The sweat of Akinyemi‘s brow makes his rap a kind of gospel.
It’s 11:35 PM on Sunday, September 17, 2017 at his release party for premiere EP “summers” and my already bad knees hurt too much to be standing any longer. I was going through such an ugly depression, I could barely remember to eat much less get myself out of bed for a show, yet I knew I needed to be in the numbers when Akinyemi presented his first mixtape to New York, and subsequently the world. And here I am here to bare witness.
In front of me, there are people either younger than me or my age gathering in clusters to be as close to the main attraction as possible. They chatter about the acts before him: ATELLER , Amy Leon and Gracie Terzian and how incredible every single one of their sets was. The band begins setting up the overhead projection to display on a loop Akinyemi‘s visuals.
I begin to survey the room once more amid the soft red lights. The crowd was a decent size, not enough to fill the room, but enough, I imagine, for the rapper to feel proud of what he’s accomplished leading up this moment–booking the venue, making sure there was merchandise to sell in the first place, extensive promotion on social media platforms, positioning himself to have interviews right before this night so he would attract new fans–everything Akinyemi did, the effort he put forth, right before the sweat emerge onto his forehead under the soft red lights is a testament to a new rapper who demeans his presence be known.
Between the heavy bass drums, guitar riffs, delicate keyboard, Akinyemi has swept us into the imagination of his summer. When he came onto the stage and went right into his set, playing a new song called “coffin”, him and the keyboardist had been working on for a minute, he had already generated such a well-deserved hype about himself that members of the audience we’re yelling back “Yo, I need this song! Drop it already”. At this stage in his career, Akinyemi isn’t quite the underdog anymore, but he makes you want to cheer him on. He makes you emotionally invested in his win.
Some time later, we met up to further discuss “summers” and I do my best to live with a rapper’s project before any interview. I could only imagine an album such as this one being made in New York—the melodic pitch, the careful (but not overdone) boom-bap, rhythmic style that escalate in session with each connecting bar, upbeat tempo, and more somber introspection—Akinyemi undoubtedly took the time to understand what this project would make of him and vice versa. It almost seemed movie-esque how “dust calling” complimented the atmosphere just outside my window: a basketball dribbling on the court as kids yell after each other, someone blasting music from their car stereo—Akinyemi is creating the soundtrack to his life and by proxy the soundtrack to everyone else’s. What I enjoy most about Akinyemi is how refreshingly ordinary he is, as though rapping is in fact his superpower.
I met up with him at Union Square, and as we begin talking, an acquaintance of his daps him up, “Hey yo Akinyemi, let me hit you with me the semi!” Standing at 6 foot, Akinyemi sports an Afro and multi-colored long sleeve button up. The acquaintance complimented him on his outfit and hair, saying he digs his 80’s style.
I.S. Jones: Let’s talk about you and your music. During your release party, the execution was incredible. Merch was on point. Production was on point. The venue Brooklyn Bazaar was well chosen, talk to me about your team. Who are the people that made the dream happen?
Akinyemi: So my team is Noah Padawer-Curry, that’s my manager, Sharell Jeffrey is my publicist, those two. Sharell has been around since March and Noah Padawer-Curry [has] been my manager [as of] two and a half months ago. We’re mad efficient, it’s crazy. I didn’t realize how much I needed them until I had them. How much more shit gets done. Like, I could be at a studio session working creatively, while business stuff is still happening behind the scenes.
For the release show, it was very me though, because I didn’t want to seem Hollywood. I didn’t want it to seems like “my people” contacted the acts. I personally hit up every act that performed. I called them & was like “Yo, I want you to perform”. The band and I got together, and I wanted every act to feel like I wanted them to be there.
Jones: Did you design your own merch as well?
Akinyemi: No. The ‘wavy’ AKINYEMI logo was designed by Emerson Bowstead. He designed the cover for “Eurydice”, “Maple” and a couple other songs. The back, the cover art of “summers”, was made by Jose Misael. He’s a childhood friend and he went to City College of Study & Design. I got them in a room and they decided Emerson Bowstead would design the front and Jose would design the back. Ever since then, I’ve been able to take the transparent and use that as the logo for everything.
Jones: A little bit before “summers”, you dropped your single “Eurydice” and we talked about how you felt “it was not your best work”, yet at the same time. There is a dramatic artistic leap between “Eurydice” and “summers”. Talk to me about how you grew between that single and the project.
