NATIVE Exclusive: Olamide breaks down his new album, ‘Carpe Diem’

The superstar details the process behind his eighth solo studio LP, and the vigour of feeling like a new artist over a decade since debuting

On October 8, 2020, Olamide, one of Afropop’s most ubiquitous voices put out his eighth solo studio album, ‘Carpe Diem’. On the same day, online agitations against police brutality in the country had begun to escalate into full-blown protests. Already dedicated to lending his voice to the clamour for an end to the government-backed epidemic, Olamide continued to assist in the good fight, which meant promotion efforts for his new album took the backseat.

“I don’t regret the timing of the album, not one bit”, he proclaims at the beginning of our conversation. The reason is two-fold: He understands that the fight against police brutality and injustice takes the highest precedence; and he’s confident that he’s created an outstanding body of work that will endure the momentous events surrounding its release. “The album is a masterpiece, it’s timeless. Yeah, things started happening when I dropped the album, but I believe in my work and my work is going to speak for me.”

Olamide’s conviction is manifesting. ‘Carpe Diem’ has been positively received and widely praised, even with the dark cloud of EndSARS hanging over it. Loaded with colourful production choices, the project is a groovy affair that melds Olamide’s abilities as a diversely skilled artist and proven hit-maker into one of the more remarkable albums of the year. Earlier this year, the street-hop legend put out ‘999’, an EP that predominantly showcased his formidable prowess as a rapper. This time around, he expands his delivery format to emphasise his reinvigorated pop sensibilities, a tenet that he’s helped him climb and remain on the Mount Rushmore of Nigerian music.

In a glaring way, ‘Carpe Diem’ is a statement from a veteran who has the mindset of a freshly minted artist. For Olamide, he’s hit the reset button on his accomplished career, explaining that the creation of this new album has only renewed his wholehearted love for music. “Omo, me I be new artist o, set awon Omah Lay ati (and) Fireboy”, he jokingly quips. With ten overall projects already in his sprawling discography, it’s a statement that reaffirms his commitment, and this definitely reflects on the album.

Throughout the 12-song project, he tries on new sounds for size, without sounding like he’s trying too hard to fit into the times. To be clear, Olamide has never sounded out of touch. It’s the latest high point in a prolific, decade-long streak, a concise project brimming with multiple repeat-worthy songs. While several songs are still finding their feet, popularity wise, the Omah Lay-assisted “Infinity” has jumped to the front of the pack as the biggest song off ‘Carpe Diem’, topping the local Apple Music chart for three straight weeks and recently entering the inaugural TurnTable Top 50 charts at number 7. On an international scale, the song was the biggest song on Audiomack last week, and it’s the soundtrack to a widespread meme mocking the outgoing U.S. President.

Over our Zoom call, in a bid to get into the rapper’s mind during the album’s creation, Olamide explained the process behind ‘Carpe Diem’, while also giving insight into other related questions. Our chat, which follows below, has been lightly edited for clarity.

NATIVE: “Another Level” sets a self-assured tone for the album. I’d like to know where you get your validation from?

Olamide: I feel like the key thing in life is being realistic with yourself, and being your own critic. I take my time to listen to my stuff, over and over.  Sometimes, before I drop a project, I can listen to it repeatedly for like a month just to make sure I’m putting my best self forward. I’ve always been like this, it’s not that I’m just bragging but I believe in my handwork, I believe in my creativity, I believe in myself, and I know that I wouldn’t come this far if God never wanted it. I believe God ordained it, it’s destiny, so no one can change it. That’s why I don’t bother about what people say.”

How did you choose “Greenlight” and “Eru” as the pre-album singles?

Bro, I swear I was confused, I didn’t know which song should go first. I wasn’t sure, I just kinda selected randomly. Also, “Eru” is a bit connected to my sound from the past, the likes of “Eleda Mi” and “Don’t Stop”. As much as I knew most of the sounds on here were new, I still wanted to make sure the transition from the Olamide Baddo to the new Olamide is smooth.

“Infinity” has been really huge, how did you figure Omah Lay would make sense on this song?

