On The Fringe: Kizz Ernie Is Coming For it All
For the UK-based Afropop artist, the sky is only a stepping stone.
On the Fringe will attempt to tell stories of artistes who otherwise would not receive mainstream media’s attention due to the absence of representation or the necessary publicity. While some people are not as keen on discovery as some of us are, it is still essential to chronicle the rise of emerging talents that can create timeless records. Artistes covered in the series will be at differing stages in their journeys, but they will all be emerging acts somehow — either unto larger audiences or more niche ones.
Nnaemeka Sean Enekwachi, known by his stage name Kizz Ernie, is a multi-talented Nigerian creative receiving special attention for his range as a singer, songwriter, producer and sound designer.
Growing up musically inclined aided his growth into the kind of artist that could compete at multiple disciplines and according to him, he never had to transition away from one part of his craft to another. “I won’t say there was really any transitional stage of my life, because music has always been a part of my life,” he explains. “I started singing & playing the piano at 5, recorded my first song at 13, so it’s been a part of me from time. After my graduation from uni in 2017, I knew I wanted to make music full time and I’ve never looked back since then but right now it’s a little bit more than just making music, and I’m enjoying every single step of the journey.”
His first taste of fame came early on in 2015 when he created a university circuit hit titled “Dobale” with the help of his friend and fellow artist, Laime. According to him, the song got so big random people would stop him to tell him that they loved the record and were looking forward to hearing more music. “Every show we did in uni went crazy once “Dobale” came up,” he recalls. “I knew this was it and it was what I wanted to do but I couldn’t do it fully because I still had school, so I waited until after uni. Then I dropped my first official single “For the Season”, it was my first officially self-produced record as well so it was a nice entry into the scene and it got a lot of positive feedback. It was once my most streamed song and it’s been love since then.”
His sonic evolution from his official debut project, Pressure, has been largely incremental considering his only body of work since then has been a four-song EP. He discloses some of the changes that took his sophomore EP, Kiyagi, in a different direction. “My debut EP, Pressure, was about the happenings in my life at the time it was made as the title implies. I was dealing with a lot of personal pressures; I like to say I officially started my journey then. I really wanted to succeed, I moved out of my parents’ house, I wanted to get it on my own so releasing the EP was my way out of that phase.” Another part of his artistry that could be overlooked is his songwriting, perhaps due to the fact that his credits are not for the most prominent acts in the industry. According to him, “I’m 100 percent a full songwriter, I write for myself and I’ve written for a couple other artists as well.”
The success of the EP was signaled by its rise up the charts, achieving the lofty goal of breaking the top ten albums on all genres on Apple Music. “It showed me that there was hope and I was doing a couple things right, not to make a pun but I stopped feeling as much pressure after I dropped the EP and just started enjoying my life you know, not overthinking the future,” Kizz Ernie reflects. “You can tell on my second EP Kiyagi (which I dropped as a surprise) from tracks like “Gucci” and “My Way”, I was just catching cruise and telling y’all how amazing my life is. I basically just be chilling right now, I don’t force the vibes, they just be coming. You can also tell that my sound has evolved in small ways: my delivery is better, my lyrical content is better, my production is better, everything has evolved and it’ll keep evolving. Change is constant, even I don’t know what I’m going to make next.”
His laid-back production style provides the perfect platform for the kind of Afroswing and Afro-tinged hip-hop he has explored. According to Kizz Ernie, “I make music for everyone, I don’t think my music is directed at a particular audience because I’ve had my dad send me my song link, saying he loves the record and I didn’t even send it to him. My mom’s my biggest fan as well since day 1, not on no ‘my son is an artist stuff’ either. So, I feel like I make music for people who can connect to the music, there’s no age restriction as to who can listen to the music, it’s for everyone: local and international, old and young.”
