“Genuine love involves a lot of vulnerability from both ends, and that’s reality. I will always sing about my reality, whether I am feeling happy or sad”. – Joeboy
By Emmanuel Okoro
In the dynamic world of Afrobeats, one name has emerged as a true virtuoso, captivating audiences with his soulful melodies, one track at a time: Joseph Akinwale, popularly known as Joeboy. Hailing from the vibrant city of Lagos, this musical sensation has become synonymous with crafting tunes that seamlessly blend the infectious beats of Afro-Pop with the emotive melodies of R&B.
He ventured into the music industry with his 2018 debut single, “Fààjí”, with assistance from record label boss and mentor, Mr Eazi. However, it was the 2019 solo sensation, “Baby”, that catapulted Joeboy into the limelight. Signed to emPawa Africa, Joeboy has since gone on to release his 2019 debut extended play, Love & Light, and his 2021 debut studio album, Somewhere Between Beauty & Magic. This year, the artiste has been on an impressive run, releasing his sophomore album, Body & Soul, and his Body, Soul, & Spirit EP released six months later.
Joeboy’s status as a quintessential lover boy is undeniable, as he continues to weave staple emotive songs that not only strike a chord with a global audience but also compel bodies to move the rhythm and grooves of his melodies. In this exclusive interview with Afrocritik, Joeboy takes a break from a recording camp to delve into his beginning days with music, his creative process, the influences that shape his sound, his latest EP, love and social media, and the evolution of the music that has thrust him into a global spotlight.
Can you share with us how you started making music and your foray into emPawa Africa?
I started making music in 2013 or 2014, and it is a fascinating story. The first time I recorded a song, it wasn’t for myself. I escorted my friend who was an artiste to the studio. I wanted to see how it felt like to record because music was something I always loved to witness. I was already a big fan of music; when I was in primary school, I hung around 9ice and ID Cabasa and went with them for shows. So, in the studio, while I playfully did backup for my friend, the sound engineer was like “This guy, you have a great voice oh.” But I thought it was a joke because I didn’t think my voice was that great. I recorded a 15-second part of the verse, and from that moment on, I was encouraged to write, compose, and make different music covers.
In 2017, I did a cover of Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” and it was the first video I posted on my Instagram account. People began to like and comment on the video, sharing and tagging others. Through that video, I met a friend from Finland who promised to send it to different established artistes. Mr Eazi, who was my favourite artiste, was one of the people she sent it to. Mr Eazi commented on it and while I was contemplating what to reply, he sent me a DM saying he loved the cover, and then he dropped his number for me to contact him. When I reached out to him, he said “Do you want $5,000 or do you want me to shoot a video and promote a song for you?” It was a tough choice to make because $5,000 was around ₦2 million at the time. Eventually, I told him to shoot a video and promote a song for me, but he needed to be on the song. He introduced me to producer, E-Kelly [a music producer] and I started making a lot of music with him. One of them was “Fààjí”, which Mr Eazi surprisingly recorded, and we shot a music video for it. And that was how I got into the music industry.
Quick one: What inspired your tag ‘Joeboy pon deck’ on your music?
When I was recording professionally with E-Kelly, I was playing around with different catchphrases. I started with “Joeboy pon this” and then one day, I said “Joeboy pon deck” on one of the records and it just felt right. I’ve been using it since then; one of my nicknames is Pon Deck. It wasn’t something I planned. It just happened.
You’ve released two studio albums: Somewhere Between Beauty & Magic and Body & Soul, and two EPs; Love & Light and Body, Soul & Spirit. Your projects often feel like an extension within themselves. The themes and sonic tapestry on Love & Light were fully explored on Somewhere Between Beauty & Magic, and Body, Soul & Spirit EP is a revamped body of work based on Body & Soul. Is this intentional?
I’d say it’s both intentional and unintentional. I just wanted to put out great music that felt natural to me at that point, without getting pressured to make hits. I guess it shows in the way the projects are released and how they just sync.
So, how do you approach making your studio albums versus making your EPs?
For me, it’s pretty much the same. I’m always recording and I record a series of songs over a period. So, it’s really a matter of sitting with my team to dissect which songs get on which project. Then again, I also like to get a particular theme for each project released – a certain sonic feel. So, we sit down to select songs that we feel are cohesive enough to be together, and not necessarily a bunch of random songs in a project.
Your lyrics usually delve into intricate themes of love and vulnerability. Would you consider yourself a lover boy? What inspires your lyricism?
At some point, I’d say I was a lover boy. But right now, I won’t say I am the ideal lover boy. But I am a big fan of love. I feel like the world would be in a much better place if we all genuinely love each other. The reality is that it’s hard to come across genuine love now because social media makes everything feel transactional. Social media gives the illusion of an abundance of choices. The kind of love I grew up with is way different from what is obtainable now. Then, it was love and respect for every relationships, whether it is with family, friends, or colleagues. And that’s what I try to reveal in my music, to touch and inspire people to be good. Because, last last, we all need good people.