I just knew a joint effort from Omah Lay and I was going to bang, that’s why I called him up to come and make magic. It’s not like I had a beat in my mind or I recorded before he came, we made everything from scratch with the producer, P.Priime. He selected the beat, he did the pre-hook and laced the hook. I was like, “this is dope, I’m going to send you the track when I’m done”, and he refused to leave without hearing the full song, so I had to drop that verse instantly. I loved that process, and Omah Lay is dope. Big ups to P.Priime for engineering and arranging that song.

P.Priime produced the major bulk of this album, what struck you about his sound?

His sound is heavy, man. It’s bonkers. That guy is mad! Like, really mad.

I think “Triumphant” is the centrepiece of this album.

I swear to God, you’re right. When we started the session, I just wanted to vibe Bella; we also made this record from scratch. When Pheelz was lacing the beat, it didn’t sound like something I wanted to take to the club or to the street, I felt we should something very personal and real, because the strings playing under felt very emotional. I came up with the lines of the hook, but I didn’t feel like there was no need to sing when this bad guy was in the room with me, it would’ve felt very odd. Those strings hit me differently, I had to just tell my story about things I’ve been through down the line, because I’ve seen comments about how Olamide slowed down and all that. I needed the message to be out there, because I’ve been going through a lot of stuff and it’s been showing in my work, I just had to be open.

That verse is powerful. Do you ever think rapping it Yoruba will reduce the number of people it will reach?

I feel like music is a universal language, and it will always get to where it’s supposed to get to. For instance, most of us didn’t understand French, and we were banging Awilo Longomba like crazy in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, man was doing stadium-packed shows in Lagos. I don’t think language is a barrier, as long as it is appealing to the ears and healing to the soul. Good music will always fly, regardless of what language it is performed in.

I like that you used Awilo Longomba as an example, ‘cause you’re not huge in South West Nigeria, but all over the country and Africa generally. Where have you performed that the response was a shock to you?

I’ve never really been shocked, haha. Bro, I don manifest these days for my head since way I before I started popping. When I perform anywhere and the response is great, I’m never surprised, ‘cause I’ve been to countless places, man. The only place wey I never go do show na China, I’ve been everywhere.

How much do you miss live shows right now?

I definitely miss it, like I’ve not been on stage at all this year. At the same time, it’s all a blessing in disguise, ‘cause I feel the world was moving too fast and we needed to slow down, chill, refresh, involve with family more, and take care of ourselves. Health is wealth, no be every time we go dey run for money, we go dey run for flexing; sometimes, we need to take care of the body and soul.

First time I heard “At Your Service”, it reminded me of “Melo Melo”, which I think is one of your best love songs. How did it come about?

I was in the studio chilling, and [ID] Cabasa brought in this beat. When I heard it, I felt compelled to do something unique, ‘cause the beat sounds different from what I’ve done so far. I’m very adventurous, I like challenging myself and trying new things, and I felt the need to do this right. I don’t know where the lyrics and melodies came from, I was just trying to follow the flow of the beat.

What do you listen to in a beat that draws you in?

The bounce and the strings. Simple as that.

“Do Better” has that street bounce. Are you intentional with the direction of a song before you record, or does it come to you?

In most cases, I like to have a direction before going into the studio. Like they say, he who fails to plan has planned to fail. I like to really plan my direction and figure out what I’d like to achieve from each session, but sometimes plans change along the line. But to be honest, almost all the time, I know what I want from the jump. It could be, today I need to get this lamba right, and the next time it can be rap or whatever.

Let’s talk about “Shilalo” with Phyno. Your relationship with him is pretty clear to the public, right?

I feel like we’re from the same world, man. The way he operates his business, his lifestyle and all that is very similar to the way I like to operate and do my thing. I think it’s the similarities that we see in each other that brings us closer, there’s this connection I can’t really explain, it’s just mad. That’s like the Igbo version of Olamide, anytime I see him I feel like I’m seeing myself.

What’s your estimate of unreleased songs you have together?

E plenty o! We’ve lost count.

