Davido On Elevating Nigerian Culture, New Music & What He’ll Teach His Son About Being Black In America

The Afrobeats star opens up about furthering Nigeria’s global cultural impact and how the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement has personally impacted him.

David Adedeji Adeleke—a.k.a  Davido—was on his way to becoming a rapper until one Christmas, everything changed when he decided to travel to his parents’ home country of Nigeria.

“I just fell in love with African music. I was like, ‘Yo, I think I want to do African music,'” he recently told GRAMMY.com from Los Angeles. “And it worked out. If I would have rapped, I’d probably still be at home.”

Things more than worked out for the 27-year-old breakout Afrobeats star born in Atlanta. As Afrobeats continues to grab the world’s attention, he’s risen to be featured on the May 2020 cover of Billboard magazine and, according to Rolling Stone, his single “Fall” off his 2019 album A Good Time holds the record for the longest Nigerian pop song in Billboard history. And he continues to reach new heights: He was on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” last month.

Davido, who also runs his own label, undoubtedly is expanding Afrobeats’ reach, yet that arguably is not the most interesting thing about the artist who went to college at the young age of 15 before his music career took off. Now, as he works on his next album  A Better Time, the artist is finding himself in an elevated place in his life. “I feel like I’ve been in a better space. So you’re going to see a lot of growth on this album,” he said.

We spoke to him about the forthcoming album and how the pandemic has shaped it, how his label is helping him give opportunities to artists, what he thinks about people’s love for Africa now, as well as how his recently born son has changed the way he looks at racism, and more.

Your sophomore album, A Good Time, was released in November. What did you enjoy about making album number two?

First of all, I think making album number two, the good thing about it is you learn a lot of mistakes from the albums you’ve previously dropped. So the first thing I went into with this album was planning. I had to make sure I had proper planning. The reason I called the album  A Good Time is because we just had a good time making it. It wasn’t forced. I remember my first album, I had a deadline, so I had to record songs that didn’t take time to make. I didn’t take my time on them. With this second album, I had more time and more creative space to create.

You were recently on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” Tell me about that experience.

Man, it’s crazy. I’ve been watching late-night shows—I remember being a kid, and you’re not meant to be up late, [and] I used to sneak to the living room and I used to watch back-to-back tonight shows. I’ve seen all the greats perform there. 50 Cent. The list is long. I remember when it aired all my family, my brothers, people I went to school with back in the days, hit me up like, “Yo, that’s crazy.” They knew how everything started. Two years ago, I’d had never imagined I’d be on “Jimmy Fallon.” For it to just happen and everybody just be happy about it just is amazing to see.

You’re an Afrobeats breakout star. You along with people like Yvonne Orji are opening up Americans of all backgrounds to Nigerian culture. Do you feel a sense of responsibility doing that?

Yeah, of course. It’s crazy, because I’m from both America and Africa, so I know how both sides think. I went to school in Alabama. I went to college at 15. I was very young. And Alabama was a predominantly white state. So being an African kid in a university where it’s 13% Black people, it’s amazing. It’s not easy. I had to learn a lot of the things when I was like, “Yo, why you look at me like that?” And not even just being Black, being African. They used to ask me questions like, “Yo, how’d you get to America?” I’m like, “What you mean? I came on a plane.” “Oh, y’all got airports?” Now every American wants to go to Africa. Everybody wants to know where they’re from. So it’s good to see the transition from not being appreciated, to being appreciated right now. Even with fashion. You got designers making African print fashion, so it’s not only music. The culture is being felt everywhere.

As a person with a bi-cultural background, you could have gone either way with your music.

I actually started out rapping. I actually started rapping first. I used to live in Atlanta and I used to just rap, make beats. Then I went to Nigeria for Christmas one time and I just fell in love with African music. I was like, “Yo, I think I want to do African music.” And it worked out. If I would have rapped, I’d probably still be at home.

What about the music did you fall in love with?

Man, I don’t know. To me, when I listen to Afrobeats, it’s just a different feeling. You’d be in the club, they play hip-hop, trap, R&B, whatever the case may be. And once the Afrobeat come on, you can tell the difference from the scenery, the feeling, the beats. Most people don’t even know what we saying, but they still listen to it. So that’s the great thing about it.

That rhythm will make you want to dance.

The rhythm. Yeah, the rhythm.

