After a decade in the making, culminating in this year of his life, it's time for the new King of Sounds & Blues. Ololade Asake has arrived.

Words by Dennis Ade-Peter


Words by Dennis Ade-Peter
Photography & Creative Direction: Manny Jefferson
Creative Direction: Seni Saraki
Styling: Momo Hassan-Odukale
Make-Up: Onome Ezekiel
Production: Jimi Adesanya & Leke Alabi-Isama for JM Films
Art Direction & Production Design: Desola Falomo
Motion Director: Director K
Videography: Muhhammad Atta-Ahmed, Henry Young, Idris Shokanbi, Tunde Anjorin
Lighting: Stanley Ibegbu
Sound: Sunday Adesugba
Production Assistants: Yusuf Adedoyin, Benjamin Edem

Editor-In-Chief: Seni Saraki
Deputy Print Editor: Adewojumi Aderemi
Head of Content Strategy: Damilola Animashaun
Managing Editor: Tami Makinde

Asake wears boxing shorts by Homecoming x Patta, sunglasses by Bottega Veneta

Asake wears Ashluxe, sunglasses by Moncler

They say time and tide waits for no man. Well, right now, Ahmed Ololade Asake is no ordinary man. You might have heard different nominal variations of time being a mere suggestion to black people; there's CP time (Coloured People's time), there's African time, there's even Nigerian time, but all of that pales in comparison to Nigerian celebrity time. Seconds tick forward, minutes count, hours pass, but everything and everyone in the warehouse location of this cover shoot waits for one man - The Man.

According to the call sheet, 11AM is the official prep time, while the shoot is scheduled to start about an hour later. At 2PM, this cavernous space is largely sleepy. While the majority of the crew members peer into their phones, a speaker is playing what sounds like a shuffle of Apple Music's Nigeria Top 100 chart, blaring out the biggest Nigerian Pop songs right now. The enigmatic photographer and creative director, Manny Jefferson has a pair of black headphones attached to his ears, firmly planted across his head, but it's obvious he can hear everything as he glides from one set to the other, ironing out the technical kinks to make sure the images to be captured match the vision in his head.

There's something of a coordinated restlessness to Manny's movements - an anxiousness for things to really get going mixed with an understanding that, ultimately, things start when they start. It's a general reflection of the environment's mood, even though almost everyone else is stationary. There was obviously an expectation that Asake would keep everyone waiting, but maybe not for as much as three-plus hours. Seni, NATIVE's CEO & Editor-in-Chief, says the singer had a long night, which means he's having a groggy early afternoon. The clock says whatever it says, but time does wait for some men in some instances - like when you're the hottest breakout star on the continent, at the centre of your first cover shoot.

“I just blow but, omo, I know my set,” Asake sings on his midsummer hit single, “Peace Be Unto You (PBUY)”. It’s arguably the most self-aware lyric in his fast-growing catalogue, a congratulatory moment that’s deeply reflective in its terse glory. To fully grasp its significance, you have to know that Asake and his music – to which the Nigerian Pop mainstream has currently devoted its undivided attention – didn’t just emanate out of the ether. Like several jokes you’d find on the internet, he wasn’t genetically engineered in a lab by Nigerian Rap legend and record label boss, Olamide.

As far back as the mid-2010s, Asake was an aspiring artist with parochial hype. At that time, Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) in Ile-Ife, Osun State, where he studied Theatre Arts, was the stomping ground for his local celebrity. Circa 2015, his campus-hit song “Joha” was a fixture for students and locals that made up the OAU community. Aligning his first creative inclination as a dancer, the song came packaged with its own set of dance moves, enhancing the record’s success and immediately placing Asake in the echelon of student celebrities that headlined all the local shows and occasionally shared the stage with whichever mainstream superstar happened to roll into town.

“Those were fun times,” he recalls of his OAU days with a wide smile. “We dey go all those N30k and N20k shows, but e no mean say everything just dey easy like that.” He’s referring to his initial attempts to get his career going while being a student. At his first stage performance in OAU, Asake decided to borrow tricks from the iconic Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. He came in bare-chested with a handful of barely clad ladies, hoping to successfully cover a couple of the Afrobeat maestro’s classics. With the appearance down pat, what could possibly go wrong?

Well, everything.

