From his bodily tattoos, one can just tell how deeply introspective YCee is.
“I came. I suffered. And I changed,” he translates the Arabic phrase sitting on his left arm, before retreating to the easy-going demeanour he wore all morning.
While many people are used to his shrubby dreadlocks, confident gait and broad smile, the Afro-fusion artiste waxes with a witty mindset stewed in several philosophies and life-changing experiences, such as the stressful heartbreak that birthed his just-released EP dubbed, Love Drunk.
The seven-track sound piece reflects YCee in a profoundly emotive state, mirroring the vibes on his 2018 duet-EP dubbed, Late Night Vibrations. The entire EP is woven around dealing with heartbreak, as well as finding forgiveness from a loved one. On this project, YCee switches on his singing hat, dazzling with his vocal dexterity behind the microphones. Apart from being a brief-but-seamless project, the album flushes for its evergreen quality, as well as its laid-back groove and a standout party-banger.
Speaking with Guardian Music, the 28-year-old artiste/music executive talks about creating Love Drunk in heartbreak, coping as an independent artiste, nearly quitting music, as well as having a former crush on the screen gem, Genevieve Nnaji.
Congratulations on the new album, how do you feel about it?
I feel really great seeing as the last project I put out was in 2019. I didn’t really release much music last year due to the pandemic. So, there has been that rift. A lot of my fans had been asking for another body of work. I had been working on this since January 2020, up until August 2021. I am just really excited to finally have new music out.
So, how did you deal with the pandemic?
I was stuck in London at the time; I was in London for six months. I was away for a very long time. Dealing with the pandemic there was different than it is over here, because in London, the cases were severe. So, it just gave me time to be introspective and see how I could work on myself. I made the most of it. When I got back to Lagos, I had a refreshed mindset and I was just ready to get back to work.
Why did you make a love album?
Funnily, I had just got out of a long-term relationship when I started working on this album. For me, anytime I am doing anything personal, I rather just drown myself in my work and channel that energy into making more music. Initially, it was just to distract myself. However, with the more songs I was recording, I saw that it was taking a certain direction; especially because of the way I was mentally and emotionally. By the time I was done, I just knew that it was going to be heavily relatable to being in love or out of love.
We didn’t see much of your Hip-Hop side on this album?
It was an unconscious effort; every step I was taking was just going in that direction. It was more or less an experiment to work on that type of sound and perfect it. As much as I would have wanted to rap, it would have felt out of place in the project.
You also had some party jams on the project, was that deliberate?
That’s very deliberate. As much as you want to make music that people want to listen to, you also have to understand the climate of music; people just want to party and have a good time. With every body of work I put out there, I make sure that there are one or two songs that people would be able to slam in the clubs or at parties; that was a deliberate effort.
What’s your typical creative process?
I know how to engineer a little bit; so I record myself. When I am in the studio, I like to just be there for hours trying out different melodies until I am comfortable enough with what I have. Then, I get into writing. I am really big on flows and melodies, because that’s what makes your music different out there.
There are some few producers I am comfortable working with; they know my sound and direction. I usually just reach out to them; they usually just send me stuff and I record myself. I always like to be in a position where anytime I get into the studio, it has to be a productive session. I don’t have to force it, but I have to be in the right state of mind.
Who are these producers you prefer working with?
There is Adey; there is also Deevoe and Smyley. These are my top guys. There is BeatsbyKarmaa who is also my elder brother. Working with them, over the years, has built the chemistry. These are people I can have conversations with about my issues and get solutions from it.
So, how did you venture into music?
When I was in secondary school, I dabbled into a bit of songwriting; it was just for fun. By the time I had finished secondary school, my brother was already learning music production. So, we just used to record in the bedroom. Things were not as flexible as they are now.
From 2011, I started taking it seriously. I used to record and not play it for anybody before. Somehow, one of my neighbours got to listen and he was really impressed. He encouraged me to keep working. The more people listened and encouraged me, the more confident I got in my craft.
By 2012, I put out a mixtape and from that, I got a record deal. And everything has been a progressive climb from there. Initially, there was a point where I thought it wasn’t working out. Before you make that choice to be a professional musician, there is a certain mindset you have of the way you think things will go. However, when you start putting in the work you will see that it is not something that happens overnight. It could be years before you score your first major hit. By 2015, that was when my career started looking up. I released Condo with Patoranking, and I released Jagaban right after.
How did your family background influence your choice?
I grew up in an extended family. I was basically listening to all the music everyone me was listening to. I had an uncle that was really big on rap music; I just really enjoyed it. I had another uncle that was into soft pop and I enjoyed that too. I found myself having a fusion in my sound. I was really big on rap, but understanding the climate of that industry, I understood that you couldn’t stick with that genre if you want to be commercially successful.
Did they support you in any way?
My family has always been very supportive, especially my mum, because she is also in a bit of creative arts herself. One thing she said to me was that when she was younger, her parents didn’t really give her the chance to follow her dreams and she didn’t want to make the same mistake with my brother and myself. So, she gave us that free hand to explore as much as she wanted to. She has been one of my biggest supporters. She gives me critiques. I have an amazing all-round relationship with her.