In your opinion, do you think social media has impacted the way people approach relationships?
I think social media has made people live their lives based on the standards of other people. What works for one person may not work for another. Because one person has one million followers and generates 50,000 likes on their posts, doesn’t mean what they say applies to everyone. But that’s usually the situation we find ourselves. Everyone is so uptight, careful, and cautious. Genuine love involves a lot of vulnerability from both ends, and that’s reality. I will always sing about my reality, whether I am feeling happy or sad. When I was sad, I made “Sip”. And people could relate.
You’ve just mentioned “Sip”, which was one of the biggest Afrobeats songs of 2021, but also a song that generated several crazy challenges and stunts on TikTok. I particularly saw someone guzzling palm oil and other weird stuff. When you saw these challenges as a result of your song, what was your initial reaction?
I will not lie, I was really bothered. This wasn’t the intent of the song. I didn’t motivate or encourage it. The video I made for the song on TikTok was simply me holding an almost empty bottle of alcohol that I didn’t even drink on camera. All of a sudden, I started seeing videos of people jumping inside the gutter, and I heard someone even drank Dettol (an antiseptic) and Sniper (an insecticide). Even TikTok reached out to my team to call the public to order because it was becoming a problem on the platform. I even had to put out a disclaimer and yet people weren’t listening to me. It had morphed into a thing of attention and people were doing the craziest things. TikTok had to ban the sound at that point. It just shows how powerful music is. I was feeling some type of way in my balcony in Ghana and I was inspired to make the song. Millions of people connected to it and expressed it in a way they felt best. It was a beautiful moment, regardless of how some people expressed themselves.
Your music seamlessly blends Afro-Pop and R&B. What influences have shaped your sound? Are there any musicians who have particularly inspired or influenced your work over the years?
I’d say it was the music I listened to when I was younger. A huge shoutout to my elder brother who had so many CDs, and I filled up on whatever he was listening to. I listened to Boyz II Men, Westlife, Destiny’s Child, Backstreet Boys, and Nelly. Their music sort of imprinted on my subconscious and made it very easy to make love songs. And when it comes to lovesongs, nobody can touch me.
Being a part of emPawa Africa since 2018 must have contributed to your growth as an artiste, with Mr Eazi discovering you and acting as a mentor to you over the years. Is the role of mentorship in the music industry important particularly for aspiring artistes?
Definitely. It even extends to other fields, beyond the music industry. I know the music industry is very volatile and there’s no mercy. Every aspiring artiste needs proper guidance to recognise and avoid pitfalls. It feels good to approach Mr Eazi with questions about any situation, instead of going in blindly, and I am grateful that I have someone like Mr Eazi. From 2017 to 2018, I followed him everywhere, observing everything he was doing and taking notes. I understood firsthand that in the industry, relationships are very important. I also understood having your niche is important, as you don’t want to be that artiste who is jumping on any trend. In this industry, patterns and formulas change every six months, and if your head is not in the game and you get carried away by the celebrity lifestyle – you lose your bearing. My life is a perfect example, as there’s been an obvious growth and evolution from when I started. Mr Eazi always tells me, “Make sure you’re the one who controls your destiny.”
During the Body & Soul rollout, you commissioned free buses at different locations in Lagos to transport people. It was not only innovative but was needed at the time, as fuel subsidy was removed and transportation prices within Lagos had skyrocketed. Away from the branding and publicity benefits, were there any personal motivations for this?
It wasn’t just my idea but it was a team effort. So, me and my team decided to do something that would genuinely help people during that difficult time.
So it wasn’t a PR move to push the album?
Obviously, it was. I’m not going to lie about it. But it was a PR move that benefited everybody. We were thinking “How can we help people while promoting the album?” and that idea just dropped and we acted on it. It was a way of killing two birds with one stone.
Which track from Body, Soul & Spirit EP was the most fun to make, and which one was particularly challenging?
The challenging song to make on the project was “Surviving”, and that was because I recorded the song by myself, without any sound engineer present. I simply told the producer to send me the beats and I did all the layering and vocal balancing on my own. I also recorded “Only God Can Save Me” by myself. I think the track that was the most fun to make was “Telephone”, as it was an ideal Joeboy lovesong, and when it comes to love songs, I am very natural with it. I started learning how to record myself a couple of months ago because I like to learn new stuff. I think it’s important for growth.
Although not a lot of people believe in creative blocks, many would agree that it is a bane to an artiste. Have you ever encountered creative blocks while making any song? How do you tackle these blocks and put your best foot forward?
