We talk to the DMW artist about striking a balance between being one of the most trusted afrobeats songwriters while maintaining his career as an artist — and his latest album Rum & Boogie.
When Peruzzi, born Tobechukwu Okoh, abruptly left medical school in Ukraine, he knew he wanted to become a star in Nigeria. "I left medical school in my fifth year after my passport got stolen. I just felt like it was time to do the music thing properly," Peruzzi shares when we meet at his Lagos home.
After shuffling between Lagos and Abuja, and record deals that failed to provide him with the necessary publicity to kickstart his music career, Peruzzi spent the next couple of years not listening to Nigerian music in order to hone his own songwriting abilities. In 2017, Peruzzi finally got his limelight moment with the Davido-assisted remix of his single "For Your Pocket." In 2018, a few months after collaborating with the afrobeats superstar, Peruzzi was unveiled as a signee under Davido's label imprint, DMW, with the spirited posse-cut "Mind," which featured label mates Mayorkun and Dremo.
Although Peruzzi suffered a false start under DMW with his debut single "Mata," the Imo State singer notched numerous songwriting credits on genre-shaping records such as 2Face's "Amaka," Davido's "FIA," Larry Gaaga's "Doe" and Ecool's "Ada" in 2018. Later that year, Peruzzi's solo moment as an artist came with his single "Majesty," a celebratory R&B record that propelled Peruzzi's career to unprecedented heights.
Three years later, Peruzzi has proven to be a noteworthy name within the Nigerian music industry and beyond, entrancing fans with his arresting melodies and enviable wordplay, and accruing songwriting and artist credits on culture-defining albums such as Davido's A Better Time, Tiwa Savage's Celia and Olamide's Carpe Diem. With two EPs and an album in his catalogue, Peruzzi's latest offering is a 20-track double-sided album titled Rum & Boogie.
While his medical aspirations may be fast fading, Peruzzi's pen is sharper than ever as he presents fresh cuts of Afro-RnB and Afropop on his long-awaited sophomore album.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Image courtesy of the artist.
In the past year, you have featured on Olamide's Carpe Diem and earned songwriting credits on Davido's A Better Time and Tiwa Savage's Celia. How much do these co-signs do for you as an artist?
It does a lot. The other day I was just on my Instagram and Sean Kingston was messaging me and sending me voice notes. It's crazy. Now, anybody can just write to you and I can write to anybody I want. I can write to Nicki Minaj and say "Hi Nicki, I wrote Holy Ground." I'm telling you, that's what it does.
"Southy Love" is such a big song. How did you create that song with Fireboy DML?
We were in Davido's home studio in Lagos, where Olamide was to record a song with Davido. Beforehand, Olamide had mentioned that he would come with Fireboy and we should all just spend the whole day working in the studio. After Olamide recorded two songs with Davido that day, Fireboy and I were left in the studio, and I was like 'Guy, we can't be useless now.' We did two songs actually. The other one is on Speroach's EP, it's a very sweet song. Me and Fireboy wrote "Southy Love" together actually. The progression was different initially, so I called him one morning and he came to my house to finish it up.
Your album was initially named Gaza. Why did you change it?
Gaza was going to be brutal, Gaza is different from Rum and Boogie. Gaza was going to have a lot of talking… a lot of wahala.
Are you still going to put it out?
No, I decided to do Rum & Boogie.
The album contains a lot of different emotions.
Yeah, I've done my part and I made sure every song gives a different feel, maybe two or three songs have the same, but you get different feels from most of the songs.
Peruzzi - Southy Love feat. Fireboy DML (Official Video) youtu.be
Why did you name the album Rum & Boogie?
Rum & Boogie is basically two parts. Rum is the emotional part that's mostly made up of love songs, then Boogie is basically the party section of the album. The two sides have 10 songs each but it's still the same album.
You had a September release date initially but you kept pushing the album back. Why?
I kept changing stuff, that's how I am.
Do you think you're a perfectionist?
Yes, I am actually. (Chuckles) To be very honest, e dey affect me (it always affects me).
Much as your artist career was taking off, so too was your songwriting career. You became one of the most trusted afrobeats songwriters, everyone knew that if you wanted a song to pop you had to get Peruzzi to write it. How did you build that reputation?
I'd say it was the work I put in. It was all the time I took off to make sure that I grew, 'cause there was no time to come out and start announcing that I'm a songwriter — even when I was writing for just Davido. In the beginning, I did not want anybody to know me, I like people to get their glory. I get my own joy from going to the club and seeing people happily sing along to the songs. Songwriting is not something I thought I would do to make ends meet. It was just a cruise. I made sure I didn't come with writing alone, but that I came with an arrangement of songs as well, and a lot of people copied it. I had a pattern. Even if I'm not the one singing it, most people will be like "Peruzzi wrote this song."
Image courtesy of the artist.
I've always been funny but I'm also a very shy guy.
How did you become comfortable putting that side of you out?
Because I had a bad year last year. The year didn't start off well.
Yes. The year started with different accusations. After all those things, I had my time where I sat down and thought 'guy you're not like this, what's going on?' In as much as I don't care what people think, how they say I don't smile in pictures, and I look mean, whereas I'm the one that laughs the most out of everybody. Most times, I don't know when to be serious. I came out with my "Lagbaja" song and afterwards I decided, if I'm eating and picking my teeth, I will post it on my page if I want to. These are normal things I used to do but I was too shy to post them.
How does it feel writing a song such as Davido's "Holy Ground" which featured Nicki Minaj?
It was amazing. I wrote that song about two years ago, but that's the thing about writing timeless songs. Whenever you play them, you will still like them. I love love. Love songs will feel the same next year, two years after, or three years after.
What inspires you to write all these songs?
Things I see and things I imagine myself going through.
How long did it take you to create the album?
(Chuckles) Two years.
Wow, that's a lot of work!
I've been recording since March two years ago, that's when I did "God Forbid."
So what's next after the album?
I want to focus on some international collaboration for the songs that make sense on the album. I will make remixes. After the album, I'll chill until next year before I do anything too serious.
How do you expect people to receive this album?
Anyhow wey e wan be may e be. (Whatever will be, will be)