The reclusive TikTok star powering Nigeria’s street Afrobeats scene | Features


Lagos, Nigeria – In 2019, a catchy, melodic instrumental hit social media platforms in Nigeria. A yr later, it emerged as a cool soundtrack throughout lockdowns induced by the COVID-19 pandemic, and afterwards on dancefloors, throughout components of Africa and the African diaspora.

Merely titled Dance, the beat had no vocals. It indisputably bore the marks of Nigeria’s blossoming Afrobeats music style however an awesome majority of those that favored it had no concept who its producer was – till November 2019 when its creator, Lagos-based Olayinka “DJ YK” Lawal, uploaded a avenue dance video for it on YouTube.

The virality was proof of the enigma of 29-year-old Lawal, a comparatively unknown act within the mainstream Nigerian music business however one with a large presence on Instagram and TikTok. He additionally has a big following on the street music scene throughout Lagos, the continent’s de facto leisure capital.

That supplied a springboard for the untitled beat to beat the continent, however Lawal has largely stayed away from the limelight. “I’m not the interview kind,” he informed Al Jazeera, calmly in the beginning of a chat after weeks of ducking cellphone calls and never replying to textual content messages.

Final summer time, Essence, a track by Nigerian celebrity duo Wizkid and Tems, peaked on the ninth spot on the Billboard Sizzling 100 chart and Love Nwantiti by their compatriot cKay turned probably the most Shazamed track on the planet. These moments, alongside the 2021 World Music Album class win on the Grammys by one other Nigerian, Burna Boy, are seen as seminal landmarks of Afrobeats and its arrival on the worldwide scene.

Based on Statista, the income of the Nigerian music business might be roughly $44m in 2023, a pointy rise from $34m in 2018 as a result of world acceptance of Afrobeats. Main worldwide gamers like Common, Sony and Empire have arrange store in Nigeria.

However the floor zero of the style, a free grouping of latest African pop sounds from largely Nigeria and Ghana, is within the internal streets of the various ghetto communities dotting Lagos.

And if Afrobeats is scrubbed of its Western-approved sheen, Lawal is one in all its highly effective engines. His producer tag – “DJ YK Mule” (‘mu le’ is a Yoruba phrase which implies ‘drop it’) reverberates throughout Lagos alongside his catchy beats, powering many a faaji – the Yoruba idea of enjoyment as part of on a regular basis dwelling.

On social media, DJ YK’s affect is ubiquitous – the hashtags #DJYK and #DJYKbeats have at the least 14 million streams and 50.5 million streams respectively on TikTok. On Instagram, he has a median of fifty,000 views on his reels.

His beats have turn into the soundtrack to viral challenges on each platforms and YouTube. Popstars Naira Marley and Ice Prince have additionally given him shout-outs on social media for his affect on at this time’s sound.

Part head

However he’s an unconventional pop star with uncommon issues: his music will get no love from many radio stations and his face barely registers on the dimensions of recognized faces in Nigerian popular culture, even to many who dance to his music.

“I do know folks surprise what DJ YK appears like,” he stated.

Whereas different music celebrities submit clips of their performances on their social media pages, DJ YK prefers to share viral movies that includes his instrumentals.

However his reclusive nature has additionally affected his model worth. Whereas newbies are racking up endorsements, DJ YK has but to bag a significant endorsement deal.

“He’s a kind of old-school producers which might be content material with having successful track and being a DJ,” Motolani Alake, Nigerian music critic and Lagos-based managing editor of Pulse Nigeria day by day journal, informed Al Jazeera. “Perhaps he’s frightened of the general public, that’s a chance.”

A way to the insanity

Music critics say his reclusive behaviour just isn’t reverse psychology to spice up consideration to his model however merely the case of a non-public particular person shunning the press.

In the course of the interview, his solutions have been direct and transient. He additionally nitpicked inquiries to reply, not with the conceitedness of a megastar, however with the impatience of 1 eager to return to specializing in doing what he loves greatest – making folks dance.

Born and bred in Sango-Ota in Ogun state, subsequent door to Lagos, Lawal at all times favored music. By the point he was a young person, he started to essentially take heed to stars on the time like Terry G, SideOne, DreSan and others who took over the inner-city of Lagos and environs.

The music from these artists was crude and vulgar however represented the sound of the inner-city youth. Its tempo was additionally quick and the songs had an unconventional construction, which was partly why a lot of the musicians didn’t hit mainstream stardom.

And Lawal gravitated towards this sound in his surroundings.

He evaded questions on his household and background, preferring to debate solely music. However he revealed that he grew up poor. “Every part was tough,” he stated. “I got here from a poor background. I had no supporters,” he stated.

