25 January 2023

Zaiy is the Lagos rising star ushering in the future of afrobeats

The 20-year-old musician catches up with HUNGER following the release of his debut EP, ‘Zaiy’s Intro.’

Zaiy doesn’t just see himself as an afrobeats star – he sees himself as an ambassador, one on an assignment to raise the genre to even more unprecedented heights.

Hailing from the Nigerian capital of Lagos, Zaiy has consistently gone against the grain. This anti-conformist attitude became pronounced in his youth, as he opted to pursue a music career while his peers took more traditional paths. After being impressed by the tunes he was conjuring up in his teenage years, Zaiy is now ready to demonstrate his infectious melodies to the world.

Zaiy’s Intro, his debut 2-pack EP, marks a turning point for the musician, allowing him to cultivate a stronger connection to his artistry and inspiring him to pursue his dreams of making music professionally. The project highlights his undeniable skills, charisma, confidence, and willingness to explore a variety of sonics. He feels liberated and carefree as he glides over each melody, experimenting with diverse rhythms and using his velvety vocals to guide us through his vision – a friendly invitation to the starting days of a rising star.

Now 20, Zaiy (born Akinwole Olatunji Isaiah) is building momentum for his viral success by honing in on diverse musical styles and honest songwriting. He does not want to be limited by labels, comparisons, or anyone else’s thoughts about his art. “I don’t see any competition because I have come to understand how the music works. I have also learned a lot from the generation before,” he says. 

With the release of his EP, Zaiy has his sights set on spreading the African sound across the world as “that’s the vision, and the responsibility that has been put on my generation and I.” We recently caught up with the up-and-coming artist about his early beginnings, the influences behind his EP and why he could be the next big afrobeats star.

Congratulations on the release of your debut project. How does it feel to finally share it with the world?

I feel blessed because it has always been a dream of mine to share this side of my craft with the world. Music is a huge part of me; honestly, I’m nothing without it. So, I feel blessed because I’m also very optimistic about how the world will receive it. This project comes from a strong part of me, and it has been a dream to create. 

Can you share a bit about your upbringing and how you came to be an artist?

I was born into a polygamous family in Agbado, Lagos, Nigeria. It’s been crazy because growing up was tough and rough. My mum and I struggled for years before we got to this stage. Music has always been a part of me. My dad was a Fuji artist and he was affiliated with other Fuji artists like Pasuma and Obesere, but he didn’t blow up like they did [Laughs]. Right from my early years, my family always singled me out for anything music related because they could tell that’s what I wanted to do. Even during morning devotions, my family could tell and they loved me for it. As time passed, I knew music was the only thing I could do, so I had to stick with it.

Can you briefly express how your upbringing influences your music?

As I mentioned earlier, my dad was a musician before he passed away four years ago. My upbringing had a very great influence on me because my family loved music. I was used to watching artists’ videos, and I took a serious interest in them. All of these things have helped me to diversify my sound. I was born on the streets; that’s the story. All these things have helped me connect with people on the streets and made me understand everybody’s side. Being born there is like a different source; my upbringing helped me understand how much music affects people. And so, I create music with the knowledge of how much I want to reach people on the streets and then globally. 

Who would you say are some of your current and past music influences?

Growing up, I was exposed to the likes of King Sunny Ade because my dad used to play a lot of his music. I was also exposed to Wasiu Ayinde, and we had the likes of P-Square and 2-Face. And now, we have Wizkid and Davido. These guys heavily influenced me and I appreciate them a lot. It was later on that I got introduced to the international scene. Thanks to a friend who put me on to artists like XXXTentacion, and Michael Jackson.

From working with [producer] Stephen Solomon to writing these songs, what was the process like making Zaiy’s Intro?

I moved from where I stayed with my mum and started living with my friends, who were also making music. We had producers there, they’d make different beats, and we’d just vibe. To be honest, this project just happened naturally. It’s crazy because the two songs on this EP are the songs I didn’t overthink. For example, ‘Pull Up’ was created when my guys and I were just vibing. And on ‘I See You,’ my guy was just making the beat at home, and I already had a part of the song in my head. I told my story with the track because it was a really deep moment for me. 

With this being your debut EP, what was the hardest part about putting this short yet precise project together? 

One of the challenges I had was getting the producers together to complete the tracks. It’s not like I’m paying the producers; these guys are just my friends. I sent the tracks to my manager, he liked them and then insisted that we make them. I had to call the producers so they could complete it; those were honestly the hardest parts. But creating the songs was not so difficult because they came out naturally, and I’m really glad they’re the ones on my debut project. 

One can hear the passion and hunger in your music. Whom did you envision this project would resonate with?

When you listen to this project, you feel the hype side of it and the solemn side of it too. I found balance in ensuring this project reaches my age group and those older. I’m 20 years old, but I feel like I’ve been able to create my melody in a way that can still touch older listeners. So, I made this project to connect with different people at different levels of their life. 

‘Pull Up’ has to be my favourite track off the project. What were you feeling when recording this particular track in the studio?

It was all vibes, honestly. My friend called a producer into the crib, and they knew me to be that new guy who happened to be visiting. The producer was just making the beat, and my friend and I were just vibing. I started humming the melody and the words started coming, and that was how it was created.

You mentioned earlier that you told your story on ‘I See You.’ Can you tell me why you felt that was important?

I feel that’s the fastest way to get connected to my core fanbase. It’s always good when people can relate to your story, and I’m not saying this because I want them to feel emotional for me. I want listeners of my music to know where I’m coming from, and wherever I get to in the future, they can see and understand my beginning. So, it was important for me to tell my story with that song, and I’m very glad it’s on the project. 

Should we be expecting music videos for these singles soon? Is that in the pipeline this year?

I’ll be going with the flow this year. This project I just put out now is more like an introductory project; that’s why it’s called Zaiy’s Intro. But there are more great songs and some great visual content coming out this year.

Finally, what are your current thoughts on the afrobeats scene, and how do you intend to contribute to its progress? 

The music has now been able to reach a wide range of fans, compared to those days when we didn’t have social media or even easy access to the internet. I also have to give a shout-out to the OGs who have been doing it before. These guys have taken the music to a global standard, but I plan to take the music to a different space where we have afrobeats as one of the most recognized genres in the entire world. That’s the vision, and the responsibility has been put on my generation and I. 

  • Writer Robert Solomon

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