Laycon: Music's Big Brother

When Laycon stepped into the Big Brother Naija house, he had one aim: "promote my music." He won the show, and now his art is winning.

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“Bro, good to finally meet you,” Laycon says, stretching out an arm. We hug, smile and I move towards a seat. A golden Lhasa excitedly circles and sniffs around the room as Laycon, dressed in a two-piece suit, explains her utility. “That’s my dog, Greece,” he says, rubbing her back and directing her to a metal kennel in one corner of the room. “She likes being touched.”

Laycon has spent the sunny afternoon in his Lekki home in Lagos, working to get his debut album, Shall We Begin, from his hard drive and into the phones, playlists and hearts of everyone who cares to listen. There are photo shoots to be arranged. Documentation needs uploading. Signatures are being chased and added to contracts, and a barrage of calls constantly inundates his iPhone, which is never far from his hands and ears. A member of his management team, Tarela, interrupts periodically to seek approval and get clarity on new engagements. Turns out there’s a rehearsal with a live band scheduled on the mainland. “I rehearse a lot, even when I don’t have an upcoming show,” Laycon says. “I just have things I have to do to move to the next level, and this is one of them.”

Sitting pretty beside the living room bar, a foosball table betrays Laycon’s hobby. I ask after the game and his interest in it. “You want me to flog you, let’s go. Let me teach you a lesson,” he says as we move to the table. I stare at a huge portrait of the singer hanging on a wall. Laycon makes good his promise. I get totally dominated and handed a bottle of water for hydration as he brags and makes little victory dances.

Lagos born Laycon, Olamilekan Massoud Al-Khalifah Agbeleshebioba, is on a winning streak in life. Big Brother Naija reality show winner. A personal reality TV show on the streaming app Showmax. Recording Academy performance sets. Writing a profile of Davido in the Times. Social and brand endorsement deals. Performances in foreign countries. And an army of stans who unite under the positivity of his Icons moniker. It’s all coming together for the Ogun State native who has spent years pursuing a direct path to music success and stardom, only to acquire it via reality TV. The Big Brother Naija season 5 winner became one of the biggest beneficiaries of 2020, a year when a pandemic held humanity back. Laycon appeared on our screens as a soft-spoken, intelligent musician who could spit a mean bar while teaching you about the rudimentary methods of pasteurization. Dreadlocked and creative, he coasted through weeks of confinement before winning on the back of popular support. 

“I saw a means to a means,” Laycon tells me. “It’s not even a means to an end, that’s the funny thing. The music is still a means. And I took it. And to God who made me, I was just thinking, ‘Spend two weeks there and leave.’ Because in my mind, what would people see in me? Because I’m going to go there and talk about my music all through. And you would understand when you watch the reunion because a lot of the things they were talking about there, I wasn’t really bothered about. Because I was like, I’ve done what I want to do, unless I just want to keep talking about Shall We Begin here. That shows that I just went there for one purpose, and that was the purpose. Music. I came out and I’m facing the music. And yeah, it’s this way because it was meant to be this way.”

It’s always been music for Laycon. Long before the blinding lights, the screams of fans, and microphones shoving their way to get his story, the young rapper had made music his life’s mission. He made the decision in 2009. “It was the year Novak Djokovic won his first Australian Open, because I remember vividly,” he says. Laycon’s older brother had linked him up with an orientation camp for the compulsory one-year paramilitary training program, National Youth Service Corps.

On one of their social events, he signed up for a talent exhibition contest, beating multiple contenders to emerge third. The achievement blew his mind. “I wasn’t even a Corper. Those two [other winners] were. I just went there, I think I rapped, and I won a TV or something. And my brother was like, ‘Oh, wow, music.’ That’s what actually changed everybody’s mind in my house about music. ‘You won this thing because you just went there to rap?’ I said yes. He said, ‘Oh, cool, cool.’”

Laycon tested the limits of that family acceptance. He lived on the edge of it, often running in danger of losing familial approval. Between 2009 and 2012, he turned down admission to four different universities because they would take him away from Lagos and his dream of music. “I knew if I travelled to Ekiti, if I go to Ondo, if I go to Osun State, music don end. I don’t think those schools have the same avenue Unilag had then for music. So that was what was in my mind. Maybe I didn’t think about it in depth. But on the surface, it was, ‘How would I be able to grow as an artist?’” he asks. “They said these people go to Unilag freely. They said this place is close to Unilag, this studio is close to Unilag. Let me go to Unilag. So for every decision I made, it was with music at the foundation. ‘Would this be able to help me push this music thing very well?’”

