Interview: Rexxie Steers His Street Sound Into Mainstream Afropop
In conversation with Nigerian producer Rexxie on the rise of his Afro-streets sound.
Rexxie has been instrumental in the rise of the zanku sound in popular Nigerian music. As the pioneer and go-to producer for the sound, his infamous producer tag, "Yo, Rexxie pon dis one", can be heard in many infectious zanku-inducing songs that have made the youth of Nigeria (and around the world) show off their leg work.
Born Ezeh Chisom Faith in Anambra State, Rexxie played the piano at his father's church as a child. And about 10 years ago, he began his career as a producer, crafting beats for his friends. It was however in 2018 when his name started getting traction, after producing Chinko Ekun's culture-shifting hit "Able God" featuring Lil Kesh and Zlatan.
Over the past few years, he has been mostly known for his continuous work with Zlatan and Naira Marley, relationships that stem back to 2018, when he produced their earlier mainstream hits, "Jogor" and "Jappa". Their collaborations have steered the streets into the realm of the mainstream and brought an energetic vibe to Nigeria's potent Afropop scene.
Apart from the aforementioned artists, Rexxie's production credits span across a wide range of African superstars including Davido, Burna Boy, Tiwa Savage, Olamide, Sarkodie, just to name a few.
The award winning producer released his debut EP Afro Streets in April 2020, which featured the singles "Opor" and "Mofoti". As his first effort as a producer, the EP further establishes his sound, which is characterised by the combination of traditional music melodies with up-tempo, polyrhythmic percussion.
To close off the year, he released "KPK (Ko Por Ke)" featuring Naira Marley's protege, MohBad. The song is currently one of the biggest anthems in the streets of Nigeria. Since its release on December 4th, "KPK" has been streamed millions of times and has topped the charts on multiple DSPs. The song adds to the growing trend of fusing Afrobeats/Afropop with South Africa's amapiano.
In the interview below, we caught up with the hitmaker to delve deep into his sound, working relationship with Zlatan and Naira Marley, "KPK" and his forthcoming album.
This interview has been slightly edited for length and clarity.
How did your journey in music begin and when did you realise that you could make a living out of it?
I have always been musically inclined from childhood, being the pianist at my father's church. I started music production as far back as 10 years ago when I would make beats with my laptop and earpiece and would have my friends voice on it, so it's been steady progress since then until now and will only continue.
Your beats are versatile and multi-layered. What or who are some of your influences or inspirations when it comes to making music?
The need to have people move their body and as well enjoy sweet melodies at the same time is what inspires my productions basically.
How did your producer tag come about and why is it important to have one especially in Nigeria, where even mixing and mastering engineers have tags?
An artist friend I recorded some many years ago actually did that as an intro for his song and I liked it, so it's been my tag since inception. I feel it's important to have a unique and interesting tag, as it gets people accustomed to your works because they can easily recognise your song when they hear it.
Rexxie - Opor Remix (Official Video) ft. Zlatan, LadiPoe www.youtube.com
You work extensively with Zlatan and Naira Marley. Could you tell us about how and when those relationships began?
I met Zlatan a couple years ago when I recorded him on a featured track and we clicked since then and proceeded to record our own songs. I met Naira Marley when we had him on the "Jogor" song by Zlatan. After recording, he asked if I had other beats and [I said] yes. I played him the "Japa" instrumental and he loved it at the first listen and voiced on it.
What do you enjoy the most about working with them?
Their creativity and approach to beats.
How does it feel being responsible for shifting the sound of Nigerian music and being part of the new generation of producers who have brought a different vibe?
It feels great for my pioneered sound to be accepted, recognised, and appreciated globally.
I got a call from Burna's PA to inform me Burna was in the country at that time and would love to work with me. We linked at the club, had fun, and headed to the studio from there to record some amazing vibes together for four days straight. We jetted out to Accra [Ghana] after the fourth day to record even more, and we continued making music and more vibes.
Western or any form of validation matters to me because I feel it's my hard work being recognised and I appreciate that. To have a reputable platform like the Grammys nominate my works is actually huge for me.
You refer to your sound as Afro-streets. What constitutes Afro-streets and how does it differ from the other Afropop styles?
Afro streets is the sound from the streets of Africa, a combination of traditional musical instruments to create a rhythmic, energetic and melodious vibe and several signature dance steps like the shaku shaku and zanku to accompany.
How did the idea of "KPK (Ko Por Ke)" come about, and for anyone who doesn't understand the slang, what is the song about?
"KPK" is an acronym for the Yoruba phrase "Ko Por Ke" or "Who says it's not plenty?". As a creative, there are times when things might not be going as planned, or energies around you might not be pushing you to do greater, "KPK" is more of a motivation for me saying, "Yo boy! You've come a long way, you're doing great, and you'll do greater because it's plenty."
The song quickly went viral after you teased it on social media. Did you expect it to go this crazy and be so well received?
"KPK" is doing just fine, as predicted when we first birthed the song. I knew it was an instant hit from the moment we were recording in the studio.
Rexxie, MohBad - KPK (Ko Por Ke) (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com
"KPK" is an interesting fusion of your sound with amapiano. Was it intentional to include elements of amapiano on it? In one tweet you wrote "Afropiano 2021".
I fell in love with the amapiano sound at the very first listen, and I knew I had to infuse the amapiano elements like the piano and log drum into my own signature sound. That gave birth to a new sound I call Afropiano, which is a mix of amapiano and Afropop, first of this is the smash "KPK" and there's definitely more to come.
Are you currently working on a project? If yes, what can the fans expect to hear on it?
Yes, I am dropping my album this year. It's a 10-track album with contributions from artists around the globe, it's titled A True Champion. Expect to hear me explore different sounds and vibes on the album. It has a balanced mix of Nigerian and international artists.
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