Nigerian audiences are somewhat renowned for being difficult to impress, especially for new artists – The Home of the Screwface, one could say. And Nigerian university audiences can be decidedly more brutal, especially when it’s clear that the green, barely experienced artist is trying to win them over. At their worst, it’s like a pack of sharks converging on hapless bait. In the case of his first OAU performance, Asake was the hapless bait. He’d barely had time to get comfortable on stage when well over 5,000 students started raining down boos. “I was wearing white pant o!” he exclaims. “I gats go hide for back of speaker, but thank God for Blaqbonez that day sha.”

Asake doesn't go into more detail of his gratitude for Blaqbonez, who was also a student-artist at the time, but it hints at the peers he rubbed shoulders with at OAU. If you were heavy on SoundCloud in the mid-2010s, there’s a chance you came across a cover of Tekno’s landscape-altering “Pana”, spearheaded by Blaqbonez. A freewheeling posse cut, “No Pana” featured a cast of student-artists at the time, including Jaido P and Asake Medoo, as he was known then. These days, Blaqbonez continues to prove himself as a commercially successful and dynamic Rap artist, Jaido P is one of the most compelling voices in Nigerian Street Rap, and Asake is the poster boy of Nigerian Street Pop right now. Patrolling the OAU campus at the same time, Fireboy DML, Cheque, and Chinko Ekun were also beginning to fan the flame of ambitious superstardom; they too have since imprinted their own stamps on the sands of Nigerian music.

In an early 2019 interview with NATIVE, Blaqbonez explained how he came to understand OAU as a sort of testing ground for chops and tenacity. Like Asake, he also got booed off stage by thousands of students at his first performance, after freezing mid-way into his set. “I see first-hand how these people feel about the music, and those are people that don’t even like you,” he said at the time. “You see a ready crowd that is accessible and you can just keep testing.” Asake seemingly applied the same ethos; that debut experience on stage at OAU shook him, but as he says matter-of-factly, “I no sabi give up.”

Asake makes his way into the shoot location south of the 3pm mark, sauntering in with the knowing aura that everything and everyone is in place for him. In the few seconds between his stroll from the entrance to the changing room, his head is on a swivel, seemingly taking in this environment created for him. His diminutive frame is draped in all black, his eyes hidden behind a pair of Bottega Veneta sunglasses, and his feet adorned with the latest collaboration between Supreme and Nike.

Then the gears begin to turn. Almost immediately, there's movement - a lot of it. The music that filled the cold air unencumbered now has to travel through bodies to reach the back of the room. At a point, Seni takes over AUX duties to do some mood-setting; he taps on the upper volume key a few times, as the loudness of the music competes with the commotion of pre-production activity. Manny is finally taking prep photos and readjusting light placement. Shoot producer Leke Alabi-Isama of JM Films marches about to make sure everything is in place and ready to go. The clock says whatever it says, but Asake clearly dictates the time around here.

In the changing room, the singer quickly makes himself comfortable. There's a stack of three red cups in his hand, the top one filled with Hennessy and Red Bull as requested by his manager, Steve. The all-black ensemble is off, and he's changing into a pair of ankara-print trousers from Lagos-based skate brand waf., with a brand new white vest. “I like to wear old singlets,” he tells Momo, his stylist for the day. “Old singlets are always mad, e dey look dope when you snap with it. All this one now go just dey give me shape, but it's calm. We'll use it.” Within a few minutes, it's obvious Asake has adjusted to the superstar part. He knows what it means to be the centre of attraction.

“I won't lie it's been very stressful,” he says of the last few months since making his awe-inspiring entry into the Nigerian mainstream with the Olamide-assisted “Omo Ope”. “But it's nice now, and it's what I've been praying for. I'm just finding my way around it and I dey try live my life. I think it has to be stressful, that's the fun of it, so you know you're working. Sometimes sha, you gats do like say you tire, make them no talk say you be machine.”

In the early days of 2022, Asake came out swinging with “Omo Ope”, a delightfully hedonistic slapper that quickly set the course for a marquee year. Within weeks, the song climbed to the top of the TurnTable Top 50 chart, and Asake was officially signed to Olamide's star-making record label, YBNL (Yahoo Boy No Laptop). Ololade Asake, his debut EP, landed in mid-February, a 4-song highlight reel of his convincing powers as an evocative writer and market-ready hit-maker. The EP spawned another near-instant smash hit with “Sungba”, which was helped along to a further crowning moment at the top of the TurnTable Singles Chart by a riveting remix, featuring a contender for verse of the year from Burna Boy.

