Music

Interview: Papyfire Talks His Musical Journey, Work Ethic And Breaking Into The Global Music Market

Nigerian world music artist, Papyfire is the epitome of having a dream and doing whatever it takes to bring that dream to fruition.

Papyfire is an independent artist from Lagos, Nigeria whose personality is as unforgettable as his sound. “I’m humble, but crazy, you’ll find out before this interview is over,” he says jokingly as he sits in his home studio. He describes the music he creates as world music, a broad genre that encompasses diverse styles from Africa, the Caribbean and Central America to name a few regions. Papyfire is proud of where he comes from and is the epitome of having a dream and doing whatever it takes to bring that dream to fruition.

Amidst the jokes and his lighthearted demeanor, Papyfire is confident and clear about contributing to the global music market. He speaks on Nigeria in a positive light, but isn’t afraid to shed light on the struggles that up-and-coming music artists are blindly exposed to in the Nigerian music industry. He shared that maintaining relationships is not easy, but to applaud Nigerian artists for their dedication and effort.

We could not shy away from the fact that Covid-19 has made a grave impact on the world. Creatives are using the quarantine to delve into their creative passions. When speaking of his passions, Papyfire says, “I grew up knowing that music is like the number one thing I could do.” His childhood played an integral part in making him who is is today. In this interview you will learn more about Papyfire the artist and the individual from his musical journey, grit and how he plans to break into the global music market.

I don’t really remember how you and I connected. I know that we’re Instagram friends, but do you remember that? Like, how did we connect?

I can’t even remember. I can’t even remember how we connected because, I don’t know… I just follow people online so much like, it depends on the mood I was that day. But I think it’s one of those things where someone just comments and something just happened. And I think you listened to my music through my page. It was smooth. It was very smooth.

Yeah, okay! It happened. It as really authentic because we’ve chatted a few times—

I got to your page and I saw the way that the branding was and I knew it was someone that meant business. It was smooth to just keep the conversation going.

Well, I’m glad. I’m really familiar with your music and whatnot. I really enjoy listening to it and I do remember I told you what I thought about your music and you were really humble. We’re living through a pandemic. How has Covid-19 affected you as a creative?

I know for creatives, people that make music or graphics or anything we’ve always been on lockdown to be truthful. Whether you’re in the studio making music or in the studio doing something else or doing graphics you’re used to being in your own space. During the lockdown it’s time for me to really make a lot of songs, network with people. I never used to be on my instagram the way I was during the lockdown. You know, I have a lot of conversations during the period of lockdown I think it’s because I was able to focus. I don’t know, then everything else is just news. I don’t know anybody just passing like that due of the virus and I don’t know anyone that knows anybody. I can’t begin to speak on something with lies, if I begin to speak on Covid like I know it then that’s a lie because I don’t know anybody around that has it.

I agree with what you said about how technically, we creatives have been confined. I didn’t even think about it that way. I don’t personally know anyone that has been affected by Covid either, but I know for me as a creative, I’ve been able to use this time to focus on things that I’m passionate about because prior to this, you know I’m a teacher so all of my time was given to teaching and to students everyday so now I have a lot more free time to focus on my own creative ideas, which I’m really thankful for. So, I get to do things like this [interviewing creatives] whereas prior to that I’d probably be— you know, I’d be at work. Like I said, I’m in tune with your music, but before we get to that I want to know more about you, the individual and then we’ll dive into the music. I do know that you’re from Lagos, Nigeria is that where you were born and raised?

Yeah, definitely.

So, tell me more about your upbringing and your family dynamic. What type of child were you growing up?

I grew up in a Christian family, so I went to church a lot. My mom’s a pastor. What else? Yeah, then I grew up in different neighborhoods, so I had the opportunity to grow up in like the high end neighborhood and I had the opportunity to be in the ghetto. So, at times there were days I had to be in the ghetto with my cousins. That was like the fun for me and at times we had to be in the high end where everything is taken care of and we’re privileged. So, I had the opportunity to experience both, but the music really came from the kind of household I came from. I have this older brother he’s the kind of guy that all day he’s arranging, putting things together, like tables, chairs, pan and using it to play drums, like church drums. So, I’d always go there to perform and I was also a drummer in church at a very young age, so that’s where the music came from. But, as I began to grow and experience more things and go through life, that is when the evolution of my sound began. And Lagos is a very amazing place. It’s a lot of struggle in Lagos and it’s a lot of motivation in that. There are a lot of ways you can flip situations in Lagos, so I think it’s the city and it’s the music background especially. I’ll say it’s the discipline, my music discipline came from church. Choir rehearsals, you feel me?

