Niykee Heaton Niykee Heaton
VIBE/ Stacy-Ann Ellis

Interview: Niykee Heaton Takes Us On Her Journey From The ‘Net To A National Tour

Niykee Heaton won't let anyone knock her music hustle, determined to prove that she's much more than just a pretty face on your IG timeline.

Niykee Heaton refuses to let the unseasonably crisp 43-degree April temps in NYC bother her during her day of press runs. As she struts into VIBE’s Manhattan offices, she’s wearing a heavy, light-colored jean jacket and an oversized gray NBK (“Naturyl Born Killers,” her personal brand) sweatshirt, which work perfectly with the rather frightful weather outside. However, she can also be seen wearing two mighty-thin layers of flesh-toned leggings, which are more than likely designed to make you do a double take.

“Don’t wear pants!” she says to me with a grin. “You’ve got such a cute little body!” Her confident, no-f**ks given personality is not far off from the open book presence she’s known for on social media. You may be one of her 2 million Instagram followers, but the 21-year-old blonde bombshell is here to prove she can do more than break the Internet.

The Illinois-bred songstress gained immense popularity via YouTube three years ago by performing acoustic versions of hip-hop songs from the comfort of her bedroom, such as Chief Keef’s “Love Sosa” and Trinidad Jame$’ “All Gold Everything.” Since then, her extreme work-ethic coupled with her mastery of self-promotion has helped her emerge as a bright spot in the pop music realm. She’s had the chance to work with Russell Simmons and Migos, she’s met with Kanye West in the studio, and has performed at events like UMG’s “Music Is Universal” SXSW showcase this past March.

The Capitol Records signee recently wrapped up her first headlining concert, The Bedroom Tour, in late 2015, which was sold out for all 20 stops. A “do-it-yourself” kind of gal, the Florida local self-wrote and produced her debut EP, 2014’s Bad Intentions, as well as her March 2016 mixtape, The Bedroom Tour Playlist, which features remixed and remastered versions of the songs performed on the tour.

Her steady rise as a musician has not been easy. Internet trolls and detractors have questioned if she is truly a musical force to be reckoned with, but it seems like she’s not letting anyone knock her hustle, proving that she is much more than just a pretty face. Read on to learn about your #WCW’s experiences both online and on the music radar.

VIBE: What’s it like making the transition from YouTube into the music industry?
Niykee Heaton: For me, it wasn't such a crazy transition, because I never really thought of myself as a “YouTube star.” I never wanted to be a Youtube star. I always thought it was kind of corny when people would just do covers for a living; I never wanted to be known as that. I'm grateful that I could get noticed through YouTube and by doing covers, but that was never a long term thing for me, so it was really easy to be like push that to the side, and be like, "Wait, this is my real music." So I kinda did that without thinking. It was my fans who had to catch up and make that transition, which they're slowly doing.

How has having a South African upbringing shaped you, because I know your mom is from there, right?
I was actually born in Illinois. My sister was born in South Africa and all my mother's side still live there, so I'm actually half. Even though I was pretty much raised in the United States and I only went there to visit family, I always felt like that was home. And I never knew why I felt so out of place in Chicago until I went back and I visited my family, and I was like "oh, this is where I'm meant to be." I love South Africa. That's where I want to retire, that's where I wanna be whenever I have downtime, but having that sort of background. My mom's family are very much hippies and very free-spirited. Very, very laid back, very about nature and beauty and everything like that, so I think having that side to my ancestry is pretty cool. I think that's where I get my free-spiritedness from.

What type of music did your parents play in your house when you were growing up?
My parents kind of had sh*t taste in music. I think my mom was into, like, Steely Dan or something. I was like "you're so annoying." My dad, I don't think he was a crazy music person either, it was more of my siblings. They were the ones who were very musical. My sister had a very deep appreciation for music, and my brother plays the mandolin and the banjo and everything like that, so that's where I kind of got all my music taste from, my siblings. They listened to a lot of folk and bluegrass, so I was kind of brought up on that. Then, when I ventured out and I could think for myself, I started listening to rap music, so it’s kind of like those two worlds collided.

