In a year with a lot of uncertainty, singer, rapper and now reality TV star, Laycon takes us through his cinematic rise to the mainstream.
When Laycon dropped his second, 8-track EP in the early hours of 2020, going on a reality TV show was the only option left on the table to promote the new body of work. The pandemic had just struck the world and the country had just resumed lockdown, so the plan to roll out physical promotions was invalid. "It got to a point where I felt like what other means could I use to amplify the EP, then I decided to go into the Big Brother House", he shared with me during our interview.
Olamilekan Moshood Agbeleshe is full of life from the moment he walks into the studio where our interview would be held till the moment he wrapped up his photoshoot. It was a no-brainer though, this was someone a ginormous population of the country tuned in to watch for a whole 71 days on the biggest reality show in Nigeria. Yes, he had imagined blowing up to the extent where people would want to record his life but not in the sense of being on a reality show. The 27 year-old was on the road to making a name for himself pre Big Brother Naija. He had two EP's, a gearing to be breakout single with rap powerhouse Reminisce and the indigenous Chinko Ekun but it takes just one well planned and calculated move to break into the mainstream culture in the country and for Laycon, it was being on the screen.
Now that the phase to break into the mainstream is done and dusted, Laycon unpacks the whole process that got him here. The year was 2012, the year he started out making music. It was this same time he pursued a degree in Philosophy from the University of Lagos, joining in the calibre of artists who began their musical career in school, "It was fun actually, I wasn't really serious about it, I wasn't pushing myself on a particular song to become a hit, I actually went to the studio and recorded a cover of Jay Z and Linkin Park Numb/Encore, that was the first song I ever recorded", He explained to me how he started out making music. Gradually, he continued to tread musically, releasing his first EP in 2016 titled "Young, Black, and Gifted" where he flexed his aptness for rap, a genre he didn't even like initially.
As a young child, he remembered his earliest memory of music was deeply rooted in the local genre of music curated by his father, which were Apala, Fuji, and Juju. "My dad used to play songs from K1 De Ultimate, Ebenezer Obey, King Sunny Ade, Haruna Ishola. Listening to songs by these musicians in the morning before going to school and after coming back in the afternoon made me fall in love with music and wanting to make music. Apart from these local musicians, I really loved Michael Jackson and James Brown, especially Michael, he made pop music and danced a lot. I really wanted to be like Michael (laughs), they influenced the whole idea that I could be an artist while I was in high school, though, by then, I had started listening to other new types of music and there was a new style budding inside me, then my love for local music died but I still go back to them. It was always them that started it for me", Laycon recalls.
His first attempt at testing the water at rap music before building a career around it was an act of self-discovery; he never liked rap music, Riding Dirty by Chamillionaire was the first rap song he ever listened to and he discovered he could spit. He was good at it and it came effortlessly.
"I started rapping to the extent where I didn't feel like singing no more but I actually realized I still had to sing", Laycon added. He is ardent concerning growing as an artist and he further stretches how he became a rapper and why he chooses to rap; "I put in a lot of work trying to grow as an artist. I put in a lot of time and effort into my music and as for rap, it came easily for me, I enjoyed it. When I'm rapping, it’s a whole new vibe for me, you see a new me, a different person. I think a lot of people are beginning to realize that when I'm talking to you is different from when I'm rapping. You see a different demeanour from me; I could be respectful talking to you but when it’s time to rap, I'd be doing something else. Crazy thing is, for me it’s real. It’s not like I'm trying to fabricate things, I will tell you what is on my mind, what is real, what I have experienced in another angle...in different ways, in different forms to try and make you realize that there's a different angle to things. If a particular type or form of music allows you to express yourself that much. I feel like the term rapper turning to singers or rapper turning into commercial artiste is just all bants because I feel like it’s music, it’s you expressing your emotions. You can express it anyhow, that’s why it’s music, It’s art. You can't tell an expressionist artist or a person who does pointillism why he's doing what he's doing, he's trying to express himself. If I want to express myself in this way or in another form; if I feel like I can get it out there in another way while still maximizing with the fact that a lot of people would love it and I would make money from it, why not do it as long as the person is doing something proper for themselves the right way they can? I don't think anybody has the right to say "don't express yourself this way”...there are different ways to classify art; for me, it is rap. It allows me to do any type of music I want to".
