Armed with a stellar lyrical ability and otherworldly charisma, the young rapper's ambitions stretch farther than his current status.
I’m gazing at Psycho YP via a Zoom call as he tries to connect his AirPods to his laptop before we get our interview started. He’s fully focused, his brows slightly furrowed, almost like he’s trying to solve a complex trigonometry question. Clad in a tightly-fit white tank top, a red Boston Red Sox snapback firmly snuggling his nicely twisted dreads, and a medium curb chain with a fascinating smiley pendant, he looks straight out of a 2010 hip hop video. Hence, it doesn’t come as a surprise when he tells me Young Money inspired his prolific rap career. “I was a huge fan of Young Money. The whole collective – Drake, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, everyone. I was listening to all of them, individually and as a group.”
While YP may draw style inspiration from the members of the illustrious rap crew, he certainly embodies their entire ethos: young, zestful, self-assured and armed with a stellar lyrical ability. These distinct qualities make him arguably the most exciting and dynamic figure to have graced the Nigerian hip-hop scene in years.
Born Nicholas Ihua-Maduenyi, YP spent a sizable chunk of his childhood shuffling between England and Nigeria. His mum, who was pursuing a PhD degree in England then, always wanted him by her side. It’s on one of his many trips across the Atlantic that he cut his musical tooth, rapping over beats his DJ Uncle played for him and his siblings. “So I was in England on holiday, and I think I had this uncle who was a DJ. He would normally just play different beats and we would just be rapping around, doing whatever we could,” he reminisces fondly. His proper foray into music didn’t start until he moved back to Abuja for his secondary education, where he met close friend and collaborator, Kuddi Is Dead. These two quickly formed a fine musical partnership, jumping into multiple recording sessions and just “recording whatever.” These random sessions resulted in YP’s first mixtape, Lost In The Sauce, a laudable collection of trap-inspired records released in the summer of 2016.
“We didn’t even make an announcement till midnight,” YP recalls, his voice thick with nostalgia and pride. “I posted the cover art on Twitter [around] 1 am right after Kuddi designed it. I woke up the next morning and it had about 100 retweets. I was totally surprised. I was just like ‘yeah this is about to be mad!’”
His big break came in 2018 when he released his debut full-length project YPSZN. Over thunderous basslines, pulsating drums and moody synths, YP elegantly staked his claim as one of the most promising new faces in country’s hip-hop soundscape. His flows were pristine, deftly finding pockets in the boisterous production. His larger-than-life persona also accentuated his raps, making them even more audacious and thrilling. The cult classic quickly earned the then 19-year-old a loyal following, big-name admirers and millions of streams across various platforms.
Right after the success of YPSZN, the Abuja-born rapper created Apex Village, an artistically ambitious collective comprising like-minds: rappers, singers, designers, photographers and just about any creative whose vision aligns with theirs. The idea to put together the collective was born out of his love for Young Money. However, the objective wasn’t solely to front a rap assemblage for business purposes. For YP, the goal was to serve as a polished metal of some sort. He was receiving considerable attention right after the release of his debut, putting his city on the map, and he thought it best to divert some of that attention to his fellow artists and friends who were also creating art in their own unique way.
Now 22, YP is currently in Abuja following the release of his latest project Euphoria. But rather than taking time off to recalibrate after the release of his project, he’s still in work mode. “For the past five days, I've just been on a recording spree. I've recorded about 40 songs,” he boasts. “Right now, I have [about] 3000 songs sitting on my hard drive. If I wanted to, next year, I could drop a project every month.”
He’s relentless. For him, nothing else quite offers the sort of satisfaction and fulfilment that music does. “This is my life,” he says, eyes wide. “I’ve been to school. I have two degrees, which include a Masters degree. I might get a third degree. But I know that music is my life. I might use the degrees to do some other things later in life, but I know I'm gonna live my life off music.”
This unbridled drive is what has earned him a reputation for delivering stellar verses in record time. He’s famous for it. “I remember I once sent him my song ‘How To Act’ and this guy sent me a verse back in like 10 minutes,” Trill Xoe, one of YP’s close collaborators, tells me. This celerity has also put him in high demand. Just last year, YP delivered over 40 guest verses while also releasing a couple of singles of his own. “Last year was crazy,” he says with an insouciant laugh. For him, that’s just business as usual. This incredible worth ethic has made him deliver eight solid projects (four solo works and four collaboration tapes) in his relatively short time around. It’s also what partly earned him a Headies nomination for his 2019 album YPSZN2.
While speaking about his nomination, there was a sense that he still feels grossly underappreciated even though he’s grateful for the recognition. “The Headies came by surprise,” he says, slightly unfazed. “I got a DM from them [on instagram]. I opened it and saw I had been nominated [for the Best Rap Album category]. That was crazy ‘cos that is the best rap album I have actually dropped. I’m not going to lie; I deserved to win.” He expresses his grievances from the loss on “Industry N****s”, a vibrant cut from his latest project Euphoria. “Ain’t nobody done it how I did it last year/Shoulda been the top scorer overall,” he raps with a hint of displeasure. It’s a rare slice of vulnerability in his rather ironclad discography. Still, you can tell he’s not too bothered.
There’s a swaggering poise and self-confidence that YP carries, which radiates through the screen. Blessed with an otherworldly charisma that manifests in his music as well as his personality, he speaks like he’s the chosen one. It’s why he’s stuck to his guns. He’s well aware that his brand of music isn’t the most commercially viable; still, he isn’t looking to make boilerplate Afrobeats records just to get more acceptance: “I'm a rapper. I grew up listening to Young Money, and I am going to rap all my life. I feel like I need to bring that to Nigeria.”
YP’s ambitions – which evidently measure up to his ability – stretch farther than his current status; he’s seen the future. “I’m trying to be the pioneer for a whole new hip-hop sound. That hasn’t happened yet because I haven't reached where I'm meant to reach. But I know I’m the one that’s gonna do it.”