Who’s the first rap artist that you were like, “oh yeah, this is my person”?
I remember exactly! 'Cause I was in fourth or fifth grade, and it was Lil Jon. I was like, "This. Is. Everything." That was the first type of music I got into.

A little crunk!
I guess it would be crunk music. I was like, “This is my life! This is who I'm meant to be!" I was like nine and my siblings tried to beat down my door, telling me to turn it down. I was like, "Nuh-uh. This is me now." [laughs]

What was it like working with Migos on your song “Bad Intentions”?
They're really cool. I've always been fans of them, and they're just the, like, sweetest guys ever. I was actually on tour, and I was in Atlanta performing and they stopped by to support. I had no idea until I got off stage and they were right there. They came in, performed a song and then, we went back to the studio with them and hung out. Then we went to the strip club with them. It was like a whole big adventure with them, but we ended up forming a really good relationship with all of them, and I'm in love with all three of them. I love them, they're honestly so cool. They’re one of the only artists that I've met who I've imagined them and perceived them a certain way, and when I met them, I was not disappointed. They were exactly what I thought they would be. They’re the best people ever.

When you’re writing songs, where do you get your inspiration?
I feel like I draw inspiration from everything around me, including my past and things that I went through. I feel like it isn't just the stories I've had to tell from my childhood, it's... I might be going through a rough patch right now, or I might be going through some things, and I draw inspiration from the frustration that I'm dealing with. Or, you know, some guy that didn't answer my text. I draw inspiration from pretty much everywhere. But I try not to write about specific places, events or people. I like to keep it broad and talk about emotions or moods or just a vibe, because I feel like people can relate to something more generalized rather than something so specific.

I get that. You don’t want them to be like, “Oh, she’s talking about herself. Why would I want to listen to that?”
Exactly. Not everyone got their heart broken by the guy named Jimmy on a Wednesday, but everyone can relate to pain and loss and stuff like that, so that's kind of how I like to keep my music: generalized.

One of your songs “Devil” (off of the Bedroom Tour Playlist) has a very blues-inspired sound. Did you listen to a lot of blues music by way of your siblings?
What's weird is that they never really listened to blues! But actually, the way I learned how to sing is that I found a Diana Ross Greatest Hits album, and I literally memorized and mimicked every one of those songs until I could teach myself how to sing. Because I didn't naturally know how; I sounded awful, I was like, tone deaf, and everyone was like "Can you f**king stop singing?" I had to teach myself how and that's how I did it. I listened to Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin and a lot of Nat King Cole, and I feel like that kind of stuck with me. So I do have that kind of bluesy soul resonance that stayed with my vibe, mixed in with all the other weird components about my music. I feel like there's so many weird elements to it.

What’s your favorite song from The Bedroom Tour Playlist?
“Devil” is my favorite because it reminded me of AC/DC meets Juicy J [laughs]. But for us, we put Playlist out and everyone was like aren't you so excited? We were like, "No, we've been hearing these songs for, like, four years!" I've already written 30 new songs that I'm ready to put out, so we're very tired of them!

What "it factor" do you think you can bring to the music industry that we haven't already seen before?
I think the one thing about me that's very different from all the other artists and acts in the industry right now is that I really pride myself on being a real musician and a real artist. I was horrified when I found out that people in this industry don't write their own music. They have nothing to do with any of their songs, they just act like a puppet, and it absolutely horrified me because at first, people wanted me to do that. They wanted to take away and strip me of my identity and have me be this puppet. There's no f**kin’ way. I'd rather never be famous. I'd rather give all this up right now because you cannot take away my music from me. Most of the pop stars out right now, they're performers or they're recording artists or they're just really polished, amazing mannequins. But there's a difference between being that and being a musician, and I feel that's what I am. I'm a musician, I make music from scratch, from the ground up. I produce it, I write it, I sing it, I perform it, and I feel that's the way music should be. I want to bring that back into the industry. And also, hey, I can do it wearing minimal clothing, and I still do it well! You know? You can do all these things, you don't have to have guidelines or restrictions or rules. You can be exactly what you wanna be if you can do it well.

