. I speak candidly about what I'm living and what I hope to accomplish. No lies."
I, personally, am silently hoping for a few surprise collaborations because Diplo appeared at his tour stop in LA. He's even working on an Afro-Trap line with Puma. If the aforementioned is an indication of anything, his star is sure to keep shining bright.
Audrey Lang is an alumna of Northeastern University and a Boston-based site merchandiser. A surveyor of life who's enamored with all things fashion, art and Africa, keep up with her on Instagram and Tumblr.