And even when University of Lagos finally opened its doors for him, he struggled to find the balance between the arts and academia. “I had to sacrifice my social life. I knew I could not do music, do school properly and still have a social life. I tried it in my first semester—I got 3.6 CGPA and I wasn’t happy about it. So I had to abandon my social life. And then focused on music. But it got to a point where I had to pick between project defence and a meeting with one of the top music execs,” he says. “I ditched project defence—I got there late, I couldn’t do the defence. I almost had to rewrite my project the next year because of that. But ultimately, it was always this or music. And it would always be music.”

Laycon also got the chance to leave Nigeria for football. A family connection put him on a football scout’s radar. The agent played his highlight reel for a number of clubs in England. Impressed by his movement and skill on the ball, the clubs demanded for a trial in Europe. Laycon turned it down. It was a tough decision to make because Nigerian society places a huge premium on footballers who leave Africa for distant lands and opportunities. “Mikel Obi was balling and he was getting this big money in Chelsea, so everybody wanted to be a footballer,” he explains. “But I wanted to be an artist. It was music for me. So I dumped that path for music.” 

Nigeria has a trodden history of reality TV stars who fashioned successful careers after a boost from TV shows. Musicians Timi Dakolo, Iyanya, Omawumi, Niniola and others carry the torch for the reality-show-to-music-fame industrial complex. But they all found fame from music-centric shows. Big Brother Naija has produced many housemates who have attempted a post-show music career. Only Laycon has found a way to build a career providing instant returns, with the promise of more down the line.

What makes Laycon the real deal is his talent. Originally given to rap, Laycon dropped four projects—including the introductory Who Is Laycon? EP—prior to getting into the Big Brother House. As his star rose within the game and viewers fell for his charms, his music enjoyed the attention. First his numbers continued to climb, moving from a few thousand to millions of streams. By late September, when he emerged winner, he was north of 20 million streams. “I was on 103,000 on all platforms before I went into the house. And when I came out, it was 7 million on all platforms. And that’s crazy. ’Cause from when I came out till #EndSARS, and after that when I put out ‘Hip Hop,’ the spike was high and I had over 20 million. So from 7 million, I don’t know how that happened. Right now, it has over 40 million streams.”

What did that jump in numbers mean for him? It made him an elite artist who could leverage the sustained spike for more. On his return to studio and music, his record label rewrote his contract to reflect the change in status, keep him happy and give him a better deal for future projects. It’s the right thing to do, Laycon believes. Artists need validation from within and without. And an improved contract communicates that on different levels, speaking to both ego and pocket. It’s important that a renegotiation happened. “It shows that without you even having to talk about it, a whole lot of people are thinking from your perspective too. What you’ve brought to the table, what you’ve added. The positivity that you’ve brought. It is actually reflecting in the relationship and the way business is being done,” he says.

Laycon’s debut album, Shall We Begin, was an instant hit with his fans. Designed as an introduction to the fly life and upper levels of recognition and success, it unfurls into rap and pop, both sides often blending for effect. Singles “Wagwan” and “Fall for Me” made radio rotation and playlists, becoming hits in Nigeria. And in June, he delivered a performance of “All Over Me” for the Recording Academy/Grammys. “It basically just shows my diversity and versatility as an artist,” he says. “That was my aim for the Shall We Begin album. Because it’s Shall We Begin. Moving forward, these are the kinds of things you should be expecting. Not just me rapping alone, not just me singing alone. But me always doing what you don’t think I could do.”

For his next steps, Laycon is releasing a new album, I Am Laycon, as a soundtrack to his reality TV show on Showmax. The 10-track LP delivers on his hip hop promise, taking fans through some of his most intricate wordplay and world building. It’s a project that he’s obligated to release, even though he isn’t finished pushing Shall We Begin. But that’s what stardom and music success does to you. It makes demands on your best and worst days, and you have to answer to them. 

We talk for hours, between mouthfuls of pizza, in and out his SUV, trash talking about foosball and sporadic engagements from fans and an industry that takes and takes and takes until you’re out of things to give.

Why was it important that you release an album in the first year of winning?

