Photography: Benjamin Askinas. Styling: Jason Rembert.
Fireboy DML On Embracing His Inner 'Playboy,' Stepping Outside & Learning to Let Go
On Playboy, Fireboy moves further away from his previous records and embraces the mainstream afrobeats sound hinted in recent hits like "Peru" and "Bandana." We sit down with the Nigerian star to talk about his new album.
“I would like to discuss my forthcoming album only, nothing else. That is where my headspace right now.”
Nigerian superstar Fireboy DML draws up the rules of engagement as soon as we get on a Zoom call. The notoriously reticent singer, fresh from enjoying the biggest year of his musical career, powered by the international breakthrough of his single "Peru," is checking in from London. The city has become somewhat of a second home for him of late and it is here that Fireboy is ensconced while getting ready to kick off promotional activities for his third studio album, Playboy, which arrived last Friday.
The 14-track album comes almost two years after Fireboy’s last pop effort, Apollo ,which in turn was released about nine months after his stellar debut, Laughter, Tears & Goosebumps. On Playboy, Fireboy moves further away from his previous records and embraces the mainstream afrobeats sound hinted in recent hits like "Peru" and "Bandana," with newbie Asake.
He tells OkayAfrica about putting the album together below.
What are you up to in London?
Normally the United Kingdom is the first international market that embraces an afrobeats act when they break out, so it is only right that I come here and acclimatize myself with the environment. I initially came to take a break from the madness that is Lagos. But I also have something big planned for London later in the year and it is only right that I come here, be a part of the media and creative communities and get used to the vibe. I don’t want to come and do a concert just for the sake of it.
When you say something big are you talking Royal Albert Hall, O2 Arena or Wembley?
I have a huge concert coming soon for London. It is pretty ballsy if you ask me, but I am used to doing ballsy stuff. I cannot say much now but the important thing is I get to give my London fans something for all the support and love they have been showing over the past few years.
The global breakthrough of "Peru" started in London, didn't it?
Definitely. Even before the Ed Sheeran feature, the UK fans snapped up the song like it was theirs and took it up a notch.
"Peru" is such an anthem. What has the song done for you on a personal level?
First off, that song changed my life and not necessarily because it was a global anthem. It changed my perception about life as it were. I made the song in the most nonchalant, carefree way ever and it became my biggest record so far. This just made me realize that this overthinking I do when I create music needs to stop. I need to calm down, take a step back and let life take its course. And that is the mindset that gave rise to this new album, Playboy. None of the songs on the record have been overthought in any way. Secondly, "Peru" introduced me to a wide range of audiences globally. It isn’t my most profound song, but it has exposed me to people who went back to check out my catalog and they became fans.
It is interesting you are not overthinking because Asa expressed similar sentiments to me about her V album. Is this an afrobeats ethos, letting go and just riding the flow?
Afrobeats focuses on melodies and vibes and rhythm. A lot of the overthinking for me comes from the lyrics because I am always intentional about that even when I am thinking about the most mundane stuff. But she is right. My generation, I think we have learnt some things from the OGs that came before us. Personally, I have taken a break from stressing. It is usually the songs we don’t put much effort to that propel us further. The ones we put our soul and intention are usually the most slept on. Just goes to show that afrobeats is not that deep. Give people sweet melodies and make them feel good. There is already a lot going on in the world and people want to feel better.
My theory is that the state of the world coincides with the global embrace of Afrobeats. The world has been going through a lot in the last two years and it makes sense that they would turn to afrobeats, the same balm that has helped Nigerians deal with tough times.
That is partly what I am trying to achieve with the Playboy album. My fans have kind of pegged me as this uptight, serious guy always indoors, reading a book…
Maybe that is the image that you give off, no?
To be fair that is who I am. But I have other sides to me as well. I am very goofy, very jovial even when I do not get to show that side of me. I like to maintain that air of mystery and that helps me. But now I just want to let go because I know this feeling is a phase and very soon, I will be itching to go back into my shell. I want to enjoy the moment and I want my fans to enjoy it too.
So you are outside now…
I’m outside oh! You are going to catch me in the clubs. You might run into me at some fancy restaurant with one fine babe. And these are normal experiences with celebrities, right? My fans have never mistakenly run into me anywhere random. If I am anywhere then I was meant to be there or paid to show up. But I am down to get outside now and embrace random experiences. I am coming out of my shell and just doing whatever the fuck I want. You cannot drop an album like Playboy and be in the studios hiding away so I will be representing that.
I figured the Playboy would be about you breaking hearts and being polyamorous.
Not that old school meaning. In fact, no one uses playboy in that sense anymore. This Playboy is a young man who decides to stop being reclusive and wants to step outside to play, jump off a plane, get some neck tattoos, flirt with strangers… that is my playboy. Fireboy, in his afropop superstar element, having fun.
How did the album come about and what was the process of putting the songs together?
Last year I was practically lost creatively so I kept on making music sporadically and in July I took my first trip to the United States. I took a walk in New York City with a cigarette stick in my hand, didn’t smoke it, just kept walking for about fifteen minutes. Nobody recognized or looked at me twice or gave a fuck about me and that walk of freedom opened my mind. I just felt so free. I took that energy with me to Miami, went to a strip club, had the time of my life and then to San Francisco where I made "Peru." Recording "Peru" opened my eyes and gave me a sense of direction and I knew it was time for a new album. I went back to Lagos to finish up the album. It was ready by late last year, but I wanted to tease out the release.
How does this record accommodate global stardom since your fans are no longer only Nigerians?
Weirdly enough this is the most afrobeats I have done in a body of work. And it is only right because right now afrobeats has taken off in a crazy way and everyone should take advantage of this momentum. I know there is an international audience and there are a couple of genre diversions on the record, but it is mostly afrobeats. The fact that the audience has changed does not mean the sound has.
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