He cites Jay Z, Nas, Andre 3000, MI, Vector, Olamide, Drake, Kendrick Lamar and J Cole as artists who inspire him sonically. "The thing about me is, I listen to almost everybody and get bits and bits from everybody, I feel like there's nothing one person is saying that is invalid, there's always something new from everybody even though the person might be mimicking somebody else, I believe there's a new thing you can learn from that; everybody inspires me", He tells me.
Laycon grew up in a quotidian Nigerian household with siblings where you either had a stern mother and a genial father or vice versa. In the singer's case it was the first mentioned. "I loved the kind of household I grew up in. I was actually the only child who was able to sneak out of the house, we were mostly locked up, we weren't allowed to go out in order not to start misbehaving in the neighbourhood, so there was this gate...I was very tiny back then and I would squeeze myself through the gate to go out and play. Weird thing was, I did not participate in some particular activity. I remember not learning to ride a bicycle, I mean, I tried to learn how to ride but I hurt myself and just gave up the idea. My household was also the kind of household where you are free and also not free, I was always with my brothers mostly. We had fun when my dad was around because he was always on the road so when he comes back he's always open to having fun with the kids, on the other hand, my mom was a disciplinarian, they were also supportive as long as you had cogent reasons to back up whatever it is you wanted to do", the 27-year-old narrates.
B.Side: Do you believe in God? What is your perspective on Religion?
Laycon: I believe in the existence of a supernatural being, a being that transcends human comprehension. A lot of people use different adjectives to classify this transcendental being, some people call him God, some call him Allah, people relate with him on different terms but I do believe in the existence of a transcendental being that nobody truly understands.
I can explain religion in different ways; from a psychological perspective, religion is a way that human beings try to grow mentally. Religion is a thing that humans use to stay in touch or to try and grow from their fears. When you are young, you grow and realize that you might leave this world, you preserve yourself by bringing children into the world, it is the same thing with religion. Human beings see themselves as mentally or spiritually, this is the height I can reach, then they project an image of something and start worshipping it. Sociologically, religion is a tool the people ruling in the society use to keep their subordinates in check.
With Karl Marx theory, religion is a way that the society or economy is being regulated by the people controlling the society.
From my experience in the world, from how I have grown, religion is that thing that people use to connect themselves with that transcendental being; to me, it's not necessarily the only way that can be used to connect to that transcendental being. From what I have read about the existence of this transcendental being, I do not believe that God would create you and not want you to evolve. Your dad wants to see you grow more than him, he wants to see you grow better, that's what your father wants from you. Same is the person that made you, moulded you, and gave you life, he definitely wants to see you become great. When I said I am a God in a human body, that’s what God, the person that created you, wants you to become; he wants you to be him, not just in thought but also in the flesh and with your actions. But being God (a transcendental being like I said) is not something you do just once. That is why I believe the theory of you dying and coming to live in another body is valid because if you do not achieve what you were actually sent here to do by your creator, you'd still come back to redo it in another way or through another form. Religion for me is connecting with God on certain levels when you become him (a mini God), representing him, doing his bids with your mind, it is a whole long process and a lot of things. Basically, religion is that relationship you have with God or yourself, you are not expected to be in a body or particular religious group to achieve religion. You can have religion between you, yourself, and God.
B.Side: What does loyalty mean to you?
Laycon: Loyalty in a sense is knowing what position someone holds in your heart/mind. Loyalty is knowing that you are for or with this person, you are not going to change regardless, loyalty is also relative, you can't have blind loyalty because you don't exist for one person, you can have loyalty to a particular cause, to a particular ideology. You can't be loyal to one person to an extent where that person deviates from what life is supposed to be and still stay with the person. I could be with you doing a particular cause which I know will help a lot of human beings but when I see you're changing lane, I still stay with you, in that case, you can say I'm loyal to the ideology rather than the human, so yeah, you can be loyal to people or you can be loyal to a particular cause or ideology.
