NATIVE Exclusive: Seyi Shay is unapologetic about who she is
'BIG GIRL', the singer's sophomore LP, is out now
'BIG GIRL', the singer's sophomore LP, is out now
Six years after her well-received debut album, ‘Seyi or Shay’, British-born Nigerian singer and songwriter Seyi Shay has returned with her awaited sophomore LP, ‘BIG GIRL’. Coming in three years after her last project, the ‘Electric Package’ EP, the new full-length has been two years in the making. It’s the latest marquee point for Seyi Shay, following previous years of establishing herself as an accomplished, independent, and evidently talented artist.
For over a decade Seyi Shay has brought us hits including “Murda” with Shaydee and Patoranking, the Wizkid-assisted “Crazy,” “Yolo Yolo,” and “Gimme Love (Remix),” which featured American R&B star, Teyana Taylor. She continues to push the envelope with the release of ‘Big Girl,’ her latest effort which features Wande Coal, Yemi Alade, Backroad Gee, and more. The project embodies all that Seyi Shay is, her deep appreciation for music and her use of sound to intimately capture experiences and moments.
While still going for an eclectic musical palette, on ‘Big Girl’, Seyi Shay leans into cohesion by expressing herself through a recurring sound and vibe. The album traffics in heavy doses of the nostalgic 90’s R&B sound, unlike previous projects with heavy emphasis on current trends in Nigerian pop. Her music is for everyone and anyone out there who is just like her. It’s all for her fans and new audiences who are yet to discover her. Seyi Shay curates music intentionally for females and males who are hard workers, hustlers, and those who have experienced heartbreak but haven’t been able to express it because they are seen as hard or alphas.
Seyi Shay’s love and fascination for music date back to the age of 15. Being born and raised in England, she found her love for music while singing in the high school choir. Her big break came when her high school choir was flown out for a Christmas tour in Japan which was also featured as her first paid gig. As the youngest in the choir and being constantly pursued by Japanese fans for their autographs, she soon fell in love with the rush of being famous
Although her mum never approved her urge to become a musician, Seyi shay went ahead to nurture her skills by pursuing music in her free time. She later met Harmony Samuels, a multi-Grammy Award-winning producer who has produced for the likes of Chris Brown and Brandy. Fast forward a year later and Seyi Shay was already attracting the ears of some big-ticket names including Matthew Knowles, father to the legendary Beyoncé who eventually scouted Seyi Shay and signed her to a girl group called ‘From Above’.
From there on, Shay’s dreams were becoming a reality. She was immediately whisked from the UK to Houston Texas and for the next three years of her life, she worked hard as part of the all-female musical collective, which famously led to her starring on the reality show called ‘Breaking From Above.’ After touring from Beyoncé and making it big with her girl group, Seyi Shay was enticed by her friend Sound Sultan to come back to Nigeria and pursue her singing career further. The rest, as they say, is history.
View this post on Instagram
On ‘Big Girl’ Seyi Shay makes it a priority to show all sides of herself and dive deeper with her messaging. She explains that it’s important for her to show her fans how much she has grown as a woman in this project.
She was also able to put all her heart and soul into the album by channeling her inner self. She explains that artists thrive off of tragedy. So she was able to put her heart and soul into the work because she was given the freedom to. For the first time in a long time since Mathew Knowles’s days, she was able to just be an artist while her team handled the business side of things. She didn’t have to worry about the other technical and business areas that didn’t involve the actual creation of the music and that gave her so much peace and satisfaction. It also helped centre all her mind and focus on perfecting the project.
According to her, she’s never been the one to be a follower and it is extremely important for her to be a role model for younger women “I think the main message is to work hard, grow and You’ll be happy. Being happy in itself is a message” says Seyi Shay. After speaking to Seyi Shay, I was able to understand her in a way that was different from what was portrayed in the media. Women in the industry are always seen and treated harshly when we try to show a little strength or sexual liberation especially knowing that we live in a man’s world. Since moving back to Nigeria, the culture shock she faced was overwhelming, but even with that, she still powered through and became a ‘Big Girl’ right in front of our eyes.
Following the album’s release, we caught up with the singer to discuss her journey, her ups and downs in the industry and how to succeed in a male-dominated space. Our conversation which follows below has been lightly edited for clarity.
NATIVE: What fed into your decision to release a project now? How was the process of recording and putting it all together?
SEYI SHAY: So the process was quite strange cause I don’t know who takes 2 years to record an album but Corona stopped a lot of things. The album that I had early last year after working on the songs for a whole year wasn’t reflecting my true state of mind at the time. Early last year, I also teamed up with a company called Jones Worldwide and they came to the project as A&R’s, heard the album and they thought it was okay but wanted me to dig deeper and bring more of myself. So they brought in a new team of producers and writers.
NATIVE: What message were you trying to pass across on this album?
SEYI SHAY: The key message I’m trying to pass across is that growth is good. I have grown into the woman I am today and I have learned from so many mistakes. Being yourself and embracing yourself makes you feel like a superhero.
NATIVE: Growing up in England and moving to Nigeria to pursue your music career must have been such a change. Would you still say that was a good idea and would you make any changes if you could?
SEYI SHAY: Honestly, I made the best decision for myself because when the group was at its end, I had to decide whether I wanted to continue with the group and work with Mathew Knowles. Then I met Sound Sultan that year who spoke to me for 6 months about coming back to Nigeria as a Nigerian Yoruba girl. He encouraged me that there was room for my talent and I could blow. He introduced me to Cecil Hammond who owns the promotional company, Flytime Music. He signed me and felt I could be successful. Then I moved to Nigeria and here I am. I think I made the best decision.