There was no timeline really. I was going to put out a project anyways, because I know that I finished the official soundtrack project for "I Am Laycon", that's my reality show on Showmax. It comes with a project. So I was going to put out a project anyway. But it was very important, and since last year I've been recording. After I left the house, I've been recording. But it was very important that the project I put out either continues from the "Young, Black & Gifted" EP, or continues from "Who Is Laycon" EP. It wouldn’t have been sensible if I didn't start a whole new storyline entirely because I still feel like there's unfinished business for "YBAG.” There's unfinished business for "Who Is Laycon.” Even the conversation I had with that shrink on that EP, it didn’t end with a definite conclusion. 

So I was obviously going to put out a project but I didn’t know it was an album. That's the only thing. We did not know it was an album until we had a sort of meeting here. And I was the one that said, 'fuck it, why don't we just put out an album? Let's put out an album. We have a name: "Shall It Begin.” And it follows through for "Who Is Laycon." So "YBAG" is still on hold. And if it had been "YBAG,” it would have been "YBAG: The Album.” So I was the one that said let's do that, but it was obviously going to be a project. Not just me putting out singles after singles. 

You talk about narratives and following a story or a timeline. Why is that important to you?

'Cause for me, I feel like I can put out a project and just put out songs. But for me, you have to kind of listen to this one and say 'am I missing something? Let me try to understand what the guy said here.’ That's why you feel like there's a line in 'Black' that I still have a verse to explain in another project. That's the way I am, 'cause I kind of explain my experiences through music and through projects. "Who Is Laycon?" now that we know who Laycon is. That one is like a no-brainer for me, that I had to continue that. Now that we know who Laycon is, it's "Shall We Begin?” That's something I'm very intentional about. That's the title of my project, what the project is about. I wouldn’t just put out a project just for the fun of it. I would put out a project to explain a journey so that when you see my discography eventually, you'd be able to understand that this was where this guy's state of mind was. There has to be something that connects me with that project from the mental perspective. It's the mental perspective that I use to create the music anyways. So it has to be explainable with the project also. 

You're considered smart. How does that expectation...

First off, I'm not a government official. I'm not trying to present myself as somebody I'm not. I'm not trying to lobby favours from another country for my country. What I'm just trying to do is be myself and express myself with my music. And that smart thing, I've been told by somebody very close to me, 'don't do that again.’ I just feel like it's just...I'm not Einstein. So the smart thing, it's just basic knowledge, to be honest. That's what I think. And yeah, I've actually thought about it; the only thing I can say is quite special in my head is how I connect knowledge. 'Cause for every explanation I give to you about something today, trust me, I didn’t learn that thing in one place. I probably learnt one from a cartoon, then I saw another one in a book, then I heard another one in one song, and I saw another one on Call of Duty. I now connect these things together, it now becomes one story about one particular thing. That's how I know things. I think that's just the only thing. I can take a piece of knowledge from 2004, and use it to explain something for 2022. That's how I can do that. But yes smart, maybe. Thank you. Thank people for that. 

But it doesn’t put any pressure on me because smart people want to have fun. I want to have fun. I want to be myself. I want to express myself in any way I can. And I feel like 'yeah, you're influential, you have some sort of popularity and people kind of listen to what you want to say and people want to do sometimes what you suggest for them to do. I think it's just about finding balance sha, and not losing yourself by trying to please people or be what people perceive you to be. Just be yourself in the end. That's the most important thing. And the thing is, the Laycon that you guys saw last year in that house is not the person that you're talking to now. Because from then till now, I've learned new things. I've unlearned some things. I have evolved to a certain level. So don’t expect me to react to the same thing that I reacted to one way, I wouldn’t react to it now. So that smartness doesn’t deprive me of having fun or doing dumb shit. Sometimes you know you're doing dumbshit. But you have to do dumbshit sometimes because that's the smart thing to do.

Why did you stick to music after you left the house? You could be a lot of things...

I could be making movies. Movie directors and producers have approached me. I could be on TV talking about sports. A federal body that regulates sports has approached me. Also, sports channels have approached me that ‘you could actually do this.’ But what I always tell them is, ‘while I was in that place, you saw people that we’re enthusiastic about these things, go and meet them.’ Me, everybody knew why I went into the house. I went there to pull people to my music. I feel like my purpose is to try and change people's lives in whatever way or form I can. As much as I can, leave that impact. So that when I'm gone, some people can pick up from there and still continue it. I won't do that if I'm not doing something that comes naturally. And that for me is music. I even went there because of music. So most of the sacrifices I've made in my life. The no-brainer sacrifices that I've made that you'd think about and say, 'that's ridiculous guy, you shouldn’t have done that.' But I've done it multiple times, over and over again because of music. I abandoned a lucrative path for music. Music is also lucrative for me...