On his second EP, Who's Laycon which promotion catapulted him into becoming a reality TV star, the EP which runs for twenty-two minutes is a feisty and bold assertion of how talented the rapper is, with its lyrics conversed in Yoruba and English Language. Who's Laycon trails carefully behind the previous Young, Black and Gifted (Y.B.A.G). It had a more sublime production. "I was going to name the EP Many Faced gods," he reveals to me. "I wanted to show the different kind of things I could do with rap on the EP which I explained earlier, rap allows me to do different things, I didn't name it Many Faced gods because I realized there was still a pending story from Young, Black and Gifted, my first EP, so I decided to explain what was happening to me at that time because at that time Fierce was popping, people knew the song but they didn't know who Laycon is, I get on stage and people don't know who I am but then I start the song and they begin to sing and rap along to the song. There were times where I'd have to introduce myself like "hi I'm Laycon" and people would be like sorry "who's Laycon? "(I got that a lot) so I just decided to follow that process because I already had a popping song but I still needed to figure out myself, who I was, there was still that question about "who's Laycon? ". From the external angle and also from the internal struggle who are you?, I know you can sing, I know you can rap but how do you blend this?, which part of yourself do you want to give people?, which part of yourself do you feel they will be comfortable with? So I just tried to put both of them into one short summary which is the EP," Laycon carefully explains to me. On the opening track of the project, you can hear him trying to explain his thought process to a therapist; on a track like (Accolades) he's the guy who feels and thinks that for everything he has done, he hasn't gotten enough credit, he doesn't get enough attention for his craft.
His popping song like he stated, FIERCE, off Who's Laycon? came to be after playing KILODE the 2016 track by YoungAce, which featured Dices Ailes as his producer. "We were recording for hours...I was tired...he was tired and he was about to leave, I said, don't leave yet, let do a song, then I played the song and suggested if we could do something like that, he agreed. I think I went to sleep and by the time I came back he had already done the beat and the first line that came to my head was 'shey ori yin pe bayi?' (is your head correct). Can't remember the whole process of the song but I knew I wrote five verses for that song but I chose the one that was suitable for the track and then we contacted Chinko Ekun and Reminisce and it was a no brainer".
B.Side: What is winning to you?, how did you feel when you won Big Brother season 5?
Laycon: I wasn't expecting it obviously, I just went there to promote my music. Winning the show was unexpected. At that point my name was announced, all I could think of was WHAT!!!!. I believe there's a purpose for me winning the show because I didn't even bargain for it but then, I got it, it means there was a higher purpose for me being on the show. I'm also thankful for the blessing, for the opportunity to be on the show, I am also thankful for the fact that a lot of people could relate to who I am. Now that I have won the show, moving forward, I believe I have a purpose to change people's life with whatever I possess- Winning the show made me realize that it was bigger than the music for me, though music is the first thing and music will always be the first thing. Music over everything but it's bigger than that for me now. For me, it's making moves that would perfect people's lives outside of music.
Laycon has repeatedly stated that the main aim of being on the show was to promote his musical project but after spending 2 months in an isolated place with 19 other people, coming out of the show affected him mentally, it affected the kind of music he planned on making. For him, he had to react to things in a certain kind of way, he had to have some certain kind of attitude in his music. It was an expected shift and change for him and he expected it. "I'm overwhelmed by these positive changes, that's what I prayed for and it's wonderful that I'm here", he insists. When the show finally ended, Laycon was welcomed into the loving arms of his bubbling fanbase, the ICONS, a fanbase that grew immensely while he was on screen. The rapper launched his post-reality TV endeavours, earning himself the title of his hometown Youth Ambassador in Ogun state. He also unveiled his activism as he joined the millions of youth who banded together as one to call for the abolishment of the rogue policing unit (SARS) in early October in Lagos and every other part of the country. Shortly after, he teamed up with DJ Neptune and Joeboy to remake the remix to one of the biggest song of the year, the Nobody (Icon) Remix. The song currently sits at number 3 on the African Chart top 10 songs, while "HipHop" which featured Deshinor off the Who's Laycon EP sits at number 1. Also, in the last week of November 2020 dated (November 27- December 3), according to Turntable charts, it was the singer's biggest week yet on YouTube Nigeria recording over 423,000 views with his latest single "Hiphop". He's rounding up the year with stellar Spotify streaming figures. According to Spotify, he was streamed 249 thousand times (249k) this year on the platform in over 79 countries. This is a good feat for him as a breakout star.