You get a lot of attention on social media, so how do you balance it out, so your presence doesn’t interfere with your music career?
I feel like it's a hard thing to do. For me, as a human-being, it isn't hard, but I feel like for everyone looking at me and perceiving me as a person, it's hard for them to accept me as a musician and also as a person who is just something pretty to look at. What sucks about society is they have this concept and this idea that if you are pretty to look at, and if you have a nice body and a nice face, then how dare you claim to also have any sort of talent. They want you to just be pretty and just be a model, so it's hard trying to convince people that, no, I can do both, I don't have to pick one. I don't have to wear a garbage bag over my whole body in order for you to take me seriously, and to take my voice seriously and my talents. No one should have to choose. You can own your sexuality and be empowered, and also claim the craft and be an intellectual. That's the message that I'm trying to push and the movement that we're standing behind. But it's hard, because people are very close-minded.

Do you want to be a role model in that sense, or would you rather not have that stigma?
I never wanted to be a role model, because I'm not perfect. I'm not like a little Disney Channel star who, you know... I'm a human being with flaws, and I never thought that I would have these young girls looking up to me and calling me their idol. It's so crazy to me. Before, I would have said "oh, hell no. I don't want any of that. I don't want to do any of that, I just want to do music." But, I think it's because of the girls who have reached out and told me their story and how I've helped them that I feel, not obligated, but I feel like I can't shy away from that now, because they almost kind of gave me that title, and I don't want to let them down. I'm just gonna keep pushing and keep doing what I'm supposed to do.

How do you push the haters away who have tried to discount your success?
At first it was hard because I'm not a mean person. I don't think I've ever bullied anyone online or said mean things or ever just tried to hurt anyone, so it's hard for me to understand that. That was really crazy to me, so I was like, maybe, I just don't look at any of those things. But what's hard is that in order to see the comments and messages from my real fans saying positive things, I have to go and see all the terrible things, too. In order to appreciate the fans who are there to show me love, I have to hurt myself by seeing all of these awful things. It's hard to balance, so I try to stay away from Instagram comments because that's where most of the [rolls eyes] is, so I try not to read Instagram comments. But Twitter is good. It’s mostly my real fans so it's not that hard.

I feel like back in the day, people were always showing midriff and skin, and today, it’s such a big deal. I don’t get it.
I don't know why society sexualizes nudity so much. It's just skin! Unless I'm literally demonstrating the use of dildos or having sex with someone right in front of you, I'm not being sexual. It's just me owning my body and being proud of it. I'm not doing anything sexual, just because people perceive it that way is not my problem, and I'm not gonna put on a cape to make people more comfortable with me being nude. I'm always so hot!

It’s always either so hot or so cold! I’m dreading summer, I absolutely hate it. Do you have bad humidity in Florida?
So much humidity! So, no clothes! I love the humidity though, to be honest, because it's another reason to be nude [laughs]. Just wear less clothes, I said it's fine!

 

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Steve Morris @stevemorrism

Afrochella Sets Sight On Connecting The African Diaspora, One Festival At A Time

African music and culture are going global.

There’s a concerted effort to create and connect on the continent and to the continent. In Ghana and Nigeria specifically, a number of events, festivals, concerts, and activations have grown to prominence over the past five years, attracting newcomers and serving locals. This year, December will harvest a crop of opportunities for those abroad and at home to tap into the music, art, food, and fashion of the new-wave vanguard.

