Oluwatosin Ajibade popularly known as Mr Eazi is known to be a multifaceted artist and entrepreneur in the Nigerian music scene. From releasing mixtapes and singles with nationwide acclaim to setting up his own music label, Venture Capital and most recently after a decade in the music scene released his first feature album he aptly named ‘The Evil Genius.’
Self-described as a hustler in an exclusive interview with BusinessDay, the entrepreneur revealed his desire to delve into the world of filmmaking using his position and access to create and fund movie projects to further add value to the vibrant Nollywood ecosystem.
As he diversifies his portfolio beyond the realm of music, Mr Eazi shares insights into his life as an artist, navigating the album’s creative process, embracing entrepreneurship and his vision for the future.
Tell us about your first major album “Evil Genius” why it took so long and what it means to you
This album represents two and a half years of my life, my thoughts, experiences and a lot of introspection and putting all of that on instrumentals and with the collaboration of the artists on the canvas.
This is my most personal project I’ve made, whereas my other projects have been more of my exposure and interpretation of sounds for “Accra to Lagos”, “Lagos to London” and the vibes, you know, these works came with a lot of vibes. This new album however , came with a lot of consciousness, not in the sense of just talking about politics but talking about my consciousness and sharing it in my music.
During the creative process, I discovered that the mere presence of art in my surroundings was seeping into my subconscious. What makes this album unique is that art serves as its complementary aspect, completing each piece. Every artwork, whether encountered in Ife, on Instagram, or sent to me by someone, reflects the essence of the artist. Upon seeing their work, I could envision the specific contribution each artist would make to a song. The process involves sending the song to the artist, gauging their resonance with it, and granting them creative freedom to bring their intended vision to life.
One of the most captivating aspects is the harmonious fusion of worlds, especially within the rich tapestry of African culture. This is an opportune moment for the vibrancy of African arts, music, film, and fashion. Connecting art and music in this album creates a beautiful synergy. Facilitating collaboration between artists and musicians allows for a unique blend, making the creative ecosystem more dynamic and interconnected.
What is the feedback to this album since its release?
My focus has shifted towards people connecting the musical and visual elements. On YouTube, I’ve shared performance videos where the setting resembles a gallery, with each song illuminating specific art pieces. I wonder if viewers truly grasp this when watching.
Understanding and appreciating this concept might require time, and I don’t mean to sound patronizing by saying that. It’s akin to making wine – you press it, but you don’t immediately drink it; you let it age.
This album is the kind that unfolds its richness over time. I hesitate to say it “grows on you” because it’s not universally appealing. You might listen to it and find it’s not for you – perhaps not today, not ever. Yet, in five years, it might resonate deeply with you. It’s a reminder that art isn’t created for everyone; it exists for the sake of art itself.
Why did you name the title ‘the evil genius’?
The term “Evil Genius” reflects the idea of embracing the thought process behind the name. It involves breaking free from the obsession of controlling people’s opinions about oneself, particularly in the context of being a musician. In the music industry, there’s constant emphasis on crafting and maintaining an image, and the danger lies in becoming so fixated on this image that you lose touch with your authentic self. It’s like you’re a prisoner of your own success. By intentionally letting go of this obsession and almost assassinating the carefully constructed image, one can find freedom and authenticity. It’s about shedding the need for approval and living a genuine life rather than conforming to a persona that isn’t truly reflective of who you are.
By adopting this approach, one can redirect their focus inward and introspectively ask, “Who am I?” This process involves expressing one’s self-perception via the songs on the album. So you go from “Oluwa Jo” where I speak about my thoughts and my fears, about my family and my mom’s voice is featured there. then you go to “Exit” where I said I never had to count my blessings but these days I do. In between the album, you hear me sing about lack of communication in relationships. You hear me touching a little bit on politics, but not in a very deep way.