Your start to music stemmed from being involved in the church and you mentioned your older brother. You were around it, so did you know at that time being young that you wanted to go into music or did you have something else in mind? What career path did you see yourself taking?

I’ve always known it’s music. I’ve always known music, but at different times I’ve always had a mindset of an entrepreneur so there’s no need for me to have any other ambition or try to be like maybe a pilot or— so, I’ve always had the belief that I’m going to do business as it is, so music as well in the beginning I was going to do for passion. I understood myself like, no matter what you’re going through or wherever you find yourself in life there’s always going to be music beside it. That’s what’s kept me focused at least. But, the turning point for me with music was when I finished from university and when I graduated and I had a job immediately.

I really appreciate the musicians because I don’t have any musical talent, but I—

[laughing] Don’t say that! Don’t say that!

I can’t sing, I can’t rap, I don’t know how to make beats, I’ve never produced anything. I commend those who can do those things because it creates experiences for me. Especially when the music is good, like you know when you feel it, it’s different. So I just appreciate those artists who create that quality music. So, leading into that how would you describe your sound specifically? 

I think where my sound comes from is the most original place in Nigeria so I’ll call it— I wouldn’t necessarily just call it Afro, but I’ll put a little Afro Juju into it. There’s a genre of music called Afro Juju, so it’s more like a Yoruba kind of sound. I have a lot of Afro Juju background, but because of the kind of experiences I’ve had for my own self which is as Papyfire. School, society, learning, that now shifts my sound to something else. I used to be in a dance crew. We used to break dance, so I got the opportunity to listen to a lot of songs. You know in dance crew in church and dance crew in school… in school you will be dancing to songs like [hums a tune and sings]. But in church, people have hand gloves and things [sings part of a church song]. You get in sync with a lot of sounds at a very young age, so it’s very easy for you to play around with sound. I can remember the first time I went to the studio ever very young. The only way I could record then was with this old radio where you press record on tape. I can remember going to church that day and they were making a song and just allowed me to record one very small part. Very small part and I got to listen to it again and they played it in church and everybody listened to that small part and it was crazy. Whoa!

You talked about how your environment bred you into this musician that you are now and your experiences have helped to shape your sound, so who are your influences musically?

I should mention like my five favorite artists. So, I have a lot of people I listen to because once the sound is nice, even if your last song was bad I’ll mess with it. You get me? But to be straightforward I’m just going to pick from different regions. My favorite artist in the U.S. is Kendrick Lamar, easily no sweat. From the U.K., Ed Sheeran.

Oh, okay. Mixture. You’ve got range. I see!

