The 24-year-old Benue native sits with Bside to discuss his come-up story, his intended impact on the Afrobeats space and what it’s like to be him.
The evolution of Afrobeats reached an important stage during the mid-2000s to 2010s. Kennis Music, through the efforts of Keke Ogungbe and Dayo Adeneye, had ensured some semblance of structure and belief in our system returned to Nigeria’s music space. As change demands, new eras are formed, and naturally, the baton was passed to promising labels who were ready to take the genre to the next level.
Chocolate City was one of those labels. With rapper M.I. as their flagship act, Choc City went on to house and nurture some of Nigeria’s most unique and notable artists across different eras. Rappers like Ice Prince, Jesse Jagz, and now Blaqbonez have also created some distinct and innovative records behind their walls and left their prints on the country’s ever-growing Walk of Fame. The record label aims to continue this trend with Major AJ, one of their newest artists.
Our phone call on a cloudy Tuesday afternoon in July gave me a little glimpse into Major AJ’s current reality. He seems to always have somewhere to be, having to meet a scheduled call is something he’s had to do multiple times recently. But he’s full of life as his raspy voice eases through the speakers gently, but with conviction. It’s the conviction he holds close to him, it’s evident the moment you press play on his latest project, Retroverse.
He finds a balance between the old and new on the record. A blend of pop, disco, and electronic sounds that find root in the 80s and 90s only serve as additions to Retroverse’s original African flavor. Your ears might listen more closely when it recognizes the interpolations of Angélique Kidjo’s “Agolo” on “Mr. Lover”, or your feet might tap gently to the rhythm of “Taboo”. Major AJ makes music that’s true to everything that’s inspired him since his early years.
Born Vincent Boluwatife Ajogwu, he picked up his name from his father who was in the army but passed in his early years. He grew up in Kainji, Niger State, where he would mime to old Choc City records and freestyle with his friends in school. His taste for music is also formed by his interests in Ebenezer Obey, Michael Jackson and Fela Kuti, and is hugely impacted by hip-hop. Major AJ’s versatility is as a result of this wide musical spectrum.
I spoke to the 24-year-old Benue native about his come-up story, his intended impact on the Afrobeats space and what it’s like to be him.
This interview is lightly edited for clarity.
Major AJ: Sorry for the delay, I had to grab a bottle of vodka.
Bside: I feel that, were you out?
I got home at 4 AM, I had to go to Obi’s House last night.
Yeah, it’s usually mad on a Monday night.
M: It was mad o, and I got to perform my song as well. You know the way Obi’s House is, a lot of artists choke, and all these pop guys. Obi just span it at the last minute.
M: It was 100, I no dey lack energy.
That’s great, it seems like you’re here on a nice vibe this afternoon.
Now that you’re signed to Choc City, it’s time to tell your story. I guess I’ll just start with how you got into music.
Music has always been in the family, ‘cause my mum and my grandma were in the choir. I used to follow them to rehearsals. I used to play the drums, and eventually, I fell in love with instruments.
You can play an instrument?
Yeah, I can play the piano. All my covers, I record them myself. I’m also heavily involved in my production ‘cause I know the music.
So yeah, it all started from church. I didn’t think I was going to have a career in it. Then in junior secondary school, I used to freestyle. There was a transfer student that came in and started talking about music, like “why are there no rappers in this school?”
I fell in love with music since then, and it felt like I had a calling, y’know? I had this vision in my head, like a glimpse into the future, and I saw myself on stage with people singing back to me.
You’re living it because that happened last night.
Honestly. Because in Kainji [in Niger State] where I grew up, there was no major studio. Nobody in my family had been in the entertainment line before. As time went on, I realized music is the only thing I’d rather do every day.
When did you make your first song?