What path was that?

That's 2009. It was the year Novak Djokovic won his first Australian open, because I remember vividly. That year, there was an NYSC camp going on in Lagos and I went. My brother had a friend there that he went to greet or something. EmmaOhMyGod was also there. He came second place behind a dancer girl and I came third. I wasn’t even a Corper. Those two were. I just went there, I think I rapped and I won a TV or something. And my brother was like, ‘oh wow music.’ That's what actually changed everybody's mind in my house about music. 'You won this thing because you just went there to rap?' I said yes. He said, ‘oh, cool cool.’ 

But my elder brother, that's the eldest, had a friend. We had made a video of me doing all these football tricks and all and sent it to his friend and then his friend played it for a couple of clubs in England. And they were, ‘like let him come for a trial. Maybe a one month trial or two months, and we see how it goes from there. And I knew that if I had done that, omo e don be for me. At that point, I wasn’t smart enough to make a whole lot of critical assessment of the whole situation. But I knew that it was this or I would not be able to make music again. Mikel Obi was balling and he was getting this big money in Chelsea so everybody wanted to be a footballer. But I wanted to be an artist. It was music for me. So I dumped that path for music. 

And still, that 2009 until 2012 I tried to get into Unilag, back to back to back. In this process, I got admission into four different schools and I rejected them. I knew if I travelled to Ekiti, if I go to Indo, if I go to Osun state, music don end. I don’t think those schools have the same avenue Unilag had then for music. So that was what was in my mind. Maybe I didn’t think about it in-depth. But on the surface, it was, ‘how would I be able to grow as an artist? They said these people go to Unilag freely. They said this place is close to Unilag, this studio is close to Unilag. Let me go to Unilag. So for every decision I made, it was with music at the foundation. 'Would this be able to help me push this music thing very well?' 

So now, going into the house to promote music. I now came out. I now won because I went there to promote my music. Am I stupid that I would now say that yes, I'm done with you? Nah. 

That's really interesting. Feeling something burning in your heart because you have an ability or you have a skill or you have this crazy interest. But having to make everything secondary to that thing...

I know about my mum and my dad, they were livid. In 2011, I got admission into two different universities and one polytechnic. And they asked, ‘why go to the post-UTME at all anyways when you know you're not going to go.? I'm like, it's not Unilag, so there's no point. I mean, he came and told me you, ‘either go to school or I'm going to abandon your life.’ That kind of thing. But in 2012 it happened. And that was it. But in school sef, I had to sacrifice my social life. I knew I could not do music, do school properly and still have a social life. I tried it in my first semester, I got 3.6 CGPA and I wasn’t happy about it. So I had to abandon my social life. And then focused on music. But it got to a point where I had to pick between project defence and a meeting with one of the top music execs. I ditched project defence, I got there late, I couldn’t do the defence. I almost had to rewrite my project the next year because of that. But ultimately, it was always this or music. And it would always be music.

Knowing how much you've sacrificed for it and how resolute you've been. How does it feel when people are nasty towards you and your art? Or towards your skill level as an artist?

First off, I have to process the validity and invalidity of whatever opinion it is they have. If it's coming from a place of 'I actually want you to improve.’ Or, if it's coming from a place of, 'regardless what you do, I'm always going to say this.' Then you know if it's to either disregard or to take into account this opinion, and use it to motivate yourself. But the truth is in the next ten years, if I put out something, somebody is still going to come and say nasty things about it. Regardless of how much I've improved. It's always going to happen. And for me, it's measuring my own self with whatever I have done before and now saying you have to do better this time. So now, there's a new process for me of working on myself which was different from what I was doing before I went into the house. 'cause to be honest, that process got me to where I am. But now, I have to up it and increase the intensity and the time that I spend on improving myself. 

