On a January afternoon in Gbagada, Lagos, a trader and her young daughter are singing along word-for-word to Fireboy DML’s “What if I Say”. It’s a love anthem with an RB feel, but it still finds roots in the music coming out of Lagos’ bubbling scene, which has borne witness to Rema’s genre-bridging rise and the exciting interpretations of love that bleeds through Joeboy’s music. Unbeknownst to the traders, just a few feet away, Fireboy DML himself is sitting in the backseat of a white Highlander, explaining the origins of his ‘Afro-life’ sound. “I felt like my music deserves to have an identity,” he says. “Of course, I’m an Afrobeats/Afropop artist that focuses on the Afro-RB side, but ‘Afro-life’ is my way of mentally stating that my music is different. You won’t find another artist that makes music the way I do.”
Fireboy’s Afro-life, heavy on metaphors about love and self-confidence, harkens back to his upbringing in Abeokuta, a sleepy town in south west Nigeria. Growing up, he would alternate between writing poetry and listening to music from western and Nigerian musicians alike: Celine Dion, Elton John, Yinka Ayefele, and Tope Alabi. But he credits just three musicians, Passenger, Wande Coal, and Jon Bellion, for influencing the core of his artistry. “My music revolves around that trio,” he says. “Every influence on my music is by those three people.”
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English three years ago, he moved to Lagos to pursue music full-time. There, he realised the perils of being an up-and-comer, often having to pay to perform at gigs, that lead to a rethink of his strategy. For ten months from between 2017 and 2018, he would lock himself away in a friend’s apartment and record as much as possible, sharing his music with fans once in a while. “Occasionally, I’d drop songs for my fans – one song per week for a month,” he says. “And I’d disappear the next month to keep recording.” Late in 2018, he signed to YBNL, the imprint of popular Nigerian rapper Olamide, and contributed some tracks to a label compilation. One of the songs contributed, “Jealous,” soon took over the airwaves and became a hit throughout Nigeria around April last year, and is still blowing up in Europe right now. “I knew I recorded a mad song, but I didn’t know it’d be a smash hit,” he says.
The momentum from “Jealous” and a handful of releases ensured that his debut album, Laughter, Tears and Goosebumps, released in November 2019, was an immense success. Fireboy DML sings melodiously, but with guided precision, about love, family, and friends across the 13-track album. Teaming up with producers Pheelz and Cracker Mallo, the bulk of the project was recorded in five days, but the limit of time doesn’t impede the scope of the project as club-themed “Scatter” and the pensive “Wait and See” prove. More than anything, the singer wants his listeners to immerse themself in the emotions behind each single every time they press play.