While many people associate consciousness with discussions about politics, true conscious music involves an individual expressing their own awareness. Singing about real-life experiences, such as events in one’s neighborhood, qualifies as conscious music because it reflects the authentic reality of the artist.
You’ve been actively investing in Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) through your venture capital fund, Zagadat Capital which not only impacts the music industry but also creates job opportunities and fosters entrepreneurship. How important is it for you to contribute to economic growth and development in Africa through your investments?
Through my venture capital fund, Zagadat Capital, I actively invest in promising small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) across various industries, including the music industry. This is important because it not only benefits the individuals directly involved but also has a ripple effect on the wider economy. As you mentioned, it ultimately contributes to the creation of job opportunities and fosters entrepreneurship on the continent
Besides investments and music, looking ahead, what are your personal and professional aspirations in the coming years, both within and beyond the entertainment sphere?
I’ve begun contemplating filmmaking, delving into production, funding, and the entire cinematic ecosystem. This forms a significant part of my new set of goals. Additionally, I aim to cherish and evolve alongside my beloved partner, dedicating quality time to our growth together.
How lucrative is the music business in Nigeria?
I’ll say 1000 percent because Nigerian music is at the beginning stages. We all sing the praises of Afrobeats to the world but we don’t have a proper 750 capacity music venue in Lagos. It shows opportunity however and there is a lot of it. And I feel it’s a business I can do all my life because there is so much to do and ideas and artists.
When do you hope to retire in the industry
The beautiful thing about creativity is that you never stop creating. I’m not a musician, I’m creative. It’s default and I don’t know what I will create tomorrow. It continues and after death, the things you create, create other things. Fela is gone but people are sampling his records, Shalipopi samples works for his music and in 20 years time, some kid in New York would sample Ebenezer Obeh songs so it’s eternal.
Tell us about Mr Eazi as a businessman
I’m not a savvy businessman. I’m more of a hustler, and I like freedom which drives me to do things to maintain the freedom and entrepreneurs gives freedom. With the music I want to release the kind of music I want to put out when I want to put it out, that means I have to have my own label. I can’t buy cars every now and then, I have to invest it back into music to make the brand bigger and make more money. When I figure out I can’t make a hit song in the next year, I sign an artist that will make music and put out hit songs when I can’t do that and make money from there.
I’ve been able to find that freedom through entrepreneurship and being around good people, learning and taking risks.
In my youth I used my fees to buy a taxi and I crashed the taxi. I couldn’t write exams and had to borrow money from loan sharks. So now I can’t be afraid to be down. So that is about music and seeing opportunities to invest in music, events and ticketing platforms, starting my own fund and being around people and seeing opportunity that has been given to me by my position in the music industry and access to people and it’s been a journey.
What are the challenges faced in the Nigerian music industry?
There needs to be more structure, and how does it come? Through Investment. The Nigerian music industry still needs funding. It costs money to build venues but we find out that before someone thinks of venues they would want to take care of basic amenities like roads.
There need to be funds that artists can go to and get funding. I think it will come. The more Nigerian music is popular, the more foreign investment is coming in and then more local capital will be encouraged. There is too much talent but not enough structure. Artists need more venues to tour round Nigeria.
What’s your advice for music entrepreneurs in Nigeria to be successful?
It’s a lot of work and it’s a new industry, everyone is learning. The managers are learning, same with the artists, lawyers, so it’s a very tough time but it’s quick learning.
I’ll advise that everyone should never stop learning. Within Empawa we are looking at the structure, seeing how to change things, how to have better contracts, that is the structure of the contract, are there new trends in contacts that are happening globally that we can bring locally. Just be ready to learn and be patient.
Are there any collaborations you’re looking out for?
To be honest, no. I’m just trying to decide the theme, the new album continues to stream, the exhibition comes to Lagos in December and then it will continue to travel until May 27th next year. And I’m just trying to think of how I want to bring the live experience, the band, the stage, the lights, so that it’s the same experience and it has the music and the art and all the symbolism. So that’s what I’m focused on right now.