His creative process mirrors that of many self-sufficient artists in today’s landscape. Capable of recording and mixing his own vocals, it stands to reason that he would be responsible for how much work he puts out. Detailing his process, he shares “I create and record 90% of my music in my room, and my creative process depends on my mood, sometimes I write before I make the beat, sometimes I could just lay melodies or vibe on the beat and then sit back and take my time to write to the melodies. Other times I’m writing as I’m making the beat and most of my songs are recorded at night because I barely sleep at night. I also don’t force myself to create anything. If I’m not in the mood to, I don’t force it, I’ll just listen to music and feel the vibes, maybe I might just get inspired, maybe not.”
Always aware that all aspects of his artistry would need development, Kizz Ernie is a seasoned performer who has graced multiple stages so far. Discussing his history on stage, he says “I’ve been performing my music from time. I think my first couple [of] performances were in high school, then I started to perform my unreleased records in uni as well. I love performing, there’s this feeling that comes with it, like, ‘yes people are really jamming to me!’ ”
With the global pandemic providing fewer opportunities for artists to collaborate in person, artists like Kizz are less than thrilled at the prospect of not being able to collaborate in their preferred state. “I love working with other people, sharing ideas and all that. I’d rather have the person I’m working with meet up and vibe and then create something, but sometimes the distance barrier makes things untenable. So, I just make a beat, lay an idea, send it over to the person I’m trying to work with to listen to the idea, tell me what they think and then send back their own idea. We might do a little back and forth until we have what we want.”
Asides from this, the lack of activity, in general, has reduced the impact of most pandemic releases, especially for performing artists. According to Kizz, his lockdown experience can be likened to watching paint dry. “I’m tired of it already,” he says, filled with frustration. “I can’t wait for shows to start and everything to go back to normal. It’s worse in the U.K because unlike Nigeria the laws are very effective here.”
Making a move to the U.K in 2017 has helped him in more ways than he can count, everything from meeting a new roster of creatives and unlocking a new range of talents to boot. “I would say it has opened me to a lot more ways we can go around making music and doing things in general,” he shares. “I’ve been able to meet other creatives, learn from them and see how they go about their own art creation. For instance, making music here is different almost every studio engineer or producer I’ve met here knows how to play at least one musical instrument, that’s rare in Nigeria, but very common here. I’ve learned a lot basically and it was definitely a good move for me.”
Blessed enough to have been able to afford recording equipment early on in his career, the constraints he has faced are far from the technical ones that most artists do in the beginning. “I’d say promotion wise there are a lot of constraints. From getting your songs to radio to tv stations and blogs, press releases, these are the most expensive aspects of pursuing a musical career, not necessarily the creative part for me.”
“I don’t have a ceiling, I just want to be as big as possible, bigger than the room, in fact, the ceiling sef no go fit contain me.”
Remaining unsigned despite being approached by multiple indigenous labels before he made his move to the U.K, not much has changed on the business front for him so far. “I’m fully independent. I would say it’s a bit bumpy and not as smooth as it would be if I was signed to a major label but it has helped build me and I love every single part of the journey.” He reinforces his poignant point of view, “Coming this far would definitely put me on a different level if I ever wanted to sign to anyone, I feel like you need to have something to leverage before considering offers. You have to be offering me more than what I can do for myself at this point.”
With a new project in the works, perhaps the one part of his artistry that has not been as explored as it could be are his visuals and, according to him, that’s all about to change. “I’m focusing a lot more on visuals this year. My new single is out on the 23rd of April and it’s called 'Don’t Kill My Vibe'. Look out for it, I produced and performed on it.”
Graduating from Babcock University with a first degree in Economics is the only safety net Kizz possesses, but he doubts he’ll ever put it to much use. Discussing alternative career paths, he reveals: “Probably working in a bank or some sort of financial firm or something haha, I’ve got a BSc in economics that I’ve never used” he laughs. Nevertheless, he’s unwilling to limit his trajectory as he has huge hopes for his artistry in the future. “I don’t have a ceiling, I just want to be as big as possible, bigger than the room, in fact, the ceiling sef no go fit contain me.”