Akinyemi: I made Eurydice right in the middle of making “summers”. “summers” took me about a year, from last July.
So I’m making [this mixtape] and I knew I wanted to make a song called “fleece”. The first time I recorded it, I wasn’t really fucking with it. I would then work on two new songs and name [one of] them “fleece” before they were even finished, determined to rock with the song title and topic. Three months later, [I’m talking to] Raf (Rafael Moure that’s my engineer), I’m like, “Yo, chuck summers. Let’s work on some other shit”. So, my and this producer Eddie Res, who lives in Harlem, we linked up and we made five records. “Eurydice” is actually on an EP that him and me have actually done. That EP is called “Liminal”. I just fucked with the record, so I put it out. I know my team was like “What are you doing?” in terms of the release schedule. Because I wanted to drop “Eurydice” then “summers” then another EP that has nothing to do with “Summers” and my team was like “Where is your mind at?”. I just liked the song, so I recorded it while I was working on other songs. I spent enough time away from summers, and I go back to it with a clear head. I’m thinking “This is what I need to fix, this is what I need to fix”. I just had a much clearer vision on the project because I spent a month or two away from it.
Jones: So you’re back and forth between summers, and singles, and everything…?
Akinyemi: Yeah, so it wasn’t singles, I was deadass making 6 EP’s at the same time. I had: “summers”, I had “Liminal” (the EP with Eddie Res ), I had “I am U” (an EP with ATELLER), this EP I’m making with the producer Lionmilk with produced the outro for “fleece”, I have an EP with my band “Chiv Culture”. I’m doing all that the same time, while in school, just like…not sleeping, just being schedule crazy. I don’t know, I just needed to take time away from everything. Took time away from ‘summers’ to make an EP, came back to “summers”.
Jones: You’re also very popular I’m noticing. Even just seeing you interact with people, I know networking is really huge part of being an artist. How do you leverage personal relationships into professional ones? How do you leverage relationships towards helping you with your art?
Akinyemi: If I’m doing business with someone, even if they’re my friend, I still want to do some type of paperwork. Matt is a good example of a personal relationship (which can also be professional). It’s all about being explicit and I feel people don’t do that. Just say, “Hey, I’m worth this much. This is what I can bring to the table. These are the resources I would need”. Overall, I just feel it’s about being very honest and open with people.
Jones: Your name means ‘fated to be a warrior’ in Yoruba. My name means “the child who fell into wealth”, by the way.
Akinyemi: Yo, Nigerian names are fucking dope.
Me & Akin: [laughs]
Me: Naijas are the best
Akinyemi: The child who fell into wealth…? That’s so dope.
Jones: Growing up in Nigerian culture, in some capacity, I don’t know how much your parents spoke Yoruba around you or if you ate fufu growing up. How much does being Nigerian influence your work? If at all.
Akinyemi: You’re gonna get a little of that in my next project, “Warrior’s Fate”, which is based on my name, but I never really incorporated African culture in my music, but being Nigerian has allowed me to work harder. Deadass?
Jones: Trust me, I get it.
Akinyemi: My parents do not bullshit at all. Being a first generation child and knowing how hard my parents struggled, like really hustled. With Nigerian parents, it’s hard to impress them. I was in school and I would come to them like “Yo, I got 100 on this test”. They would be like, “Word, do it again” [laughter]. That’s it, that’s all you get. I don’t know, it wasn’t until recently that my parents started supporting my music. Before, they never supported it. They felt it was a waste of time. If I went to an open mic, they would ask how much I’m being paid. Not being paid made them think it was a waste of time. So, me going hard in music, it was to prove them wrong. I’m just gonna go extra hard just so when I become successful, they’ll support me. I feel if they were supportive in the beginning, I would be complacent. I feel if they had everything—my mom, for example, booking studio sessions for me, and putting up the bread for this, I wouldn’t really want it. I feel you really have to struggle in order to want something. Being Nigerian has made me realize I really wanna do this.
Jones: I’m very curious about the significance of the number 7 in summers. It keeps popping up but in subtle ways. The word ’summers’ has 7 letters in it, there are 7 tracks on the EP, and the album cover skillfully is a picture-by-picture of every song, which is cool. How does that number play a role in summers?