So, in all these years of freestyling, we didn’t make anything. We just used to mime to the OG Choc Boys, all them “Molowo Noni” and stuff. My first song was a cover of Djinee’s “Overkillin’ It”, in 2013. I remember the studio fee was N3,000, I had to save the money for like 6 months. I used to take 50 naira to school so I had to save the least of it.
That’s inspiring because M.I. was an influential part of music at that time, and he’s from the North as well.
Exactly, I was just telling M last night about how I used to rap his verse on Sound Sultan’s “2010” with so much passion, and it was from then I started being more sensitive to things going on in this country. It’s surreal where I am now, and I’m grateful for that.
I went through your Spotify and it says your first song was released in 2020. So you’re a relatively new artist in the industry.
I’ve had more stuff before then. From Kainji I used to put some stuff out to gain traction because people used to think I was a joke. I said that in my song “Superstar”, cause my dreams are bigger than their thoughts imagined. I used to come to Lagos for holiday and do rap battles and stuff. When I was at the University of Ilorin, I won a talent show, Unilorin’s Got Talent. I freestyled the whole show. That’s where Major AJ started.
So 2020 was when I moved to Lagos and tried to break into the industry, and I dropped my first song, “Terminator”. “Salo” in 2021 was what caught the attention of Chocolate City.
How did the signing to Choc City happen? And how did you meet M.I? Because before you got signed, I hadn’t heard about you. Your name came out of nowhere.
The CC signing wasn’t even through M.I. I just met him last month. I had just been doing my thing because I didn’t have the right connections or structure to get my music out there. I didn’t know A&Rs and whatnot. Any time I’d get a chance, I’d ask the MC of a show to let me perform and I’d have to tip the MC, maybe with a drink.
An A&R from Choc City, TenTen, DM’d me. He asked if I was signed and that he liked my music. I didn’t take it seriously at first because people just get your hopes up. The next day he gave me a couple of missed calls, so I called him back and he told me to come to the studio. I played some songs, did a couple of freestyles, and after a while, Ten walked back in and told me they were interested. It felt so good.
That’s amazing. What month was this?
September 2021. I’ve been underground, working… just getting music ready.
I listened to Retroverse and your music carries influences from a past time. Maybe that forms the title as well.
I’m a versatile artist. As time goes on, my fans and people that listen to my music are going to see different sides and shades of Major AJ. The music led me here, I didn’t decide anything prior. It’s all about the process of the music for me.
We had a recording camp and because I am a fan of Dunnie, I begged my A&Rs to get her to come. She came on the last day of the camp and the vibe just connected. She made a beat before coming and she wanted me to check it out, I fell in love with it immediately after she played it. That song became “Afrodisco”.
I was listening to Daft Punk one day and I was thinking about how I could merge the electronic sound with Afro elements. That formed “Taboo” and “Mr. Lover”. If you ask Dunnie and Steph, everything is organic and natural.
One thing I like about the project is it didn’t feel like it was supposed to sound like something else. It’s a sound in its own right. What’s so special about old music that made you want to tap into it? Because for you to call a project Retroverse you must’ve found some inspiration from previous times.
I listen to a lot of retro sounds for the fun of it. I think the OGs provide a lot of value in their music. There’s a reason why they’re the OGs. Plus as an artist, you have to find what makes you stand out. I wanted a debut project that would give insight into what Major AJ is about. Different types of sounds. I’ll still make Afrobeats because I’m an Afrofusion artist, but it now depends on where I can take the Afrobeats to. Everyone is doing Afrobeats in their way, but having that African flavor makes you original. When you listen to a song like “Mr. Lover” it gives a retro vibe and a nostalgic pleasure.
What do you think your music will add to the Afrobeats landscape? I want to know your opinion on what you think can make you stand out as Major AJ.
I feel like my music will unlock a new direction for Afrobeats, taking our music to new places I never thought we could get to. I feel like Major AJ will bring a lot of versatility and a different flavor to the industry. I’m already Retrobaby and I’m the first of my kind.
Featured Image Credit: Daniel Bell-Glam