“Ghana remains home to the global African family,” Ghana Tourism Authority CEO Akwasi Agyemang said in an interview earlier this year. "We are positioning Ghana as a gateway to the West African market," Agyemang added. As African cultural productions popularize abroad, Accra and Lagos have become the go-to grounds for people of the diaspora to initiate immersion into experiencing Africa. 

The Ghana Tourism Authority and the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture have lined up a slate of activities in an effort to boost the country’s tourism industry. The government has taken initiative to further pushing for mobilization, galvanizing both descendants and diasporans to visit, invest, and live in the country.

Certain factors make Ghana appealing for visitors. Along with it being one of the more stable nations in West Africa, according to a 2011 Forbes report, Ghana was ranked the 11th -most friendly country in the world, ranked higher than any other African country. But as of last year, according to the World Atlas, Ghana didn’t rank amongst the top 10 African countries to visit for tourism in 2018. There is already a history of diasporans permanently relocating to Ghana. The government attempted to facilitate this process when it waived some visa requirements and passed amendments to a 2002 law that permits people of African origin to apply to stay indefinitely in Ghana. 

But this year has been a particularly important one for visitors. This December marks the ending commemoration of the Year of Return. Ghana 2019 is an initiative of the government formally launched by the President of the Republic of Ghana in September 2019 in Washington, D.C. as a program for Africans in the diaspora to unite with Africans on the continent. The mission transcends a marketing strategy. The year 2019 commemorates 400 years since the first enslaved Africans were brought to Jamestown, Virginia. The program serves to recognize the surging people and the following generations of achievements, sacrifices since then. 

The past year has seen a steady influx to West Africa. According to a report in Quartz Africa, Ghana’s tourism sector contributed 5.5 percent to GDP in 2018, ranking in fourth place after gold, cocoa, and oil in terms of foreign exchange generation for the country. And the government is hoping for more growth. Ghana is reportedly projected to rake in an annual $8.3 billion from the tourism sector by the year 2027 in tandem with an estimated 4.3 million international tourist arrivals.

But with the opportunities for connection and investment comes a slate of new concerns attached to old ones. Tourism, for example, can be lucrative for local business, but also can have a broader disruptive impact on the nation’s economy. Then, there are the issues that programmers face to bring locals and visitors the sought-after idealized experiences of Ghana— a taxing and a challenging feat to execute in an environment that’s still developing its infrastructure in multiple sectors. Along with improper documentation of visitors, the 15-year development plan put in place to help push the numbers, in ways, has not been implemented in full force.

But a rush to Ghana is still projected, and there’s a slew of events coinciding in the region at the same time this year aiming to accommodate this. One of the events slated for a return is Afrochella, the annual art, music, and food festival happening in Accra from December 20 to January 5. Separate from the official year of return events, each event also aims to fulfill a similar mission and market individual appeal amidst similar events. There’s AfroNation, the popular Europe music festival holding its first-ever edition on Ghana’s coastline at the same time as Afrochella, while Nativeland is planning a selection of panels and immersive activations with Melanin Unscripted focusing on music, art, and culture in Lagos right before it.

Afrochella was conceptualized by Abdul Karim Abdullah in 2015. Abdullah, along with co-founder Kenny Agyapong, and COO Edward Adjaye, launched the full-scope festival with the hopes of curating a connection to the continent this year, focused on increasing visibility to the rising talent on the continent. Their 2019 theme is “Diaspora Calling,” aiming to promote networking within the Ghanaian community and diaspora, ensure African youth value and celebrate their native cultures while connecting communities through education, fashion, art, music, and business in Africa. 

Community involvement representative Emmanual Ansa states they want the event to become “the impetus and mecca for the celebration of African music, culture, and art.” But amidst the many options on the ground this year to fulfill these missions, where does Afrochella stand, and how does it stand out?