Akinyemi: Lowkey, that’s a coincidence [laughs] but I just thought it was fire and I noticed it after it was done and I was like, “Yo, I could run with it”. I knew I wanted seven tracks. I knew I wanted it to be called “summers”. I knew both were 7 letters, but I wasn’t thinking the reoccurrence of 7, you know? I was plottin’ or anything like that. I made it 7 because 7 is the number of completion. In terms of the scenes, Jose took a portion of the cover art he created from “dust calling” and used that to begin making the cover for “summers”. He was like “every song is an experience, a vivid experience, so let’s showcase that on the cover art” and like on the cover “fleece” and “asylum” are very visible. “onetime” (on the top left) my older brother and sister are playing patty cake while my middle brother is hitting me, which is a true story. “change” is about having nothing but being comfortable with it. Dude is on a couch with his feet up on a table, but his TV is off. On his phone, if you zoom in, is 4 pennies ($0.04) then I start the song: “Four pennies roam around in the back seat.” It’s just like this: “Imagine yourself having nothing and just being totally comfortable with it”.
So that was “change”. “winter” is about “A&R are in charge of my sound and what I complete”. Winter is the opposite of summer and I feel like ‘winter’ was the song that blogs wanted. That was the song that hip-hop blogs would gravitate toward—the boom-bap, rap track that I’m rapping for mad long. In that song, I wanted to make a message, “Yo, this is what y’all want”. In the song, I’m talking about being controlled by labels and being controlled by other organizations that control your creative control. It’s just me being an independent artist. I showcase that on top of the cover art with a person being held by a puppeteer.
Jones: Congrats on your feature on the Village Voice. In the feature it stated you fostered a professional relationship with Canadian Rapper DuqueNuquem and that opened the door for “dust calling”, is that my understanding?
Jones: If you take the first step in reaching out, how do you reach out to producers and other artists, especially if they’ve never known you or heard of you before, how do you entice them to work with you?
Akinyemi: So with Duque [Nuquem], it wasn’t really like me odee’in his inbox like, “Yo, I fuck with you! I’m trying to work”. I was introduced to this group called the “Rootnote Collective?” “And they showcased mad talented producers like Elaquent and DIBIA$E, and DuqueNuquem was one of those artists, he was apart of Rootnote Collective. On that compilation, I heard “Caught in Spain” which ended up being the beat for “change” on the project.
I commented on everything, “Yo, this is fire”. I was really engaging his work. Then a week later, a year ago, I think he reposted ‘Distant’ and liked it. Then reached out, “Distant is really fire. I’m definitely trying to do something. I was like “Wow”. He has a huge following. Mind you, I only had 150 followers at the time when that came out, and he reached out. We talked via Soundcloud inbox, for a while. I added him on Facebook. He had a project called “Foreign Interest” and I did sone of the tracks on that, send it back to him & liked it. He just sent me mad beats and a folder of six different beats. One of those beats were “Dust Calling”, one of those beats were “highway”, and we just kept in communication. I sent him updates and he sent more tracks. I never met him or spoke to him on the phone. We just talked via Facebook Messenger for the past two years.
Jones: Who are the production hands on “summers”?
Akinyemi: Christian Duquette or DuqueNuquem produced every song. On ‘Fleece’, it molds into an outro section which is produced by Lionmilk. ‘Fleece’ is co-produced by Lionmilk. In the first two and a half minutes, Daniel Winshall plays bass on “Fleece”. On “onetime”, Hadassah is singing background vocals with Markis Williams on keys.
Jones: Now with “summers” out of the way, what’s next?
Akinyemi: I’m working on ‘Warrior’s Fate’, initially that was supposed to be my debut. So you’ll find on “dust calling” a warrior that’s on his way to his house & that warrior has bandages on his arm. I worked with Jose to show a progression of the warrior and you see this on “dust calling” is a novice with bandages for armor. On “Warrior’s Fate”, you’ll find out the warrior is more advanced, with chain mail. The warrior is me, but I wasn’t ready just yet. Before “WF” was more of a compilation, whereas now I feel like I can tell the story of who I am and how being Nigerian fits into the piece of it.
If you haven’t already, do yourself a favor and listen to “summers”. Here, Akinyemi pushes his own boundaries of sonic and lyrical dexterity, he taps into the dark and often frightening untouched memories, he explores the self as the body in constantly in flux (much like the seasons), but above all Akinyemi meets you where you’re at with his music. He’s not a rapper of bravado, but rather one of finding his truth and negotiating who he is in his music, and I want to believe he hopes you’ll find yourself in his music too.
“summers” can be found below:
I.S. Jones is a writer living in New York by way of California. Please send her pizza, not nudes. You can tweet at her here.