Introducing Anything with Yusef, the multidisciplinary artist finding his feet
"I really think now that I understand who I am as a musician."
"I really think now that I understand who I am as a musician."
In today’s musical climate, we’re witnessing in real time the traversing of sounds from the African continent to the world. In the past few years, Afropop has attained new heights and soundtracked major moments around the world, showing the propensity for how far and wide the sound and scene can travel in short time. These record wins are enough to aspire any new talent keen to stand out from the crowd in a market saturated with acts looking to gain their share of the audiences attention.
Botswana-born singer and songwriter, Anything With Yusef’s wellspring of inventiveness and ingenious in his music undeniably flows from his eager observation of the diverse musical landscape. Following his graduation in 2019, Anything With Yusef started off making covers before releasing his own original music such as “Khalifa” and eventually, venturing into Afropop with releases such as “BABYGONE.” “I thought that maybe if I had a cover out people would start recognising me and good enough, people did. People saw my potential and it made me keep going,” he tells the NATIVE.
Anything With Yusef’s growing discography is replete with raw depictions of various forms of romantic love. A clear standout is “By Your Side” off his 2022 debut LP, ‘I’LL TELL YOU AT MIDNIGHT.’ While the project is stacked with themes of self love and love shared with a romantic partner, “By Your Side” openly addresses familial relationships in an upbeat, mid tempo record. Assisted by Jordan MoOzy, he beckons his sister, who acted as a mother figure to him, to trust God and his process as he pursues a career in music. “When I was young and making music, I was hardly around because I was so obsessed with making music but the song just tells her, ‘don’t worry when all this is done, I’ll be by your side. I’m doing this for all of us,” he sings.
This year, Anything With Yusef is wasting no time to make his talents known and clear. Earlier this month, the singer released two-pack single ‘CHAOS THEORY’ which showcased a stark vulnerability in disarming honest confessionals about self-acceptance. While “STUCK IN MY MIND” features a slew of baritone melodies over an upbeat soundscape, “FEEL SOMETHING” is an attempt for Yusef and his listeners to embraces authenticity even if it’s accompanied by loneliness. Both tracks are snapshots of Anything With Yusef’s current state of mind: living, learning and becoming all at once.
“When I deliver my music, I always try and go for the emotions before I put the lyrics. That’s why it made so much so much sense for me to do Afrobeats. Sometimes, I don’t know what most of these guys are saying but I feel the emotion,” he tells the NATIVE. “I want to take them high and bring them down. Just put them in a roller coaster,” he adds. His constant search for understanding himself and his own psyche makes him an earnest student of the game and one devoted to unfurling human emotions and understanding them to reach catharsis.
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In his first exclusive interview with The NATIVE, Anything with Yusef opens up about being rules by love, his deep inspiration pool and his plans for creating meaningful connections with his craft.
Our conversation, which follows below, has been lightly edited for clarity.
NATIVE: What inspired your moniker ‘Anything With Yusef’?
Anything with Yusef: I chose this name because I really felt that I could do so many genres. There was no genre that I could fail at. I was very confident in that aspect so that’s where the name Anything with Yusef came along.
Can you tell me about where you’re from and your background in music?
I’m a musician from Botswana. I used to make alternative music because of the music I was exposed to as a child. I was around a lot of indie pop and Coldplay. Last year, I figured out that I should make Afrobeats but I was very intimidated by it. Everyone was doing such a great job with it. I made my first Afrobeats song called “BABYGONE” That was a good indication that I should keep going and I just feel very comfortable doing it.
What role do you say your music is playing against the backdrop of Botswana’s sounds on a global scale?
It’s very hard to say [my music is] from Botswana. When people hear it, they don’t know what to say. I think they become more interested because they’ve never heard anything like it. I have to thank Botswana for being a source of inspiration. I’m inspired by a lot of musicians from here like Wonder Season. These are guys who are listened to growing up. I just get inspiration from people. I have friends who from Zambia, Malawi and more. I infuse those, still having the essence of Botswana. That’s how it always worked.
Your musical journey, as far as we know, traces back to 2019 with your first cover of Smoke of LAC’s “Rolling Deep.” What pushed you to kick off a career at this point in your life?
Like I said, I was interested in rap and trap at the beginning of my career. I thought that maybe if I had a cover out people would start recognising me and good enough, people did. People saw my potential and it made me keep going. I did a few more covers that didn’t do well, and then, I just decided to make my own music. I think I was also just scared of making my own music. I didn’t think people would like it but I was working with someone at the time who really helped boost my confidence. I put out a song called “Khalifa.” It did well on SoundCloud and that gave me the confidence to keep going. From then, I thought maybe I could turn this into a bigger thing. Now I’m here.
Who would you say are some of your musical inspirations?
The musicians that inspire me are very eclectic. That’s why I’m multi-genre. I really love Frank Ocean’s songwriting. I know some people may not hear it in my music but he really does inspire me. I love just being able to not always tell the truth in music. Sometimes songs have to be fictional. I like musicians like Pink Floyd. I have elements of Pink Floyd in my music and Drake too. Lastly, AKA, rest in peace. He’s a South African AKA talent that I really looked up to.
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What has your experience been like since releasing “Super Hero”?
I really think now that I understand who I am as a musician. When I was making “Superhero”, I was all over the place. I was doing a lot of sounds. I had to be very honest with myself and focus on pushing a specific sound. This time, Afrobeat stood out to me. It felt like a calling. I knew I’d infuse Afrobeats with a few elements. I think you thrive better when you identify with one sound first and spread out your aspects later. That’s how I think and it’s really working for me.
What’s your creative process like and does it differ from record to record?