It's a difference when you see that I've gotten to a level of 700k followers artist. So I need to start improving. So in the next five months, if I'm going to get 1 million I need to know that I'm at this level. But when you come out and make 1 million and then under five months of that 1 million, you're in 3 million, you do know that there's no time for you to actually slack. And a lot of people are actually waiting for you to not make the right moves. So I consciously tell myself that it means a lot that I'm here, but I need to work like thrice as hard to meet up to wherever it is I need to be, and where I want to get to. So it's a whole lot of work for me mentally, a whole lot of work for me in the background on the music. 

'Cause I do know that the only way to keep getting better is to keep working hard. And that's it for me. I take these things into account and use them to motivate myself. There are some that you see that is just baseless. Because I've seen people talk about the album before the album came out because they didn’t even know the album is not yet out. But they are just hearing things about the album so they were just, 'it's that Laycon guy, I'm going to say something bad about it.’ I know that. And then, some people are just coming from the perspective that why would this guy? Who is this guy first off? Look at we burst our ass here, he just came...

People who have that notion that you are undeserving because your public success came from reality TV. Is their position valid?

On my own part it's invalid, obviously. But on their own part, it’s valid for them. Because their thought process is; 'I'm doing this thing and this person just came. From where? How? And now, he's got a set of people that are ready to kill and go to war for him regardless of whatever it is he does. Let me even listen to him.’ And regardless of however you want to put it, people like that would always feel a type of way and it's not just one person. There are probably thousands and millions of people that feel that way about me. But I can't really change that at this point. I saw a means to a means. It's not even a means to an end, that's the funny thing. The music is still a means. And I took it. And to God who made me, I was just thinking, spend two weeks there and leave. Because in my mind, what would people see in me? Because I'm going to go there and talk about my music all through. 

And you would understand when you watch the reunion because a lot of the things they were talking about there, I wasn’t really bothered about. Because I was like I've done what I want to do, unless I just want to keep talking about "Shall We Begin" here. That shows that I just went there for one purpose and that was the purpose. Music. I came out and I'm facing the music. And yeah, it's this way because it was meant to be this way. Maybe it's going to take much more than me coming to say I've done this, I've done that, now I'm doing music. Accept it. Maybe I'd have to work twice as hard now. But I've always felt that I'm going to have to work twice as hard anyway. So now, I'm going to have to work thrice as hard. And not to convince anybody, to just set goals for myself and achieve those goals. I feel like most people would still not really accept it, but it's a long-term thing for me. 

At a point, you as a person would come to the realization that regardless of how you got there, the most important thing is that you got there. And you got there through the right path without bringing anybody down. Because if you feel like the best way to actually cope with the fact that I'm here is to downplay or disregard whatever it is that I’ve done, then it is not really. I know myself, I've never downplayed anybody's work. Because from what I've learned, art is a form of expression. If you express your art in one form, who the hell am I to come and say the mental space you were in when you created this thing is not good? So you have to leave people's opinion. And that is why when you constructively say you don’t care about whatever it is that I do, or you don’t like it or you feel like 'yeah I listen and I pick whatever I can pick from it and use it to try and improve, I'd use it to motivate myself. Everything is a form of motivation for me. Regardless. I try to flip negativity and try to look at what I can use to push myself out of it. That's it.

Don’t you think a part of this resistance could come from seeing other people leave reality TV shows and not match the hype with the talent?

The problem is with the mental. It's like imagine this: I don't know who your favourite artist is, but imagine you got to meet that artist. You watch the artist live his personal life for like 71 days before you got introduced to his music. In your head, you know how this guy thinks. You know what he would do in some form of situation. You know. So you expect whatever it is he would put out to be one way. When you now hear something different from that, you're like... 

So that's a problem. Because most people get to know their artists’ music and they don’t really know the artist. But I feel like people don know me, and they don watch me on top TV. Them don see me do things. So they kinda expect some form of 'oh, this is what he's going to sing about. This is what he's going to talk about. He's going to talk about what happened here. He's going to talk about these things.' But then, I'd now come and do something entirely different. And they are like, ‘no, this is not what I was expecting him to do, I don’t like it.’ That kinda also affects.

But then again, before I went into the house there were already projects. So I believe that should have kind of formed some sort of opinion about me before I left the house. But it's still the same thing honestly. It's just that people expect something rather than just listen to the song with an open mind. "Cause there's really no way you're going to say the kind of music that I put out is not good music. There's no way you're going to say that.

While you were in the house, how big a jump did your "Who Is Lyacon" EP get?

