Music

Interview: Nigerian Rapper, Marv OTM Discusses International Sound, Abuja’s Music Scene, And Two-Part Single, “Holy Grail”

Marv OTM is a Nigerian rapper whose international appeal is impossible to ignore. Located in what he refers to as Nigeria's rap capital, Marv OTM speaks highly of Abuja's music scene and how he's carving a path for himself. In this interview, he details his musical journey, creative collaborations, and new music.

Afrobeats is at the forefront when discussing Nigeria’s musical climate. However, Nigerian rapper Marv OTM is carving his own path by repurposing his musical influences into a niche sound that reflects his interests. As a rapper in Abuja, Nigeria, Marv states that he’s “actually doing something different than what they’re used to hearing.” Although Abuja is Nigeria’s capital, it’s often overshadowed by Nigeria’s largest city, Lagos, but it’s evident that Abuja’s creative scene is a force to be reckoned with. The emerging music scene is active with diverse talent. “I really like the music scene in Abuja, I’m not going to lie. It’s more about creating than trying to be on the big stage or radio,” Marv explains. “In Abuja, I think the music is more about what you’re doing differently because, in Lagos, they’re trying to make you conform to a certain sound—usual record label stuff. In Abuja, it feels like underground music—that’s the best way to put it.”

Having been introduced to Marv OTM through his single “Rain Dance Chain Dance”, it was evident that the Apex Village member’s international appeal as a Nigerian rapper worked in his favor. The energy of the US-influenced trap soundscapes within his music translates through his personality. He confidently shares, “Music is good if it’s good. Instead of trying to do what you’re hearing on the radio, you’re better off doing your own thing.” Marv OTM is sure of himself and the music he wants to create. Read more about his musical journey, his two-part single Holy Grail with rapper Psycho YP, and his upcoming releases.

I was initially introduced to you through your song, “Rain Dance Chain Dance” and I was like what the fuck, yo! Who is this dude, man? His flow—it sounded like . . . is he from the States or is this coming out of Nigeria?

Most of my music is inspired by American music. That’s what I listen to a lot.

Then that makes sense! It was a really good introduction. You made a good first impression. When did you actually begin rapping?

Seriously? I would say about 2018. The first time I tried rapping was in like 2013. That was just a thing. You know, when you and your boys are doing beats and stuff [beats on table], but was never serious. The first time I made a song and I was like okay, I’m going to drop a song—was three years ago.

That’s a good little time under your belt. You began rapping seriously in 2018, so through that transition—

By seriously I don’t mean taking it as a career. I mean in a sense of dropping songs because I used to rap and freestyle with friends and stuff like that.

So, what made you want to actually be like, I’m about to do this?

The reaction from people around me. So, I went to uni and now I’m with a different group of people. They’re like, ‘Yo, you’re good you know?’ and I’m like nah [waves arms in the air]. One of those days I went to the studio with one of my friends who used to do music—hopped on a song and they were so gassed. I was like, okay I might as well start doing that. My friend literally forced me to release the song and when I did I got a couple of people texting me. I was like okay, why not? It wasn’t planned, I will say that.

Then that means it was destined. It sounds like other people around you saw it in you.

It wasn’t me. I didn’t decide like, oh yeah I’m going to start rapping.

You were supported! That’s what’s up. Aside from rapping, what other things do you do or are you interested in?

I studied engineering in uni. Right now I’m into business and trading and different things. I’m not just a musician. Music is more of a hobby that makes money for me. It’s work, obviously because I still see it as work because it’s a lot too—but, I don’t like to see it as a chore or work. It’s something I really like doing.

You get to do everything that you enjoy and don’t look at as ‘ah’. I feel like if you view it as a job it might feel a little different.

Yeah, at some point last year I started taking it too seriously and I stopped making music as well as I used to, so I just took a few months off and was like this is not what it was before. I hate the sense of when you start to think yeah I have to drop music, this, this, and that. Also, at that time I didn’t have a team coordinating my stuff and everything was on me, so I started thinking too much. Right now I just record music.

Generally speaking, when discussing music coming out of Nigeria or the UK, Afrobeats is dominating the airwaves, clearly! Rap music is thriving, but what is it like being a rapper in an Afrobeats dominated country?