Was there any point you felt like giving up?
Definitely; one time in 2014 and another time in 2018. I was going through the whole industry struggles; a lot of people only see the good times – the parties and the shows. However, there are also the dark sides to it, where you end up in situations where you would be second-guessing yourself for whatever reason. In times like that, you have to remember the reason you’re doing what you’re doing.
I was lucky to have a lot of people that had a high-level of belief in me than I did at the time; they have always set me back on the right path. For me, music is something that I have grown to love. For me, I have understood that this is what I would be doing for the most of my life, so I go on with it.
Was there any full-circle moment for you when you felt fulfilled in what you’re doing?
Definitely! By 2019, I had gone to a position where I was an independent artiste. It was a defining moment for me. Remembering how I began from recording in my bedroom up until the time I set up my own company, it was a big boost for my morale and confidence. A year before, I was in a questionable position, not knowing whether I would continue or not. Luckily, I was able to turn everything around with the team working with me.
One thing I will just add is that, to everyone out there, as much as you have the drive to be successful nine out of ten times that is the most important energy you need. You can fail multiple times, but one thing people need to know is that failure is an important part of success.
So, looking into your life as an Executive, how are you coping in that terrain?
It is not easy. I wasn’t really business-inclined from the start; I had to learn through some harsh experiences. I had to take my time to seek knowledge in areas that I was lacking. I think getting to a point where I know a lot more than I did, say 2-3 years ago, is really empowering for myself. As much as you seek to better yourself as a creative, you need to work on getting business knowledge of the music industry. That way, you recognise more opportunities.
I see a lot of artistes feel like it is just the job of the manager. If you don’t have that business knowledge to know when opportunities present themselves, you won’t be able to take those opportunities. At the end of the day, you are the brand. A lot of people are going to be approaching you directly. Setting up my own imprint empowered me in ways that I didn’t really understand until now. As much as you are talented, you have to have a sound mind and come up with ideas to promote your music.
What do your tattoos mean?
I have about 11 of them. This one on my arm is written in Arabic and it means ‘I suffered. I learned. And I changed.’ It is one of the earliest I got. At that time, I had taken a lot of beatings on my journey. I like to look at these things as not just a loss, but more as a lesson. I was learning more and adjusting myself to better deal with the way the industry is shaped. I have one, which is my Zodiac sign, Aquarius. There is one across my chest that also says ‘Everything of value must be earned’. Sometimes, I just like to take some time to process everything that has happened to me.
Back to the album, what’s your favourite song?
My favourite is My Ways. For me, that was one song where I really buried a lot of emotions and experiences. I am not really as vocal, because the choice of music I make doesn’t really give me the chance to narrate my experiences. However, on that song, I was able to dig deep.
I thought you would say West Indies?
Funnily, that was the last song we added to the album. We added it about a week to when the album dropped, because we were having issues clearing out another song that was to be on that album. So, we put West Indies on it. I feel like that’s a song that a lot of people enjoyed. They always felt it was special. For me, that’s a second close favourite.
That’s the crazy thing about the way music works; you already have a clear-cut plan, but anything can happen at the last minute.
So, who are you feeling in the industry?
Rema definitely. We are all seeing him evolve into a more mature artiste; that’s a joy to watch. Oxlade also is very amazing; I have met him so many times and he is an amazing talent. PsychoYP has been pushing his music for the longest time and his energy is really amazing. So, yeah, these three guys.
Do you see yourself working more on the Alte scene?
There was a lot of time where people saw me as an Alte artiste. The Alte community has been sustaining itself in the last few years. A lot of us can learn from how they created their audience and catered for them without compromising on their sound. It is really something to respect. Sometimes, I could dabble into it, but at the end of the day because of my mainstream success I will still just be considered as a mainstream artiste.
So, on a personal note, are you open to finding love again?
I still have a lot of work to do when it comes to that aspect. I have learned a lot from my past relationships. And moving forward, I am just using that knowledge to better navigate my love life. I have to be very careful, because the older you get, the more you realise that you don’t have that many relationships left in you. It is a situation where you have to be sure that it will be long-term.
So, you’re thinking about marriage?
Obviously. I was born in a union of marriage. It is something that I want to share with someone else.
Any celebrity crush?
Not anymore. I used to have the strongest crush on Genevieve; I saw her once at an airport in Abuja. For the longest time, I didn’t think I would be star-struck when I saw anybody. I had met a lot of musicians, but then I saw Genevieve and she is really something.
Is there anything you would like to add?
I just want to say a big thank you to all my fans and supporters. Thank you for the patience and the acceptance you have been giving my music. I will continue to give you the best I have to offer.
Finally, tell us three things most people don’t know about you?
I like cartoons and video games a lot; that’s the number 1 thing I do with my spare time. Number 2, I play football. In fact, I almost played it professionally. Lastly, I really dislike going to strip clubs; it is one conversation I tend to have. People just assume I would like it, because I am in the entertainment scene. But I am always turning it down.