Yeah! From Canada, let’s see… I’ll give it to J.B. or Tory Lanez. But, J.B… Justin is good. I like the way Justin shapes his music into things that he is experiencing in real time. His music is very real… very real. That’s as transparent as it gets, so I put J.B. then. Let’s come to Africa. In Nigeria obviously I have to do a male and female from Nigeria. So, for the female— my favorite female artist in Nigeria, all-time ever, I don’t even think it can be swapped with anybody: Asa. Go listen to her music, Asa, “A-S-A”. She’s the greatest female artist that’s come out of Nigeria and I’m not even going to argue with anybody. I’m not even going to play that game. So with that said, let’s move to the male.  [pause] Give me a second… Ah! Okay, so see I don’t like to call any of the OG’s you know why? Because most of the Afrobeat music you’re listening to now came from the OG’s, so we have King Sunny Adé, Kollington, Fela, Kwam 1. Those were the OG’s. Their music is original. Every single one of them were excellent. So a lot of the music we are making then what is converted into modern acrobats now. So I’m not even going to put them in this category. I’m going to talk about those that are still in the system now. Those that are in the game, so who’s my favorite? [plays air drums] I’ll just say Wande Coal. So, you know why because I used to be— exclusive, this is crazy. I used to be in church and I used to be in reading camp growing up and backstage I used to see Wande Coal and his band do like the acapella with the way that they’d be dancing and singing. Church acapella. So I experienced this raw, you get me? Very raw and direct. So, now afterwards Wande Coal dropped his first album, Mohits. Every single song was crazy and I’m talking about cd time. Wande Coal changed the old sound and to this day when Wande drops his sound it’s crazy, so for me if you really need consistency, if you really need to look at the music artists in terms of what you expect from them over time and how they’ve been able to make their sound evolve, then I give it to Wande. I’m not the kind of guy that gives a sh*t, excuse my French. I don’t really care about every artist’s brand. If you like, do whatever you want. If you come out tomorrow and you start wearing like white clothes and saying you’re a religious musician, whatever you do it’s fine. But the problem is if your sound is sh*t. It’s the culture, like none of this is real. The only thing that is real is the sound.

Now, I guess in the music industry branding is at the top and I feel like some artists forget that component of authentic music.

I always tell people, if you want to be a music artist for sure, it’s a lot. If you’re a dancer and you just add the music component because you want it, you’re trying to complete your whole package. It’s fine for you to spend more time outside doing crazy stuff. But if you’re doing the music for your catalog, because you can’t be young forever, at some point you have to hold on to your catalog and say this is what I’ve done. You have to spend more time in the studio. I like my instagram to be around my life and what I do everyday. The only thing that shapes the realness of the sound is the struggle I go through. So, that’s exactly how I see it. But if you’re on Instagram everyday trying to brand, brand, brand, brand, brand yourself, put yourself on this platform trying to be the best brand guy, yeah at some point you can start to do numbers but don’t expect catalog.

I’m going to keep singing until I can’t sound anymore, until my voice goes, but the truth is at some point you will leave this world because this world is not meant for us forever.

I feel like the music will speak for itself if you’re truly, you know, caring about your craft and you’re doing what you need to put out quality music. Like you said, your catalog at the end of the day is what’s going to show for the things that you’ve done, not the number of people following you on Instagram. 

You can’t sing forever. I guarantee that one for sure. I’m going to keep singing until I can’t sound anymore, until my voice goes, but the truth is at some point you will leave this world because this world is not meant for us forever. So while we’re here, I’m going to f*ck your earphones up with great music.

I want to know more about your creative process. What is your creative process to create your music?

I’ve always been around my music equipment for example, let me give you a quick tour. I’ve always been around like a setup everywhere I go, even when I was actively into events because at some point in my music career I had to take a break from music to do like other things so I would do like events, management consulting, marketing. I had to do a lot of thing to get by. So, all through that period I got used to moving around my equipment and shoutout to my team, which is basically friends and my manager. If you just throw me in the studio and say Papy, make a jam, so that’s how I’m going to explain this. Because I make beats, mix and master… if I’m supposed to produce it myself it takes me a very long time to finish my beats. So most times I have producers around me that it will just be like a very good sound. I have instrumentalists that I work with in my band that will just play this play that, we all come together to make the sound very good. But my recording process… it’s a crazy story. I don’t have a process.

No process whatsoever? I need to hear this.

I don’t. I just go. But one thing for sure is I make sure I don’t make a mess in the studio. So what do I mean? I never record sh*t, except if I make a mistake. So, I like to process it in my head before I record it. If I have an idea for a song— and most times the songs you get to hear, like the finished product, trust me sometimes on one single beat I do like four songs. Then I play with my team I choose which one. And most of the time, trust me it’s pound for pound. Like, these songs be going pound for pound [does boxing moves]. I like to leave it that crazy because once I water down the process to you want to write the song first or you want to make the beat first then it limits my creativity. So, sometimes even when I have a very good idea I don’t use a beat. I just do like an acapella or something. There’s always been a gift in my own developmental processes, which is basically it’s taken me a long time to even get a little spotlight. What do I mean? In Nigeria if your music is really good, they’ll want you to be behind the brand that they can promote. So before now, I’ve always been the guy to know everything about the corporate aspect involved in my music, so you can’t give me a deal and I don’t understand it. So, once you’re someone that can understand your deal, trust me you can’t get a deal. Nobody wants to sign you. They want guys that don’t care about what is on the paper. So, that has given me time to put more work into the music because I realized that the fans kept on expanding. We started seeing numbers like one thousand, two thousand, three thousand, ten thousand. I’m not even talking Instagram, I’m talking streams. And it was based off, “yo the music is mad, the music is mad!” That means the only thing that should never change is the sound.