Right now it’s getting better, but I’ll say at the point where I started it was a thing where they look at you like what do you think you’re doing? They’re like, you think you’re American. Always that. [laughing] Usually, most of the people that end up rapping in Nigeria went to school outside and came back. The reaction—you think you’re not Nigerian anymore. There are no real platforms back here, so you have to build your own platform. You have to make your own shows and the main shows they do here you don’t see rappers. Most times, the rappers here turn into Afrobeats artists at the end of the day because they don’t have the same audience. That was back then, but right now I think it’s growing because the people my age—people younger than me—there’s a whole scene for people like that. It’s nice.

You just gave me so much perspective. No one has said that. I’m like damn! So, they look at you like oh you’re trying to be American. I appreciate the honesty because I’m learning things. I always wonder—as a rapper, that’s completely different. People are probably like, we ain’t checking for that! [laughing]

I’m not even rapping in a whole ass Nigerian accent on Afrobeats. It’s not like I’m rapping on Afrobeats. I’m actually doing something different than what they’re used to hearing. I think they’re catching on because every time I go to radio stations they’re like, ‘Oh for real, this is you?’ and I’m like yeah!

You’re giving people what they don’t know they need. It’ll grow on you. If you like it—cool. If not—cool.

You will always have your own niche crowd. You’ll have your own people that are going to listen to it, so if you don’t necessarily have to—obviously, you adapt to your situation, but I’m not going to change everything I’m doing just to fit in quote unquote Afrobeats or what they want me to do. I wouldn’t be making music I want to make. I would be making their music and I’ll probably be repeating what’s on the radio and that doesn’t make sense to me. Music is about creating.

But the good thing about music is music is universal. Now, granted in different countries and regions you have a dominant sound, but it’s just so universal because if they’re like you sound American or you do American style rap or whatever—I mean, a lot of influence does come from here with the rap game, but it’s so many different niches. You’ve got the Drill scene in the UK and you have the Trap scene here. Everyone has kind of adapted the sound to their own region.

Yeah, that’s what I was about to say. It’s so crazy to see what Drill has become because I just got into uni in 2015—that’s when Drill started popping off in the UK. Now, Drill is the thing in rap culture. The switch is so crazy! It’s just so crazy to me because I can’t believe six years later—after I had tried Drill like back in the day for fun—this is what everyone is doing now even in America and the UK. Music switches, so I guess it’s universal. There’s a time for everything and there’s a crowd for everyone.

Your music is super energetic and I feel like you flex your rapping abilities—

Yeah! That’s really what my music is about. I think about music as—for me, I make music to have fun and I think people should have that same reaction when they listen to my music. Obviously, I have my life experience and once in a while probably on my project you can hear me talk about that stuff. More time, when I’m making music I’m actively thinking. I’m making music for people to have a good time. A lot of my music is about me flexing. I want this. I want this car. I want this. So yeah, that’s what my music is about because that’s what I really like to personally listen to. I listen to music because I like to be in a good mood.

I can sense that! Now that we’re finally chatting virtually I’m like okay, it makes sense. Your personality is shining through and I can definitely feel the energy in your music, so like I said I felt good listening to it and had a really good experience. Who are you listening to outside of yourself and your friend group?

I love the Migos. Those are my goats. Right now, I think what I’m listening to most is Culture III because bro, bro . . . I don’t know how you guys feel about that one, but for me when I heard Culture III I was like, yeah I’m going to finish my project. I was like yep, yep . . . I love this! That was the best project I heard in a while. That’s my favorite right now. What else am I listening to? Let me check through my phone. Skepta—I don’t listen to a whole lot of music. I’m one of those people. I used to, but since I started doing music I don’t listen to a whole lot of music. All I do is listen and criticize music these days [laughs] so it’s not as fun so I listen to the same set of people usually, unless I hear something really, really nice. There’s that and there’s also the fact that I’ve been working a lot. If you don’t catch me listening to Culture III, I’m probably listening to Roddy Ricch’s project. I listen to the same shit over and over.

I tend to do that, too. Listen to the same thing. I know what I’m getting each time, it just feels good. But I listen to other music, clearly because—

I listen to Dave as well, though. Do you know Dave?

