We’ve all heard it, we’ve all been in the party and tried to hum along to the words. We’ve all asked our friend who this kid is.
I managed to jump on FaceTime with him while he was back in Nigeria to find out some more about the starlet that is – Rema. After a high profile breakout from the tough streets of Benin, I wanted to find out how the young sensation was juggling being a household name at the tender age of 19, with life in the harsh streets of Nigeria. Owning such an innocent presence with his sound, it’s not to be mistaken for an easy childhood. Creating music that makes people happy and forget about the stresses of life, for 3-minutes, is Rema’s release from his own hardships. Completely aware of the life-changing moments that are closing in on him daily, he remains totally humble with every experience and achievement. We linked up when he arrived for his first visit to London and shot the following editorial.
So let’s start with that boring question! How long have you been making music?
I’d say since I was 7. I started taking it really serious when I was 11, I was playing around since I was 7. But yeah, 11 really.
I read in some of your other interviews that you had some traumatic occurrences at an early age. Do you feel like that made you a certain type of person? Did that give you more of a need to make it?
Um, where I came from, it wasn’t easy, you know? Growing up, a lot of stuff happened in my life, that actually shaped me into who I am today, and shaped the sound that I have, and put out there. The city where I’m from in Nigeria, the music industry over there isn’t very fun to work with.
But that’s why people appreciate me a lot, I come from that kinda’ city, I’m so young and I did it, know what I’m saying? My life’s been crazy, like, there’s a lot of stuff I can’t actually say but – I’ve been through a lot you know? A lot. I’m glad God brought me out of there and put me on this path.
At the age of 11, how were you going about making your music? You know, was it home studio, was it a real one?
Oh, first time I went to the studio? Actually, around my hood there was actually a studio there. At this time I’d never been to the studio but I like music, I liked making music. I just wanted to know how much it was for a studio session – so I could go home, and try and save some money. You know, I had a little change with me. I went there and I go. “ I just wanted to ask, how much is a studio session here?” They were like, “ Yo! You look so young, what do you wanna do?!” I was like – “I wanna rap yo!” So the producer just told me to get in the booth, ha. I recorded my first song for free.
Is that song out there?
Naaah. But I played it for my friends and was like, you know – this is my first song, yeah.
That’s a crazy story. So around this time, you’re really young. Are there people around you making music? Were there any influences in your immediate environment?
Um, young people around me making music? Yeah, I mean I had some friends in church. Who also wanted to learn how to rap, so you know – I taught them some things I’d learnt from my experience. In school we had a bunch of instruments so yeah, we just learnt together, how to do things together and how to vibe together. It added to my experience, I’m really attracted to sound. Anywhere I hear beats, music – I like to go there, I like to know, I like to learn. People say I actually got smart real quick, real early. Yeah man. Times were hard, I had to like – I had to feed my family you know. So I had to find my passion and come out with my shit right.
I feel you bro. I fully hear you. So you grew up in Benin City right?
Yeah Benin City.
In your experience what was it like growing up there as a young person? It’s a real tough part of Nigeria.
Yeaaah. Benin City is real tough man, really really tough. Music especially over there, if I take my sound over there. They won’t really understand until you come at a particular angle, or you’ve got a team that can actually help you and put it out there for you. Even having a team that can introduce the sound for you properly, like my team did. When I put out my first E.P, it was different sounds. I’m not the usual sound, the usual Afro-Beat actually. I came with my own new wave and without my team I wouldn’t have been able to put it out there. People wouldn’t have appreciated, because my team actually gave it that push. But in Benin, getting money to put out your music – really tough bruh. Really tough. People back there didn’t have enough force to push it out there to the whole country and whole world. My songs, they’re played everywhere in the whole country. And across all the borders.
Man, it’s crazy. Not long after I got in contact with your team, I came back from the studio late one weekend and there’s a block party going on across the road. Literally just over there. (Shows him)
Ah yeah, that’s crazy bro! They were playing my shit?!
This is at 4AM, in East London. English people singing it word for word, or trying to hahah. Everyone just mumbles until Dumebi.
Hahaha, bro! You see, it’s crazy. People don’t know the words but they’re still trying to sing, still vibing. This is what I make music for.
I think it’s mad because you’ve come at a time where Nigerian music is blowing right now, as well as being a massive part of it. With the likes of Burna Boy, David’O and yourself not only being at the top of the African music game, but pushing global barriers too. How does it feel to be one of the few artists from Africa right now in this position?
I feel really great hahah, I didn’t even expect it. I didn’t expect it at all, I feel like the the mentality of artists in Nigeria is that you have to be in the industry for 1 or 2 years before you can start actually crossing borders, before you start going out there and really doing stuff. David’O has been in the industry for 7 years. Burna Boy has been in the industry so so long, like I just came up 2 months ago, 3 months ago.
