Identify: WANI Is Playing the Long Game
Road to LCV2
Road to LCV2
When WANI started writing the songs that would form the crux of ‘Lagos City Vibes 1,’ his breakout EP which launched him as a star on the rise, he had not moved to the city full-time. The 27-year-old singer, born Ayorinde Olawani Ayokun, was still slumming it out in Chicago and recording songs in the comfort of his room.
Back then, a younger WANI would spend his time compiling an indisputable roster of tracks, creating and adding them to a hard drive that he didn’t think would see the light of day. “I never had any intentions of putting my music out,” the singer says in chat with The NATIVE.
The trigger for the career that we now know about was ‘More Life,’ the cache of dancehall and house-inspired riddims that Drake released in the first quarter of 2017 which spurned a WANI remix of its breakout track, “Blem.” He distinctly remembers the feeling of going viral for his music: “I literally put it out, turned my phone off and went to the gym and by the time I came back there was like a 100 retweets,” he says.
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Buoyed by the success of that single, the singer put out a new single titled “Instaman,” a delectable Afropop number that introduced him to a new level of success and visibility while he still battled financial woes. Around the time, he was starting to play with the idea of returning to Lagos. “I finished my degree and it didn’t give me any skills I was gonna use to tackle anything,” he says candidly, “especially when I didn’t know what the f*ck I was coming back here to do, in my mind I was like goddamn I was about to come and work in radio.”
In May 2018, WANI found his calling. He took a series of songs from his hard drive and made a decision to share it with the world. Today, those tracks are known as the nostalgia-driven ‘Lagos City Vibes 1. He received critical acclaim for his balmy melodies and lived-in voice as well as his gorgeous work reworking 2Baba’s classic single, “Keep On Rocking,” on standout track “2Face Riddim.” In many ways, that project changed his life. “The validation was crazy,” he admits. “I now realised that that’s what I wanted all along: to be seen, to be known for something especially after for what I was doing, trying to be accepted for so long. Then finally the music I had and what I loved the most in life finally brought that validation.”
Three years later and the road to ‘Lagos City Vibes 2,’ has been lined with anticipation from fans eager to see what the next phase of WANI’s journey might be. Running through navel-gazing sensual cuts and vociferous hard-hitters, his sophomore EP ‘Lagos City Vibes 2’ is conceptually rooted in the evolving landscape of his life in Lagos, and sees him come of age against the backdrop of Nigeria’s commercial city. “When the first project dropped I was just wishing on the stars,” he says, “now going into it I am much more older, wiser, I know a lot more people, I am more respected, I have more of a name.”
Following the release of his sophomore effort last year, we caught up with Platoon artist, WANI and identified his roots and the potency of his music.
His answers which follow below have been lightly edited for clarity.
NATIVE: Let’s start from the beginning and talk about your name. What is your government name?
WANI: My government name is Ayorinde Olawani Ayokun.
NATIVE: What does your name mean and what does it mean to you, personally?
WANI: “Ayorinde” means joy has come. I don’t know what “Olawani” means but my grandma gave me the name. I don’t think “Lawani” is Yoruba. I don’t think my version is, I don’t know I might be wrong but I don’t think it’s Yoruba. I don’t think my grandma’s intention was to give me a Yoruba name. There might be a Yoruba translation but I don’t know it.
NATIVE: A lot of your music is geared towards women or is about women. What would you say is the foundation of your interactions with women, how would you marry the two?
WANI: That’s a very good question. The foundation of interaction with women starts from all women in my family including my mother, my aunt and my grandmother who I mentioned earlier. With the music, those are very much shaped by my own personal relationship with women and the respect is definitely one thing that I overemphasise in my relationships with women. I know I tweak sometimes but I never over tweak.
NATIVE: You have mentioned going through a rebrand. What does this rebrand entail?
WANI: I am learning more about myself obviously I’m getting older too , I want the subject matter to reflect my growth. Right now, I am getting more comfortable and confident with my image. My image is becoming more fluid, the core of who I am as an artist is still going to be the same to be honest like the values I have, talk about women and 90% of the time I might throw a track out there talking about life, family dynamics and the way the brand is represented. I definitely want to add some tweaks to it for sure.
NATIVE: So, let’s walk you back to when you dropped Lagos City Vice in 2018, how long before that were you making the project?
WANI: Lagos City Vice was not a concept till I got back to the city, but I was recording a lot in my room because in Chicago I used to do a lot of audio engineering for this people. Around the time, that whole Chicago scene was popping and it was a very lucrative opportunity for me just to get my foot in the door. But I never had any intentions of putting my music out, until “Blem” by Drake dropped. I put a cover out and it went viral on Twitter, it went so crazy. I had no intention on doing that, I literally put it out and the anxiety was killing me. So I turn my phone off and go to the gym and by the time I came back, there was like a 100 retweets. If not for my friend who encouraged me to release the cover, I don’t think my life would have taken this path. I might have probably stayed in DC, stayed in Chicago.
NATIVE: So the music went off, then what?
WANI: Lucky for me I am not one of those niggas that just had one track, I had like a whole catalogue. It was just songs on my hard drive that I’d recorded over time. So the music came out and I was like “damn people are fucking with this shit,” then I had to make a decision on whether to fall back or go hard. I was broke that summer 2016, I was on my ass and I got a check of 500 dollars from the music and I knew I had to put more energy into it. I already had the tracks, all I had to do was mould it into something.
I moved back to Lagos with $500 in my pocket and a hard drive full of songs. Ever since then it’s just been a struggle of how do I scale this, which I have tried my hardest to do and I’m making progress. I know what works for me but then I am so excited about how I’m getting to that next level. Off that project I signed deals, I have done a couple shows. I feel like I have committed too much, I have to see it to the end, I have to see what it turns into and I am totally comfortable with it to turn into failure 100%.
NATIVE: What does failure mean to you ?
WANI: Failure means not getting into scale where the income from it can sustain other shit in my life, to not getting to a level where it makes sense financially, I guess that what failure means in the musical aspect. Overall generally, I won’t be a failure I have picked up so much skills. At this point in my life, I am rushing to fail, I wasted so much time trying not to fail and now I’m speeding towards failing. So, if it’s going to fail let me know right now as opposed to sitting down and thinking damn is this gonna work I have no time bro I’m getting older.
NATIVE: Who are you and what are you trying to tell us with your music?
WANI: I am not trying to tell anyone anything per say, I am just trying to just talk about life the way I see it from like the women to the culture and like growing up. The whole point of Lagos City Vice was to show Lagos through my eyes: a third world cultured kid. I’ve had so many different experiences that even people that I call my friends don’t fully understand. All the people that understand in my life are the people that were there when it was happening.
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NATIVE: OK so, now you are here and we’ve gone through all the different stages, what are you feeling one week to your project dropping?
WANI: I am feeling confident. Going into this project now, I feel much more confident than I was year back so I am not just wishing on the stars. I have things in place to get me to the next level. My biggest fear is that I just hope I didn’t fix too much of what wasn’t broken on the first project. I know ‘Lagos City Vice 2’ numbers wise is gonna be more successful than my first project LCV 1 but what LCV1 had was that pure connection, which means more than the numbers.
NATIVE: Now your project has been out for a few days and people have had time to digest it. How are you feeling about the reception so far?
WANI: It’s dope. First week numbers are decent so far. I know ‘Lagos City Vice 2’ numbers wise is gonna be more successful than my first project LCV 1 but what LCV1 had was that pure connection, which means more than the numbers.
Featured image credits/WANI
Words by Wale Oloworekende and Interview by Damilola Animashaun