Abuja is more or less the rap capital of Nigeria. The good rap music coming out of Nigeria is coming out of Abuja most likely.

I just kind of got on to him because I watched Top Boy and then I found out like he a whole rapper out here. I literally just got put on to his music. So, you’re a part of a collective, Apex Village. Tell me more about this collective.

Apart from Ayüü, who I went to school with back in the day when I was younger—the first person in Apex Village I met was YP. I met him in the UK in like 2015. I wasn’t making music actively at that point, but he did. What I used to do was just learn and help them. His first actual project, I executive produced, so I was like, okay cool I’m making music. I came back to Nigeria because, back then, I didn’t come back often. I came back once and then met the rest of Apex Village’s people in Abuja. We just started recording music one summer and we’re like, let’s drop a project together. That’s literally it—wasn’t planned!

We all started recording music for a project. They had a plan. I think they had a plan, I didn’t. I was just having fun at the time and we decided—it’s not all musicians. We have photographers, we have producers, and we have graphic designers. So, we’re a group of people and we’re like nothing’s really happening in Abuja because at the time—even as of now, it’s a growing industry in Abuja. You know there’s Lagos and then there’s Abuja, so there’s not really much happening in Abuja, so let’s come together. I feel like if we work together constantly we can create a scene for ourselves, which has happened now. Moving on two years there’s a whole scene in Abuja, which I’d say people are tapping into. Abuja is more or less the rap capital of Nigeria. The good rap music coming out of Nigeria is coming out of Abuja most likely. I wouldn’t say there was a certain plan. We’re the only ones doing it this way in Nigeria or Abuja at the time. We’re a group of friends, so it’s not like we had some business deal. A lot of us do a lot more than just music.

Granted, you’re a part of a collective and you’ve established working relationships with other creatives. Is this the norm though? I’m guessing not because you said nothing was really happening in Abuja.

I moved back and I didn’t know anyone that made music outside of the people that were in the collective—so that’s a problem. There wasn’t much happening then, but right now, there is. There’s an active scene in Abuja. Not going to lie, I really like the music scene in Abuja. It’s more about creating than trying to be on the big stage or radio. In Abuja, I think the music is more about what you’re doing differently because, in Lagos, they’re trying to make you conform to a certain sound—usual record label stuff. In Abuja, it feels like underground music—that’s the best way to put it.

I’m going to have to experience Lagos and Abuja.

Nigeria is very different. It’s much more different than you think. If you came here you would really understand it. You’d see what is really happening. It’s not hidden, it’s very clear how it is.

I noticed that you release these two-part singles. Is there a strategy behind this?

Strategy? I think it became more of a norm for me because the first time I started making music on a serious note was in 2018. I dropped a song with YP in the summer and I dropped another one in December, then I went on a break for like a year. We did the Apex Village project in 2019—dropped it in February 2019 and I didn’t drop any music until about October. So, there was a year in between my song. I took some time because I was doing my Master’s at the time and didn’t have time for anything, obviously. Too much for me. So when I dropped music, I was like, I can’t just come back and drop one song. It didn’t feel right, and I wasn’t ready to drop a project. Funny enough, I recorded those two songs two weeks before they dropped. There wasn’t a plan. I did the first song, and I wasn’t satisfied. I did another song two days after and was like, let’s go! When I dropped that, it just felt right. It felt comfortable because usually when I release music I have this pressure of feeling—I’m confident in my music and I know it’s good, but I’m like, is this what I should drop now.

I’ve come to realize that when I drop two songs it’s like, okay, this is a pack of two songs, and they fit right. If someone doesn’t like this one—I know it’s good, but it might not be your taste, but you’re going to like the second one! Unless you’re hating on me, I’m sure you’re going to like one of the two songs! Something for everyone. What I usually do is, there’s one up-tempo and one mid-tempo. I’ve said this now, but if you go to every two pack now you’ll get it. Those are my singles. Moving forward, I’m not going to drop—if I drop one song there’s a reason in the background for that.

Cool little format. It was working! So, Holy Grail features another talented rapper, Psycho YP. It also follows your two-part release. How is it working with Psycho YP and how did y’all come together on the project?

