Interview: Thutmose Blends the Sounds of Brooklyn & Nigeria Into His Own Pop Flavor
The Nigerian-born artist talks to us about his new EP, Don't Wake Me, as well as getting on the Spider-Man soundtrack, touring with Billie Eilish, and collaborating with Rema.
Thutmose is living out his dream. To this day, the Nigerian rapper and singer has a hard time accepting this is his real life—from "Run Wild" becoming the soundtrack to the official trailer of EA Sports' FIFA 2018 World Cup game to to opening for pop/R&B sensation Billie Eilish and being featured on the Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse soundtrack.
At eight years old, Umar Ibrahim migrated from his home of Nigeria to Brooklyn, New York. Admitting to encountering a "complete culture shock," Thut quickly adapted to his surroundings and took took a liking the East Coast. When it comes to his music, he makes it a point to highlight his journey from his Nigeria to the States, naturally combining both upbringings into one style.
Thut has yet to return to Nigeria in over 16 years, which makes his forthcoming trip in December that much more meaningful. In any case, he just hopes to inspire and motivate all those who come after him. Now, he unleashes his new EP, Don't Wake Me, a tribute to this dreamscape he's been living as a reality. On the five-track project, he recruits highly-buzzing Nigerian recording artist Rema and even samples Koffee's "Raggamuffin."
OkayAfrica caught up with Thutmose in Los Angeles to discuss the inspiration behind Don't Wake Me, working with Rema and Koffee, and how he landed on the Spider-Verse soundtrack.
Thutmose & Rema - Love in the Morning (Official Music Video) youtu.be
For those who don't know, who is Thutmose?
Thutmose is this groovy ass guy from Brooklyn and Nigeria. [laughs]
You moved to New York from Nigeria at 8-years-old. Was there a culture shock?
Yeah, absolutely. Moving to New York was like seeing this Western world up close. Being from Nigeria obviously, the culture is for sure different. We watch the movies, we look into the culture, we see what people live almost from afar. So being in it, it's a complete culture shock. The way people act, the holidays people celebrate, the attitude—it's really Brooklyn. The energy's a little more cool, but still aggressive at the same time. That's something you have to adjust to.
What are some holidays you were surprised by?
Like Halloween. In Nigeria growing up, we didn't celebrate Halloween. I remember coming up, my friends would have Halloween parties and it was a new thing. My parents weren't totally for it but this is the culture here, so it's way different. What's another one... St. Patrick's Day, we don't have that. It's those small holidays.
How did you adjust in New York coning from Nigeria?
It was cool to me because I'm adventurous, I embrace [it], I was young. Not even trying to fit in, but I was attracted to the culture. It's something different, it was exciting.
Nigeria is my roots, though. It's like a spiritual connection. That's always going to be something important for the rest of my life. Whether it's passing it down genetically or culturally, it's just a part of me.
Thutmose. Photo: Lucas Taggart. Courtesy of the artist.
What was your upbringing like?
My upbringing in Nigeria was relatively chill for the most part. I lived with my mom because my dad was in America. We used to wait for the process [to receive a visa] so we can all be together but in the meantime, my dad would visit us every year. My mom loved to go to school while she did her business stuff. Definitely a lot of free time to roam the neighborhoods and play with the kids. Do a bunch of kid shit, cause chaos. That's pretty much how my childhood was.
Was there an adjustment period when you were young, getting adjusted to living in America?
Yeah. Even sometimes now, I'm still adjusting in small ways but not in a grand way. It sounds a little bit naive when I say it like that, but Brooklyn's been another part of me too. Sometimes I just think to myself, "I wonder if me growing up here, the way I think is not necessarily how everybody else thinks over here." Small shit like that I think about from time to time… maybe I'm high right now. [laughs] But adjustment period to New York was mostly... fashion. Fashion is big in Brooklyn. If you're wearing the most basic stuff, people are definitely going to let you know.
I see your high fashion! Look at those shoes, what are those?
Some Prada sneakers. I actually got this in London when I was shooting this video with this guy Rema, for this new song "Love In The Morning" I have coming out on my upcoming project.
Thutmose - Ambience (Official Music Video) youtu.be
What's the significance of the title Don't Wake Me?
To me, I've always felt like I've been, not my entire life, but I've always been dreaming and fantasizing about opportunity. Me being in a different lane and wanting more for myself. A lot of times when I make music, I always try to go to this dreamy space because naturally, that's who I am. I'm a dreamer. Don't Wake Me goes back to this dreamy world that I've been creating for a while now, just through music.
The first single is called "Ambience," pretty much bring people into this world and what I see for myself with the royalty. My name is Thutmose, I'm named after a king — symbolically just like royalty. I want people to have the mentality of keep dreaming. Whatever you want to make possible is only a dream away. No dream is not too far-fetched. Don't Wake Me is this dream that I'm trying to bring to reality. Until it becomes that, I don't want to wake up. I just want to keep dreaming.
Tell us about collaborating with Rema on the EP.
