After a decade producing hits for Afropop superstars like Olamide, Tiwa Savage and Fireboy DML, Pheelz is now soaring as a singer-songwriter. He talks to OkayAfrica about juggling both worlds and making the global hit “Finesse.”
I’m on the line waiting for Pheelz. Someone on his end promises he’ll join the call soon, wary about disturbing what is turning out to be an inspired recording session. After a while, Pheelz’s voice comes on. I joke that no one knows how or when the next hit will be made and his booming laughter rings out.
Pheelz is redefining his legend, which has seen his production soundtrack different eras of Afropop in an authoritative way. The 27-year-old has always been a singer, but lovers of Afropop are more familiar with his beats and eponymous tags—the latest iteration is a zesty-pronounced "ridimakulayo." Last decade saw him collaborate frequently with Olamide, conducting the icon’s sound from pop bangers (“Durosoke”), introspective slow burners (“Anifowoshe”) and slinky ballads (“Melo Melo”). Beyond establishing the sound of YBNL’s past and present, Pheelz’s versatility primes him as a rare find, being a major producer across Fireboy DML’s two albums, Tiwa Savage’s Celia and Teni’s WONDERLAND, among many others.
Then, in early 2021 Pheelz released his own debut project, the purposefully-titled Hear Me Out. Across five self-produced songs, his writing shines with intentionality, telling stories of love and life. “It’s in the name actually,” he tells OkayAfrica. “That project was just a ‘Hi guys, my name is Pheelz and I can do this sh*t and I’m also good at it. Hear me out’. And it had amazing acceptance and reviews. I started the Triibe [his fanbase] from there and it has been growing. Now the Triibe is worldwide.”
Barely months into 2022, Pheelz scored his first hit as a lead artist. When I ask the first thing that hooked him to the “Finesse” beat, he mentions the guitar created by a protege named Miichkel (pronounced Michael). “By the time I heard that guitar I was like ‘guy, which beat be this?’ And he kept playing it and you know—it was instant actually. Like, everything about 'Finesse' has been instant. The night I recorded the song was the night I posted the video on TikTok and socials, and it was instant, like, it’s crazy.”
BNXN, the artist formerly known as Buju, hit Pheelz up on Instagram. “He was like ‘yo, what is this, is it just a TikTok sound or a record?’ [I told him] ‘bro, it’s my record. I just recorded it a few days ago. Do you want a verse?’” They linked up and recorded BNXN’s verse, completing the “Finesse” cocktail of melodious production, humorous braggadocio, football references, and a chorus of excited voices screaming its famous hook.
The song’s early prospects of international domination came through TikTok, a social platform that has imprinted transcendental profiles on Afropop songs such as CKay’s “Love Nwantiti” and Goya Menor and Nektunes’s “Ameno Amapiano (Remix).” Likewise, “Finesse” has soundtracked the #FolakeChallenge which currently has over 42million views on the platform. It became the most Shazamed song in the world last month, merely a week after official release.
Further gratification came for Pheelz not long ago when he was announced by Warner UK as their newest artist. “I’m not gonna lie, it was a crazy thing,” he says. “We had crazy meetings and met a lot of people that wanted a piece of Pheelz but Warner just felt like home. It’s a blessing for that to happen.”
After over a decade producing, Pheelz sees this as a natural extension of his artistry. He tells me more than ninety percent of his beats have featured his vocals, masterfully threaded into each record’s texture. He describes that sonic awareness as a “feeling” and is similarly perceptive of why he’s getting buzz as a singer. “Everything just fell in line,” he says. “I had to prepare. I had to get in a zone, mentally and physically, before I launched. ‘Cos I’m a very deliberate person and I think that has shown over the years so now it’s just time to give them back to back.”
Like many would-be musicians, Pheelz started in the church, using Fruity Loops to create beats which he’d then sing over. He once gave a demo containing twenty beats to Maye Hunta, a veteran musician who was also a friend of Pheelz’s dad. Hunta played it for ID Cabasa, a legendary Nigerian producer who then expressed his need for interns. A 16-year-old Pheelz showed up and there he met Olamide. “That’s where we bonded ‘cos we were like the low-key studio rats then. We’d work in the studio late nights when ID Cabasa had left. That’s how we started working and just grew, created a synergy and a formula that works,” he laughs.
Afropop has been on a steady progression and if there’s anyone who understands that journey, it’s Pheelz. He’s well aware of his unique position among the vanguard of African superstars making exploits all over the world. “I’m not only carrying the artists, I’m carrying the producers as well and trying to move,” he says.
What does Pheelz find most exciting about being a musician? “The fact that I get to collaborate with people that I want to collaborate with,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to create, fly around the world and just make music, perform, and share energy with the Triibe, you know? That has been crazy; imagine I did the 02 Arena two days after release, with Davido on stage. That’s one for the books right there.”
Even now, Pheelz looks to the future with clear recognition of what he’s capable of. “I hate boxes and boundaries,” he says. “That’s something I’ve disliked since I was a little child. I’ve always wanted to explore and be more curious and I’ve never stopped learning since day one. I’m always active in my creative process and I think that’s one of the things that got me here. I never stop reinventing myself”.
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