NATIVE Exclusive: The Making Of TROD
reshaping the edges of indigenous rap.
reshaping the edges of indigenous rap.
Five years ago, the world was formally introduced to TROD along with his single “Wild Mind,” a straight-from-the-hood joint that saw the artist spitting sporadically in his well-versed flows. While there was a buzz around him – both for being the younger brother of late indigenous-Rap pioneer Da Grin and for his 2020 debut EP ‘The LivinGrin’ – nobody had foretold the disruptive impact the project would have on Da Grin’s fans home and abroad. Living up to the project’s grandiose title established Olaonipekun Olatunbosun’s own psychedelic space within the Nigerian music industry. Currently, he’s reshaping the edges of indigenous rap.
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Fusing evocative melodies with experimental production, TROD’s sound is fresh, innovative, and immersive, challenging and surpassing the standard of Nigerian Hip-Hop that dominated the early 2010s. Lyrically, he is pushing boundaries with unfiltered introversions that deal honestly with themes ranging from loss to rage. Since the release of ‘The LivinGrin,’ he’s evolved his sound across several records, joining forces with friends and collaborators like Olamide on “Shey You Fit Go,” and Soccisk on “Steady.” Showing no signs of slowing down, TROD is making a solid comeback with his debut studio album ‘GrinFace,’ a body of work that is a testament to the rhyme skill and reverence he’s earned within the Nigerian Hip-Hop community since his emergence.
Across the 15-track masterpiece, he’s rapping, and surprisingly, singing excitedly about love, life on the streets, and childhood aspirations, amongst other things. “For this project, I wanted the songs to be a marching tone that keeps anyone grinding in their daily lives,” the 26-year-old artist tells NATIVE over a zoom call. “This project helped me turn my pain into music. It’s filled with charismatic anthems and I think it’s a work of art.”
In the days leading up to the release of his album, we caught up with the rap prodigy to discuss his brother’s untimely passing, stepping out of his comfort zone, and the making of his new album.
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NATIVE: How can you sum up the past 12 months leading to this moment?
It has been filled with ups and downs, and stress. My album was ready about seven months ago, so all I have been doing was replacing some songs with other new ones. Generally, it has been a little bit picky for me. I have been recording here and there in order to make the album a great one.
NATIVE: Before we delve into everything about your album, I’m curious to know how this brand and identity called TROD came about.
First of all, my name is Olatubosun Olaonipekun and I grew up here in Nigeria. A lot of people know that I am the younger brother of the late Da Grin who was a pioneer in the music industry, so music has been a part of me since childhood. When I started music in 2016, I dropped a track that was just on a random website, but I was still dropping freestyles back to back at the time on Instagram. I started rapping in Yoruba, but in a new school vibe, just like the same thing Da Grin did in those days. Then I started bearing the name TRODwhich means “The Return Of Da Grin” and a lot of people have asked why I bear that name. Da Grin started music with a feeling that everybody still feels to date. That feeling is called Grin. When he started, he used to call himself Grin Face, which happens to be the title of my album. Then he later changed it to Da Grin, which means that the feeling is still there and nothing has changed. It’s not like I’m bringing back Da Grin or his music, I just believe I can still bring back that feeling. I know that everyone can do music and still have the Grin feeling. This is just a way of keeping the feeling alive.
NATIVE: How did his death affect you?
It’s not easy being in that situation. I can’t put myself in Da Grin’s shoes because I can never fit in. But I’m trying to have my own shoes so that my brother’s shoes and mine would be identical. Da Grin has been wonderful to me and for me to have a brother that I could listen to and learn from is one of the most beautiful things ever. Everything Da Grin has ever brought to me is happiness and love.
NATIVE: How did you cope with a loss so sudden as that?
I was so young when it happened, and so the only thing I knew about death was that of older persons. I had never experienced losing someone young and close to me. I turned 26 some months ago and Da Grin died at the age of 26 too. He didn’t even celebrate his birthday before he died. His death affected me in school and it was crazy. Honestly, I can’t even put it into words because it still breaks my heart. I know that once people listen to the tracks on this album they would have an understanding of how I felt when I started making music. When he died, I cried a lot and I haven’t even gotten over it. But he did a great job for the short time he lived his life. He did something that can never be forgotten and I’m so proud of him no matter what. He was a legend.
NATIVE: But was he the major reason why you ventured into music?