Haha, it’s a different age.
Hahahah, it’s actually crazy. I honestly didn’t see it. My team actually thought this would happen in two years. They asked me where do I wanna be, I’m like 2 years is too far, come on. Let’s just believe, the sound is different, everything just clicked. It’s sad that some people don’t wanna accept it, because they feel like I did it too quick, or didn’t work that hard to get my music out there to the world. I actually get quite a lot of hate, because, ah I’m too young, or I’m this height, we can’t give him kudos because he did it so quick. I never expected the reaction my music got when it first come out, no artist has got that reaction in the first release week in Nigeria before. Everyone was surprised that the music gets played everywhere. People had no excuse not to vibe to it, if the rest of the world loves it, why can’t Nigeria. People over here were actually kinda stubborn in the beginning. Because “I’m a small boy”, “how old is he” all of this shit, nah man. I really did it. I feel really great, I’m glad I’m young and I’m giving a lot of people out there, a lot of talented young people out there – hope. Everyone thinks they need to sound like David’O or every other person to be massive, to get out there – to be mainstream. I just did my own stuff, it was crazy, I don’t even like the fact they compare me with other great artists in Nigeria. That’s what the fans do, but I’m just myself and I’m winning.
Rema by Cosmo Webber
You came out with your self titled E.P, there was another project that was supposed to drop though right before The Freestyle E.P? Bad Commando?
Ahahah, yeah yeah yeah! How do you know about that!? (Room laughs) It’s hard bro, that shit is crazy. But it’s not out yet! The Freestyle E.P is out, but Bad Commando is not out yet.
I bet I know why you put out Freestyle instead. You waited because Bad Commando is tooo good. The people aren’t ready for it.
Yeah! Everybody wants to drop music now because they see the young generation is actually taking the wave. I’m just observant you know, I’m not bragging – I believe in my sound. Let’s give the industry some space, let’s see what others have been working on for a while. So yeah, I’m just there. The songs we put out this year, I recorded all of them last year. So, there are enough songs, I’m not worried. I just drop E.P’s. A lot of people, when they get one song, they just throw it out there. I believe in my sound and I believe in my projects, I just like to keep it that way. I have a lot to put out, a lot of messages to put out. So that Bad Commando E.P, nah nah it’s still on hold they’re not ready.
At this point, you’re one of the biggest, most popping artists in Nigeria, if not the world. What’s it like having people from all over the world watching you. It must be crazy having people hit you up from America, from the UK.
Yeah, my head is blown. When I got a DM from Lil Nas, I was like what the fuck. You know, things are just happening really fast bro. Like really fast. I don’t even know what to say. Some of the things that are happening right now, I thought they’d happen in like 2 years time, or 3 years. But they’re happening. I feel great, I never imagined these DM’s, I remembered when I had like 500 followers, 1000. For it to all happen this fast, crazy.
Is there any artists or producers that you’ve worked with since gaining recognition on a big scale?
I haven’t actually worked in any collabs.
But you have you been travelling a lot?
Yeah I’ve been travelling around Africa. But back to the collabs, there’s a lot of great, top artists that have hit me up that want to put in work together. But my teams strategy – *Kisses teeth* we have to save the vibe, we have to observe and know the time to put these things to work. I just hope that any collabs I get into, people actually know what I’m heading for. My mind is out there, my mind is straight to Mars, we need something really spiritual, really out there. We just want to do something great, my team is just strategising, looking through the list of collabs and seeing who I want to work with. A lot of great artists, like a lot of them. But for now, I just want to prove to the world, I’m young, and I can do it on my own. Sometimes people just think, now I’ve got this big hit, let me put someone on it and blow it up – even Dumbei.
That’s one thing I always say about Drake, every time there’s a new up and coming star, he’ll work with them which in turn keeps him relevant. It makes people wonder if they blew because of Drake when they definitely would’ve done it alone.
Yeah exactly bro! I just wanna be myself. I know all the big artists love to jump. In the DM’s, you get surprised and all but I respect the fact that when I jump on a song, I come through heavy, I trust my own vibe, I don’t say ‘yoyoyo, I think this guy should be on this and it’ll be so big’. My label actually respect that fact. They’ll try and tell me that this person has their key to London, to Spain, but I tell them – my songs gets played in those countries, in those cities, on its own. We didn’t go to anyone for any keys yo, we can do this, I believe. I don’t really trust collabs, I love these great artists – I’d really like to work with them, no lie.
Rema by Cosmo Webber
It’s good to know that you’re more worried about focusing on yourself, over working with hot artists. Speaking of, when I was preparing for this call I saw somewhere that you like to wear hoodies, even when it’s hot because you’re into fashion. Is there any brands you’re into or anyone who influences your style?