The type of fanfare that accompanies two inescapable hit songs and a well-received EP comes with responsibility. Asake has had to quickly adjust to this level of fame, travelling across Nigeria for live performances, regularly playing multiple shows a night. “Na now I know say I be real Nigerian,” he says as he walks out of the changing room to get on set. “I just dey travel around and, you know, it's the music.”

A lot of people who attended a Nigerian university will tell you for free that they witnessed the rise of a student superstar, the one that started out as an unknown entity – at, say, a fresher's bonfire gathering – and works his way up the ladder to being a fixture at every departmental dinner, on-campus social event, and concert happening around town. In fact, from eLDee The Don co-founding Trybesemen and Da Trybe, alongside many rising artists in the University of Lagos, to 2Baba and Blackface forming Plantashun Boiz while at the Institute of Management and Technology in Enugu, it's a lineage that's vital to the pipeline of Nigerian music. This is markedly different to, say, the American Hip-Hop or UK Rap industries, where most artists with such mercurial talents have already committed to a creative career path long before college applications are being prepared.

At 16-years-old, while his classmates were still in high school, Chief Keef made his classic album Finally Rich, fresh off the heels of a Kanye West co-sign and inking a $6 million deal with Interscope Records. By the time Lil Wayne was 18, he was already a multi-platinum selling superstar for Cash Money Records, as a member of The Hot Boys. At the age of 21, when Stormzy's age contemporaries were probably in the last embers of their university degrees, he was picking up the MOBO Award for Best Grime Act. Alongside the socio-economic factors explaining how these seminal stars were met with less choice than it may appear, there also exists the social culture that must be considered. The fact that so many African stars in the entertainment industry initially pursued tertiary education, speaks to just how these industries are regarded in the traditional African home. Historically, creative talents are viewed as hobbies, or at best, risky bets, compared to getting a university degree in a conventional field that immediately translates to a job opportunity.

Between Fireboy DML, Blaqbonez and Asake, this OAU crop of wunderkinds have played their part to change that narrative, although it has not come easily. There's one thing being a campus superstar in Osun State, and another thing entirely to elevate that to nationwide appeal that will provide the bedrock to earn a living.

Raised in Lagos Island, Asake was already well-equipped with the knowledge that if he was to graduate from university champion to mainstream heavyweight, he had to find a way to break through in the epicentre of African Pop Music: Lagos. “OAU was an eye-opener,” he says wistfully, before breaking to silently stare at the glass door – the memories flooding back for a brief moment. While the halls of Obafemi Awolowo University was a breeding ground for a new dynamic generation of Nigerian artists, nothing can really prepare you for the mainstream industry in Lagos.

In the summer of 2018, Asake was signed to the now seemingly defunct TFT Records, where he dropped a handful of singles in an effort to break into the mainstream. While nothing quite connected, it clearly wasn't for lack of talent. There's “Kanipe” from early 2019, a soulful song expressing his will to be successful, and later that same year he released “African Something”, a lascivious mid-tempo cut with a vivid Afrobeat influence – in his official signing press conference back then, it was noted he grew up listening to Fela Kuti, Ebenezer Obey and King Sunny Ade. In early 2020, now operating as an indie artist and after a minor reinvention, he scored a mildly viral single with the up-tempo “Lady”, a foreshadowing of the productive months that would follow.

And then in late August 2020, Asake arrived in his biggest way yet.

In the first summer in which the world was learning how to live post the initial breakout of the COVID-19 pandemic, Asake wasted no time in putting his best foot forward, at a time where people were beginning to see each other socially again, and for some, returning to the dancefloor – underground or otherwise. Recorded and released on a whim, “Mr Money'' arrived in the final throes of a stop-start summer, in the weirdest of years of many of our lives. It almost immediately became a street-level hit. A high octane banger that has many of the hallmarks we now associate with the man himself, the song reached ubiquity on the back of its superb songwriting and Asake's urgent delivery. “Me I no dey cap, me I no dey form/my energy is high, what the fuck,” goes the intro before a thunderous bassline and log drum combination come in, serenaded by one of the two Asake trademark ad-libs you hear on many of his records, “Tune in to the King of Sounds & Blues.”