Everyone in my family loved hip-hop. My dad would rent (out) musical instruments and also perform. Basically, I grew up in a musical household. So when Da Grin started music, nobody believed that he could make it. He was someone I watched from grass to grace because when he was doing music he was so crazy about it. I was in boarding school back then and he was my idol. Nobody would believe me if I had told them that he was my brother. We all listened to 50 Cent and 2Pac, and so when Da Grin does his rap in 50 Cent’s way, I would be like, “wow, this is crazy.” And when I was in school, I’d try to rap in Yoruba too. I was just doing what my brother did. People then believed that the music I was doing was cool and that it is something that I can do. So, music has been a part of me.
NATIVE: Being referred to as just Da Grin’s brother now, as opposed to you being an artist of your own, does it feel limiting?
At this point, I don’t blame people for whatever they call me. All I want is for people to listen to my song. No matter what you call me, you are still talking about the Grin, that same feeling I was telling you about. So if you tell me that I’m making music like my brother, at least I know I’m making it like a legend. Some people even call me Grin because when you see me on a normal day, you’d say that I look like Da Grin, and I can’t be mad at you for that. No matter how you talk about Da Grin, you would also talk about me. We are related. We are blood.
NATIVE: On making music officially in 2016, what was the experience like the first time you found yourself in a studio?
I have always found myself in a studio. Like I said earlier, my dad rents (out) musical instruments so it is something I see every day. But officially in 2014, the first studio I went to wasn’t even all that. We were recording with a live performance mic. I don’t know if I should call that a studio, but I actually had an idea of things that happen in the studio. I got used to writing freestyle and so getting to the studio, someone introduced me to a producer. I did a freestyle with a couple of instrumentals and we recorded the song immediately.
NATIVE: Now your debut album is set for release, what does the title mean?
GrinFace is basically the feeling for anyone who listens to my songs, Da Grin’s songs, or any other indigenous rappers. When CDQ came in, he also had this Grin feeling too. I feel Da Grin is the pioneer of indigenous rap in Nigeria, and so if you are an indigenous rapper out there, you’re having a GrinFace because so many people enjoying your music are Da Grin’s fans. Grin Face was also Da Grin’s first stage name. So Grin is like a feeling or even a genre in the music industry. Just like how you associate Afro(beat) music with Fela, when you talk about indigenous music, you talk about Da Grin.
NATIVE: Speaking of genres, do you typically fuses different genres for your output?
I am a rapper and a singer. I can do any kind of genre on any kind of song and still be giving you that grin feeling. I can do Afro, Hip-Hop Rap, and Drill and still be giving that feeling. That is why my album consists of different kinds of genres and vibes. No matter where you are listening to my music around the world, I still want people to know that I am putting my own feelings into the music, and that is why I can work with anybody.
NATIVE: You have always used your music as a form of resistance against the government, but it seems on this album, we’re not getting any of that. Was that intentional?
In Nigeria right now, it’s kind of a big problem when you talk about the government. I have about two or three songs about the government. I have talked about the government in the past, and they still do the same thing we have talked about in the music. I just didn’t put anything relating to politics or government on this album because I want to explain more about my music to people. I want people to know that I’m versatile and I can talk about God, love, money, ladies, and so many things. I just want to direct people to myself.
NATIVE: How did you decide what songs would go on the album?
The first track on the album is “Ise” which means “to work,” and this is because as a man, you have to do something for a living. Every song on the album has its particular theme that it is talking about. I talked about work, street credibility, success, love, and ups and downs. One of my favourite tracks on the album is “Questions” in which I talked about how wonderful God can be. I want people to know that I am not just one. Some of the tracks on the album have been a form of motivation to me and I want to share that motivation with others. The last track is called “Grinface” where I talked about Da Grin. It was actually the most difficult song I have ever written. Since Da Grin died, I have never picked up a pen to write a tribute because I do not know where to start. I have so many words to say that cannot even fit into an album. I just had to be in the mood to write that track and I want people to listen and relate to it.
NATIVE: How do you feel this album would add to your legacy?
This is going to be the most difficult stage, but I believe if you have done it once, you have done it. I also feel this is just the beginning and I hope that God will direct me on the right path. Though it took me a while, I feel that this album is going to change a lot of things on my end and also in some people’s lives. I appreciate everyone that worked with me on this album from Sossick, Psycho YP, T-Classic, Olamide, Idowest to Junior Boy. It’s been awesome and I am certain that people are going to love this album.
Stream ‘GrinFace’ below.
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