Music

Interview: Jake Doe Discusses New Music And Journey As An Independent Artist In Nigeria

Jake Doe is an independent R&B artist from Lagos, Nigeria. When referencing his upbringing he explains, "it's a lot harder out here compared to western countries—structure, government, the system is just messed up out here. Young people, youths, do not have the right platforms to use or to make good use of their creativity." Despite this, his love for where he comes from isn't diminished. He speaks boldly of the talent that the great continent of Africa possesses, "the world knows Africa for Afrobeats, but it's not just Afrobeats... we can do almost anything."

“It’s tough because it’s a lot harder out here compared to western countries—structure, government, the system is just messed up out here,” Jake Doe openly admits when speaking on his upbringing in Nigeria, “Young people, youths, do not have the right platforms to use or to make good use of their creativity… we don’t really have much here so we just try to make the best of whatever we get.” Despite this, his love for where he comes from isn’t diminished. He speaks boldly of the talent that the great continent of Africa possesses, “the world knows Africa for Afrobeats, but it’s not just Afrobeats… we can do almost anything.”

Jake Doe’s sound is a rhythmic fusion of funk and Afrobeats, paired with smooth R&B vocals and relatable lyrics. All of which create a unique mix, showcasing just how versatile the African musical landscape really is. His musical upbringing played a key role in cultivating his alternative sound. “I grew up on great music, the best—The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, all the classics. Growing up in that environment I always knew that I could do this,” he says with pride. The belief that he has in himself makes it easy for anyone to do the same.

I love speaking with artists from different parts of the world because they tend to offer new perspectives, although certain experiences may align, I just appreciate the little things that make us different. Could you tell me about growing up in Nigeria?

Man, growing up in Nigeria is basically… tough—it’s tough because it’s a lot harder out here compared to western countries—structure, government, the system is just messed up out here. Young people, youths, do not have the right platforms to use or to make good use of their creativity as much as it is out there—I don’t know exactly how it is in America or anywhere else, but I know that what we read and what we watch, compared to that we don’t really have much here so we just try to make the best of whatever we get. It’s tough, it’s basically just tough, we have to work extra hard out here.

What part of Nigeria were you born and raised in?

Lagos. My parents moved to Lagos before I was born—before any of my family members were born. They started the family in Lagos, so I’ve always been here. Which is like a big plus for me because Lagos is where everything happens.

It’s like the New York or the LA of Nigeria—the big city where everybody goes.

Let me break it down to you like—America has New York for business, they have LA for entertainment, right? Lagos is not just New York. It’s New York and LA for Nigeria. Everything happens here—the business, the life, the fun, the entertainment—it’s here. Even people that are based in other states in Nigeria, they know they have to come here.

Has music always been your thing?

Always, yeah. My mom sings, not professionally though but she can sing really really good. I think she has one of the best voices I’ve ever heard. She just sings when she’s working in the house, when she’s doing something. My siblings sing. I grew up on great music, the best—The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, all the classics. Growing up in that environment I always knew that I could do this.

Do you remember around the age that you started to explore music? Actually like, oh, okay I know I have this gift, but I think want to be an artist?

I remember at some point, maybe when I was like seven or eight, I used to write songs. Not necessarily the best songwriting of course—I was eight. I think I was fifteen at the time when I knew that I wanted to start recording as an artist.

That’s an interesting timeline from being around seven or eight to fifteen.

In between though from eight to fifteen I knew old songs. I followed music a lot, studied artists, listened to everything that I could. I guess it was building me up for it.

So early on you mentioned how growing up in Nigeria you pretty much have to make a way because of the way it’s structured—it’s not easy, right? How have you maneuvered through the music scene in Lagos?

I wouldn’t say that I’ve maneuvered. [laughing] I’m still trying to do stuff my way because out here everyone wants to be signed to a record label. Everyone wants to get a big deal and want to get an apartment, get a house, stress free music. They have manager, they have PR person that does all the work. They just drop into the studio and do whatever they do. It hasn’t been that way for me. I’ve not had—I don’t have a record label deal. I’ve always been independent and it’s not because I’ve not had an opportunity to get signed. I want to do music my own way. I want to do music that I am totally comfortable with coming from the kind of person that I am. I’m not just going to make music because everybody’s making that type of music. I want to do my kind of sound. My kind of music for me so that even when I’m done ten, twenty years from now I know that I did what I wanted to do. So like I said, I’m still maneuvering because I’ve not figured it out yet.

I spoke with a few artists in Nigeria and they talk about how even as an artist, politically the country has its own faults and whatnot, but the music industry is also one of those political things so it makes it hard for people who may not be fortunate enough to pay their way through or they’re more aware of the fine print so they don’t want to sign their life away. I’ve heard a mixture of that and then what you said, you want to do your own thing and you don’t want to conform or be under someone else’s guidelines and limitations, so wow!