It happens to every creative, to be honest. I’ve been reading a book and it says somewhere that creatives need time to just sit around and do nothing. I think it’s very important to take needed breaks when encountering a block. Take a walk, do something fun, travel, and experience the world. Some blocks could be a result of being overwhelmed or doing the same routine tasks. I also think some of these blocks are somewhat caused by wanting to make a particular type of song. It conditions and pressures your mind into overdrive. Initially, when I started having writer’s block, I used to ask questions like “Has God taken my talent away?” But now I understand burnout and the body simply needs a break. One thing that really helps me is that every day, I make sure to write a song, whether I like it or not. Once I tap into that flow, I realise that the blocks become almost nonexistent.
Your unique artistry has allowed you to work with incredible artistes and producers, including Young Jonn, Mr Eazi, DJ Neptune, Ludacris, Bnxn, CKay, Mayorkun, King Promise, Blaqbonez, and many more. Which artistes have been fun to work with?
For me, it’s easy to make music with people I genuinely like. I love working with Oxlade and have known him for a long time. I also love working with Kwesi Arthur. It’s easier to make music with people I naturally gravitate towards or share certain ideals. I have to like you and appreciate your artistry before I feature you on my projects.
Is there a dream collaboration you want to happen?
Definitely. I’d like a Joeboy featuring Post Malone, The Weeknd, Drake, and Rihanna. And if that happens, it’s going to be amazing.
What about producers you’d love to work with, beyond those you’re familiar with?
Sarz! The day Sarz and I will sit down together in a studio, it’s over. And that’s happening very soon, so watch out, because it’s definitely going to happen.
Celebrities often use social media to connect and promote their projects. Surprisingly, you’re one of the very few who hardly use social media, starving your fans who would want you to keep in touch. Is there a particular reason for this?
To be honest, social media, especially Twitter [X], is a wonderful place if you’re trying to promote music. But it’s also a place where negativities and controversies thrive. X is a place where people argue just for the point of being right. If I wanted to trend, I know what I will tweet. But I have never been about that life. I just want to make my music, engage my fans, and call it a day. Maybe I will open a burner account and say whatever I want.
You are a superstar and have maintained your stardom for over 5 years. What keeps you grounded and prevents you from being drunk by success, glitz, and glamour?
Knowing that I have to keep working and improving myself has been a humbling experience. I’ve realised that the moment an artiste has a rough patch, the same people who were supporting them will distance themselves. I ask myself questions like, Am I improving? Can I look back in a year or two from now and say I have evolved? As long as I keep improving, that’s success. Success is a beautiful feeling but I don’t dwell on it much. I take it all in for a while and then prepare to implement the next step. All the awards that I’ve won are not even in my house. They are in my parent’s house. And that’s me being somewhat petty.
Can you share why?
At some point, my Dad didn’t think that musicians make a lot of money. He used to jokingly tell me, “Musicians don’t make money nau. Are you sure you won’t study Engineering?” So I just like to keep working, knowing that there’s still a world out there for me to conquer.
Having been in the industry for over five years now, what lessons have you learned in your career that you wished you had known when you first started?
Talent will get you into the music industry, for sure. But what will keep you there all boils down to consistency and relationship. I kind of figured that out in my first year, to be honest. I always knew that it wasn’t all glitz and glam and kumbaya. Even in this industry, you have to deal with difficult people and navigate your way around them. I have also learnt that it’s okay to say no. When you blow up as an artiste, people will approach you and tell you to be humble. It’s all a ploy for them to take advantage of you. The moment they ask you to do something for them and you don’t, they call you arrogant or a bad person. I didn’t get it then but now I do, and I have always learnt to put myself first.
With the Body, Soul, & Spirit EP already gaining massive airways, what can fans expect from Joeboy in the coming months or years?
You need to hang on tight because Joeboy’s domination is incoming! Next year, will be for serious back-to-back moves. Anybody who loves Joeboy and his music is going to eat good next year. I’ll announce upcoming plans before the end of the year or early next year.
Who is Joeboy listening to right now? Put me on.
I’m listening to a lot of mainstream, old-school, and underground artistes that I believe will blow up very soon. I am also listening to a lot of Bob Marley, Jesse Jagz, George Benson, Kemena, Lost Frequencies, Elmah, and Jill Scott.
Finally, what advice would you give to up-and-coming musicians that see you as an influence?
First thing first; don’t try to be like me. Be confident and let it show in your work and make sure that you’re undeniable. The real work starts when you make your first hit record. Can you do that multiple times? So stay consistent and keep the people that love you closer. It is also important to get a lawyer before signing anything so you have an idea of what you want. It’s also okay to negotiate deals. It’s also important to have something doing before getting signed, so you have some form of leverage at the bargaining table instead of signing deals because you want to “leave the trenches”. Appreciate your journey, whether it’s going fine or not. As long as you keep pushing and don’t give up, you will be fine. Also, save your money so your money can save you.
Emmanuel ‘Waziri’ Okoro is a content writer and journo with an insatiable knack for music and pop culture. When he’s not writing, you will find him arguing why Arsenal FC is the best football club in the multiverse. Connect with him on Twitter, Instagram, and Threads: @BughiLorde