Do you think you’ll ever do a sequel to ‘2 Kings’?

It depends, bro. I can’t make any promises right now, you know a promise is a debt? Haha.

“Loading” has also become one of the favourites off this album, and Bad Boy Timz absolutely killed on the song. What do you think of him as an artist?

I think Bad Boy Timz is the future, man. We’ve known each other for a while, he comes to me for advice, and I’ve always believed in his time. I felt that this album is not going to be complete without having this dude on the project. When he came in for that session, I just told P.Priime, “you know say two of una na youngin’, so I go just leave two of una to fuck this shit up”. I just left them for like twenty minutes, and when I came in the beat and the hook were ready. We actually recorded two songs that day, the other one we kept it, low-key haha. Timz came up with the concept of the song, he was even trying to guide me on how to flow with the bounce of the song, ‘cause this sound is fresh, I had never really done anything like it before. That’s my brother for life, man.

The way you’re talking about Timz is emblematic of how you constantly ride for artists on the rise.

Yeah, man. I feel like, while coming up, no one gave me that opportunity. I just took it upon myself that, if I blow lasan, I must share my blessings. This blessing to much now, only one person no fit chop everything finish. What’s the purpose of the blessing if you cannot share it around? It’s useless when you just want to be greedy, you don’t want to help in elevating as much people as you can. From the jump, I always knew that there’s a lot of talent around that needs a platform, so I make sure I try to uplift one, two or more every year.

You and Fireboy didn’t have a song together until recently, including this closer “Plenty”.

The two songs sef, na luck. Since when I signed him, we’ve been recording, we probably have like ten songs and we struggled to get it right until recently. That’s why nothing came out since, ‘cause blending his style with mine is kinda very hard. I never thought we could do it, but we kept trying until we got those two.

Were the two songs recorded in proximity?

His album was actually ready, and he just called me like, “Baddo, I need you to jump on this song on the album”. I was very hesitant, I even told him something like, “guy, you know say we don try this tire and e no work”. The fact that he really wanted me to do it, I just had to calm down, take my time and soak myself into Fireboy’s zone. If you listen to “Afar”, the rap is just very chilled, e be like butter. Later on, while I was in one of my own sessions, we did a couple of songs, but I picked “Plenty” out of everything we recorded.

I like the fact that you’re honest about the difficulty of mixing your styles. Does that happens regularly?

I really can’t remember any, it’s just me and this Fireboy own. But another one I’m very aware of, that I’ve never really given a try, is I and Adekunle Gold. It has to be well-tailored and well-structured, or it might end up being a disaster. I really have no idea what a song with Adekunle Gold is going to sound like, but whenever we’re going to do it, we’ll have to take our time, maybe even spend like four months on it just to get it right. I feel like his style is way, way far from what I’m doing, same as Fireboy, but it’s possible.

Did you have any features that you were trying to get on the album?

I had no plans on featuring anyone on the album, initially. The features I wanted are the ones are I got: I badly wanted the one with Timz, me and Phyno is tradition, Omah Lay and Fireboy just made sense. Actually, I wanted to do something with Alaga (Reminisce), but he just dropped a project that period, and I didn’t want to stress him while he was doing his promotion.

Did you consider any international features, since you’re now in partnership with EMPIRE?

For me, I don’t like to stress things like that. I believe in proper connections, it’s not really about the numbers for me, it’s about making good music, something that can stand the test of time. If I’m going to do anything with anybody, we really have to connect, the person gast be my G. I’m not trying to chase anybody, it really has to be as organic as possible. If anyone holla at or I connect with anyone, then I’m definitely open to collaborating.

Do you ever indulge in ranking your albums?

Yeah. Sometimes, I and my manager will play around, but it’s not that serious. I think I’ll put ‘Carpe Diem’ in my top two, with ‘Baddest Guy Ever Liveth’. This album is a masterpiece, and my work is clearly speaking for me.

Listen to ‘Carpe Diem’ here.

Dennis is a staff writer at the NATIVE. Let me know your favourite the Cavemen songs @dennisadepeter