That’s basically it! There’s this thing about record deals. At some point I wanted to sign because of course, who doesn’t like a label doing all the dirty work, all the stress? You just sit back, relax, and make music—basically the dream. But I realized that most of the time the minute you start doing that you lose yourself and they start telling you what to do. This song has to be like this, this next album has to be like this, it should be about this—it’s not yours anymore. Basically, just singing it for them. At the end of the day, a lot of artists get depressed and just lose their core. They just don’t make music that they want to make and I don’t want that to be me. I’ve seen that happen to too many people, o.

So Nigeria is home to so much talent. Like, y’all have a lot of talent coming up out of there. You can’t ignore it. Predominately in Afrobeats—y’all are killing it—but I noticed that your sound is a little opposite that. I know you made a few songs that are Afrobeats-esque, but I also noticed that you have a sound that’s more reminiscent of R&B. I would love to hear your take on your sound and the type of music you create.

Yeah, R&B. But I’m also open to trying to step out. I feel like as an artist people try to—for example, you may like my R&B and all that—oh, don’t do anything else just keep doing R&B we love it. But as an artist it’s also very important that you grow. I don’t mind trying all this stuff and when I want to, on my own terms, at my own pace, get in the studio and try new sounds. I have a lot of producers that I work with and I have this problem—I don’t know how to say no to a good instrumental. You get me? Like, I don’t know how to do it. If it’s tight—it doesn’t have to be R&B—if it’s tight I just figure out a way to kill it, whatever sound it is. People have been telling me that it’s kind of somehow because as an R&B artist you should try to say no to some beats. You should try to say no. It doesn’t work out for me. I used to rap a lot—I used to be a pure rap artist when I started. I recently started making R&B in like 2018, but way before that I’ve been rapping. If I don’t sing, I’m rapping. Whatever it is I’m killing it, that I know for sure.

It’s more of like, instead of others who might be putting you in a box—it’s like if I like the sound I’m going to make a song. Regardless of whatever genre you’re labeling it as or whatever it reminds you of, it’s music to me at the end of the day.

Yeah, exactly. Basically, it means I’m expressing myself, right? So, when I say people know me for making R&B and I want to express myself in certain ways and I can’t do it because I want to make sure it’s R&B, meh—sometimes, you know because I make a lot of R&B, so it’s like even if it’s on an Afrobeats you probably will know, oh this guy makes R&B because the fusion of R&B and Afrobeats—Afro R&B. I have a lot of that coming soon. My next single is very Afrobeats R&B-ish. But at the same time, I think it comes from my musical background. I grew up around everything—Rock & Roll, Jazz, Soul, JuJu music, Fela, R&B, too. I used to have aunties that would come spend time listening to Celine Dion, Whitney Houston—and it would stick because I was a kid, right? My dad used to play lots of classics on the vinyl from Lionel Richie , Luther Vandross, ABBA, while my uncle used to listen to Hip-Hop and Rap mostly west coast. Even if I try to be in a box, I can’t. I’m willing to explore almost every part of that creativity I was blessed with.

That’s great. I love whenever I speak to artists who are genre benders [laughing]. It keeps you fresh. It keeps you on your toes. You get to show others that hey, you might not think that I can make this or you might want me to stick in a specific realm, but I’m going to show you that I can. I want to discuss your 2020 projects. The first one, TBDL and then we’re going to discuss what you just released, “Wanton Spaces”. Both great, by the way.

TBDL is To A Bedroom Devoid of Love—it’s like a short version. How did I create that? I was basically in my room and I was sad, so I just started freestyling and I made the first freestyle about—because a bird was coming by the window so I looked out and it was the sky. I just started freestyling about the sky—that was “Morning Sky”. I was recording all the freestyles in my room. I like reading books a lot and I freestyled about books, freestyled about my pillows and bed sheets and I just recorded them on my iPhone. Later, after that I went to the studio and had producers come in and they created beats to suit what I was writing at the time. So, it’s just the project that happened around the same period of time I was feeling down, I was feeling low. You can tell the whole concept of the project, the feeling that it gives is of someone that’s going through shit, but I tried to end the project on a high because no matter what we go through it’s how we view our perspective in that moment. So, at the end of the day the last song on the project, “Ja” is talking about how even though I was heartbroken inside I didn’t want it to affect my next relationship because I was still trying to give it the best that I can.

I think as an R&B artist, like for anybody you have to make that sad album. Like, we need it! [laughing] I love sad music. It’s crazy, but I just feel it! Your most recent release, let’s talk about that one.

Well, I’m super excited about this one because I have a project coming soon and it’s a sequel to what I released in 2018, Terms and Conditions. This is like Terms and Conditions part two. It’s really R&B based, but most of the singles I’ll be dropping—two of the singles I’ll be dropping will be Afro R&B and “Wanton Spaces” has like two songs in one. It has “Want” and it has “Spaces”. “Want” is an alternative Afrobeats kind of sound then “Spaces” is Funk. I’ve not released any song like “Spaces” before. It’s different—it’s not R&B. It’s a bit of Funk and Pop music. I’m excited because I try to—

Sorry to cut you off. That’s why I had to ask you about your sound or style because whenever I heard them I was like, wait this a nice little Afrobeats vibe, but then I listened to the other one and I was like that one isn’t really Afrobeats—I wonder what he’s doing. But after talking to you, you talked about how if the beat speaks to you then hey, that’s what I’m going to make. So now it makes sense!