Usually, I like to take walks. I don’t like to listen to music when I’m making music because I get distracted and absorb the music that I’m listening to. That was something I realised in 2019, it’s better to make music when you’re not listening to music. Usually, I’d watch a movie. Most of my music is inspired by film because I’m a cinephile. Movies inspire me. Sometimes I have conversations, I think the best ideas come more from conversations. I really advise musicians to have a lot of insightful conversations. Great things can come out of it.
What’s the most important thing about the music you create and what messages do you want your audience to receive?
To feel something. I really want my audience to feel something because I think that’s when they expand on the idea of what my message is. I wanted to exchange the idea that you don’t have to force yourself in any crowd to feel wanted. But still don’t want to feel out of place. “FEEL SOMETHING” is just about accepting yourself and being real with however you feel. Life is too short to not do that. I think when you’re honest, you have a very beautiful life and you will only attract like minds. I want people to just enjoy the life they have and be themselves to the fullest. That’s really my narrative at the moment.
Talk to me about your recent two pack release, ‘Chaos Theory.’ What inspired this?
Interestingly enough, I recorded “STUCK IN MY MIND” alone. I thought the two pack thing wouldn’t be possible but my team was like, “You can definitely do it if you want to.” I thought the only one that would thrive from the 2-pack was “STUCK IN MY MIND” but surprisingly, “FEEL SOMETHING” did well. “FEEL SOMETHING” was a sound people knew me for, and I wanted to take it to the next level. It’s doing what I wanted it to do. It’s making people think and reflect. And that’s what I always want my music to do. I had to get into that mindset this song wasn’t just for me, but others too. I want to take them high and bring them down. Just put them in a roller coaster. That’s another way I’d probably describe my music. My music is like a roller coaster. So many highs and so many lows.
What inspired the title, ‘Chaos Theory?’
I got it from an old movie. I don’t remember the name at the moment but it was by Martin Scorsese or Stanley Kubrick. I think it’s from ‘Clockwork Orange.’ I heard that phrase in the movie. Someone was said “It’s a chaos theory” and sounded nice. That makes some sense because the 2-pack sounded chaotic. It’s two different genres and there’s so much rage in the music. I’m also saying a lot of things that are very emotionally and mentally impactful. The clash just made it feel so chaotic.
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Your vocals on ‘Chaos Theory’ hold this stark vulnerability. Even going back to “Pretend” and “Shanghai” and other tracks on your debut EP. Why’s it important for you to bare yourself in this way?
When I make music, I go for feeling before anything. I got this from Quentin Tarantino. He said something that stuck with me. When he makes films, he tries to knock out the emotion before anything. That’s what I do with my music. When I deliver my music, I always try and go for the emotions before I put the lyrics. That’s why it made so much so much sense for me to do Afrobeats. Sometimes, I don’t know what most of these guys are saying but I feel the emotion.
Are there any topics you want to explore with your music in future?
Definitely. I have gone through a very intense life. I’ve had a very traumatic childhood and I find myself making those songs and stopping because I feel like it’s not time yet. I want to show people who I really am. I’m showing them who I am now and how I overcame. I want to talk more about my experiences growing up as a child and being raised by my sister. I’ve seen a lot of people who had very similar issues and it felt good knowing I wasn’t alone. I do have so much to talk about in that world. My music is going to be very personal moving forward.
What informs your choice of collaborators like producers or featuring artists for the release?
I want to feel that I can trust you. The guys I work with, I don’t even look at them as friends anymore. They are truly my brothers. When you make music, it’s not very good if it’s forced. Veezo View is an artist who’s been thriving in Botswana for so long. I’ve always wanted to work with him but it was never the right time. When I made the song, it was almost instant. I just knew. It has to be a very strong feeling in your heart. Not even in your gut. It has to feel very real, that way, you don’t get disappointed. My producers are Flex the ninja and Mo Beat. Mo Beat has produced for Coco Jones. He’s also like a brother. We can talk about some random things and, like I said, random conversations can inspire the weirdest things. We can be in public and stop having fun because we just got an idea and we have to go apply it before it’s gone. I truly believe that God gives everyone the same idea and whoever catches it first is the one who flies. Everyone loses it. It’s just how it is. So whenever we have an idea, it has to be acted upon immediately, otherwise it’s gonna go to someone else. There’s always that understanding. It’s very rational. Even with any disagreement, it’s very wise and rational. No one gets hurt. It just feels like it’s meant to be.
Do you have any dream collaborators?
I really want to work with Asake. Asake is the best Afropop musician right now. I’m aware of Afrobeats and Amapiano but I’ve never heard it the way he does it. It just feels very fresh. I think that’s what talent looks like. I always try to go for a fresh feel. He’s number one for me. Another could be Frank Ocean. He is so reclusive, he doesn’t go out much. That would be a shock type of feature but Asake is definitely the one I could possibly get working.
What can we expect from you in the future?
We can expect a project in September, God willing. It’s called ‘Shadow’s Die Twice.’ It’s going to be an Afrobeats-inspired project. It will consist of nine songs. It’s about being reborn as a new character, spiritually and mentally because I did go through a mental transition. Deciding that I should leave everything that I was doing to just focus on music because I was all over the place. I was drawing, I was helping people with projects and I just decided to cut everything and focus on myself. It felt like I was shedding skin and just being reborn and so I think the title made a lot of sense. Also, I just felt like I wasn’t being seen and so that’s where the shadow comes in. He’s reborn and they’re definitely going to see him now. A lot of people are starting to pay attention and it’s a good feeling because that means I went with my faith and it did not let me down.
Listen to ‘Chaos Theory’ here.
Featured image credits/The NATIVE