Born a Muslim, he nonetheless holds on to his religion at this time and studied at what’s at this time often known as the Tai Solarin College of Training in Ogun state. 

His foray into music started round 2013, as a disc jockey however he was not raking in good cash from deejaying. Throughout these darkish occasions, Lawal determined to attempt his arms at manufacturing.

“I discovered all the pieces I find out about music on YouTube,” he stated. “Music manufacturing is how folks knew about me,” he stated. ‘When you’ve got been doing one thing for some time, and persons are not turning up, it’s important to sit down and discover the way in which ahead and make your self fashionable.”

With manufacturing in his repertoire, Lawal’s profession started an upward trajectory. He credit the viral instrumental he launched in 2017, South African Beat Model, as when issues began to pop for him. It was throughout this era that he carried out at concert events headlined by Afrobeats stars Mayorkun, Mr Eazi and Reekado Banks.

That instrumental was later rechristened Dance when it began to get mainstream consideration. And when he formally launched it in 2019, it moved from barbershops in inner-city Lagos to lots of the most unique nightclubs throughout Nigeria.

Its recognition coincided with the emergence of a brand new dance wave accompanying the introduction of Afrobeats to world audiences. Dance steps Shaku Shaku, and Zanku turned a part of fashionable tradition and have become the proper platform for DJs like Lawal to flood the scene with their instrumentals.

Lawal’s different beats initially adopted the identical sample as Dance, not requiring a singer or rapper to leap on them. It takes him something from 2-10 hours to provide them, or typically two days.

They sound crude however are a tour de pressure sans vocals and fast to induce sweat and euphoria, because of a nifty undercurrent that’s exhausting to withstand, his followers say. And maybe another excuse the beats catch on so effectively, critics say, is as a result of they’re additionally harking back to fashionable avenue musicians.

A kind of is Terry G, a veteran singer, producer and hood genius who blew up circa 2008, because of a staccato circulate and equally groovy songs.

“I really feel it’s Nigeria’s model of EDM, rave music, and dubstep,” Alake stated.

After making a reputation for himself within the underground scene, Lawal was not glad with being a one-trick pony. In 2020, he add a brand new ingredient to his beats, viral vocal gaffes or buzzwords. He would splice the buzzwords and embed them in his instrumentals.

“Basically my beats turned songs,” he stated. The brand new type labored tremendously and elevated his profile extra. In the present day, most DJ units throughout Lagos are incomplete with out Warisi and Lure Lanje, two of his greatest songs.

Unmasking the enigma

However virality has its drawbacks.

Based on Metropolis 105.1 FM Lagos presenter Melody Hassan, “Individuals assume that all the pieces that goes viral on TikTok mechanically will get performed on the radio. It’s not essentially so.”

Every radio station has its music type, and DJ YK’s beats are barely radio-friendly. Even with a bias for Nigerian songs on the channels, most stations hardly play “avenue music”; after they do, marquee artists like Naira Marley or Zlatan get the slot.

“His songs [also] don’t work in radio format due to the sparse vocals and extended instrumental,” Hassan informed Al Jazeera.

Nonetheless, many mainstream acts would gladly pay handsomely to get his degree of cultural relevance. However Lawal says he solely posts his songs on-line and does no different type of promotion. And he credit the brand new era of dancers with serving to promote his music.

Unsurprisingly, his affect is now more and more reducing throughout financial strata. Not like just a few years in the past, it’s now widespread to witness bedlam at a avenue carnival within the low-income suburbs of Agege or concert events within the intellectual district of Victoria Island, when a DJ YK beat comes up. Individuals turn into “possessed” as they shuffle their legs in a variety of dance strikes popularly often known as “legwork”.

“His work is a unifier,” Alake stated. “It’s the vitality that the streets get pleasure from. It’s infectious and distinctive.”

Even with out little or no radio play, Lawal is pleased about his influence. But when there may be any clear grand plan or grasp technique to push himself additional, he’s being cryptic about it, as common.

His solely physique of labor is the 2019 album, The Face, Vol. 1, and he’s tight-lipped about whether or not one other undertaking is on the way in which.

The Face had 9 tracks and no options. Aside from two acts – Dammy Krane and Q-Dot – Lawal has not labored with any artiste of reputation in a strictly collaborative sense. He prefers to slice catchphrases from fashionable artists and pattern them on his beats.

Cover art of Nigerian DJ YK's The Face album
Cowl artwork of Nigerian DJ YK’s The Face album

However even the enigma could also be uninterested in lurking within the shadows and Lawal is engaged on new music movies that he might star in  – and that would unmask him. However he appears ready, prepared even.

On his album cowl lies what is maybe a prophecy for the times forward. “You understand the content material, so unhappy you don’t know the face, now it’s time you all know the face,” it reads.

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