By Chinonso Ihekire
13 May 2023 |
In a career spanning over a decade, the musical prodigy LAX has been everything but lax about his growth. After stepping into the spotlight in 2013 with a record deal under Wizkid’s Starboy imprint and a banging hit record dubbed, Caro, it was glaring that he was on to something.
In a career spanning over a decade, the musical prodigy LAX has been everything but lax about his growth. After stepping into the spotlight in 2013 with a record deal under Wizkid’s Starboy imprint and a banging hit record dubbed, Caro, it was glaring that he was on to something. And every year, he proved himself. It was hit track upon hit track, helping him maintain momentum for several years.
While balancing a Masters degree programme in the UK, LAX stepped out in 2018 with his debut album dubbed, Rasaking, which was later succeeded by his 2020 sophomore Zaza Vibes. What both records did for him was showcase his unique pop star appeal, as well as help shape a bohemian world where LAX shines best with his talent.
From songs like the globally charting Sempe to songs like his 2022 magnus opus Para, LAX, born Damilola Afolabi, continued to herald a uniquely hedonist and free-spirited perspective on life. Circling around themes of love, gyration, cheerfulness and positivity, he advocates for No Bad Vibes, which is also the title of his latest studio album. Sonically, the album also reverberates in sync with its building philosophies as it traverses different genres from Amapiano, to Afro-pop and even his childhood influence Fuji.
How does a life as an optimist and hedonist shape your career in today’s world of music? What sort of challenges could a musician, with a background as affluent as LAX, have that could tempt him to quit music? Why is his musical mentor Wizkid missing from his latest project? On today’s Guardian Music, we step into the world of LAX, where he provides us with answers, tracing back his evolution and come-up, as well as sharing what’s next for him and his career.
Congrats on the record, it’s a milestone so far. How are you feeling about it?
I’m excited, I thank God I’m happy. I’m happy with it because I was dropping it. I didn’t expect anything, I just wanted to put out music that I love and I’m happy with the way people have taken it.
For LAX what did it really mean for you dropping this album?
Personally, it meant a lot, because it’s been in the works for like three years. And I have actually had in the space of that three years, four albums that I thought this is the one that I’m ready to put it out. Then I sit and listen and I’m like, I’m not sure this is the one. Then, I go back to the drawing board and I start again and I have done that like four times. So, when I got this one, it was a relief; thank God I have the album now. That was why I was excited to put it out.
What were the earlier versions missing, what was the gap?
I feel like what even helped this one was that I got the name for this last one before I started recording. Like the first one I wanted to put out, I think the name was Soul and Sound or something; I was just recording different bunch of music. But when I got the name for this one as No bad vibes, it helped with even the selection of the song, the recording style and everything, because I was like okay, ‘no bad vibes, I want music that makes people feel good, music that you will vibe to.’ So, it wasn’t anything far from what I actually feel and that’s why it was easy to put everything together.
It seems like you create from a place of familiarity or comfort zone?
But if this is the formula that always works for you, why did you try to deviate from your approach?
Prior to recording this album, I wasn’t exactly trying to do more than myself or outdo myself; I was just trying to, may be create another sound. But even while I was recording this and I got this, I was now able to explore with different sounds because I was in my comfort zone.
What was the inspiration behind the record?
Okay, creating the album first of all, I was in a very lovey-dovey time. I was very happy I was very excited, because that was the time I was touring city to city. Even the album, when I was speaking to someone last week, I just figured out that most of the songs were recorded in different countries. So, it was the vibe of each country; every country I travelled to and performed was amazing. It was just energy I felt from the fans, the vibes and everything that was what made me create the album.
You traversed different sounds on this record, from Amapiano to Fuji. What was the appeal for you?
When I signed with Wiz, he used to call me Fuji future. If you listen to my first songs that I put out, I was using more of Fuji to sing and when I started evolving and I wanted my music to crossover, I started reducing it and using more of English, but still added my originality.
So, now that I have an album, I can express on just one full track the whole Fuji vibe. I did that on Energy and I did that on the sweetest tone of the last song too. I was just free with my originality and I tapped into it.
So for someone who started rapping, how is it that you have Fuji influences?
I think that I have always clarified this thing with everybody that put it on. I don’t know who wrote that bio of how I started music, but I was never a rapper; I never tried to rap, but I think it’s in my bio. I was rapping in my room, but I wasn’t thinking of being a rapper. Like maybe I have tried to rap one or two times.
From the beginning when I started music, I started as a hookman, because I started in a group. I was always doing the choruses. So, I was already singing from the time that I started.
How did the collaboration come with you and Black Sherif?
So, first of all, I’m very, very keen on energy; like your vibe and everything. All the features on this album, coming back to think about it, because me I let things happen. I found out that most of the songs and the features were natural.
So, for like Black Sheriff now, my management called me, ‘you know we are on the same level on empire. You know Black is around, you guys can just link in the studio, not recording o. You guys can just come and vibe.’ So, I went to the studio and I just played him Bounce.
