We talk to the Nigerian artist about his fourth project Yaadman Kingsize and connecting with his spirituality amidst the internalized corruption in his country.
Yung L has paid his dues. Over a decade ago, he left Jos for the competitive Lagos market, and then established himself as one of the finest voices creating dancehall-inflected music out of the continent.
On early records like the hit "SOS," his boisterous, informed energy jumps at the listener. No one else but Yung L can embody the full-throated promise in the lyrics "I and I be the man on fire/ I and I be the Young Mandela." Subsequent years would see him dub his style 'Afro Zimm,' an homage to his black roots as well as 'Zimm,' the Caribbean music that has inspired his journey as a person and artist.
During the creation process for his sophomore album, Yung L would tell producers that Yaadman Kingsize was 'his Grammy project,' and the task for quality was early on established. Packed in a concise tracklist of 11 songs, the album follows a character-driven journey that celebrates life, women and spirituality. Although it features homegrown icons like Seun Kuti and Wizkid, the control in Yung L's songwriting shapes the album as an imminent cult classic, the kind of project that will always find its own.
OkayAfrica spoke to Yung L about Yaadman Kingsize and the spiritual awakening that is inspiring some of his best work, a decade into his career.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Photo: Sope Adelaja.
You released the Juice & Zimm EP last year. How did you know it was time to release a new project—this time an album?
Honestly, I don't like fans asking "where is Yung L?" I record a lot so I always want to have music out. After Juice & Zimm had been around for six months, I wanted to release another project of maybe four or five songs. I started working on Yaadman Kingsize and it metamorphosed into a full album.
What was the first song you recorded on Yaadman Kingsize?
I did "Operator" after I'd just finished recording Juice & Zimm. Chopstix sent me that beat and I vibed on it. I wanted to have it on Juice & Zimm but (my team) said "wait, this one is already done." I was gingered to put it in another project so I began working on "Yaadman (Intro)" which, for me, holds the essence of the whole album; the song that gave birth to the rest of the songs. I experimented on it—doing trap, drill and dancehall on one record and I thought "you know what? This is what my project is gonna sound like –proper range."
Yaadman Kingsize moves like a journey. Was that the intention making the album?
We wanted to take you through a path. Yaadman starts with so much confidence and conviction but also confession. Like, who I am and where I get this vibration from. We move on to "Operator" where I'm like 'let's get into the party.' On every song you get through different emotions basically. There's a part where you feeling sexy with yourself and you listen to "Womanizer," there's a part where you're tough, you're like a street guy singing "Opp" and then it takes you to "Police & Thief" where you're angry and sad with Nigeria's situation. Then at the end you pray about it and just hand it over to God.
Photo: Sope Adelaja.
You had dope features on this tape like Wizkid, Seun Kuti and other great musicians. How did they all align?
With collaborations I tend to be really intentional. I always want the artists to match my energy and not dull the song. Doing my masters in 2019 Tiggs Da Author released his EP More Life and it was so fire; I played it so much during train rides. Making "Womanizer" I had only one verse and I thought if I could get Tiggs on this he'd actually kill it. I found him on IG, hit him up, he sent me his mail, and I sent him the record. He was like "bro, give me some time, I wanna make love to this song." It took him three weeks and when he sent it back it was great and one of the best songs on the album. I recorded "Bwoy" for my first album actually. Me and T.U.C were just going through the songs we recorded and we found that song and we wanted to know who did it. The producer didn't have his tag so it took us a while before knowing it was Killertunes. I hit him up and asked if he had the file of the song. He didn't so we had to remake the beat. I thought it'd be dope to get a Nigerian dancehall person so I hit up Shank. I also wanted to pay homage to someone that opened the door for this genre I'm enjoying now.
I always wanted to work with Seun Kuti but I didn't know what type of song yet. But I wanted something different from the typical sociopolitical songs with him. I mean, we're both young men. He was to be on "Puna" but when he heard the "Rasta" beat he said "it's this one." We vibed, he played the horns and it came out so beautifully. Then Wiz—Wizkid messaged me when I released Juice & Zimm and told me "Eve Bounce" was his favourite song on the tape. I told him thanks, I wasn't even thinking of doing a remix then. Then I remember the the lockdown started and we were on Twitter and I think at the same time we both tweeted about being bored. So I just said, "guy, since we're bored let's just do the remix abeg" and he's like "you know that's my jam, are you serious?" and I'm like "yeah." At 9PM I sent him the record and when I woke up by 2AM, he had an mp3 delivered on WhatsApp. He's like "Do you like it?" cos he wanted to add stuff to it and I'm like "Fam, don't bother adding anything, just send the file cos I know you. We'll start hearing long thing later." (Laughs)
Photo: Sope Adelaja.
Let's discuss "Police & Thief," which is such a riveting account of Nigeria's many ills.
I think if you live in Nigeria, you're gonna face stuff that makes you sad. Stuff like seeing other countries on Twitter, how they're setting up good policies—it just gets you sad. You want to be in your country, you don't always want to be traveling out. There are few times I drive around Lagos that I don't get stopped because I have dreads. It's funny how you see dreads and you relate that to a scammer meanwhile the biggest scammers don't have dreads, they wear kaftans and we don't arrest those men in the streets. Being an artist too they just feel like you're irresponsible you know? We've had conversations where they (the police) tell you "Where do you get your money? How can you buy a car? Do you know how much my salary is?" You'd know this guy is talking from a position of pain and he's using his power to take that out on me.
I tell my colleagues "Yeah, let's turn up and party but let's not forget to talk about the times we're living in." I've always had such songs in my projects. It's not even about the End Sars protests it's deeper than that; "Police & Thief" talked about corruption on all levels: religion, tribalism, different things, man. Normal people like me and you are corrupt too.
Who is a Yaadman?
I'll read that to you. Urban Dictionary describes 'Yaad' as "the Hebrew word for purpose, goal, aim, destination and destiny. Yaad is a tall, dark and handsome man full of love. Yaad is every girl's dream."
'Yaadman' always had connotations with dancehall. Everyone says 'yaadman ting,' 'yaadman party,' and I was really calling myself that till I found the meaning in the dictionary. I realized I'd become one with the music; in the project where I say "half man, half spirit" it's honestly how I feel. I've become one with my art, with my community, my roots, where I grew up and where I wanna be. Everyone is saying it's my best body of work; I agree. I know it's my best and it makes sense I'm doing it at this time when I've realized myself and who I am.