NATIVE: How would you describe your songwriting and creative process? What sort of topics or themes inspire your songwriting and music?
SEYI SHAY: I’m a lover girl and I love love. I love to romanticise everything and as an artist, we constantly live in this world of romanticism and we create things in our minds, whether true or not. In this album, I speak a lot about relationships. When I have issues with my boyfriend, the best way to get through it is to put it in a song. When I hear a track, I start freestyling about some guy or a situation I’m in and sometimes I flex about the money I make and the kind of woman I am.
NATIVE: Now that you’ve finished the album, What song(s) in the album took the longest to put together and mean the most to you?
SEYI SHAY: It’s a double-edged question cause speaking on a technical point, some of these songs were not complete until the features came on but from a personal standpoint I would say “Glowana” because I wrote the song from scratch. “Glowana” was a very real and true situation about the glow you get when you get out of a bad relationship or situation. For most women when we let go of the baggage, after a few months we just have this glow up and start looking and feeling a lot better. That is what happened to me, I got out of this bad relationship and it was bad from the start because it was not for love but personal interest, and when I got out, I started feeling like things were working out for the good. The song took three days to write and it never takes me that long.
NATIVE: I watched ‘Lara and the Beat’ when it premiered on Netflix and I must say you did a fantastic job. When did you discover your talent for acting? Is this something that you’d like to pursue more?
SEYI SHAY: I did a bit of acting in high school and I studied performing arts during my A levels. I’ve always been a bit of a drama queen but I never expected myself to be in cinemas. It was an honor and a nice gesture for Biola Alabi to reach out to ask me to be a part of the movie. I was typecast but did a lot of acting in the movie. I’m not Lara but I had to put Seyi Shay’s personality into Lara. I would love to do it again
NATIVE: What was the whole filming and acting process like and what would you say were your challenges?
SEYI SHAY: It was hard memorising the lines, being on set for 18 hours, filming for 3 months although it was meant to be 6 weeks because the crew we used were flown in from LA and they love to be thorough and specific. It was a real crew of 180 people and a real movie set. It was tiring as hell. Looking back now, I wanna do more movies. My agent should put it at the top of the list for next year.
NATIVE: Let’s switch gears a little bit and get more personal. So something I’ve always admired about you is that you’re unapologetically you regardless of what others may think. What’s your secret ingredient to staying self-confident and assured?
SEYI SHAY: I don’t think anyone should be apologetic for who they are. I will never advocate for playing yourself down and I’ll tell my girl child that you’re perfect just the way you are and love yourself. I had to fight a lot of demons and rejection and I am still fighting these demons whether from family, from my dad or friends or exes, and even myself on whether I’m good enough. I’ve been put in some grueling experiences being managed by such a militant man like Mathew Knowles. My worth has been questioned being the only back girl in an all-white girl group. The minute you rise above those experiences and give everything you’ve learned and been through you’ll become stronger and don’t be sorry for them and know that you’ve been through those things for a reason.
NATIVE: You’ve been a big advocate of loving your body just the way it is, why is it important for you to own your autonomy and sexuality in this way?
SEYI SHAY: My thing is, I love myself, my scars, and my wounds but not in a pompous way. I’ve been a size 14 and a size 8 and as I get older, I’ve realised that there are ways I can get my ass bigger and if I wanted to get my boobs bigger I could simply get surgery but if I do all this and it then goes out of fashion I would feel very stupid. In the 90’s it was a trend to have short hair, a small waist, little boobs, and be supermodel looking. I’m a big fashion head and I know that in that world your body is your temple and time changes, now people are getting surgeries and injections. When the slender body comes back into fashion I don’t wanna be caught slipping and everyone else is gonna be looking big. I look at the fact that people see me as a timeless person that stays relevant. I just stay in the gym and eat high-protein meals.
NATIVE: Have you faced any particular hurdles to get to this stage in your career?
SEYI SHAY: The Nigerian music industry has always been difficult, especially the disparity between the male and the female artists, and when I came into the scene there were only a few of us and many of the guys. Women got a fraction of the pay compared to what guys got. Everyone wants to sleep with you as well. I’m from London where a lot of this stuff isn’t in your face and you’re rewarded for your talent. The culture shock of moving back was so massive and I was set back a lot cause it took me time to adapt and catch up to what was acceptable in my culture and industry.
View this post on Instagram
NATIVE: You’ve been in the music industry for over 10 years, what have you learned so far about getting ahead in the game? What advice would you give to other women starting out in the music industry?
SEYI SHAY: You have to think and move like a man. Always be a woman and a bad bitch but you have to also think like a man. This industry is a man’s world. Thankfully times are changing and more women are becoming more instrumental and taking seats of power but we haven’t fully moved out of that it’s a man’s world phase yet. We are still fighting for our rights not to be sexualized or scrutinized or judged because you’re a single mum or want to be sexy in your videos. Men are still favoured in the music industry. You have to think like a man to get ahead in the industry but always remember to be kind.
NATIVE: If you weren’t a singer, what career path would you see yourself venturing into?
SEYI SHAY: Could have been a lawyer because I love to win arguments, could be a teacher because I also love to share knowledge, and could be a chef because I love to cook.
NATIVE: Are we expecting anything else from Seyi Shay soon?
SEYI SHAY: You have to wait for the big girl video and lots of surprises coming. Headlining two shows in Central London in February and the tickets will go on sale from the 20th of December.
Stream ‘Big Girl’ below.