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A Nigerian street pop pioneer with a plan for world domination

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A Nigerian street pop pioneer with a plan for world domination

hsick of Nigeria, the current epicenter of Afrobeats and Afropop, Zinoleesky’s sound is now going global. ‘Personal’, the trap-laden lead single from his December EP ‘Grit & Lust’, recently hit the top 10 on the UK Afrobeats Chart, while also nestling in the top 15 on the equivalent US chart. You feel that such early success is just the beginning.

Choosing not to conform to the avant-garde nature of the country’s alt scene, which has seen the likes of Cruel Santino and TeeZee blur what Afrobeat typically is and isn’t, Zinoleesky’s music instead serves as a true celebration of the African continent’s present. pop sounds. In particular, he used elements of Tanzanian bongo flava and South African Afro-House and Amapiano, creating an infectious and original take on Afrobeats that no doubt helped fuel his rise.

Zinoleesky’s eclectic and worldly sound, which also mixes Western genres such as trap and R&B with Afropop, is widely defined as street pop. This new scene is yet another testament to Nigeria’s high musical IQ as its rising artists continue to add to the country’s rich musical heritage, with the Lagos artist fast becoming recognized as a pioneering figure.

Ahead of his UK headline tour in March, NME caught up with Zinoleesky to talk about the success of ‘Grit & Lust’, a pioneer in Nigerian street pop and boosting his ‘star power’.

NME: Your single ‘Personal’ entered the Afrobeats charts in both the UK and US. How does it feel to be recognized on such an international level?

“I feel good because it’s my first time [charting] and it’s nice to be recognized globally. This is one of my goals that I’m still working towards: I’m working, I’m fighting [and] trying to be global. I played a few gigs in the UK last year [including selling out London’s Scala], and I had some shows in some other countries as well. My next tour will be different because it will be a real tour, so I can’t wait for the experience.”

What was the process of making “Grit N Lust” like?

“I had already released an EP [2020’s ‘Chrome’]and I feel like ‘Grit & Lust’ is completely different. From the artists to the recording, the experience was beyond me and just crazy. It was a good time and I’m very proud. I used to make songs with [fellow Afrobeats newcomers] Oma Leigh and Aira [Starr], I wasn’t really used to working with other people—it wasn’t my mood. But “Last Time” with Lay was magic because he’s actually very, very talented: he can record a whole song at once. Seeing things like that is actually nice and I feel like it makes me want to work with people more.”

Credit: Press

Along with Omar Ley and Aira Starr, you are part of a talented generation of Nigerian pop stars. Do you feel proud to be in such esteemed company?

“I feel blessed because if you look at everyone, every artist out there right now is killing it… I feel like whatever I do represents who I am, my songs represent where I’m from, my language, everything. So I feel like we’re doing everything for [Nigeria] and show them our sound and it just all works well together.”

You started your career with a series of viral freestyles that you posted online. When you look back, how do you feel about your early work?

“I just decided to start making my own videos and they started going viral. [When the first one blew up] I was still in the hood and people were posting my videos all over the place. I can’t even begin to explain how crazy he was. I remember we were just out on the street and then people would just walk by like, “Look! It’s the boy!’. However, it made me believe in myself and [the videos] gave me more confidence. I knew I could do it.”

“Whatever I do is who I am, my songs mean where I’m from and my language”

You are considered a pioneer of Nigerian street pop. How would you describe this sound?

“Based on where I was coming from and the fact that the sound of the music I was making wasn’t like that [fitting into any of the established scenes]i feel i can be considered a pioneer of nigerian street pop. [Street pop] it’s originally Afrobeats, but it comes from the streets. The use of hip-hop and other genres [with Afrobeats] is what makes street pop so unique.”

Credit: Press

What are the key influences of your street pop sound?

“There was more to the Amapiano sound in my music [his go-to producer Niphkeys] because I never imagined that I would be doing Amapiano. I just wanted to record a song the other day and he played the beat [one of Zinoleesky’s breakthrough hits] “Kilofeshe”. I liked it and it became a hit. However, I never asked for Amapiano after that. If I do, it’s because I liked the beat or my fans want another one. I never set out to make that sound. I was heavily influenced by Kizz Daniel earlier in my career: I could really relate to him and his songs back then. I feel like I figured out my sound because of him, Mayorkun and the like.”

You are signed to Naira Marley’s record label, Marlian Music. How does this relationship develop?

“Since I signed with Marlian Music, it’s like being part of a big family. There is no one great leader. Everyone just works together and it’s like working with my brothers, you know? I see [Marley] as a mentor, definitely – even outside of music. After turning down a deal with Davido’s label [Davido Music Worldwide], I was getting a lot of suggestions and felt like I needed to calm down and figure out what was good for me. It didn’t feel right to me, so I stayed independent. I learned that there is a lot more to music than just dropping songs, like the promotional aspects and the life around it. There is more to music than music itself.”

What’s next for you?

“[In terms of] my goals, I want to do a lot of things – but they all depend on my comfort level and my star power. I can’t wait to headline some more shows and I think I’ll start working on my album because I want to release more [music] this year. I’m not trying to make any sound: I just want to do whatever comes naturally.”

Zinoleesky’s ‘Grit & Lust’ EP is out

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