Mad. I was on 103,000 on all platforms before I went into the house. And when I came out, it was 7 million on all platforms. And that's crazy. 'Cause from when I came out till #EndSARS, and after that when I put out 'Hip Hop', the spike was high and I had over 20 million. So from 7 million, I don’t know how that happened. Right now, it has over 40 million streams. 

Someone was investing in you before you went into the house. But you went out on your own, doing what you did for yourself and it also reflected in their art. Has that in any way influenced how you've done business with your partners and record labels?

Yeah it has.

You have more leverage now?

I believe so, yes (laughs). Yeah I mean, I came and immediately we had conversations about the contract. And it wasn’t me that tried to make adjustments. It was mutual. Because the record label is like a family to me. Fierce Nation is like a family to me. Immediately I came out, the conversation had been had already. And I just came out, and we just had the conversation, and we were like okay, cool.

Was this to reflect your contribution?

Yeah. And that's a big deal. It shows that without you even having to talk about it, a whole lot of people are thinking from your perspective too. What you've brought to the table, what you've added. The positivity that you've brought. It is actually reflecting in the relationship and the way business is being done. 

You went into the house as an obscure person and within the house you found fame, you have millions of fans, you've got people fighting for you, carrying you on their head and all of that. What does that do to you as a person? How do you process that?

The first this is I'm grateful first of all. I'm always thankful 'cause the most important thing is that it's reflecting in my music. It's reflecting on my growth as an artist. It's reflecting on my evolution as an artist. But for the responsibilities, it's hard. It is. You know you've been perceived as a smart person, now you can't do dumb shit (laughs). And sometimes you just want to do dumb shit. And then sometimes you just want to not just do anything. But you're required to do something. Yesterday, I had a long day to the extent where I forgot to say happy Ramadan. and I came online and I saw that people were really pissed about it. I was offline for like six hours. And then I had to now say ‘Happy Eid,’ but still in the comments, "since morning" (laughs). And that kind of thing makes me feel like, me sef get life o. These people need to realise this too. 

But then again, it's kind of what I asked for. I went into that house knowing that this kind of things... but to be fair, I didn't go knowing that I was going to get this kind of fanbase. But it’s been months now, I should have been able. It demands a whole lot. And you need to consciously, every day remind yourself that yeah, this is who I am now. My own way of processing and accepting things is weird. There are sometimes when I just feel like...sometimes you can’t even explain it with words. I’m just picking up from October. I am just picking up mentally from October and letting everything sink in. I think I’m still in October right now in my accepting everything that’s happening. The most important thing for me though is the improvement in the sense of the amount of work that needs to be done on the music before the next project comes out.

What’s different now with how the industry treats you than how it was before?

I know there’s a form of acceptance. There’s fear. But for the people that I’ve met personally, I feel like there’s some who have actually really helped me adjust. There are some individuals who have been so so supportive. But you still get that vibe like, ‘I feel like ýou didn’t really work to be here.’ There’s that vibe. But honestly, it’s my goal. There’s always going to be different obstacles to get through. I just feel like all this phase is one of them. I’m really not going to stop doing whatever it is I want to do for myself as an artist. I’m just going to focus on what I need to focus on and keep at it.

“Shall We Begin?” What did you want to achieve with the project?

First off, it was very important for me that I let people know that when I say I’m a rapper, I’m not just a rapper. I don’t just do rap and not do other types of music. I listen to a whole lot of music, my brain processes that music and I try to imagine myself on it. So if I’m listening to funk, if I’m listening to Pop, if I’m listening to R&B, if I’m listening to Soul, if I’m listening to Apala, I imagine. ‘What will I do on the song?’ That allows me to be able to do anything on any kind of song. And that was what I tried to do on “Shall We Begin.” Just do different types of sounds and vibe. A different type of story that was connected to how I was feeling at that point, and that duration where I was recording all this music. So it basically just shows my diversity and versatility as an artist. That was my aim for the “Shall We Begin” album. Because it’s “Shall We Begin.” Moving forward, these are the kinds of things you should be expecting. Not just me rapping alone, not just me singing alone. But me always doing what you don’t think I could do. That’s basically it.

How has the world reacted to it?

