Since the release of his first EP Last Summer, OJO has been steadily increasing his fan base, releasing singles, and performing around the city. His EP, Last Summer, is a project full of contemplative beats that takes listeners on a journey of longing and growth. Grounders sat down with OJO to discuss his evolution and the work behind his upcoming show, the Every Summer Concert on June 21st.
Tell me your story.
Okay so, I am Nigerian. I grew up in Nigeria for most of my life I moved here when I was seventeen years old, which was five years ago, and I have been making music since I was eleven. When I was six years old I could give you the full lyrics of any song that came on. I started writing my own lyrics around thirteen, and that gradually built until I ended up being this guy – who is still building.
Did you always feel confident about releasing your work?
I was in a boarding school, so everyone knew what you were doing. It was like a wave. I was confident because people were gassing me up and then I did a performance that was terrible. It was bad, it became a joke for the rest of my time in school. So that was down, and it came back up again. Since then I haven’t had a down moment, at the very worst people will grow with me. I have been pretty confident about releasing things since then.
What built up your confidence after the performance?
I just kept doing it. I have a lot of excuses I could have given for the performance: the mic was bad, the hall was terrible, all kinds of excuses that helped me not take it too personally. Regardless of whether the performance was good or bad, people always thought I could sing. So that didn’t take away from what people thought my ability was. I was still singing, in the choir at school, you know a gradual process until I felt ready.
Tell me about the Last Summer EP.
The Last Summer project is almost like a review of my summer of 2016. Summer 2016 I had a girlfriend and we broke up, went through the regular recovery phase men usually go through, just being out and dealing with multiple people. I was just writing songs and I wasn’t really thinking about it as a cohesive project. Then I realized I could see my summer in every song I wrote. Last Summer became chronological order from breaking up at the beginning of the summer to the end when we never got back together. That was me and the producer T.E.A.Li, he went to school with me in Nigeria and he’s in Philly now. That was just us working and was birthed from the situation.
Do you have a favourite song from the project?
That’s hard. If I had to pick one, gun to my head, it would have to be “Forever.”
It’s a rap track for one, it’s the one I listened to the most and even in writing I feel like it is the strongest form of myself in that EP. A lot of it was a very vulnerable space and Forever felt … rebellious in a way.
Rebellious to the vulnerability?
Kind of – It was very dismissive of issues that would bother me. The lyrics were like “I don’t give a shit” and that was the spirit of that particular song. The rest of the songs are moodier.
As an artist, what makes a good song?
Something that sticks. Not necessarily in a catchy way. You know when people say, “I don’t remember what they did but I remember how they made me feel.” I feel like if it makes you feel something it’s a good song. For one it must sound good, that’s the first gate. And then the lyrics are the second gate, that’s for the real music heads and critics. Once you get past those two that’s your great song right there.
How are you going to leave that lasting impression and feeling in your upcoming performance?
It’s about the connection. Lyrics wise I try to say things in my songs that I would say in real life. Because I find that the closer it is to me the more someone is going to hear it and not be like “that person is reaching.” When you start making music you’re just emulating people. I remember when I was thirteen and rapping about riding in Lamborghinis and stuff. [laugh] So it’s about speaking with my own voice and with the performance it’s the same thing. It’s understanding that I mean what I say when I say it, with the songs, and I want to give people a good time. I want people to see someone who is working for something and for them as well. And – of course – the bars are going to be on point, going to make sure my voice is on point, I’m not going to speak for a month – Beyoncé level preparations.
Is this your first show since the last one?
Yes, because the listening party, even though it was like a show, was by invitation. We did reach out to a lot of people so it was very show-ish, because we had a packed gallery, but this will be the first actual sold-tickets-concert-venue-real-life-show that I’ve done. It’s all I’ve been thinking about for months.
What are your plans for after?
I feel like every move I make at this point is an investment for the future. We work based on the opportunities that we are given. We are going to keep on making songs because that is an everyday situation. If the show goes how I want it to go, it could be a yearly thing. I’m thinking about dropping a project around the time of the concert too.
How would you say your new project is different from the Last Summer EP?
The new project is way more confident, it’s a different time and space. The last one I feel like there is a lot of turmoil and mental chaos. With this one I am more clear headed. It’s less moody and more confident. That’s the biggest difference in the tone and sound of it.
How are you getting new listeners and branching past your community of friends?
It’s about reaching out in any way possible. There’s open mics in the city, there’s people who are down to collaborate, hanging out with people, and trying not to be closed off. Before I was very in-house and about my people and nobody else. It’s about being more open to regular conversation with someone at a party and to meeting people, it generally spreads the word. And trying to be involved with entities like Grounders and Youtube people are big. I got a placement in a tv show which was wild – that brought a crapton of traffic
What kind of show?
It was a Nigerian show and apparently every Nigerian I know watches it. I didn’t know anything about this show until they used this song. I woke up and my phone was blowing up.
That’s awesome – Congratulations!
Thank you, it’s getting as far away from yourself as possible. It was the same thing for the listening party. When I was doing the invitations, I could have easily filled it up with my friends but then I thought “that doesn’t do anything for me because they know me.” I got five people on the outskirts of my circle and I told them to deal with the invitations. “If you think I know them, don’t invite them, I’ll deal with everyone I know.” That was pretty good for the listening party because a lot of people I know I’d just met for the first time.
How would you say Nigeria differs from Toronto in art and culture?
I left Nigeria when I was seventeen so I don’t feel like I was tapped in enough because I was in a boarding school and I don’t want to misspeak on their scene. But from what I’ve seen, it feels more accessible here. When I was in Nigeria it felt like such a reach to get a studio session or to find like minded people. Social media at the time wasn’t as easy to dm someone and link up, and I would say that’s probably still the case. As for the content of the art, it really isn’t all that different. Hip-hop is big down there, it’s big out here, afrobeats is big down there, afrobeats is pretty big out here, dancehall is big. It’s really such a seamless transition, everything feels pretty normal, except that it gets cold.
I would say it’s very similar. You have a lot of Caribbeans and second-generation kids out here. So, culturally, a lot of the traditions are similar; how people relate to their parents, how people work hard, and I feel like it bleeds into the art and culture of both places.
Would you move back to Nigeria?
I don’t think so. I like Toronto and given my style of music I think Toronto’s scene is more my scene. I will go back though because they like everything they like here but I don’t think it would be my main base.
Any last words for our readers?
I just feel like I believe in myself, everybody could do whatever they want to do as long as they put their minds to it. Might not necessarily be a top boy but you miss all the shots you don’t take.
Buy tickets for the Every Summer Concert here!