Oh yeah, I like Puma, Nike. I like Dior, I fuck with Dior, I fuck with Louis Vuitton, yeah. I like Balenciaga, I don’t really fuck with the shoes, but I like the clothing line. I like ASAP’s style, ASAP Rocky. I like streetwear, I really fuck with streetwear. A lot of my team tell me, “Come on, wear a t-Shirt.” I really like hoodies because I feel like I’m being covered, I don’t want people to see me, I like being in my own zone. I enjoy wearing big clothes. When I perform I actually have a style I like to dress, let’s say like a Commando, militant style. Stuff like that, it’s dope for my performance – and the mask, the ski mask – the people love that shit.
You’re literally just a down to earth guy, you don’t act like a superstar after speaking to you. What’s it been like processing all of these different people, artists, labels and attention as a 19 year old.
It’s all crazy yo. Like, I’ve learnt a lot from a lot of from artists, a lot of legends, that have been through a lot – you know? I’ve seen some people that get really famous, that can’t actually live a normal life, they can’t be – themselves anymore. Sometimes I actually think, when I become a star, how can I maintain these same behaviours. How can I, just be me. I respect Billie Eilish for that, she’s cool, she’s just herself, she’s enjoying her fame and stuff, you know? A lot of people hit me up and ask, “You don’t wear designers, you don’t put your lifestyle out there” I don’t want to put young people out there under pressure. Sometimes I wear the Louis Vuitton, Gucci – on the low-key. When I want to go out regularly. When I go to shows I don’t wear designer, I fuck with the guys in the streets who make these kinds of T-Shirts, (Gestures) I go out there to support them. I’ll be like “Yo-yo, you have T-Shirts?” I pay them money, and ask them to get me a sack of T-Shirts.
I just wanna promote the people out here, I’m not about the big brands and everything. I know how I felt when I saw the these stars buying big cars, popping bottles, I’d be like, what am I gonna do. Forget this ‘ish, I want money. It’s not about the money, or how they got there – it’s about what they’re enjoying. They don’t care about the music. A lot of boys, they want to be like David’O, but, they don’t do music, you know? So they feel pressured, they want to live the lifestyle. So they go do crazy things, become criminals, stuff like that. I see a lot of young people are watching me and you know, I just wanna take it easy. Even if I get a car, keep it on the low-key, I don’t post. Just keep quiet and be myself. The only reason people know me is because of the music, so why don’t I just keep giving them the music and leave my personal life?
In the western world, as soon as a lot of people get money, the first thing they think to do, is show everyone that they have money – know what I mean?
Yeah, forget that right. Like when my label gave me my first chain, a lot of artists were like, he already has money – or this or that. I tend to balance it, a lot of people feel threatened by my confidence and the way I just came up. We just have to win, and I know being humble is good. I don’t want to judge myself on how humble I am. But I know for sure, that I’m very confident, and where you’re too humble people try to step on you. I don’t wanna start being too respectful or kissing asses – I’m out here to take the thrown. If you have the crown give it up – or we’re taking it by force bruh.
Rema by Cosmo Webber
I don’t wanna keep you much longer, because I feel like we’ve covered more than enough. Is there any advice you’d give to up and coming artists like you once were, that want to be heard on a bigger scale?
Firstly, just be yourself – and don’t follow the trend. Be your trend! Just be you bro, don’t follow these guys. Sometimes these vibes that people put out, is someone else’s vibe. Someone who was in the studio with them, that doesn’t have the money to put out their music so they give it to these big artists. People look at these stars and hear these sounds that the artist has taken from people who don’t have money, to promote their own sound. By the time they have the money, people think you sound like this guy or that guy, but they don’t know that it was their vibe all along. Save your vibes bro. I like to be careful, that’s what my manager told me – be careful with your vibes.
Another thing, be confident, be humble but very confident. Anything that happens right now, people tweet it for example – about their great pizza or anything. Don’t do that, maintain mystic. People wish they knew what I was doing right now – they wish they had my snap. They wish they could see what I was doing everyday. Right now I have my song going all around the world, and on my Instagram I just have 63 posts. I don’t even like to post that much. My label knows that by now, I’d have 20 posts, because I’m not that guy. I just want them to hear the music and think “Wow, who’s that guy.” DONT get carried away by money. Whatever you’re doing, never tell anybody. That’s why I was surprised that you knew about Bad Commando E.P. But I trust you, so it’s okay. (Get’s rushed by management to wrap up interview) I’ll wrap up in 5 minutes!
When I was getting signed, I didn’t tell nobody, I just left my city. Some big artists, they’re scared of you. They ask what you’re dropping, they ask to hear it. When you play it for them, they know what’s coming next, and they know how to approach it. Some people go back, change their verse, chorus – DON’T tell them nothing. SHOCK them.
Thank you to everyone that made this possible, this was a moment.
Photography by Cosmo Webber
Styled and Produced by Morgan Lockwood – James