VIBE sat down with the Afrochella co-founder Abdullah to talk about the structural challenges of executing this initiative while appeasing the demands of a growing consumer base, the cultural significance of the event, and envisioning Ghana as a premier frontier for a global black connection.

Can you talk about the origin of Afrochella? What inspired it?

I went to school in Ghana for about seven years, and then I came back to the US and I went to high school in the Bronx—  High School For Teaching And The Professions. I went to Syracuse University in 2006 and got my bachelor's in psychology and biology. And then I got my master's in 2016 at CUNY Hunter college in public health. I've been working in medical research for eight and a half years. But this has been a passion of mine that I've always done on the side, which is throwing African-inspired events.

That’s when my team came together. It started out with me wanting to do a festival here in New York called Native Tongue festival, and that was geared towards food. I just wanted to explain the culture and engage people within the diaspora. But then, on our yearly trip to Ghana, I found that we would gather and we would have a great time, but we couldn't really have that much of an effect once we left. I felt like we could have an effect; we could encourage more people to reach back home and do certain things by creating a space where we can engage each other. I thought there was so much talent coming in from all over the world that were from Ghanian descent or African descent and if we could create a place where we can galvanize all of that and the people that are doing amazing things within those industries, we would be able to create something pretty good. [In] 2017, we decided to do something like that.

How has it changed since 2017? Has it been easier to translate what you're trying to do in terms of this new interest in Africa — Ghana and Nigeria in particular? 

My team is battle-tested. We understand what we have to do in order to make the event successful. But, I wouldn't say it's been easier; each year presented different challenges for us. In year one, it was financial. Until this year, it was navigating bureaucracies. Last year, it was navigating governmental agencies. This year is navigating competition, navigating finding more funding.  One of the things that we noticed about events in Ghana specifically is that once it [nears] completion, people tend to not attend it anymore. What we want to make sure we do is every year we want to increase the amount of people that attend— and each year we have at least by 30 percent. Each year, we've been able to define our message more clearly. 

Talk a little bit about the government in Ghana. How has it been dealing with things on the bureaucracy level?

I would say our event is doing a big service to Ghana. Afrochella has definitely given people an opportunity to visit Ghana. The government should support us in a way that makes gaining access to certain government facilities easier. But that has not been the case. We've had to be very proactive about that with regards to certain policies that may exist that are not written on an online forum. Like in America, if I wanted to do a special event in the park, I'd be able to go to an online source. I'd be able to see all the things that need to do in order to get a specific permit for a specific venue. In Ghana, these things don't exist.

For instance, this year we received an email from some agency. Out of all of the years, we've never communicated with them and in the third year, they're reaching out to us about musician copyrights and, apparently, we have to pay a tax. Those are the kinds of things that we've faced. You can end up paying people that are not actually supposed to get paid. And there's no way of you knowing whether or not it exists or doesn't exist. 

Last year, we had a very weird incident four days before the festival. We were told by the Ministry of Aviation that our stadium is right by the takeoff of the planes leaving Accra. I would think that the venue that we're renting out for this festival would be able to let us know, “hey, you need to do this with the Ministry of Aviation,”— they did not. The day before Christmas, we got a notification that we have to change venues because they feel our lights will interfere with flights taking off. It's, of course, an accident. So, we reached out to the Ministry of Aviation, sat down with the director and devised a plan in order to allow our event to continue. Those are the kinds of things we faced as an event that we are still trying to navigate. Hopefully, as we grow, it will get easier.

Do you think it'll get easier when some type of infrastructure is built to help those types of events move more smoothly?

I think that Ghana is going to have to look itself in the mirror. We all don't know what to expect in December. Because there are a lot of people going to Ghana in December, the anticipation is very high. All the major hotels in Accra are sold out. How Accra responds to the influx of people I think should inform the government on how they should prepare for events and things like this for the future. I do hope that there is an effort created to streamline policies. 