Definitely! But this project coming you’ll see—I hope it’s my breakthrough project in Nigeria because it’s quality. I spent a lot of time recording, going back to the studio, talking to the engineer, working on writing, and sleepless nights. So I hope because all the songs to me are fire, so I hope everyone feels the same in Nigeria when they come out. Super excited!

You’re keeping it coming! You released two back-to-back—really, if you want to include 2018, 2019, and then you’re about to release a debut album. So, you wouldn’t consider Terms and Conditions a debut?

That’s a mixtape, it’s a tape. There’s Terms and Conditions the first mixtape, TBDL is an EP. This year I’m releasing “Wanton Spaces,” which is actually a single, not like a project. I know, it’s not just you. Even when I was sending my press release out, people asked, “is this a project or a single?” Like, is it a two song EP? But it’s not. It’s just a single and apart from the fact that I’m recording in the studio, me and my people, my team, we always try to look for new ways to stand out, especially out here in Nigeria. Most people don’t release a single as two songs. It’s something new that people haven’t tried out yet, so it’s exciting to be one of the first to try out here. J. Cole did it on his last release. That’s what we did with “Wanton Spaces”. It’s just one single and it’s off Terms and Conditions II. After this single it’s another one coming and I’m going to release Terms and Conditions II this year, so before the end of the year.

You have an album that you’re working on, so that’s great! I look forward to hearing that—can’t wait. How has it been creating during Covid-19?

We were on lockdown for about two to three months. Where I live, the studio is like really far, so I couldn’t get to the studio. Part of the reason why my project hasn’t released yet because if I was really close to the studio I probably would have been done with the tape earlier this year. I recorded most of the songs on the project before Corona struck—before I became fully locked down around late February, early March. So it was tough for me because I couldn’t record. I had instrumentals, I had beats, I had my phone to just write, but I couldn’t record. It was tough. Maybe if I was in the studio around that period I would have recorded even more.

I think for some artists it’s been a blessing—artists that have a setup in their house or they live very close to the studio and can always go and work. But for people like me it was torture because I couldn’t record for months and it was terrible.

We talked about the music industry and whatnot and how you want to do your own thing, but considering how the music industry is in Nigeria—do you feel like there is an opportunity for growth as an artist?

Yeah, there has to be because the way it is right now—it’s not just me, there are lots of talented people that are in my circle and that are popping. They’re doing solid stuff. People just creating new waves, trying stuff out, making great music and at the same time they get no recognition for it. The world knows Africa for Afrobeats, but it’s not just Afrobeats. We can do almost anything and people are—especially in Nigeria where I’m standing, where I’m coming from right now—I have friends that make great music. I have people who do exceptional stuff and they won’t stop. They just keep going and just keep doing it until there is a space for us in the industry, until they know that this is what we do, and until they recognize that the music is more than just Afrobeats. Growing up as a kid our parents used to like different kinds of sounds, you know? Not just Afrobeats, the usual. We have the market out here and we’re going to make sure that we get that market out, eventually.

I know of a few—not really even a few, maybe one or two other Nigerian artists who are R&B, but now I want to go online and try to intentionally find more Nigerian, or just African artists who are making R&B. I tend to listen to a lot of Afrobeats and that’s what’s dominating and it’s what Nigeria is known for with music because y’all are killing it. But yeah, now I’m interested in hearing how artists like you are doing other genres.

You like R&B don’t you, that’s your thing?

Yeah!

I can tell.

R&B and Afrobeats are like my top genres. I listen to of course like Hip-Hop and Rap, depending on the type. I like lyrical rap that has substance. I feel like Trap music and turn up music is fine, but it’s not what I consume daily. That’s my take on music.

I like your take. The same with me. I like Trap, but for turning up only.

The thing about Afrobeats is I’m a new Afrobeats fan. Maybe it’s a year now that I’ve been an avid listener of Afrobeats and I’m so grateful because you can’t help but be in a good mood. Even from watching the music videos it’s just like Black beauty and representation, good vibes. I always feel good when I listen to it. Since you already talked about what you have coming up next, which is your debut album, my final question is just how can we stay connected with you?

I have all these platforms. There’s Twitter, there’s Instagram, there’s Facebook. I also have a mailing list for everyone who listens to me and likes my music. I update it at least once a month.

That pretty much sums up the interview. I want to thank you for being patient with me. I enjoyed talking to you and I’ll definitely stay in touch. I’m going to be following your journey. You have a new fan. Keep doing you!

I also want to thank you for not just limiting yourself to America and American music. You also try to go all the way down here in Africa to document how we make our music and everything. It’s great.

Thank you!

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