I’ve been working with YP, like I said, since his first project. Actually, just shortly before that. That’s bro, so even when he does songs he sends them like what do you think? I do the same thing to him. Actually, the first song “Rain Dance”—he wasn’t even on “Rain Dance” originally. [laughing] The thing, I did the song and he was meant to do another song for me. I was like okay, ‘Yo listen to this what do you think about it?’ This guy sent me a verse like an hour later and I’m like ‘Bro, you’re mental, isn’t it’. He’s like ‘Bro just listen to the verse’ I’m like ‘Yeah, yeah, cool let’s save that!’ That’s literally what happened. He was so gassed when he heard it. He’s really quick as well. You can send him a song and in thirty minutes he sends it back like chop chop.

Y’all have a good contrast together. I want to hear more from y’all.

We did the first song in 2018, and apparently, they couldn’t tell our voices apart from each other. Now that I’m hearing it now, I’m like I get it. We really used to sound alike, but obviously, we’ve drifted a bit—I have my own sound the has his own. It’s very seamless. I don’t have to think too much. YP and I just sit down and make music. We did “Rain Dance” first and then “Suit & Tie” came during the lockdown. It wasn’t like I had planned to do “Rain Dance” and “Suit & Tie” together. They were two separate songs. YP and I have a lot of songs. Those two just fit right together, I guess.

You’ve been leveraging the success of “Rain Dance Chain Dance” and dropped a visual to it. How was it bringing that visual to life? I loved it!

Thank you. You see that video? You see how you see it? That’s how I saw it when I was recording the song. Like, this is my favorite video I’ve done because it’s literally—I’m not even joking this is what happened—I recorded the song and I’m like, if I’m ever going to release this song, I’m going to shoot a video. As much as my music is very different, “Rain Dance” is very different for me. I was like I’m going to shoot a video and I have an idea. I want this whole video to be in black and white. I don’t want to see no colors in this video. Black and white—and I just want to see my people rage. The whole dining table scene, that came from the director. But everything else, that was what I wanted. It came out right! I was so happy. I’m not going to lie, we had a lot of stress while shooting it.

Why were you stressed? Why you stressing?

Because I’m very fussy. I’m one of those people. I have an idea and I want it to be that way. I need it to be exactly what I wanted, so me and the director had a squabble like this is not how I want it. I was being a diva. [laughing]

You had a vision and you wanted to see it through. It was a dope visual, so your thoughts—your creative thoughts. It worked!

I think if you had heard “Rain Dance” without the video—I think the video makes you like the song more. It visualizes what I’m saying.

Videos are a great accompaniment to a song. The song itself, you was doing your thing! So, the video only enhanced what the song already had. It really just brought it out even more, so for the more visual people, they want to see some things. They’re like, oh shit! But you were already doing what you were supposed to be doing. What are some things you’ve done in regards to marketing yourself and your music that has aided in your growth? What’s working?

I’m not going to lie… I think nothing. [laughing] Nah, I’m playing! On a serious note, I don’t think I did as much marketing. I don’t be using social media on a regular day. I just check my messages, reply, and that’s it. I’ve been told by my team, ‘you need to do this, you need to do that.’ I’m like yeah, ‘you do that for me then.’ [laughing] But like seriously, I’m more into being an executive in music and getting behind the scenes. Right now I’m just trying to make music, so marketing-wise, I don’t really know much. What I see is that I have what I stand for. I have what I want my music to stand for and what direction I want it to go. I’m Nigerian. I make music, but I wouldn’t say I’m a Nigerian artist. I’m an international artist. I have a certain view of how my music should be. What I do is tell them what I want. How to execute it? I don’t know. You guys do it. That’s how I see it. That’s what I want. That’s the kind of situation I want. Marketing-wise, I don’t know. I actually don’t know. I’m not even going to lie.

It’s cool! I’m actually sitting here trying to think like… on the other end of marketing as the listener I think I came across you because I was already tapped in with Ayüü and then from there

See that’s what I’m saying. Even Ayüü tells me the same thing. He told me ‘You’re your problem, why are you not serious?’ I’m like bro there’s a time for everything. When my project drops then I’ll get serious. Everything before is just like a warm-up, I think. When my project drops, I can get active. There’s a whole plan for that, don’t worry. You’ll see it.

So, are we getting a full-length project? Because I’m rocking with the two singles

You’re going to get another two single pack and after that, the project is coming. Full-length.