Earlier you said how in the Nigerian music industry they just want somebody they can get behind, but they want someone who isn’t well versed in what’s on the paper. I want to know, what is the creative or musical climate like in Nigeria because in the States I think of like— just where I’m from. I can only speak on where I’m from, but the creative community it’s kind of hit or miss because you have people who are supporting, you have people who aren’t. What’s it like within the Nigerian music world or creative communities? 

I don’t know. Like, Nigerians… I don’t know, man. I don’t know how to explain it, like there’s no structure, bro. No structure. Zero structure, like you get people who support you today, but then tomorrow they don’t. You have people that will support you, but they don’t even have enough resources to support you because they’re carrying a lot of weight. I think the general problem in Nigeria is the fact that there is a very high level of poverty, but Nigerians swag a lot, so the music industry… it’s crazy because Nigerian artists, you have to commend them. I don’t really care about people saying, “oh, this person’s not trying” or “oh this person’s taking bribe in registration” or you can’t really paint anybody black in a dark system. So, what am I trying to say here? The government is bad. If people are not getting money they will be pushed to do whatever. So, same thing with the music industry. You could have someone today that really messes with your sound and they do sh*t for you genuinely, but life can just hit them tomorrow and they’re like, “You know what, you’re not paying me. I’m not getting money from this thing. I’m out!” So, if you’re selfish then you start saying, “Oh, this guy’s a bad person.” I’ve always loved to make my music or have people around my music. I’ve always loved to keep the relationship going very strong even if I’m not achieving as much as other people are achieving. I just like to keep it very strong among those that are committing their time because in Nigeria people don’t even know what’s going to happen tomorrow.

I noticed that you released a series of EP’s followed by singles. I actually enjoy listening to EP’s, one because of the quick runtime, but also because it’s a quick listen and they’re usually really authentic. I Am Music, this is like one of the earliest projects that I saw listed on Apple Music when I was going through your catalog and of my favorite songs is “No Demon.” I just want to know a little more about that project. 

So basically the project was made out of some songs I lined up at that time but I wanted to put like a full body of— like an album, but I was just pissed off. I was unable to promote my music and I was making a lot of songs, so I decided to sit back and say okay see, well what are the songs you’ve created now that can represent what you sound like right now. Sat with the team, put together the songs. You heard “Don’t Speak” on the project? That was the song that made me drop the project. I made the song then I continued the story. So I moved to the second track, the third track and that’s how the project was done. I had like some things bothering me, they are not really my own story but you know people will tell you different stories everyday, what they’re going through, relationships, etc. So I had like a mindset then, I don’t know, I can’t really expose what it is, but it was a mindset of two people, that this person like this person, but you know the situation is really messed up because you’re in love with another person… that kind of situation. So, that’s how the jam came about basically. And I put out that project without— I didn’t do any publicity. We just put out the project, zero publicity, zero promotion.

And then in 2019, you released The Champ and I noticed that sonically it’s like a completely different vibe than I Am Music. It’s more trap, it’s more rap.

This what I do, I do like world music, which is basically Afrobeat, Salsa, Soukous… any kind of sound fusion together to make something beautiful, but I have my trap fans that go hard. So, I have trap fans that will not let me sleep, then I have like three hard drives of trap songs. I make a lot of trap music because like, at some point in my music career I used to be a rapper, but I didn’t start as a rapper. Just at some point in Uni I found people testing me so I find myself in the room like [imitates rap from university]. We used to battle a lot! So, that’s where the rap came from, the hip-hop culture came from. And to this day you give me a trap beat and I want to slay anybody. I don’t really look at Nigerian music industry when I’m making trap music. I try to record my trap songs and I try to make the kind of hip-hop that will break through any type of market, but I speak my mind so if you hear me speak English yeah, Pidgin yeah, Yoruba yeah, I don’t have like a language barrier in my sound.