Bounce was already even done; I have three verses already. So, I played it to him first; I thought he didn’t like it. So, I told my producer to play another song. When we played the other song, he was like, ‘no, no the first one,’ and in like 15 minutes trust me, Black already recorded his full verse. And it was just natural; it wasn’t even like as if him too wanted to record or I wanted to record. It was just vibes and we got that one.
Even for the other features, like Ayra’s was just maybe in the studio. I already recorded my verses; I didn’t have a chorus and that hardly happens. So, I was thinking for like 3-4 hours, without a chorus. So, the producer was like, ‘bro don’t you think Ayra will sound good on this,’ and I was like ‘yee.’
So, I sent the song to Ayra. In two days, she sent in her chorus. And she was like this is just a trial and that if I like it, she will record it. I told her not to record anything, but just give me this chorus the way it is. So, for all the features, it was just energy and vibes; I didn’t sit down and say I want to feature anyone else.
Why was there no collaboration with Wizkid on this album?
I feel like everybody wants me to work with Wiz and I have worked with him like, let’s say three to four times. And on this project, I just wanted to be me. Me and Wiz have a lot of song together; we even spoke the other day. We plan to drop one or two, but for now, I just want people to love the album for my sound first, then we can now start.
I even have other features I would have put, but I wanted it to be just me. It will be natural and easy for people to be able to listen to, that’s why I have these tracks.
You have a peculiar vocal texture. How did you develop it?
I started unknowingly from listening to a lot of Fuji music. On my way back from primary school, my driver at that time would never change the music regardless of anything anybody else wanted to listen to. We listened to Obesere, Pasuma, Ayefele, Musiliu Apala and so many others. So, that type of music already influenced me. And I had been listening to that music since age five. So, that just automatically made me have that Fuji sound. When I started doing music, I now said, ‘okay, this is how I want my song to sound.’
But at that time, I was listening to a lot of Wizkid, because he was my favorite artiste at that time. So, I blended Fuji with a lot of Wizkid, and with a lot of me, so that just created my own LAX sound.
What would you say have been milestones in your career?
I have a lot, but I will break it down for you so that the story no long too much. I will say one major one is when I first met an actual producer. Before I actually met a producer, I was going to YouTube to type Lil Wayne type of beat, 50 Cents type of beat… this person type of beat and I will go and free style on it.
From that, I moved to finding an actual producer that we will sit down and create our type of sound. Then I moved from that to actually now dropping music that people were loving on Twitter when I was in Manchester. Then I moved to when Wizzy signed me and we dropped Caro; that was really crazy moment.
Then I moved from when I lost my hard drive and I wanted to drop my album. So, I lost my hard drive that had over eighty something songs and I have my album ready already. This was before I dropped Run away,Give you love, ole… all those songs before I dropped them, that was when I lost my hard drive. So, that was the time I changed my sound and I was very intentional about my sound, because I knew what I wanted my sound to sound like.
Then lastly was when I dropped Sempe and it blew all over the world. And that just opened new door for me, experiences, new places that I performed now… I now become an international artiste and not just a Nigerian artiste. So, there are the key moments of my career.
You mean you never had any intentions of giving up at that moment?
I’m not a giving up type of person. I feel like everybody that knows the story of my career will know that giving up is not in my agenda, because I would have given up so many times. Always see the good out of everything, so when I lost this hard drive, I tried to get the music back; I even travelled to London to work on the hard drive, but they said it’s fake and it can never come back on.
So, coming back to Nigeria, I just had the mindset of, ‘God, there is a reason for this happening.’ I tapped into it and I was like, ‘okay, what is the reason? May be God wants me to change my style, wants me to change my music’ and that was what I tapped into.
Are you like a very spiritual person?
Yes, yes. That’s why I stated earlier, I work with my energy; I move with my energy. If something doesn’t feel good or feel right, I don’t do it. Sometimes when I do it, it doesn’t turn out good, so I always feel it.
Before Sempe dropped, did you ever feel like you could be one of the most listened artistes globally?
So, for me to be honest, I always knew that my sound could take me far. And this is the reason, honestly I feel like my music most times are always bigger than me and that’s just because I’m not an outgoing person; I don’t like to be all over the place or controversial. I already know that the only weapon I had, since I cannot really do all this things that everybody does; try to be in stories, try to do something that will just make you trend. I just always work on my music and make sure I have quality, so that’s the only thing I was doing.
Even when I had Run Away, it was way bigger than me; some people didn’t know that I had it. I had Gwaragwara, which entered South Africa and till today, some people didn’t know I was the one that sang it. And another mistake I did was that I wasn’t even in the official video. I had Give you love with Juice that scattered the whole London; some people still didn’t know that I sang that song.
So, I knew that my music will travel and will do wonders; that’s why I kept on working. So, when Sempe came, I was excited, I was happy. I was like, ‘God, I knew this music will do this.’ And it is giving me more ginger; I didn’t even have ginger and everything.
So what gives you the most pleasure as an artiste?