Amidst the limiting effects of the coronavirus pandemic, the singer had his biggest song yet. “That song gave me another confidence, say I fit blow inside this Lagos, so I just need to push more,” he says.

In conversation, Asake is as forthcoming as he is playfully slippery. One moment, he's recounting being the “stubborn Ahmed” of the neighbourhood when he was growing up, the next he's evading questions about the struggles he faced as an upcoming artist in Lagos; “no be money all of us dey find?” he quips, turning around to laugh with his styling and grooming team. He seems acutely aware of the other individuals in the room, as he fields my questions. More than once, he says, “I know what you want me to say,” with a knowing smirk.

“He can be a very private person,” his manager Steve says. “That's one thing about him. We haven't done any interviews since the media rounds we did after “Omo Ope”. Even this one, it was Olamide that insisted and I had to make sure he's here.”

Just as we're about to get into his relationship with Olamide, an intern from the production crew slides the door open and asks for a selfie, to which Asake politely declines. His reason is not anything confounding, he's just not entirely convinced by the Ahluwalia knitted vest he had just put on, which he states probably wouldn't be a part of his everyday wear before today. “I'm going to trust you o, Momo,” he says as he gazes into the mirror and tries to adjust the vest to his comfort.

Not too long after, he walks out onto the next set. As soon as Manny tells Asake that he can shoot this set without the vest, he yanks it off. By this time, many in the location are already feeling the frost of the air conditioners hanging from the top of the warehouse, but Asake couldn't be more comfortable. As he gets into the bathtub filled with wads of cash, he looks relaxed, at peace, in his element. When the shutters start to click, he bares his grills and flashes the widest smile. Even with a crane invasively hovering above his head and occasionally lowered towards his face, it feels like he's having the time of his life.

“I just blow but, omo, I know my set,” is undoubtedly the most poignant line Asake has sung, yet. It’s a proclamation of hard-earned triumph through many travails. It’s also a note to self, of caution against being satisfied with just blowing. Sure, he’s won the battle against obscurity but Asake knows he still has so much more to gain. It’s a thoughtful exhale from an artist who’s graduated from campus legend to mainstream familiarity, who’s beat the all too familiar charge of being a one-hit wonder, and is now curating a career as the latest bright light in Street Pop’s unyielding domination at the centre of urban Nigerian music and youth culture.

“There are some things you have to learn when you dey come up,” Asake says, referring to the period between “Mr Money” and “Omo Ope”. “I thank God say I learn those things before I blow,” he adds without expatiating. It’s likely he’s referring to the uncertainty that follows the euphoria of an artist scoring their first hit single. That moment, and the feeling that comes with it, only lasts so long. Not too long after, the artist has to follow-up with another single that has the potential to repeat or surpass the success of its predecessor. The stakes are higher, and with every subsequent release, the pressure piles on.

A year after his first street hit, Asake dropped “Yan Yan”, a frisky single produced by Phantom – notable for producing Burna Boy’s global smash, “Ye”. In hindsight, the spare and groovy track is a precursor to the sound of Asake’s recent monster hits, but at the time of its release, it didn’t match the instant relevance of “Mr Money”. In fact, “Yan Yan” followed the Zlatan and Peruzzi-assisted remix of “Mr Money”, which also did little to help his notoriety. The singer had scored a hit, but did he feel like he had truly “blown?” The haunting phrase hangs over the head of every Nigerian artist trying to make a name for themselves.

“Just write Baddo,” he instructs me, when I ask at what point he knew he had made it. “See, just write Baddo everywhere!” Baddo aka Olamide is the legendary rapper and founder of YBNL, Asake’s label home. A top 5 artist of his generation in his own right, with a slew of hits and albums to rival the much touted Big 3 (Wizkid, Davido and Burna Boy), Olamide is a bonafide industry cheat code as an executive. Rivalled perhaps only by the inescapable Don Jazzy, Olamide’s co-sign is the most powerful endorsement in Nigerian music today. We’ve all seen and heard about “The Drake Effect '' in the early 2020s, with artists like Migos, Lil Baby and Future being launched into different stratospheres following a verse from the Canadian. Olamide’s influence is no different.