I’m still thinking about the fact that you said you went to college at 15?

I went to college at around 15. I went to this Christian university in Huntsville, Alabama. I was there for about two years and then I didn’t go back because I went back to Nigeria and I fell in love with African music. So I was trying to stay in Africa and do the music. The deal with my parents was I had to graduate. So I was like, “Cool, let me do the music. I go to school.” So I was going to school, but I got too far footed in school. So I started doing home classes. They used to put me in classes alone because my music blew up and people couldn’t concentrate if I was in the class.

Wow.

Yeah, that was crazy. So I finally got my degree and then everything just went crazy from there.

Talk to me about your influences. Who do you look up to? Who shaped your music?

Honestly, I don’t really have too many musical influences. But I grew up like I said, I used to want to be a rapper. I used to love 50 Cent, I used to have all the G-Unit clothes, I used to have the video game. I was more of a rap type of person. I don’t think that moulded my music in any way. But with my style, I liked the urban style. I dressed like a rapper anyway. But yeah, I’d say hip hop did a lot of influencing for me.

When you’re creating, how do you get in the zone?

Funny enough, I like a lot of people around me when I’m recording. I actually don’t really like to record alone because I like to record and see people enjoy the music. That’s what gives me more [motivation]. “Oh, keep going.” You in the studio, you make something from scratch and one hour later everybody in the studio’s singing what you just made. That’s amazing. I like having people in the studio, party type stuff … I probably get a studio especially by myself to maybe finalize it, but to make it, I like to be around people.

What are you working on now? 

The new album we’re working on now, the third album, is called  A Better Time. We’re doing a little series with albums. First on the scene was A Good Time, now it’s  A  Better Time. So I came out here to just finish up the features and shoot some videos and it is looking pretty dope.

What can fans expect on this next one?

I think you’ll see a lot of growth. Just like in A Good Time album. I feel like I’ve been in a better space. So you’re going to see a lot of growth on this album, I can tell you that much.

Does that growth have anything to do with the pandemic?

You know what? I was just saying that because most times I’m on tour, etc. For the first time in a long time for our generation, that is, we have to actually stay at home. This has never happened. Imagine how many people had time to sit down and really reflect on their life? You know what I’m saying? I had to make some changes. Just being at home for so long, I made some changes. I cut off some people, I just stepped away from the world a little bit. Just tried to realize who I really was. You feel me? And I feel like that’s what helped my music. It’s all because of the pandemic.

Weeks into the pandemic, we had George Floyd’s death and the  Black Lives Matter movement getting major attention. What do you make about the conversations regarding race going on across the country and other parts of the world?

It’s crazy because like I said, I grew up in Huntsville, Alabama, this was when I was 15, 16, so I’ve always understood like, yo, this is going to happen. You know what I’m saying? Sometimes just because of the colour of your skin, you might not get a lot of honesty from somebody. You feel me? So it was just crazy.

This how I look at it: I just had a son and he’s an American citizen. So imagine my son telling me, “Yo, dad, I want to go to the mall.” And I have to explain to him like, “Yo, if the police stop you…” It’s crazy how we have to tell them that part. I don’t think growing up my dad ever sat me down and was like, “Oh, this is going to happen.” But I have to do it for my son. I have to teach him as a Black man. As a Black man, you have to be able to defend yourself, number one. You’re not going to get your way all the time and you just have to be a man and be strong. The other way I look at it, we’re screaming Black Lives Matter, right? But we killing ourselves too. So the conversation is both sided, it goes both ways.

The situation also brought a lot of accountability in the music industry. You have your own label. Is your label your way of giving opportunities to artists who maybe wouldn’t have those opportunities?

Of course. My label is one of the only record labels that really bring artists from scratch. Most people just sign artists that already made. My label, it’s a whole family. Anything I get from them, I invest it and I give it to them to invest back in themselves because I want to see them grow. I’ve been blessed to be able to take care of myself, that I’m willing to be signing somebody that I know can be the next me or potentially be bigger than me. And I sign you down for a contract and you giving me 60% of your money and you can invest in yourself. Whereas me, I didn’t sign to nobody, I had the opportunity to make 100% of my money for a long time. So that’s how I think of it. I’m not going to do what they didn’t do to me. So most of my artists they’re like my little brothers. We help each other. They help me. I help them.

Written by JENNIFER VELEZ for Grammy.com