NATIVE Exclusive: Young Jonn details journey from prolific producer to all-round artist
"I’ve always been a singer, and I just really enjoy making music, whether it’s producing or using my voice."
"I’ve always been a singer, and I just really enjoy making music, whether it’s producing or using my voice."
Young Jonn moved to Lagos on a whim. While in his mid-teens and waiting to re-enter university, the producer/singer made his way to the bustling capital city of Nigerian pop, choosing to put his studies on hold and live in a studio while working towards his big break. The son of a Nigerian pastor, his upbringing in a church environment furnished him with instrumental chops fundamental to his music-making career, which melded with his keen-eyed approach and youthful audacity, leading him down an illustrious path.
“When I decided to come to Lagos, I was in a studio—Hit Factory studios,” Young Jonn says on a zoom call. “I was basically living there and I was making beats without really knowing where it would end up. I just believed that someday, I’m going to have my shot.” That was the same studio indigenous rap titan Olamide was recording his sophomore album, ‘YBNL (Yahoo Boy No Lapotop)’, and his consistent presence in the vicinity led to a fruitful working relationship with the superstar artist.
First came “Story for the Gods,” the mildly controversial smash hit that instantly emblazoned his producer tag—“it’s Young Jonn the wicked producer”—on Nigerian music’s mainstream consciousness. What followed was Young Jonn leading a trailblazing run for street music in the 2010s, authoring insanely ubiquitous slappers for Olamide, Phyno, Lil Kesh, Kizz Daniel, Naira Marley, and many, many more.
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In the midst of dictating the sonic terrain of “street-hop,” Jigga—as he’s known to collaborators and Nigerian music industry insiders—was recording his own music, singing over beats he created. A long time interest, Young Jonn has been singing since those church days, even rapping with his brother and cousin in a now-defunct group. With making beats and producing for other artists according him popularity and an enviable level of reverence, making his own music came with little to no pressures, with his developmental years as an artist being less of a pressure cooker and more of a freewheeling endeavour.
“I’ve always been a singer, and I just really enjoy making music, whether it’s producing or using my voice,” he says. “I just never put that side of me out there on a major level until recently, but it has always been a part of my process.” In the first quarter of this year, Young Jonn took a clear step in unveiling himself as an all-round artist. Over two years after scoring a respectable solo hit with “In Case,” he released “Dada,” a bubbly, infatuation-drunk song that’s one of the most recognisable Nigerian pop songs in 2021. It was so good and popular, it received the Davido remix treatment.
“Dada” is the lead single to Jigga’s late March debut EP, ‘Love is not Enough’. On the brief 5-song tape, the singer uses first person narrative to expound on his grasp of the complexities of modern romance, with tracks skating across devotion, polyamorous flirting, and carnal desire. These themes are accompanied by vibrant production, with his R&B influences—he name checks Omarion and Styl Plus as artistic inspirations—rounding out the Afro-fusion canvas. It’s a notable re-entrance for Young Jonn, a part of his career he’s more committed to than he’s ever been.
Our Conversation with Young Jonn has been lightly edited for clarity and it follows below.
NATIVE: Where did you grow up?
Young Jonn: I grew up in Ibadan and Oshogbo. I was going back and forth, did some years in Ibadan, moved to Oshogbo then came back to Ibadan.
NATIVE: Was that a family thing?
Young Jonn: Yeah, it was. My dad was a pastor and my mum had a school in Osun state, which was why we were moving back-and-forth.
NATIVE: How did that movement play a role in who you’d become?
Young Jonn: I became comfortable moving to new places, like when I came to Lagos, I knew I could settle in.
NATIVE: Was that for the music?
Young Jonn: Yeah, it was for the music. Basically, what happened is, I used to make music in a group with my brother and cousin, I made the beats and we would rap. In fact, that was a main reason I learnt how to make beats, because I wanted to make the beats for us to use. When it was time for us to go to university, all of us went to school and all that. I got admission in the University of Ibadan, and for some reason, I missed out on my clearance date and I’d have to wait till the next year to continue in school. Instead of waiting, I decided to come to Lagos. I came when I was 15, 16, around that age. I was in a studio most of the time when I came.
NATIVE: Before we get into that, how did you get into music?
Young Jonn: I grew up in a church environment, and I was playing the keyboards, I played the drums as well. I already had my foundation in there. That helped me a lot when I started making tracks—the drums, the percussions, the melodies—I was able to have a proper foundation in the basic knowledge of music from being in the church.
NATIVE: Were you making music when you got to Lagos?
Young Jonn: Yeah, I was already making music, because when I decided to come to Lagos, I was in a studio—Hit Factory studios. I was basically living there and I was making beats without really knowing where it would end up. I just believed that someday, I’m going to have my shot.
