NATIVE Exclusive: T.I Blaze Is Becoming Major

a brave journey to pop ubiquity

T.I Blaze understands the journey is a long one. The Nigeria-based singer has stepped into his superstar status for a little over a year, and has been a hustler for way longer. When “Sometimes” emerged ion the circuit in late 2021, its emotive ring encapsulated the post-End SARS angst so many Nigerian youths were feeling and became an instant hit. Quite admirably, the 22-year-old quickly moved on from its blistering light, did a remix with Olamide, released a couple other songs, and, in that artistic process, brought more focus to the awareness of his vocal compositions. It was clear that T.I Blaze was becoming major. 

Last month, the singer shared his debut studio album ‘El Major.’ Concisely put, thirteen songs make up the projects, with features coming from the elite line-up of Bella Shmurda, LADIPOE, Fave, Backroad Gee and Camidoh, the latter pair being Congolese-British rapper and the Ghanaian vocalist, Camidoh. “I [recorded the songs] like three or four months to the album,” says T.I Blaze at the start of our conversation, bringing its trajectory to notice. “Before that time, I had some songs on ground already, since like January. So I just pieced them together.” 


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‘The Fresh Prince of Lagos’ was released in February, an EP of six records which included “Sometimes” and “Try,” its similarly emotive follow-up. It was T.I’s plan to release multiple projects this year, “two or three,” he shares candidly. Having stayed in the background for so long, there’s only a natural instinct to put out as much as he can, and in conversation he reveals his intent to keep on releasing projects, every year he’s active. Between the nine months separating his debut EP and then album release, T.I Blaze evolved his subject matter, from sketching his narrative alongside the established lore of Lagos to staking out new territory. 

Street Hop’s ethos of heartfelt aspirational messaging is well documented, but T.I Blaze is a singular prospect. He’s able to explore variant extremes of emotions, relaying undertones of melancholy even while charting the seas of his progressive course. Whereas ‘Fresh Prince’ had “Try” propelling its uber-aware message, ‘El Major’ spreads itself to incorporate diverse storylines and perspectives. “While recording the album, I wanted people to know it’s not about me, and more about expanding my craft,” he says, taking it “above just Africa. I already planned everything on the album. The album has to be a general thing that everyone can hear; the type of Afrobeats the whole world wants. In the album, people tend to learn a lot.”

True to T.I’s words, ‘El Major’ is a wise album. Beginning with the warm optimism of “Good Life,” the project unfurls layers of hard-wrought introspection (“Lock Up”), romance-centred tensions (“Play”) and testaments on the workings of the world (“Frenemies”). All through, the verses and hooks of T.I’s are threaded by this dedication to realism, and when posed with the question of his preferred creative environment, he instantly lights up, mentioning the studio. “I like to stay in the studio a lot and listen to beats,” he affirms. “I like to do emotional songs, sad songs and street songs, so any beat that gets me in that mood, I’m definitely working with it.”

Given the emo themes in his work, it’s not surprising to know T.I Blaze has experienced the rougher edges of life. While only 22, he speaks with the wisdom of a sage who’s been wise to the game all their life. Similarly, his foray into the music industry was inspired by his resolve to chart his own course. He recorded “Sometimes” in Agbado, the neighbourhood in Ogun state where he grew up. It was an area bordering Lagos, so T.I visited the entertainment capital frequently, linking up with friends resident in different parts of the state. 

When he recorded his first ever song in 2018, it was his hunger to prove himself that earned him studio hours. Prior to then he was writing songs in notebooks and clamouring to be heard, but few people took him seriously. He played the debut record for everyone: his family, friends, neighbourhood folks. Everyone loved it. T.I Blaze became a sort of local celebrity, playing at events and recording songs. All for free, he tells me. “I can boldly say that I’ve never paid for a recording session in my life, so I feel like—I think God wants it”. 

T.I remembers his family being engrossed in music and supportive of his interest. Among three children, he was the middle child, and wasn’t too young to learn the ways of balladry from his mother’s choir days. Though he was a Muslim, in practice his father didn’t visit the mosque very often, a choice that informed his rather eclectic tastes. As a boy Timilehin would sit by his father’s side while he listened to songs on the radio. Inside the house, classic music from Haruna Ishola, Ebenezer Obey, “all those old men songs,” would fill each room. Through genres such as Fuji and Juju, which he paired with the 2000’s R&B and contemporary Afropop, T.I Blaze nurtured a voracious musical appetite which provided the perfect backdrop for his singing talent to emerge. 

While T.I Blaze frequented Lagos, there was a time when he slept in the kitchen of a hotel, along with another homeless friend of his. Narrating this point in his life, he doesn’t glorify its existence as much as he sees it as something that had to happen. He was born into music and it was only normal to work through his teenage years to see that dream become reality. It wasn’t a straightforward journey however. “I left home when it wasn’t time for me to be on my own, but I left,” he says. “I was doing my streets, I was doing my thing. I didn’t know where it was leading me to, I was just doing everything. Moving up and down, squatting around. At some point, I felt lost but I just knew that everything is going to happen, and it’s happened.”

T.I Blaze understands the responsibility of being major. “The lifestyle has changed,” he reveals. “You can’t talk anyhow, you can’t post anyhow, you can’t move anyhow—it has changed totally.” A stranger might mistake such acknowledgements for a show-off, but if you know anything about T.I Blaze, this is far from the truth as he’s known to move through life gently. Perhaps this is due to what he’s experienced in close quarters. 

In the Olu The Wave-directed video of “Try,” he orchestrates a crime while detailing the hunger he feels for success. The poignant visuals ends with his character dying after many attempts to claim the spoils alone, and its closing section reads out the caveat, “In all your endeavours…regardless of your situation/circumstances, robbery is never a way out.”

“The streets of Lagos is so crazy,” he says now about the precarious path he took to find his way, which his mother didn’t agree with. “You can easily turn into a thug; you have to be strong or your life will just change into a bad thing and before you know it, you’re gone,” he says, snapping his fingers. “You won’t find your way back to a normal life.”

So how strong does T.I Blaze reckon he is at this stage in his career?

“Very strong,” he responds.

“Why do you think so?” 

He pauses. “I like taking hard decisions,” he shares with the NATIVE after some time. “Because I know that’s where the real path is.”

Stream ‘El Major’ below.