Somewhere on the internet, you’ll find a video of Asake reacting to hearing Olamide’s verse on “Omo Ope” for the first time. Recorded without his knowledge, long-time friend and popular comic Yhemolee had told Asake that Baddo was going to jump on the song, which the singer thought as a pipe dream. After all, he’d been texting Olamide to “help” him for a while.

“There’s up in your life and there’s down, and I was in that part of my life where I didn’t really know what next. So I wasn’t even taking Yemi seriously until I heard it,” he says. In that video, the moment Olamide’s verse concludes, Asake runs out of the car and down the street, stops for a bit to tear up, then vibrantly gallops back to the compound and begins to yell, “Koni da fun iyalaya yin!” That popular Yoruba idiom translating as “It won’t be well with your mother’s mother,” wasn’t directed to anyone. “It’s just an expression for me as a Yoruba man,” he explains, recalling the fond memory. “It’s like, ‘my time don finally reach,’ and I was just so excited.”

“Omo, me I be Fuji artist o,” Asake declares, reclined on a couch, lounging in the Ahluwalia vest he now seems extremely comfortable in. Before the last set was shot, Seni had asked him if he had any specific music requests, and his reply was point blank: “I only listen to Fuji, Gospel, Baddo and myself.” This is the most candid he's been all day in conversation, when he's talking about what makes his music unique. At first, he'd offered something a little less decipherable: “My sound is my sound. That makes it my sound, because you can't understand it. The moment I understand it, that means it's not my sound, so I have to keep dipping into my sound.”

In practice, Asake's music is made up of several influences, and it makes sense that he's forthright about his affinity with a storied form of Yoruba Folk Music. At its core, Fuji is genre for consummate performers and assured lyricists, artists that unreservedly express themselves and write the reality around them with a grandiloquent and wizened verve. From the social commentary of Sikiru Ayinde Barrister, to the soulful praise-singing of K1 De Ultimate, to the irreverent appeal of Abass Akande Obsere, and many other forerunners, the genre is home to a lineage of supremely talented writers. As you digest the stream-of-consciousness lyricism on “Palazzo” or reflect upon the profound spirituality of “PBUY”, it becomes increasingly apparent just where Asake picked up the foundational elements of his chops.

It's not novel. Fuji has been influencing Nigerian Pop since the ground-breaking trio, the Remedies collaborated with celebrated Fuji singer Pasuma Wonder in the late '90s. Since the turn of the millennium, the genre's unique twang and lyrical ethos has been heavily reflected in the music of seminal Nigerian Pop stars like Jazzman Olofin and 9ice, as well as Rap artists such as Lord of Ajasa and Olamide – who famously sampled K1 on “Anifowoshe”. Asake, much like his class of Street Pop superstar colleagues, Zinoleesky and Bella Shmurda, is the latest in the lineage of inventive singers transforming their Fuji influences into popular music.

Evolving from the enculturated form of the Muslim call-to-rise during Ramadan in the Yoruba-speaking south-west of Nigeria, there's a distinct intonation that defines Fuji music, a rustic vibration that leaks out in both boisterous and solemn vocal cadences. Whilst employing a snappy flow that emphasises the gravity of his lived-in musings, on “Trabaye” – the intro track of his scene-setting debut EP Ololade Asake – for example, the singer displays these same Fuji-indented vibrations, doing so again on the spiritually-inclined “Baba God”, where he adopts a sincere tone that matches his reverence.

“I love teamwork when I'm making my music,” Asake says, leaning forward and gesturing with his right hand. “I love when all those powers come together and try to create something, 'cause I use a full band for my recording. I use actual musicians the same way Fuji artists do their thing; I'm just making my own more presentable to everybody. That's where I'm from, I no be from rich family, but me I love the foreign life so my own has to be modern.”

Across the smash hits from his ongoing breakout run – “Omo Ope”, “Sungba”, “Palazzo” and “PBUY” – the singer has shown his preference for a sonic canvas inflected with the log drums and compositional ticks from the South African Dance music subgenre, Amapiano. As the previous decade wound down, 'Piano evolved from a niche sound from the townships of South Africa, into the toast of the rainbow nation's mainstream music scene. From Kwaito to Tech House to Gqom, SA-originated styles of music often find their way to influencing the entirety of Afropop. As a notoriously omnivorous scene, always on the prowl for fresh influences, Nigerian Pop is never left behind – if anything, we tend to cannibalise these sounds.