I would like for the government to encourage events. I think events is one of the major drivers of tourism. And if they're paying attention, they will notice that a lot of people are coming to Accra for Afrochella and the events that exist during that last week of Christmas. The double mission is to take a deeper look at this creative industry and figure out a way to encourage that positively in a way that it affects both the people on the ground and the people within the diaspora. 

The government has not been welcoming this with open arms or does it not have any type of structured initiative to help this run smoothly?

I'm not saying that. I just feel like in general, we do not know what changes in infrastructure or policy being made to accommodate the amount of people that are coming in. For instance, with Afrochella we understand that because there's going to be so many people—there was an excessive amount of traffic coming into the stadium last year—that we need to figure out a way to get people to the festival in shuttles. If we can get people that are shuttles, then we could reduce the amount of cars. We reached out to the Ministry of Roads to help us so we can avoid traffic in front of the stadium and that we can make sure that there's a safe way for people to enter. This is some of the planning that we have done. Until now, I personally have not seen any information come out, access [to] policies that exist. 

One of the major complaints that people from the diaspora face when they go to Africa during Christmas time is we feel that we should be having the same sort of customer service that we enjoy abroad. With the influx of people, I think that it's going to get worse.

We just wanna make sure that infrastructure exists to make sure that people that are coming do not disrupt the way of life in Accra.

There are a lot of other events happening around the same time as Afrochella. What is the concerted effort to kind of stand out from the rest?

Our goal is to highlight the thriving millennial talent from within the continent. So we take pride in making sure that we're highlighting people within various industries of food, fashion, music. With our Afrochella Talk series, we’ve been able to highlight people that have been doing amazing things within the creative industry. In December, we'll be doing one on music. And this is an opportunity to be able to educate people on opportunities that may exist within their field or create a platform for people to be able to discuss questions they may have. 

We're also involved heavily in charity. Last year, we supported Water Aid to help provide clean water to families in need. The year before that, we gave out school supplies to kids within Madina Zongo. This year, we're doing charity twofold. We're rebuilding an orphanage school, in Jamestown, Accra and also providing them with school supplies. We call this initiative Afrochella Reads]. We’re also doing Afrochella Feeds on December 26th. 

Our goal when we bring people to Ghana is not just to come and turn up, not just to have a good time, but also to give them a feel of the vibration of the country, what the culture is.For us, it's a holistic approach.

What does the full festival entail?

The festival itself is art, music, food, fashion and all of that culminates in our eyes what culture is. We believe that each part of these is equally as important. Not one part is more important than the other and that we should celebrate them together. In addition to people getting to go to our festival, we also give them the opportunity to be able to engage with the country through our tours, through our charity. The tours and the charity that we do is to make people understand that yes, Africa is a good time— you can go to all the clubs— but we want to make sure you leave and provide an impact at the same time. 

Talk a little bit about the Audiomack rising star challenge and that effort to kind of curate the connection with music and culture.

With the rise of afropop music in America, I feel these artists deserve a chance. Right now, the popular, mainstream artists are the ones that are getting the looks they deserve. But I think that there are a lot of talents that exist from the continent that deserve to showcase their talent.

The other aspect of it is, I feel that people in the continent are using all of these apps and all of these different services and they hardly get to connect with representatives from those services. One of our goals is to make sure that we partner with these companies and give them the opportunity to invest in the talent directly. With Audiomack, we're doing exactly that in that we're giving seven individuals an opportunity to perform at Afrochella. And the one with the most streams, we’re giving them $1,000 towards their career and we’re giving them an opportunity to for a studio session at our partners BBnZ Live. This is one model of the type of partnerships we want to, we look to create with companies in the future. 

Why is this year in particular so important for the reconnection of the diaspora in the context of the 400-year anniversary?