We shot the video in London literally two weeks ago. Rema is o̶n̶e̶ ̶o̶f̶ the hottest artists in Nigeria. Now being back, it's cool to connect with him because he's fucking shit up over there. Also, he heard my song on the Spiderverse album. He heard my music and he fucks with me so it was a natural thing to happen. We just decided to go crazy for it.
How did you guys link initially?
Somebody from my team knew somebody from his team, but we both heard each other's music. My sister used to play his music around the crib. One of my producers sent me his stuff and said "this is fire!" It was small moments, but I guess the universe just made it happen for us. Rema's the only feature on this EP, it's only a few songs. Obviously, I asked Koffee to be a part of it too. I sampled her and she heard it, she was like "yo I don't clear anything, but this is really good."
What's dynamic like in the studio with them?
With Koffee, I found a clip she posted on Youtube. A freestyle thing. It came from one of her actual songs ("Raggamuffin') so I took that bit and sampled it. She heard it and she just loved the song, so she invited me to a show. I saw her in New York, we went backstage. She was singing the song when I walked backstage, I was mad hyped off that. Because she's been working with people like Rihanna and a bunch of others. She's pretty much the Bob Marley for the current generation with spreading positivity through her music. To get her blessing… I'm excited.
Same thing with Rema. He heard the song and was like "yo I fucks with it." He wanted to drop a verse so he sent a verse later. He was in Nigeria at the time, so he sent the verse over and I'm like "whoa, this is lit." He sent a few more ideas over, then we put it with the song. I had the song for a while already, but I had a few to pick from. I'm like "I have to send him a fire one." So the "Love In The Morning" song we have is almost like a sequel to the "Memories" song sonically, but we took a different direction subject-wise. Just continuing from where I started from before. From the Spiderverse project to now, how do I bring people into this journey but still make it cohesive?
Best memory from the video shoot with Rema?
We had a few fire moments. It was one time where I interviewed him. We ask a couple of questions, just vibing. Then me and him sing parts of the song acapella, that's probably my favorite moment.
How does this EP take you back to your Nigerian roots?
Hopefully go back and perform it. I might be there December, the first time in 16 years. It could be cool if my first time back was on a journey like this. It would just feel like a movie, bringing back that whole dreamy thing. A lot of the shit that happens to me, sometimes I don't get a chance to let it really sink in.
I mean, that FIFA thing was dope.
Yeah, exactly! Shit like that. Still being independent, but still somehow all these people are still grabbing my music. They're listening to it. It's been a blessing. A lot of time when people think independent, they see it's hard for a lot of people to even get some looks. Coming out the gate, quitting my job, Billie Eilish taking me on tour. All these moments to me take me back to this entire journey.
How did you link up with Billie Eilish?
Instagram. I had 1,000 followers when she followed me, maybe 2,000 when she took me on tour.
I dropped a freestyle I guess... "Humble" Yeah, I dropped a freestyle and did some other shit. It was early on but just like I saw in her something special, I think she saw something special in me. That was my gateway into this, but it was really dope though. It got me even more excited. Because before that, like I said, it was dreaming a lot. "Should I do this? Should I record this?" I put myself in a situation or people would receive myself on a different level. It almost stamped my mindset of "yo keep dreaming. Keep coming up with these ideas."
Best memory touring with Billie Eilish? What did she teach you about your own artistry?
Thats a good question. I mean, I'm a little older than Billie. But artist-wise, it was dope seeing her be herself no matter what. Me and her, our music is very serious. Not all the time but sometimes, we get dark or we get comedic. For the most part, we approach our art very seriously. But as human beings, we can just be goof balls. We used to be at rehearsals and she'd just be rolling on the floor. Me and my manager, we like having fun. Being humans and not taking things too seriously, just enjoying the moment.
How exactly did "Memories" find its way to the Spiderverse/Spiderman soundtrack?
To me, that was amazing because I feel like that's a movie that's going to live on forever. I'm on the same soundtrack as Post Malone's "Sunflower." The album's almost multi-Platinum right now, and it just got nominated for another AMA. It was Oscar-nominated. Like I said, I wrote the song for me. I walked into the studio one day, me and my producer Avedon. We usually go in like "yo, how do you feel today?" I'm like "I want to create something, I want to put people in their feelings."
He started playing some chords, things just started coming to me. I wrote the song in an hour, maybe even less. Maybe in 30 minutes. It was just one of those moments where somehow a song just comes to you. Sometimes you get it bits and bits, then the transition. Sometimes it comes in 20 or 30 minutes, and that was one of those sessions. Along the way, somebody heard it and was like "yo, we need this for the movie." The story of the character, the way it was set up and the lyrics just matched up.
Next thing you know, "Sunflower" drops as the first single from the soundtrack. I'm like "oh shit, this might be something." Every day I go on Youtube, I'm online, I'm somewhere, I'm always seeing something related to that. It's pretty cool, especially for an independent artist. Mostly everybody on that soundtrack is signed to a label, so it's the inner workings. It's one of those moments.
Anything you want to let us know?
My new project Don't Wake Me is out now. I got a lot of fuego coming up, it's nonstop. I'm just inspired and excited to keep it going, to let you guys see what's coming. Best believe it's going to be something amazing, a beautiful masterpiece on the way.
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