B.Side: How did the NOBODY (Icon remix) happen?
Laycon: I was trying to find my hotel room that night (laughs). I went to see Dorathy in her room, I forgot my room number and I was strolling around the lobby and I just saw someone in a kinda military uniform (I think that was what DJ Neptune was wearing). I saw him and we talked and it happened. The next night, I recorded the first verse and I sent it to him and he sent it back asking me to do another verse and I did another one and that was it.
As our conversation gets deeper, I notice how insightful he really is when breaking down the answers to certain questions. He's really a smart person so I probe him on the last book he read and the five books he read that helped change his life.
"Decoded by Jay Z that's the book I'm currently reading. However, the books that I have read that changed my life are The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck And Everything is Fucked by Mark Manson, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman, The Art of Seduction by Robert Greene, and The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli. I also read a lot of Francis Fukuyama's books; he's my go-to author on books about socio-politically conscious issues".
B.Side: If you were to drop one of these, what would it be? Wisdom, Knowledge or Understanding
Laycon: None, I won't drop any of the three. I think you should even include mental strength. There are certain forms of beliefs and ideologies that you will need these three things for. It's good to say, let's try and stop the misinformation going on in the world. You could walk up to somebody and lie to them, you can't do anything about that, you can't stop people from spreading wrong information but you can teach people how to know if any information is wrong or right. So when I come to you and say something, how do you know if it's valid or invalid based on the premises of things before I came to make that statement? All these three things are needed.
B.Side: Is it okay to talk about sex? Why are you enthused by it?
Laycon: (laughs) when I say I'm a sex enthusiast, it means I'm enthusiastic about anything concerning sexuality. It's self explanatory actually; For instance, when I say I'm a cake enthusiast, it means I love cake, it means I love eating cake, it means I love seeing people make cake, it means I love the process of making cake so it's basically the same thing with sex. As someone who is open-minded about a lot of things, it's only natural that I'm open-minded about sex and sexuality. I'm not the kind that when it comes to having conversations about sex I will brush you off but we must have attained some certain level of intimacy. Obviously, you can't just meet up with a stranger and start vibing with them sexually, that's just disrespectful. To the people I'm kinda cool with, I'm a sexual enthusiast to them.
Laycon's personality is a mix of subtlety; he's a rapper, singer, reality TV personality, philosopher, sex enthusiast and he adds the title of a sneakerhead to this list, "I'm actually more concerned about the kicks I wear, the shoes I wear, that's what I dedicate my time to think about. I am really not experienced with fashion, I haven't learned anything about it nor read about it because the thing about fashion is that it evolves: one moment people are really crazy about this particular thing and another moment, people are crazy about another kind of stuff. I really can't keep up. You can't be an expert at everything; so as long as I feel comfortable with what I'm wearing, it looks good to me" Laycon explains when I ask about his style.
With this last question, our hour-long conversation finally comes to an end. Laycon seems to have finally discovered who he truly is, he put out his self inquiring project Who's Laycon 9 months ago, he has been on the most impactful reality TV show in the country, emerged as a winner, accumulated huge streaming numbers and also cracked the hard shell to mainstream within the country. I inquire about the plan for his music and sounds in the future.
Laycon: The music is always going to be quality music. It's always going to be something you can relate to, whether in this angle or that angle because there are different angles to things. You might see things in one way and another person might be seeing it in another way but it's still the same thing. My music and sound is always going to be something everybody can relate to it from different perspectives. That's what I can tell you about the change; it's not really a change. The only change I know is the constant evolving; when you grow you evolve. My music/sound is going to get better and better. Better is a continuous process.
STYLING: THE NOJ COMPANY
PHOTOS: WALTER BANKS
VIDEO: CHRISTOPHER AUGUSTINE
LOCATION: IMAX CINEMA
CREATIVE DIRECTION: OLAMIDE ADEDEJI