Full-length! How full-length? How many?

Ten songs and above. I don’t really like long projects. If your project has more than fifteen songs I tap out and I have to listen to half today and the other tomorrow, and I don’t like that.

Ten songs. Okay. Alright! I’m looking forward to this. I love a quick listen, so that’s great and when the songs aren’t too long.

I see music as a whole for the listener’s enjoyment. There’s a whole art to it, but you’re making music for people to listen to you at the end of the day. And you have to take into account the way they think. Music has shifted because back in the day people could do long-ass projects. These days people don’t even have the attention span to pay attention to the artist. I’m at a stage in my career where as much as I have my “core fans,” but I’m looking to expand, and when you’re expanding, people don’t want to listen to twenty songs. They want something as quick as possible and when they like it then they can go check some more stuff. You have to package your music as a product. That’s how I see it. I’m not trying to drop music no one’s listening to, hell nah!

Like I was stating, I’m really eager to hear this full-length project because listening to the singles, it’s like okay, how is he going shift into a continuous project?

I feel like on the project you’re going to hear a different side of me. As I said, my music now is just about having fun, but there’re some life experiences. I don’t say life experiences like I’m going through—I’m not suffering quite honestly. Life is hard, but I’m good. I love life. You’re going to hear a lot more personal things.

Someone told me when I released Way Up North, the 5-track EP with Bawa—they’re like, I want to hear more about you. I was like, okay, cool but like you don’t decide what happens in my music, but at the same time, I thought about it like—[laughing] yeah, I kind of get that because, at the same time, it’s easier to connect with someone if you feel like you’re actually listening to what’s happening around them.

As much as I want to talk about what’s happening, I’m not going to lose the essence of my music, so I’m trying to find the middle ground between melodic music, bringing some more soul into the music, and still having the upbeat thing. The other day when I was recording, my friend—have you heard of Zilla Oaks? Literally, he came in and was like ‘Ah, OTM type beats!’ and I was like yeah I like that! [laughing] I was like yeah, we’re making progress. It took me a few months because of trial and error. I don’t produce anymore so I literally have to wait for my producer friends like bro, this is what I want you to do. We got there, finally! I’m not going to lie, I’m really excited because I’m doing something different for myself as well.

Musically I think it’s more about growing into my own space, being confident, doing my own thing, and knowing that regardless you’re making good music.

I’m happy for you! I can’t wait, I’m excited. Let’s go! So, what are some areas of your career where you want to grow in?

Musically? Grow? With this project, I’m trying more to create a sound for myself—create a niche. As much as I’m a rapper, I do trap music, and I think I’m more melodic than the average rapper. I’m more about melodies than the average rapper. So, I’m trying to find a niche spot for me musically and also crowd-wise, so I’m trying to grow into what I would say is my music, not the music I’m hearing—my own music. Also, I want to record faster. I take so long to record—I hate that! [laughing] But yeah, musically, I think it’s more about growing into my own space, being confident, doing my own thing, and knowing that regardless you’re making good music.

I feel inspired! [laughing] As you reflect on your journey from start to where you are now, what are some key takeaways?

The first thing I’ve learned in music is there’s no certain way to make music. Music is good if it’s good. Instead of trying to do what you’re hearing on the radio, you’re better off doing your own thing. If you’re copying this sound, when that’s not the popping sound and the next person pops off, you have to learn how to do it like this guy. Come on, you’re not really doing anything so I’m just in my own lane. The other day I was in the studio with a couple of people and we’re recording. They’re like, ‘bro, Marv, all this rapping shit you’re doing, when are you going to try Drill beats?’ I’m like, ‘bro, I did Drill beats like three years ago.’ [laughing] He’s like, ‘bro, drill is what’s happening now!’ I’m like, okay, I’m out here making my music. When I drop it, perhaps you’ll start doing my music. I’m focused on doing my own thing. That’s how I see it, regardless.

That’s the way to go because like you said, you’ll always be trying to jump on trends.

Yes. And I don’t think that’s the way to go because if you’re just following then how are you going to lead, eventually?

[snaps fingers] You are dropping gems! We’re almost wrapping up here. What does it mean to be Black and Gifted?