Amapiano was much the same. The thing is though, street-bred artists in Nigeria have shown their genius at innovatively adapting these influences into music that captures the ears of those in their immediate environment. In the late 2010s, Gqom and Tech House were foundational elements in the Shaku Shaku and Zanku periods that catalysed the current wave of Street Pop, led by figures such as Olamide and Zlatan Ibile. Amapiano has been going through the same adoption and mutation, and Asake is not the first or the only artist using this sonic gambi, but, like his peers, his singles have come with accusations suggesting he's a one-trick-pony of sorts. Following the resounding success of “Sungba”, one tweeter sent out an image of Superman with Asake's face superimposed on him, thus dubbing the new character, Sungbaman.

Now, potentially more than ever in the history of music, the lines between the fans and the industry are blurred beyond recognition. Due to a combination of the ease of accessibility to millions of songs, and the performance data behind said songs, coupled with the ubiquity of social media, the proverbial fourth wall is becoming less and less apparent. This is not to say that fans have not always debated whether their once favourite artists are becoming boring or what it means for a single to flop, but it's hard to imagine it could have been more prevalent than it is now.

“I feel like you doing what works for you is not a sin,” Asake says of the 'Sungbaman' jokes. Whilst he has remained relatively guarded throughout our conversation about his personal life before he first picked up the microphone, Asake does open up to answer his – admittedly few – detractors, on a topic of conversation he seemingly has been itching to weigh in on.

“If something works for you, it means you're the originator of it. So why will you leave it? It's just like, [if] I come out with a special rice and the whole world is fucking with [it], you want me to leave it and look for another special rice? Is that not what every artist is looking for? I come with a sound and the people love it, so I might do it 70,000 more times, your own is to keep enjoying it. I just have to be doing it well, that's all that matters to me.”

The key to the very best analogies is how simple and relatable one can make it, to encourage deeper thought. Asake comparing the gift of being able to have a unique, distinguishable sound to the idea of concocting a new variation to the nation's favourite dish is as straightforward as it is genius. When you think about it, Popular music is a bit like rice, isn't it? Everyone works with the same basic ingredients, but what you add to it is what really sets you apart from the pack.

The supreme self-confidence Asake has in his own ability shines through as he bats off the implications of monotony, and one can't help but harken back to his own recollections of the mindset and struggles during his OAU days, and subsequently during his first foray into music with TFT Records. They shaped him for these moments. He is not going to be swayed away from doing exactly what he wants to do, because when it boils down to it, it has proved to be successful, and that is what is most important to Ololade Asake. He remembers when he didn't even have a unique sound, when he was getting heckled off stage for doing a Fela tribute act. He remembers when he was dropping singles that weren't quite making a mark, trying to find his voice in the open.

Towards the end of the shoot, Asake is recording an episode of The NATIVE's Afropop Dictionary, where personalities break down popular Afropop slang and lyrics. When asked to explain the meaning behind the line “I just blow but omo, I know my set,” he simply states: “I know where I belong, I know where I'm from. I know what I know.”

Asake signed a recording deal with Olamide's YBNL shortly after the release of “Omo Ope”. Before then, he'd been in the YBNL leader's DMs, sending messages that went unanswered for about two years. On the day Olamide invited the singer to his home, Asake changed his outfit multiple times, out of nervousness and excitement. “I got to the house and he asked me if I wanted to join the YBNL family,” he recounted at a radio interview back in February. On the spot, the singer was ready to sign any document placed in front of him, even though Olamide demanded he take the contract to a lawyer to look over.

“People don't know who Baddo is,” he says, his voice radiating ultimate respect. “I don't want to talk about that man. That's just the message, people don't know who Baddo is.” As far as Asake is concerned, the reverence the Nigerian music community has for Olamide is not even enough – that's even with the unanimous respect he's been greeted with as a modern great. It's fitting that a protégé would proclaim such admiration for his mentor, but you can't deem it hyperbolic. Olamide is one of Nigeria's greatest Rap artists, arguably the most prolific hit-maker in Afropop, and the record label he named after his sophomore album has housed and developed several superstars, including Adekunle Gold, Lil Kesh and Asake's fellow OAU alum, Fireboy DML.