I’m not going to lie, I didn't expect everything that has happened. I’d just say I’m grateful first off to be here. And I’m actually happy that a whole lot of these things have happened to “Shall We Begin” album. Because I remember that two weeks after “Who Is Laycon” dropped, I celebrated—was it—20,000 streams on all platforms. And I was so so hyped. I think I sent a voicenote one time to the group and that thing leaked. I was like ‘20,000 streams? Guy, this is huge!’ And now, my next project is over 15 million in less than 2 weeks. I mean yeah, today is two weeks but as of 2 days ago, we were doing over 15 million streams on all platforms - like three that I know of. Audiomack, Boomplay, YouTube Music. I haven't even factored Apple Music and the other streaming platforms. But that’s a big deal for me. And then I’m seeing the countries that the album charted in and I’m like I haven't left Nigeria. I’d probably just leave Nigeria the next few days or the next few weeks for the first time in my life.

For real?

Yeah, I’ve never travelled out of the country. 

Since after you won and all of that…

I have not left the country. 

You’ve chosen not to?

Yeah, I’ve chosen not to. I’ve been too busy not to. Fact is, I’ve actually had to say no to events, shows outside the country because I know if I leave the country and go there, a whole lot of things would be left undone here. A whole lot of brand responsibilities, a whole lot of music responsibilities would be left undone here.

And you were in album mode…

Yeah. And I feel like I’m not going to do that to myself. There’s enough ample time. What I do look at myself and say is; in the next five years, you’re still going to be doing all these things and you’re still going to get tired of it. Right now, you have to really work and grind to get to where more people would want you to come. Because these people that are wanting you to come, are wanting you to come because you’re Laycon Big Brother. But right now, I won’t go to Uganda as Laycon Big Brother, because my album has been in their top 10 for the past two weeks. My album charted number 1 in Guinea Bissau. So right now, when I go there…

They are booking you as an artist.

Yeah, exactly. There’s much more added rather than just seeing my face. Now they want to listen to me sing my song. So it’s different now. Like I would always say, I knew as an artist, I was going to travel out of the country. But I think the way God works is just crazy. That’s why I’d always say God has the highest sense of humour ever. That’s why when people say the joke you’re making is blasphemy. Who created the funniest guy in this world? It’s God. And you’re telling me this person that created him doesn't have a sense of humour, that’s a lie. 

So I haven't travelled outside of the country and the first time I’m supposed to travel out of the country is still as an artist. Because my first trip is actually key. It’s keyed that I’m actually to go because of “Shall We Begin.” I’m travelling outside. And I’ve had to cancel over 20 trips outside of the country because, “let Big Brother Naija winner come.” So I’ve had to move, I’ve had to cancel, I’ve had to do a whole lot. Something would sha happen. I was supposed to have gone to Dubai since. But the whole federal government blah blah blah of Dubai, I couldn't go. Same thing South Africa. Same thing even Ghana. A whole lot of things that would just happen and we would say, ‘we move the trip to later.’ Now, this trip I’m having is as an artist. Because I’m still going there to shoot music video. So I’m happy with what the album has done so far. I’m really really happy. My first album, my first project as a mainstream guy. 

Was there a rule book to guide you? Or something you told yourself you weren’t going to do? Like, this is the way I’m going to conduct myself as a winner.’

Me, it’s always been this is the way I’m going to carry myself as a person, first. It’s still the same thing I’d do if I wasn’t popular that I’d still probably do. I’d probably do a whole lot more dumb shit with my friends. I’d probably do more flexing than the normal one I do now. But nah, there was no rule book. Honestly, the first thing I was thinking of when I left the house was, how were we going to start recording, creating music? And then, it got to a point where that was really hard. Because I know the first thing I did after I left the house, the first musical step I took was recording ‘Nobody’ Remix. And that was the second night I left the house. But moving forward, I recorded here, recorded there. 

But during the period, I was like, ‘yo, I need to start recording. So let’s cancel multiple things for these next few weeks, and let’s focus on recording. Let’s invite people, producers, and that’s what we just did. That was how we created the official soundtrack for I Am Laycon and that’s how the songs here came. And we said, ‘these songs we are giving them to the official soundtrack. They followed this kind of mentality. This was the mindset I used to create that one. But the other one that I didn’t use my mindset to create still formulated a body of work. And I thought, ‘why don’t we just put out an album?’ 