What does it mean to be Black and Gifted? You tell me, it’s your platform! [laughing]

You tell me because I’m asking you!

[laughing] Now you’re sending it back my way! I think there’s a whole lot of talent coming out of Africa. There’s a whole lot of stuff that needs to be done so that this talent can be harnessed and people can show what they have. I think there’s a whole lot to come, and it’s wonderful watching—especially Nigerian music—pop off so much internationally. It’s crazy how even someone like—I’m not going to call his name, but there’s someone last year I was just telling my friends, ‘This guy is really good you know? Like, why is no one listening to him?’ Just last month now he had one of the biggest songs in Nigeria. It’s so amazing! It means a lot to see the growth that’s coming out of it because obviously, we don’t have the same platforms as everyone else. Even in America, I don’t think—right now I would say the gap is closing a bit more as time progresses, but Black people don’t have the same opportunities as the majority demographic. It means a lot to see the growth and see people actually come out and realize you don’t have to follow this rule. You can do what you want, find a niche, and find ways to make money off your talents. I like to see people be independent.

I agree with you on the part where like the music that’s coming out of Nigeria specifically, it’s definitely growing. The gap between the US and Africa is definitely closing because I’m going to two shows here in LA—Wizkid and Omah Lay, so that’s dope!

How did you even get into listening to Nigerian music?

Initially, my friend—she was really into Caribbean music, but Maleek Berry was one of her faves and I was like okay, I was hearing it, but I still wasn’t tapped in like that. I was like okay, cool. I mean, I do have a few Nigerian friends and I dated a Nigerian guy, so he put me on—

I knew that was it! I kind of knew! Do you know why? Can I say this? When I asked the question, there was a smile you made and I was like I knew what it was. I was like I hope this wasn’t a bad relationship because let me just look away. Literally, that’s what popped in my head because you smiled. It definitely was a guy. [laughing]

[laughing] No! I was going to get there! I have a Nigerian friend, but I also dated a Nigerian guy and they both put me on to a lot of different artists. The guy that I dated—he put me on to Fireboy and that changed my life.

Have you heard Fireboy’s new song? Bro! Bro! I don’t even listen to Afrobeats that much, but bro that song is amazing!

It is! But yeah, I just got put on to Fireboy and then I got into Oxlade and then it started branching.

I feel like once you find that one, two, three then you find—

Yeah! So, it started with Fireboy at first, but you know of the big artists like the Wizkids, the Burna Boys. I’d say it’s been a good two years that I’ve been an avid Afrobeats listener and it’s crazy because when I started listening it became like ninety-five percent of my listening.

Do you know what happened? It’s one of those things you don’t know about something and you hear and it pops your head and you’re like shit!

It resonated with my soul though because I was going from listening to R&B heavily. R&B is all I really fooled with, but the Afrobeaats—it was like an element that made sense. I was like oh my gosh. I felt it.

I feel like when I hear it, there’s a lot of emotion in Afrobeats. Not lyrically, but even just in the music. It makes me happy. Afrobeats makes me happy I would say.

Exactly! That was my experience as a Black American listening to and experiencing Afrobeats. It was lively—and even the music videos. It was beautiful to see representation on screen. That was major for me as well. You’re seeing Black men and women in a positive light just having a good time. So yeah, that’s what it is and here I am. That brought me to you! I just love music, though. Period.

Yeah, that’s it at the end of the day because you wouldn’t be doing this if you didn’t really love music I would say.

How can we stay connected with you? He don’t be on Instagram and Twitter! [laughs]

It’s a thing where I’m working on I because I know the importance. It’s not just importance. I kind of enjoy it sometimes. It’s new for me, but the best way to stay in contact with me is through Instagram and Twitter. I don’t use any other social media. There’s that and then Apple Music and Spotify. I’m going to grow my Spotify crowd a bit more and do more work on there.

Spotify recently became available in certain African countries!

Funny enough, my song “Gully” has about 100K plays on Spotify and at the time I didn’t even know because I didn’t used to check Spotify. Spotify just came to Nigeria this year. But, you will hear me! Stay connected—try your best. Follow me on everything. But trust me you will hear me even if you don’t do that. Don’t worry. Trust me. Trust me.

LISTEN: HOLY GRAIL, SINGLE

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: