NATIVE Exclusive: Crayon Is At His Most Triumphant On His Debut Album

"Everything is going the way God has planned it"

On the day of his NATIVE Exclusive interview, Crayon joins the call from the States. It’s his first time there, but the experience has been wholesome and memorable, performing music across cities as he tours with Rema and Victony. But there’s even more reason for the musician to be grateful: after making his debut in 2019—the time in-between filled with tests and triumph—he’s now released his debut album, which is fittingly titled ‘Trench to Triumph’.

“Everything is going the way God has planned it,” the man says some moments later, his voice unmistakably chill. “I feel amazing, and dropping the album while I’m on tour—it’s the most beautiful thing ever,” he shares. Alongside his label mate and longtime friend, Rema, the artist has coloured stages with his inimitable energy, the exact atmosphere that’s seen his career soar in the past couple of years. Now, with his debut album here, the progression achieves dramatic maturity, the point from which everything else changes. 


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Crayon began recording ‘Trench to Triumph’ in 2020, and he reckons that “the amount of songs recorded from that time till now can make like two or three albums. But I have to select thirteen songs to fit into the theme of the album.” Though the songs on the album come across as fun and expressively realised, the creation process was anything but idyllic. 

“It’s been a crazy journey,” Crayon says. “I’ve loved every part of it. Sometimes, I go into the studio and I’m not feeling myself. Sometimes, I go into the studio and I make the happiest song of my life like “Ijo Laba Laba.” Sometimes, I go to the studio where I just talk about some spiritual struggles that I’ve been through that most people would not survive.”

As the narrative moves from struggle to strength, so does Crayon’s voice changes, the chill tone replaced with an audible verve. Nigerian Pop is undeniably a slippery terrain, accentuated by the many artists trying to grasp footing on its fertile soil. Each song is released alongside thousands more, and the line between a good song and a well-received one thins out with several nuances. The well-received ‘Cray Cray’ came out in 2019 and the artist followed up his breakout year with a string of singles that included “Sometime” and “Do Me”, but most of them went relatively under the radar, and that can be a tough spot for any artist. 

“It’s beautiful to see because I feel like God is the greatest scriptwriter,” he tells me now. “My career went from ten to five, to zero, to seven, to ten. Like, my career has just been like up-down, and now my trajectory is just up, up, up. Everything has been amazing because if you look at it from where I came from, asides my career, where I came from; from Orile to Ojo, from Ojo to Mavin, now to America, doing global shows, it’s been beautiful.”

Expectedly, the album carries that tone of gratefulness. “Call me calvary kid, cos I’ve fought so many wars,” sings Crayon on its atmospheric opener “Calvary Kid”. Amid this wholesome gaze, the artist creates songs tendered to love’s pure flame. It’s that fullness of experience that has earned the album good critical reception, a no-skip project whose feeling amplifies with every listen. 

The intimate shape of ‘Trench to Triumph’ doesn’t only come from Crayon’s bright perspective, but how the album’s features are weaned into the songs’ direction. The collaborators reveal that the artist is aware of what takes a song from merely impressionable to really good. “Ngozi” remains one of the strongest duets of the year, with Ayra Starr matching Crayon’s vigour with melodic vibrance, her writing effortlessly encompassing. It becomes a flick of fate’s hand; Ayra wasn’t originally intended to be the guest, but “for some reason the person wasn’t really clicking,” he shares.

Ayra came through and created what Crayon considers “one of the sweetest verses [he’s] ever heard”. His emotive-voiced label mate Magixx features on “You vs You,” extending their long friendship into a cornerstone of the album’s intimacy. “He’s always been my brother,” says Crayon. “We used to eat amala together; we used to vibe a lot together”. If the collaborations for ‘Trench to Triumph’ seems to shine with progression, then wait till you know how deep the friendship between Victony and Crayon goes. 

Both artists grew up in Ojo Road, a small neighbourhood in the Ajeromi-Ifelodun local government area, part of the cluster of hoods that form where people know as Lagos mainland. “We could be passing each other everyday and we don’t know we’re superstars,” Crayon says about that time. “And he knows all my spots in the hood. I went to his house one day to see him and I was having a conversation with his mum, and I was just mentioning some areas and his mum was just laughing like, ‘that’s where we stay’. It’s crazy to me.” 

The hood as Crayon remembers it wasn’t a trivial landscape. Reaching deep into memory, he unfurls the images; people smoking just across from his house, the weed dealer’s bag slung over his shoulder, the threatening cloud hovering above a game of gambling, the drugs. “I cannot count how many times we’ve run away from the police,” he says. “If Police dey come like this, you just gats dey run first, because anybody wey dem see, they dey carry. Ojo is that crazy.”

He relays these experiences on “Trench Kid,” which is one of the most revealing songs on the album. “It was like I was reading a novel,” he says. “In Ojo, when you’re planning something, you have to keep it to yourself until you actualise it. Let’s say tomorrow I want to go and buy Air Force-1, and I’m announcing it, you will not buy that Air Force-1 oh. Not because they are wishing you bad, or your friends don’t want you to buy, but something will happen. It’s the energy around that doesn’t want anybody to grow. I know how many artists and footballers have been there for years; I’m literally the first person to blow out of that area”. 

As someone who grew up in Ajegunle, which isn’t very far from Ojo Road, I know this painting of Crayon’s. Especially his old acquaintances and friends, some of them who’ve become disillusioned with life, turning to hard substances to keep up with the pressure. How eager the mouth of that beast wanted to swallow anyone it found. Music was the reality for Crayon; he references the chorus of an early Wizkid hit (“Dem say I go be number one/ As a born champion, no lele”) to relay his perspective, how the decrepit lifestyle he saw around made him want to do better. “It’s because I was stubborn,” he says. “Stubborn to greatness; like, you have to be persistent. All die na die”.

It seems predestined that the artist got a solid grounding in music. Crayon listened to the likes of 2Face Idibia, Westlife, Hip-Hop and Igbo gospel songs, accessing them through his father who sold CDs in Victoria Island. He also got his early training in stagecraft through the man, who also worked as an MC. When the idea to record songs came, a teenage Crayon would trek the not-so-long distance to Festac Town, a middle class area of Lagos that’s founded, literally, on the purpose of promoting culture. There he found an artistic community, which, in someway, led to meeting Ozedikus and another musician friend Nos and set-off his journey to Baby Fresh, the producer whose Blowtime Entertainment accelerated his path onto Mavin Records.

In the Afropop sphere of today, having the right team can be as important, if not more important, than merely being talent. Being signed to one of Africa’s biggest labels has been a learning experience for Crayon, whose perspective is illuminating and precise. “It’s like you’re playing in an all-star team,” he says, listing off a roster of football A-listers. “Everybody has a role to play, and I’m happy to be part of the team because it’s beautiful and everybody is winning, and everybody gets equal love and attention. I say a big thank you to the entire team; everybody has been working tirelessly to make sure my album is a success. I’ve learnt so much; I’ve learnt ‘family first’. I’m a team player. You listen a lot if you want to be successful”. 

From the several lives he’s lived, Crayon definitely carries a lot of expectations. Not necessarily from anyone, but within himself, possessing that burning urge to continue being present in a story that began 23 years ago. For him, God is the driving force behind him, and earlier during our conversation he’d spoken about being a church boy as a kid, eagerly attending service, participating in evangelism, sharing fliers for programs, sweeping the church yard—it was all in the promise of belief. 

The cover of ‘Trench to Triumph’ situates a cross above the figure of Crayon, a poetic rendering of his faith. Itself a striking piece of art, it conveys the stark quality of the album. Though a sterling project which belongs in year-end conversations, the journey continues still for Crayon. “This is just my debut album so it’s just the beginning,” he affirms. “We’ll take it to the apex level. I’m that kind of guy that is never satisfied. I can be content, but I’m never satisfied. I want more every time”.