Asake is the latest YBNL graduate, albeit on a somewhat fast tracked course. What's even more astounding is the fit between artist and label: Asake, an artist from the streets of Lagos, signed to Olamide, an artistic trailblazer from the streets of Lagos. These are kindred spirits, and the adulation clearly goes both ways. At the end of “Trabaye”, Olamide eulogises his protégé: “It's time for you to go show the world what you're really all about/go get them, dawg/YBNL got you for life /Baddo Sneh got you for life, my brother.”

Just one of several direct contributions Olamide has made towards Asake's music, on that same song, the label head plays the song's bassline. He's credited as a co-writer on “Palazzo” and “PBUY”, his stylistic influence peeking out in the molten flow of the former and in the rhyme schemes of the latter. Interestingly, their only full-fledged collaboration, “Omo Ope”, is one of the very few times Olamide hasn't had to exert himself on a feature, adding a relaxed verse to the song's proceedings. That seamless synergy is a testament to the evolution of Asake's artistic prowess prior to landing at YBNL, going from hit-seeking creator to self-assured song-maker.

“Inspiration works with time,” Asake says as he prepares to walk out of the changing room for the final time. He's explaining the serendipitous element behind the choral arrangement on the hook of “Omo Ope,” a trick he's repeated several times, which has gone on to become a mainstay in Nigerian Pop these days. “There might be sometimes that you'll just be in the right state of mind and everything will work for you, it's just left for you to be ready.”

By this time, he's running through his words. He's been at the shoot for about four hours, but he's looking forward to wrapping things up here so he can catch some rest before going to a show he's been booked for tonight. “The main reason I involve the choir part is so all of us can sing together,” he continues. “I don't even care if you learn all the lyrics or not, my own is you have to get the message I want to pass to you ‘cause I like to talk a lot in my music.”

Infusing aphorisms, streetwise knowledge and slang, Asake's music demands listeners' full attention to properly understand and appreciate its nuances, but he's not expecting everyone to have the patience for that. “The way I make my music, I go just dey talk everything wey dey my mouth. Learn the one you can learn and leave the one you cannot learn,” he says instructively. That's the hallmark of a purposeful popstar: one that makes the music the way they want it but also smart enough to put a communal spin on it, whether it's through a choral hook or easily memorable catchphrases.

“See, there's no magic in this thing. It's just endurance and perfect time,” he says as he heads out.

So, what's next on the Asake timeline? There's no time to ask the man himself. He spent just over fifteen cumulative minutes answering questions at the shoot, and he's adamant about not doing a follow-up interview – partly because he's busy rounding up work on his debut album, before a trip to the USA. One week after the cover shoot, Asake announced his next single, “Terminator”, with a clip that quickly became a viral sensation on TikTok, garnering 1.4 billion cumulative views in the 3 weeks before official release. While social media was awash with videos of eager fans reciting each lyric from the snippet – word-for-word – in anticipation of the release, Asake was busy plotting with renowned music video director and his close collaborator, TG Omori, on how to bring the unreleased song to life. “TG is my eyes, me, I'm the ears,” he says with pride.

In all of this, the question of what next remains. Even though we never got it from him, the signs are overwhelmingly positive. He's now signed with EMPIRE, the U.S.-based distribution and label services company, through their already wildly-successful joint venture deal with YBNL. His latest collaborative effort, “Bandana” with Fireboy, flew to number 1 on the TurnTable Top 100 Charts remaining there for five weeks until “Terminator” debuted at the top spot, culminating in a total of 28 weeks at number 1 for Asake this year – so far.

“Making music is the most interesting part of my life,” Asake says, after Steve makes a remark on his work ethic in the studio. “Sometimes I'm just tired and I want to go and sleep, but he just keeps going,” Steve says, to which Asake laughs. “I fit no chop and I fit no even sleep, because na wetin dey make everything move be that,” the singer adds.

Clearly, Asake isn't taking anything for granted.

He's fixated on the one thing he can control: His Music. It's the only way he can assure that his flame burns much brighter than the hot streak fuelling one of the most dominant breakout runs in Afropop history.

It took Asake nearly a decade to get to the fifteen minutes he's currently cannibalising, but he so desperately wants to belong to the set of artists considered perennial stars. That takes the type of prolific consistency his mentor has embodied throughout his career – thankfully for Asake, he's getting first-hand knowledge. With undeniable talent and the perfect guidance system, everything seems set for longevity. Asake's time is now.