A lot of the conversation between the diaspora and the people from the continent is what makes us different, why we don't get along. What we want to do as a festival is take that conversation and change it into what can we learn from each other and how can we help each other. I think that it's very important that as you see the Chinese and the Japanese and the Americans and everyone reaching for Africa, that we engage the people in the diaspora to make them understand that there are opportunities that exist and there is amazing talent in Africa and they are interested in starting a business and you're interested in developing a space and you can engage with your counterparts on the continent and help build the continent yourself.

I think the more black people we get to invest in the continent, as a whole black will be helping each other. This year is absolutely important and I think that shoutout should go to Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana for declaring this year The Year of Return. Ghana is definitely a good site that people can visit, but we hope that as people enjoy themselves and have that experience that they use that as a platform to visit other African countries and see what opportunities are there for them to be able to leave a lasting impact on the continent.

This interview was lightly edited for clarity.

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Nick Rice

The 25 Best Latinx Albums Of 2019

As we inch closer to the end of another memorable chapter in music, the Spanish-language gap gets bigger by the day. To anyone who believed reggaeton's second coming or Latin trap was a trend were gravely mistaken as artists across the diaspora found success on the charts and in the streaming world. Artists like Bad Bunny, Rosalía and J Balvin continued to thrive off last year's releases while dropping memorable singles (and joint projects). Others like Sech broke the mold for the marriage of hip-hop and reggaeton with Panamanian pride. Legends like Mark Anthony and Ivy Queen reminded us of their magic while rising artists like Rico Nasty, DaniLeigh and Melii provided major star power and creative visuals for their tunes. Latinx music has continued to push boundaries and the same goes for our list.

Enjoy our ranking of the 25 best Latinx albums of 2019.

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Pictured (L-R): WurlD and Sarz
Courtesy of Management

Meet Sarz and WurlD: The Nigerian Producer-Singer Powerhouse Showing Africa’s Sonic Range

There’s a slow infiltration of sultry, soulful, lo-fi music in afrobeats—and the latest from Nigerian producer Sarz and his fellow countryman and singer-songwriter, WurlD, is just a taste of how the scene is evolving. Before landing at No. 1 on Nigeria’s iTunes Albums Chart, I Love Girls With Trobul was a long time coming. Backed by Sarz’ fresh instrumentals, WurlD flexes his songwriting chops to talk about all things love and lust in this eight-track EP. The project is a cohesive narrative of the ups and downs people face when grappling with relationships.

On the origin story of how this project came to be, the duo notes that a mutual friend of theirs made the initial connection for them to explore working together. Sarz, born Osaretin Osabuohien, then sent over a few beats, with WurlD delivering with 2018’s “Trobul” in less than 24 hours. Sarz says he was so in love with the song that this collaboration needed to go beyond one track. They both describe the foundation of the EP as “seamless,” and for WurlD, this was one of the few times he made a decision to work on a project with someone without overthinking it. It just felt right.

I Love Girls With Trobul is the duo’s take on balance while pushing the culture forward. WurlD comes with his relatable, minimal lyrics (he’s also worked with the likes of BOB, Trinidad James, Mario, Walshy Fire and more during his time in Atlanta) while Sarz (a chart-topping producer who’s had Niniola and Wizkid grace his beats) delivers trendsetting instrumentals. There’s a song on I Love Girls With Trobul for everybody—for those on the continent and in the diaspora alike.

“Mad” is the newest music video to drop from the EP. A continuation of the storyline that the collaborators showed us in their previous single “Ego: Nobody Wins,” we take a look at the dysfunctional insecurities of a relationship between WurlD, born Sadiq Onifade, and his love interest (played by Bolu Aduke Kanmi). The relatability of the visual and the song will surely get you in your feelings.

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VIBE: Sarz, what kind of sonic journey did you intend to take listeners through in this EP?

Sarz: I was trying to make something that suits WurlD’s sound, makes him comfortable enough to express himself, and also isn’t alien to the afrobeats space. I was also trying to push the narrative with the sound because that’s what I’m known for. I’ve always been that producer in Nigeria that doesn’t really follow trends and does stuff that other producers use as a template to make music. This is just one of those projects where it doesn’t sound like anything else in the afrobeats space right now. This time next year, you’ll hear so many songs that sound like songs off this project.