NATIVE: Yeah, you did.
Young Jonn: Yeah. Coincidentally, that studio is where Olamide recorded the YBNL album. I was always there, in a corner, just always around. I was working on my stuff as well, just getting better. At the same time, Jaywon used to come around, Sexy Steel as well, and I was able to work with them. In time, I got to work with Olamide, but we didn’t put out anything till we made “Story for the Gods,” and that was it.
NATIVE: You played a huge role in one of the greatest runs in Nigerian music. I’m pretty sure that was huge and you learnt a lot.
Young Jonn: Yeah, man. That work ethic Olamide has was big for me, and that’s why I like to consistently go all in on my stuff, you know. That time, he’d work with Pheelz and they’d record so many songs. Me also, we’d record so many songs, and I’m like, ‘this bros no dey rest?’ That work rate was something else and it’s gone a long way into making me the artist I am.
NATIVE: Now that many people know you sing as well, how much of your beats had your voice on them already?
Young Jonn: Haha, I can’t say. I’ve always been a singer, and I just really enjoy making music, whether it’s producing or using my voice. I just never put that side of me out there on a major level until recently, but it has always been a part of my process. Like, I’d make beats and sample my vocals on the beats. It’s always been like that.
NATIVE: I’m sure many of the artists you worked with found out you could sing.
Young Jonn: Funny enough, it wasn’t that many artists I worked with that knew. I wasn’t really playing my stuff for many people. I’m the type of artist that records when I feel like it, vibe to it and leave it on my laptop. It’s only people that I was close to that knew I could sing earlier than a lot of people.
NATIVE: How were you gauging your skill level, since you didn’t have too many external reactions to your music?
Young Jonn: Funny enough, it was just vibes. I wasn’t intentionally recording and listening to other people, it just kept evolving organically for me, till it got to this point it is at now. It was just working gradually, trusting myself, and picking up tricks from artists I worked with and wherever else.
NATIVE: I knew when “In Case” came out, was that the first time you put out a song with your voice on it?
Young Jonn: Nah. There’s a song from 2015 or 2016, I can’t really remember. It was nothing serious.
NATIVE: Did you have any jitters with “In Case” being your first major release?
Young Jonn: Not really. Like I said before, it’s just vibes. It wasn’t really about, “I want to drop this song and it must blow.” I just wanted to put out my music, share this other side of me to world, you know, and whatever happens, happens. I’ve always known I’ll keep on producing and keep on making my own music. It’s all vibes, man.
NATIVE: I get that all vibes thing, but a song like “Dada” has be like some form of validation of your abilities as a standalone artist.
Young Jonn: I felt really good, can’t like. Prior to dropping the song, we put in a lot of effort and planning, so when the song finally dropped, I was hoping it all pays off. When the song dropped and it started climbing the charts gradually, I felt excited, I felt really blessed, ‘cause being able to produce and take it to the max, and I decided to do this and people are accepting it way more than I could expect.
NATIVE: This is a cliché question, but what inspires you as an all-round music-maker?
Young Jonn: I’ll say it again, it’s all vibes. I feel like my music comes from a place influenced by personal experiences—probably not the full song. First of all, I don’t take it too serious when I’m recording, I take it bit by bit and I make sure it all flows. Each line comes from somewhere that has something to do with my experiences; one line could be from my experience with one person, another line could be from someone else entirely. I just have to make it all fit in together.
NATIVE: The title of your EP is very plain, and I just want to ask what your experiences with love have been like.
Young Jonn: My experiences with love have been kinda weird, in the sense that my own understanding of love is quite different from the way many people see it. A lot of people think it’s a do or die thing, but I feel like love doesn’t have to be romanticised. For me, I feel like you could love someone and not be with them, and if we’re being honest, it’s possible to love more than one person at the same time and we can’t be with all of them. I don’t think love can be the only decisive factor for being with someone, so when I say love is not enough, I know it’s amazing to be in love and all that, but other things matter.
NATIVE: The project is out via Chocolate City, how’d that connection happen?
Young Jonn: I was considering letting more people into this side of my abilities, but it’s not like I was aggressively searching for a situation or anything. Coincidentally, Chocolate City heard my stuff, we got to talking and it felt like the right thing to do. It was all so stress-free and it’s working out really good already. I just knew I had to put my best foot forward, go through the process and let it all play out. Nobody really knows the future, it’s just doing it with good faith.
NATIVE: Are you enjoying the moment or you’re already looking at what’s next for Young Jonn the artist?
Young Jonn: Both. Just seeing “Dada” do well has motivated to put in even more work. I’m spending more time in the studio these days, working on new stuff and updating the many unreleased stuff I have. There’s definitely a lot from Young Jonn the artist, and I hope people love it.