If you asked me this question like three or two years ago, I would say performing. But I feel like the most interesting part is creating. Because most people that watch me record a song are crazy to them, like every producer that has been in the studio with me always says that, ‘bro, it’s different with you, it just comes natural.’
I was having a conversation with somebody when I went to play football weeks ago. And the person was like, ‘your option song, you would have sat down, you would have jotted down the song, and you would have thought about how you want to attach the song.’ But I told him, ‘I won’t lie to you, the song came out in like 15 minutes, poured out what was in my mouth and it was a one take. So, most of my songs, or 90 per cent of my songs are always one take; comes from within, comes from my heart.
Do you have any particular ritual you do when it comes to recording, like some things that are peculiar to you?
Okay so, when I started recording first, I was recording in my mum’s house. I actually created a studio in my mum’s house, like I brought blocks, cement, everything like we created a studio beside the house. And that time we had one stool like this, I felt that when I stood on it and recorded, like it’s a banger. But since then, it’s just me, myself, my personal studio. I don’t have a personal ritual. I just go in.
How was the family support like before the fame?
Yeah, it was important for them to support me. First of all, I will say my mum wasn’t really sold at first. She just thought about this artiste’s life, and she asked if I was sure I wanted to do it. But when I made sure I explained to her what it means to me, and it wasn’t all the other things she thought it was, she started supporting me.
For my dad, at first, he was very tricky, because he wanted me to finish from school, do my masters and everything and I promised him that I would do that. Immediately I finished with my masters, it was a roller coaster for me; everybody was supportive, everybody wanted the best for me.
I always like to tell people that it’s not only about your parents. At the point when I was even pushing, my siblings were pushing. Even when my dad would say, ‘they will be there to say you can do it,’ my cousins, everybody in my family wanted that for me. And that’s because they spotted this early.
When we were growing up, I was very quiet, but I was the stand out child, because I will be the one that will dance and everybody will start looking at me, I will be the one that when I start talking, everybody wants to listen. Everybody loves me; everybody wants to be around me. Like if I’m not in a family gathering, everyone is calling, ‘where is Dami, where is Dami?’ So, everybody already knew that I had something from a young age.
Did you have any parallel ambition?
First of all, to be honest, I actually like school; I really like school, but I was tempted to drop out. So, the first time I had a placement year in my second year, I went back home and told my mum I want to do a placement year. In my head, it was like a placement year, and then when I come back to Nigeria, I go to work in one company, but I would still be pushing my music. However, my mum refused. So, I went back and finished.
During my masters, I went back again and I said, ‘give me one gap year let me focus on my music,’ because that’s when ginger was flowing. My mum said, ‘finish, you have all the time to continue this thing.’ So, I had to do my masters. Those were the two times I almost dropped out.
You sing a lot about love a lot. For someone who sings about love the way you do, what kind of love life do you have?
My love life is amazing; I will love to get married because I love family, I love to build. I feel like one of the greatest buildings is the family. Like you know, nurturing from when they are young, to when they grow. You know having a big family, a family that you know that everybody has his/her back… that’s the type of family I want to have. I’m in love, I would love to be married, and I’m just all about love to be honest.
Tell us your top three favorites on the album right now.
I would have said Energy, but I think that’s everybody’s favorite, so let me just leave it for the world. But for me, I will say Change your life with conscience, Easy on me, because that was the last song I recorded and that’s the irony of life. That’s the last song and that’s the first song. I would say Joanny, that’s one of my favorites too, so those three.
What’s next for LAX, like what are we to expect, are you going to tour?
Yeah, I’m going on tour from tomorrow actually. I have been in Europe for one and the half months, so I will be in Nigeria to do a mini tour. And I have an idea of just doing mini shows. Pick like five hundred of my fans that would have never even been able to pay for ticket and just put them in a room, and sing to them; great production life band. And even comedy, you know my comedy side will come and will even have conversations with my fans.
I want to continue that even in Lagos and just build on top of that and do that in the world. So, just pick my real fans and just do a live show for them then tour; dabble into my fitness side, have merge too. Just create things entertainment wise; have the lounge, because life is too short, just try and do much that I can do.
I want to start a foundation as well, and just pay school fees for children in university, those people that can’t afford it. Just do as much as I can while I’m still around.
If you have anything you want to add at this point then feel free.
I just want to say ‘thank you’ to my fans, thank you The Guardian for doing this interview; it’s a great platform. I’m sure a lot of people will read this; some people will know me better and fall in love. But firstly, I just want to actually say thank you to the fans, because they are the people that still keep me going.
Sometimes when I sleep, I always think about it, ‘is this music the right thing to do, like am I in the right part?’ But when I wake up, I see Instagram comments, ‘LAX you bad, thank you for this music. This music has actually taken me through breakups.’ There’s this girl that sent me a long message on my DM, she was explaining how she broke up with her boyfriend. My album was the one that helped her throughout the breakup; it was so emotional to me, because these are the reasons why I’m actually doing this music.
Then if I’m getting that feedback, I don’t need to have the number one record in the country to be happy, and I’m excited about that, just saying ‘thank you’ to them.