How would you describe the creative process of working with each other?

WurlD: We had to trust each other—I was very open. It was all about both of us meeting in the middle. There were times where Sarz would advise me to tweak the conversation in my lyrics. Another thing we focused on was bringing Africa along as much as possible. He’s Nigeria at its core. I learned how to create music in America, though I was born in Nigeria—so I know the culture. I lived there until I was a teenager. We understood each other and I was open to the idea; we were both determined to do whatever we needed to do to make the best project. One of our biggest challenges making this was that we were both in different places throughout the process, so the ongoing support we got from “Trobul” kept us alive. We recorded the first series of songs in L.A., the body of it in Atlanta and we then finished it in Lagos earlier this year.

Sarz: We had to go back and forth with ideas because his musical background and experiences are different than mine. There were certain songs that we had to go back and forth with to make it more relatable and right for the project.

Why is a project like I Love Girls With Trobul needed in the popular African music scene now?

Sarz: From my end, I feel like when you’re genuine with your art and speaking your truth, people will always gravitate to that—because there’s someone out there that feels the same way you feel. I don’t know who’s out there who feels the same way, but judging from the reviews and feedback we’ve been getting, there are so many people that we’re touching right now with this.

WurlD: I like the idea of collaboration. I wanted to shine a light on the importance of collaborating with producers. Living in the States for so many years, I saw this happen every day. I noticed how there are different ways to collaborate and how in general there’s not a lot of love for producers. I hope this inspires other producers to put more value in themselves.

Wurld, what inspired you to be so vulnerable with the stories you share in the EP?

WurlD: I feel like when I’m creating music is when I’m the most vulnerable. Music is communication—people go through things. I like the idea of empowering people through words where a sad song can actually lift you up. If it’s done in a happy space, you don’t feel so sad after all. I can’t really explain how I balance that but it’s a free, caring space. I care about the listener. I understand how difficult it is to empower yourself through a heartbreak. It’s being vulnerable, but it’s to be free and accept a loss. I understand the need for people to feel empowered to get up and keep going, so that makes it easy for me to tap into my vulnerability and to keep the audience lifted.

Sarz, what inspired you to conjure a sinister, dark sound with “Mad”?

Sarz: There’s nothing like that in the African space right now. That was the last record we made, and I felt like the project needed a little edge. After working on a few records, “Mad” was the standout one. We just knew this is what we’ve been looking for—it was just me trying to make a global soundtrack. I feel like anyone, anywhere in the world can relate to “Mad,” even though it’s afrobeats.

Walk me through its music video. What should viewers keep in mind while watching?

WurlD: We wanted to stay close to the conversation of the song. And “Mad” goes through different emotions with an afro-dance element. The key part in the record is how I’m dealing with my issues and I’m dealing with yours, but at the end of the day we get mad and we’ll make up. This is an everyday situation. We fight, we come together. And we wanted to highlight that in the video. With “Ego,” we were disconnected. With “Mad,” we give it a try when you break up to make up. The making up part is not easy, so there’s a lot of highlighting the highs and lows of those emotions to get past what made you mad. The dance elements highlight African culture and we wanted to keep it simple, stylish and straight to the point.

Sarz: With this project, we were really just trying to do things how we feel. And the project itself sounds like a story from the first song to the last. We wanted to try and keep that visually and interpret it as much as possible so people understand that journey with the visual.

What’s next from the project?

WurlD: I feel like this project we created is the first of its kind coming out of this region in Africa. We hope to inspire and show the rest of the world the necessity of range. Africa is not just one thing, and there’s so much more that we have to offer. We’re planning on doing more visuals because we feel strongly that these records deserve A1 narratives and visuals that push the culture forward and shines a light on African art.

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