‘Them Never See Me Coming’ The Captivating Rise of Asake’s Music

On the 8th of February 2022, Nigerian rapper, Olamide, announced the signing of Asake to his YBNL record label. Since then, Asake has captivated the entertainment industry through a mix of his eccentric style and his eclectic music. 

To any culturally conscious person, one immediately curious feature about the 27-year-old singer and songwriter, Asake, is his name. Asake is a Yoruba name that loosely translates to ‘One who is chosen to be pampered’ and is traditionally reserved for girls and women. Asake adopted the name as a tribute to his mother after being referred to as ‘Omo Asake’ (Child of Asake) for many years. Asake, whose real name is Ololade Ahmed, has also referred to himself as Mr. Money, a name drawn from the 2001 Nollywood blockbuster, Ololade Mr Money, in which Ololade (Ebun Oloyede), tried to get rich at any cost and displayed unusual extravagance when he eventually became rich. Mr. Money is also the title of Asakes 2020 hit song, whose 2021 remix featured Zlatan Ibile and Peruzzi. Though his nicknames were the first hint at Asakes creative prowess, one EP (Ololade), one LP (Mr. Money with the Vibe), and two notable features later, it is now clear that there is much more to Asake than what he chooses to be called. 

TRAINED THESPIAN

Asake acknowledges 2007 as the year that he started to make music. His professional career as a musician would kick off, however, in 2010, the same year he got into Obafemi Awolowo University to study Theatre and Performing Arts. Both in time and place, this is a notable point in Asake’s trajectory as an artist. There are two things that studying Theatre and Performing Arts at Obafemi Awolowo University offers you as a performing artist: a stage to perform and the training required to hone your craft. For students like Asake, who initially chose dance as his primary focus, studying in this manner allows a safe blend of passion and obligation. In an MTV Base interview, Asake confessed that his original intention for creating music was to create a vehicle for dance. This explains why the music he made earlier in his career was typically groovy and fast. Asake achieved some success in this regard. By 2014, Asake was a popular name in the social scene of Obafemi Awolowo University not just because of his song, Joha (remade on the 2022 Mr. Money with the Vibe album), which had gained traction within the university campus but for the electric performances that accompanied the song at campus shows.  

MR. MONEY NO DEY WASTE TIME

Asake has also been the subject of conversation for his unusual work rate. In less than nine months, he has dropped one EP and a 12-track LP; he has featured on two high-performing songs, has toured the US and the UK, and has shows in Nigeria slated for this month. He appears to have followed the pattern set by two other artistes who pulled off two musical collections within the space of one calendar: YBNL label boss, Olamide (999 and Carpe Diem in 2020) and Omah Lay (Get Layd and What Have We Done in 2020). In both instances, only one of the two releases got as much attention, suggesting just how incredible a feat Asake has achieved.  

MUSICAL PATRONAGE AND CULTURAL INFLUENCES

Music is culturally universal. But specific sounds have characterized certain cultures over time. And as cultures evolve, so does music. Fuji is one of the musical forms that is associated with Yoruba people and southwest Nigeria; it is, therefore, unsurprising that Asake’s ‘neo-fuji’ thrives in this region. Not only has Asake been able to add two solid musical collections to his oeuvre, he is also inventing a new kind of sound: one that is strange yet familiar. A mix of Afro Pop, Amapiano and Fuji—a proposed name that somewhat describes this hybrid sound is Fujipiano. 

Asake’s proximity to Fuji is not as much in sound as it is language. Asake sings primarily in Yoruba and Pidgin English. He uses phrases deeply layered within the subconscious of the average Nigerian. Despite the vague nature of some of the slangs he employs (‘nzaza’, ‘ngbogbo’, ‘nzozo’, for instance), his delivery is so cogent that his listeners intuitively understand what he is trying to communicate.  

Another of Asake’s strengths is the ability to create a universal bop. This strength allows access to his music for a diasporic audience as where language fails, melody prevails. Some credit must go to the team at YBNL (honourable mention to YBNL music producer, Magicsticks) who have also managed to keep up with Asake’s work rate, for helping him optimize his fantastic run.

The diverse styles Asake has applied in his discography make it clear that this musician’s biggest strength is his eclecticism. Asake appears to be a keen consumer of Nigerian popular culture, and these influences are reflected in his creative expressions. His music easily gives him away: who he is, where he’s been, what films he’s seen, what songs he’s listened to and maybe even some of his ideals. For instance, in ‘Peace Be Unto You (PBUY)’, Asake borrows the popular phrase (and melody), ‘…Emi o Shako mo’ from the Remedies’ 1999 hit, ‘Shako Mo’. This phrase easily triggers nostalgia in anyone who listened to the radio in the late 90s and early 2000s.  

‘Terminator’, the second song of the Mr. Money with the Vibe album, is named after the eponymous classic film series that features Arnold Schwarzenegger. However, Asake’s song is a love song. Finding a middle ground between the vulgarity and vain promises of coital dominance that characterize musicians like Naira Marley and the tenderness of melodic affection expressed by artists like Chike and Ric Hassani, Asake shows us how the typical area boy might express affection. By offering bits of reassurance, promises of sexual prowess, and flattery, Asake paints a picture of that scruffy agbero at the depth of his emotions—at his most vulnerable.  

In tracks like Sungba from the Ololade Asake EP and which features Burna Boy on its remix, Asake is more direct with his venereal intentions. In ‘Muse’, he is sultry and affectionate; On ‘Mon Cherie’ released in 2021, Instagram sensation, YhemoLee, features Asake to render an enticing hook to the former’s love song. He delivers.  

Apart from Asake’s foray into romance, his music also explores more sober themes: hard work, street savviness, friendship, and vanity. The opening song from Mr. Money with the Vibe album, Dull, reveals the artist’s clever curatorial ear. The first voice you hear on the song, and indeed the album, is not Asake’s; it is a choral plea in typical Yoruba incantation announcing Asake’s ascension to greatness. The first words Asake actually utters on the track are a promise. Swearing by Aje, the Yoruba divine representation of wealth, the artist commits to remaining street savvy. Another probable giveaway of Asake’s Fuji influences is the name he chooses metaphorically in the same song—Jibola. It’s the name of famous Fuji musician, Wasiu Alabi ‘Pasuma’, and a name Pasuma often uses in his songs. ‘Dull’ is an invocation, a plea, and a promise.  

Despite the religious references in ‘Peace Be Unto You’ and ‘Terminator’, Asake’s other close invocation of the spiritual on the album is ‘Nzaza’. In this song, Asake narrates his exuberant adventures and seeks divine help through soulful melody and unusual language. The theme changes in ‘Organize’, which is simply a reiteration of the philosophical paradox of acknowledging ignorance in the quest for wisdom.  

ALREADY GLOBAL

The few people who have commented about not enjoying Asake’s music have mostly alluded to a language barrier as the reason for their disinterest. This is noteworthy feedback, considering how much Asake sings in indigenous languages and street slang. While some listeners are able to cross these boundaries to enjoy Asake’s melodies, some others can’t. But with the vast global acceptance Asake has already received (in September 2022, Mr. Money with the Vibe became the highest charting debut Nigerian album of all-time on Billboard 200), Asake has affirmed his ability to ‘steal the charts, which is the underlying theme of the Mr Money with the Vibe album cover and visualizer. Asake’s dominance of the charts and our fondness of his music perhaps also reiterates one thingmaybe Chess In Slums founder, Tunde Onakoya, is right; maybe we are all area boys

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