That’s good though. It shows your versatility. And then of course, the 2020 The Greatest Sound [applauds]. That one there! Before I really just share my thoughts because I mean, you know my thoughts. I think you know my thoughts. I want to know, what do you have to say about this project? Because I have all good things to say about it. 

I was putting out a lot of singles that’s after I put out The Champ. I wanted to put out another trap project, but I was like hold on now all my fans are just trap music, some people like Afrobeat, some people like different sounds. You get? I put out this single called “De” and it was crazy, trust me. It went crazy so fast the radio stations started playing it, but one we didn’t go to the radio station with big bags of money. So that’s how the project came together. I couldn’t drop any in December because I was busy all through December, so first in January… bang! Then I was supposed to drop projects every month or at least twice every month that was the plan for 2020, but during the pandemic I had to be a little bit more sensitive because you can’t really just flood music because you’re on trend or just want to pop. People are going through a lot of sh*t in real life, like I’m talking about the earlier stage of the pandemic. So I dropped a song called “Saving” and the song “Saving” it came from my own personal experience. I was feeling really down, feeling really— like I was in a very crazy place when I made it. Put out a song with a very small video, put it on Instagram, that was during the quarantine. Before the quarantine I dropped as song called “Fire Back,” crazy trap. But now that we are getting out of this thing I think Lagos is— now that we are getting out of this thing gradually I’m still going to release at least six projects this year.

I was just about to ask you what do you have coming up, so six projects coming?

It also depends on how my fans react. So the next project is— it’s crazy trust me and it’s dropping very soon. And when that one drops I’m putting out a trap project, and once that one drops I’m putting out another project. So it’s going to be back-to-back-to-back-to-back. And the reason why it’s going to keep going is because I have projects lined up, so that’s why the projects won’t stop and I also have a lot of collaborations I’ve done. I think I’ve recorded the most collaborations in the past three months than I’ve ever done in all of my music career. So, like the last three months— trust me they love featuring Papyfire. Because before I— I don’t know it’s not like I don’t want no features, but the point I’m— n*ggas just don’t come to the studio. And for those that I send music to I’m subbing you guys right now. Just keep the song like “oh, I’m going to release this song when I have money to promote it.”

Oh, so they’re just holding on to it?

Yes! So they just sitting on great songs and shoutout some top artists that I’ve written songs for at least, I just want to release the music because I write also on the side. With my own music and what I would advise anybody to do and what I plan to do for the rest of the year is… let’s just release music. The world is listening, like yeah, when I finally started promoting at the scale I want to promote which is now. Because I’m making some moves that I think should work this time around. Once the world starts listening to my sound I don’t want it to stop and I don’t want other people’s sound to also stop because a playlist with just one artist is boring, so if Nigerian artists— and I’m talking to every single Nigerian artist that’s out there, Ghanaian artists, Afrobeat, UK, wherever you’re from every single artist, the goal in 2020 is to release as many songs as possible. Any platform that we need to release as many good songs to heal the soul as possible, any platform that can’t crash, I don’t care. I don’t even care. But the goal is to release as many good songs, now I hear a lot of people release a lot of jams that piss me off at times. Put some time into the process. If you have just four songs try to make twenty songs before you try to tell us new music coming.

It’s like you have a lot coming and you feel like you’re not doing enough.

I sit around the studio at times and listen to my songs and I just lose track and it gets to the point I’m like this this is crazy, everything has to be out. So, just ask me when you need music. You see, I’m a factory up here.

Look, I’m always ready, so whenever you’re sending it I’m ready to hear it.

Let me give you a little bit extra. This next project it has Afrobeat sound in it, that Afro Juju sound, Fuji, got some Latino sound, it got some Patios, heavy Patios. It’s crazy, I won’t disappoint you for sure.

Stay connected with Papyfire via Instagram and stream his music on all major platforms.

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