Olushola Ajose better known as Afrikan Boy is a Grime MC artist from Woolwich, South East London who is best known for his popular song released on YouTube many years ago, One Day I Went to Lidl. Since then, Afrikan Boy took some time out from the music industry to study for a Psychology degree at Brunel University, got married, became a father and now he’s back!
Promotion is going strong for Afrikan Boy with his album, The ABCD which features upcoming single, Y.A.M & previous cuts, Hit ‘Em Up & Dear Mama. Garnering a lot of support from radio including recent plays from DJ Edu (1Xtra), Huw Stephens (BBC Radio 1) & Lauren Laverne (6Music). He recently shared the stage with American artist, M.I.A. at Glastonbury, performed at Lovebox & played his own set at Womad.
He’s now a MOBO nominee and The British Blacklist has had the pleasure of talking to and discussing his previous and upcoming events and thoughts towards the industry…
Your album, The ABCD was recently released, what’s the feedback been like?
The feedback has been great. It’s been really encouraging; it’s been inspiring. Clash magazine and the Daily Mirror gave it four out of five stars. I think we’ve got over fifteen reviews already and they’ve all been above half so it’s good to read them and to see what tracks people take to. I’m so happy that people are really getting the concept of the album, which is to bring diversity and to break the mould from what people might assume my music should sound like.
Which song of your career thus far are you most proud of?
There’s quite a few on the album. I could say it was my first song, One Day I went to Lidl, because it’s been ten years now and that song is still living in the hearts and minds of the people who love it, and it’s still keeping me breathing. It’s still feeding my family so I could say that song definitely. Any time I perform it on stage, I just give thanks knowing that I left college after school to record this song. Speaking from my album, I would say, Y.A.M is the song I’m most proud of and also, Made in Africa, which is titled M.I.A. These two tracks I’m most proud of because firstly Y.A.M talks about motivating and really aspiring to your goals and I listen to that track literally every day to motivate myself. M.I.A is a more spiritual track on the album where I’m discussing my inner thoughts with regards to my cultural identity and where I belong in this world.
You shared the stage with M.I.A at Lovebox this year and played your own set at Womad. What was the experience like for you?
Shouts out to Mia, she invited me to come play Glastonbury with her whilst I was in Nigeria and then shortly after that we done Lovebox together. That was amazing. It’s a MIA Show, there’s chaos; unpredictability, but off stage, I got a chance to meet Nas! That was definitely one of my highlights of the year. But playing my own set at Womad is undoubtedly the best show I’ve done all year, and the feedback from the fans puts proof to the pudding. My experience was unreal, it reminded me of when I played Reading festival in 2010 and I packed out the big red tent and everyone was moshing up and down. You know someone threw a Lidl carry bag onto the stage and we really just got rowdy.
Did you expect One Day I Went to Lidl would have led to the success that it did and what was the inspiration behind it?
Firstly, there is no music video to One Day I Went to Lidl, everything that is online has been put up by supporters, fans and friends, I have never put up a visual, just to clarify. The inspiration behind it was a true story, I actually did go to Lidl in Woolwich which is the town I grew up, I went to Asda which is in Charlton. The third verse about immigration was taken from family conversations that I overheard, and the success is still growing. The testimony that I’m being asked about this song 10 years on is a success in itself.
At what point in your life did you realise people were responding positively to your music?
I don’t think it really hit home until a few years later. One of the early indicators of people responding positively to me back then was MIA reaching out to me and you know opening massive doors to me that I really wouldn’t have opened on my own. But the success is still continuing to grow with Lidl and I think when people respond positively it just encourages you to and just motivates you to do better and get better.
How do you think you’ve changed over time?
I’ve definitely developed my craft in terms of my musicianship. in terms of production and youth work, I’ve grown and I’ve learnt how to utilise my God given talents to help other people start businesses and to maximise revenue. I’ve became a husband; I’ve become a father, so really a lot has changed so I give thanks.
Your heritage is Nigerian. Do you include your background into your work?
Hello, ‘Afrikan Boy’ [laughs] of course I do. It’s plain and simple, from my very first track to my last track on my album, my heritage is always something that’s strong; you can’t take that away from me like Kunta Kinte man.
You took some time out to complete your studies at university, what did you study and how did you keep focused on education?
I studied at Brunel university, I studied psychology and sociology graduated with a BA honours. I stayed focused because I knew I had to, because I knew that I’m getting into nearly £35,000 of debt so the least I could do was to get some grades. I did tour a lot during university and travel a lot in order to keep my music career buzzing. I don’t regret none of that because I still managed to achieve a great grade.
When did you realize that this would be the leading career path for you?
I’ve always known. I could say deep down that this was going to be my leading career path because, I work a lot in secondary schools so when them opportunities come up I always have this battle between my heart and head in regards to, you know, if I should commit myself to a permanent position or whether I should just do it temporarily so that I could be able to free myself up to go on tour. Music definitely is my leading career, I’ve worked on it the most and it’s not going to leave me.
Do you find it difficult balancing your social life and work life?
100% I work. I’m a workaholic and I’ve just started to learn this about myself. I work when I wake up, I work when I go to sleep, I work in my dreams, I’m just constantly working and it’s important for all people who are really workaholics to take some time out. Go see some friends you haven’t seen, especially becoming a new dad as well which definitely takes you away from the social life. I have to remember to go out just mingle and chill not even for music or work purposes just for social living. I am finding it difficult, but I’m working at it.
What do you do in your spare time?
I try to go to the gym [laughs]. I try to pray. Most importantly spend time with my family, read, listen to music just anything that relaxes me and anything that is away from work and if I actually do have spare time then I write as well which is something I do in my spare time but now it’s become work time.
If you could go back in time, is there anything you would you do differently?
I would probably release a video for One Day I Went to Lidl just because everyone asks me why I haven’t, but now I like the fact that I haven’t because when I tell people that’s my song, mostly younger people deny. They don’t believe it. I like the mystery and ambiguity and the kind of unknowingness about it. I like that.
If you could record with any musician around the world who would it be & why?
If they were dead then 2Pac, anyone alive right now would be, Dr. Dre. I really don’t know. Seun Kuti, we are going to do something soon!
Who are the top three artists that inspire you and your work the most?
Number one 2Pac because he was a complex character, he knew what he stood for, he was brave, he was bold, he was a poet, he was a leader and he was a dope black man so that’s number one. Number two I would say Fela Kuti, because of his huge catalogue of work, what he’d been through and the legacy that his children are carrying on and obviously he’s the pioneer of African beats. Number three would probably be Lauren Hill because when she first came out with The Fugees the sound that they had and the conscious messages behind the lyrics and they just kept it real. So definitely Lauren Hill.