I’ve always just thought: ‘as a person first how would you conduct yourself before as a Big Brother winner or before as a celebrity? As a person, what would I do? As Olamilekan myself first’ ‘So that’s it. It’s still the same thing, and it still goes back to that one thing, music, before any other thing. That’s the blueprint I have for myself. When they say they are bringing this thing, they want to do something. ‘How does it translate to the music?’ That’s the first thing I think about. If it translates into positivity and it’s going to help the music, let’s do it. 

There’s so much focus on your winning and other things you’ve gained with the wins. But you must have lost something also. What have you lost?

Yeah well, freedom. The sort of freedom to be with whoever you want to be with, whenever it is you want to be with them. It’s a high stakes game for me now and I feel like I’ve lost some personal relationships. I’ve actually lost personal relationships because of time. I’m not even conscious of the fact that these things exist first off. Because today, you have this, you have that. Tomorrow, you have this, you have that. And before you know it’s 2 weeks, 3 weeks. And then you’re like wait, what of this person? What’s up? And there’s just this, ‘you left me.’ 

And then that's what's up sef. When they now respond, you’re probably doing all this and not with your phone. And then the fact that I’ve had to focus on music and nothing else, I’ve lost a whole lot of opportunities because my mind is fully set on a particular one. Movie roles that would have gotten me some kind of millions, but it’s not for me. I wouldn't be trying to immerse myself as an artist and then you’d find me doing movies. So are you an artist or you’re an actor or you’re an OAP or you’re a presenter? So I’ve had to say no to a lot of stuff for the music, which I don’t really mind. But I’ve lost a bit of freedom that I would like to take walks, have time to myself, go wherever it is I like, do whatever it is I like. I’ve lost a bit of freedom to do whatever it is I want to do. Either to be more responsible for myself. Not just myself, but things around me. 

I’ve always been a go-to guy with my friends. But right now, nobody is going to come to me with shit. First of, there’s no time to mentally process your shit because I’m still mentally processing my shit. So I’m no longer the go-to guy for personal or emotional shit. Even the emotional shit, I don’t have it on lock yet. But I just know that I’m not ready for anything with anyone. I know that one for certain. 

This high octane existence where there’s always something demanded from you. When you finally switch out of this locked-in hustle zone, how do you reward yourself?

Omo, I don’t know. Right now, I feel the reward I’m giving myself is to keep improving. Because I actually set a target for myself like a week ago. Immediately the album dropped, I did another schedule leading up to whatever it is I’m going to do next. Number of hours I’d spend doing this, next number of hours I’d spend doing that. At least, the amount of things I need to do per day to actualize a level where I feel like it’s good enough to go again. So I feel like that’s a reward for me. In the end, it is still going to reflect positively on me and my music.

You find ways to reward yourself within the process. 

Yeah, that’s fun for me. When I play a beat and I’m working on myself with the beat. Or play music and I’m working on myself through the music. And another thing is, I can be doing other things while doing that. So it kind of saves time and a whole lot. As much as I cannot abandon things that I feel needs to be done for my growth, I just have to adapt to believe that that growth is a reward for the level I’m at right now. The same reward that we’d enjoy two years ago, isn't the same reward I should be getting right now. The reward for my hard work is more hard work. I kind of see it that way. Because eventually, it would get to a level where I wouldn’t have to work that hard anymore. So now, while I’m still like...let’s just put in all the work now.

What’s the proudest point of this journey so far?

Everything. I’m proud of everything I’ve done. I’m actually proud of it. And then, looking at the moment when it is happening, I’m like, on to the next one. That’s actually my mentality. And it’s crazy I do not allow myself to just relax and just let it sink. I’m like, on to the next one. But when I think about it sometimes online and I see people write those things…I need to let them sink in for myself. I’m proud of where I’ve gotten to within a year of putting out “Who Is Laycon?” Because this whole thing—regardless of whether anybody likes it or not—started with “Who Is Laycon?” 

I’m really happy and I’m proud of everything that I’ve done, most especially the music part. I’ve been able to actually find another part of myself in music that I didn't even know existed before. And with the help of all these friends that I have, they helped me discover this part. There’s a lot I’m just improving on personally that I do know is going to reflect in the next few months. Everybody should just be really expectant of the next things that are going to come out from me. I mean apart from the ones that have been submitted already which is the official soundtrack. I’m pretty sure the distros think we’re crazy because that has actually been submitted. But after that, the next thing I’m going to be working on…yeah. 


Up next: EP Review — Tems ‘If Orange Was A Place’