If we divorce art from its cultural implications, we can agree that art is very often all to do with the expression of beauty. Throughout history, much artwork was made for no other explicit purpose than the production of beauty. The artwork is to be beheld and admired. It is breathtaking and can even make us emotional. It is this beauty that I draw the first connection between nature and art. Nature and art are both beautiful, no matter how you define beauty. They both can dazzle us and hold us breathless. They can inspire us and make us feel connected to something. They both can strike an emotional nerve that leaves an impact on us that is not soon forgotten. Odunsi is a gift of nature. Odunsi is art. And Odunsi is many other things. As Martin Landsky said, music is an art form of expression, it should bring the inner side of an artist to the surface and give the world an insight of his vision, it is a deep form of communication. Today, it’s hard to hear anyone say they’re in search of good music, that’s because of how the internet has revolutionized distribution, for all kinds of artistes and musical creatives in emerging markets like Africa. Social media changed everything, it’s disruption and influence across many spheres almost feels like the second coming that we missed.
People always say there’s nothing special, nothing to be enthusiastic about the new crop of Nigeria’s creatives, mostly millennials who are pioneering the revolution not just in entertainment, but in business, technology, fashion, and activism, it becomes unnecessarily acrimonious to explain that nothing really differentiates this generation from others, other than the depth of accessible information and the tools available, which makes it better prepped for innovations than the former, and the case is the same for emerging generations. The first time I met Bowofoluwa Odunsi was at a house party in Lekki curated by Isabella Agbaje and Ayo Lawson, in February 2016. I was somehow expecting to see a robot laced with human and musical intelligence, converting every form of positive energy, as the name suggests – The Engine. But I met a graduating teenager, in a Jeunesse T-shirt tucked in his black jeans, and converses to compliment. Easy, Dazzling smile, excessively self-conscious but with traces of genuine confidence. At this time, Adura, one of his first releases was out and it was an inspo jam, made sense to play next after Idris King’s squad, before we faded into the wild night singing Gangsta Fear by Santi which featured Odunsi and his afro-fusion experiment, one he compares to the likes of Angelique Kidjo, Wale Thompson, Burna Boy, and Blackmagic. If there’s anything I can still remember from the conversation we had that night, Odunsi doesn’t drink or smoke, his music is ‘pure’ – Odunsi The Angel.
Surfing from one new art space to another, admiring the skill and imagination of our friends-turned-artists as we sip free wine, reading about the boom of metropolitan Lagos and taking it upon ourselves to build structures and events to develop an ecosystem that seemed too far to reach by many, discovering new sides of us and championing the half-baked works of our friends and internet acquaintances, there was only thing that seemed real, the dream, and unlike many other dreams, there was a select demographic of black kids pushing and living up to it. Later that year, he released his ‘Time of Our Lives’ EP that featured Økuntakinte and Blackmagic, including Dami Oniru and other young creatives who were at that time, making their way into the industry. This project marked the transfiguration into the limelight, The Engine was fast becoming popular and recognized in mainstream spaces, it was this dexterity that paved the way for other New Age artistes, hence the spark of the alternative music dialogue on the cyberspace. ‘Happy hour’ made it’s way from SoundCloud, to the radio and festivals until it landed him a feature on MOBO awards. Later that year, he released “Situationship” featuring AYLØ and got featured on Spotify United States’ Top 10 viral tracks at number 5 and a solo performance at Native Land 2016, alongside Skepta, Maleek Berry, Jhus and more – Odunsi The Rookie
— Odunsi † (@odunsitheengine) August 22, 2018
Odunsi wasn’t the only one making waves at that time, the gap was closing faster than expected and camaraderie existed between the colleagues and community. Lady Donli, Santi, Tomi Thomas, Wavy the creator, Idris King, Famous Bobson, GMK and many more had already dominated the forefront of the new school, the synergy and twist in style coupled with focus from international press, which many mainstream artistes were struggling to lynch on quickly birthed the Alté market, a term used to describe urban-centric millennials with a distinct taste, a community which is now growing out of Lagos to other parts of Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, and the diaspora. All the way, Odunsi always prove to the world that mastery of skill and the right timing worked hand in hand for success. This reflected in every element that made up his artistic blend, down to his fashion, visuals and his interactions.
At a young age the city really instills in you the value of your personal hustle and work ethic. Lagos also teaches you to find a way to create something out the little you have and that’s one major thing I have got from growing up here. It has taught me balance and how to work with different people and approach different situations. Growing up in Lagos, has been my biggest influence musically, because I have been able to interact in a place that is so energetic and very competitive.” – Odunsi (OkayAfrica 2016)
Lagos’ creative culture is booming and we’re seeing a wave of young people throughout Nigeria who see the possibility of taking their creative talents to the next level. However, at this defining stage, it still is crucial to nurture and equip that same community. The good is, African creatives are waking up to their own power, and there’s a higher appreciation for ‘African-ness.’ The revival came late, but it is certainly in the hands of the right ones, struggling and pushing despite lack of infrastructure and slower development amidst political malaise. Odunsi’s music embodies all these things, though a lady’s man equipped with sensational lyrics and multifaceted flow, his art reflects purity, encapsulating important and diverse narratives. He’s always open about his mental health, with a self-effacing demeanor, gracious and polite.
By 2017, more people found his music relatable and cared to understand the new sound, so when he dropped ‘Desire’ featuring Funbi and Tay Iwar, with visuals aesthetically minimalist, and color splash theme for ‘Vanilla Freestyle,’ it was clear the youngsta had found a niche for himself and wasn’t afraid to take it to the next level. During this period, he got verified on Twitter, a powerful statement of authenticity, his videos got premiered in MTV Base and Trace Naija making demand for more music was high. He put out a joint project with Nonso Amadi, ‘War’ which almost landed him a stage at O2 Academy in London, for a concert scheduled to have been headlined by both artists, his absence has since been tied to immigration/visa issues at that time. He scored himself hits on ShowDemCamp’s ‘Popping Again’ with Boj, and two tracks off Juls’ ‘Leap of Faith.’
Rumor had it that he had clinched a Universal Music deal but it wasn’t certain until after the successful release of ‘In The Morning’. The year ended with him getting the award for the Most Promising Act at the Nigerian Entertainment Awards, with his songs – ‘Desire’ and ‘Adura’ being featured as soundtracks in two blockbuster Nigerian cinema movies, Isoken and Banana Island Ghost respectively. Mr. Engine had already established a relationship with A-list artistes and agencies and was already making music with and for them – Odunsi The Producer.
2018 has been the big year, for Odunsi, for his peers and for the Lagos creative scene as a whole. Their talents have attracted brands and top organizations like Nike, Apple, Off White, Swatch, Jameson, Universal Music Group, Budweiser, Complex, CNN, Spotify, Google, Facebook, Dazed and many other consumer and enterprise big players, who are now setting offices and drawing direct contacts with the pioneers and influencers. This goes side by side with this city’s booming technology landscape.
On 21 January 2018, Odunsi got covered on Guardian Life Magazine with the likes of Lady Donli, Maka and Santi, discussing the new age of Africa, their art process and plans for the future. He got featured on M.I Abaga’s two debut albums ‘Rendezvous’ and ‘Yxng Dxnzl,’ before debuting Alte Cruise, the song that got everyone asking ‘who’s this?’ It’s easy to place it, Odunsi’s growth from his first project TOOL to his album RARE is impeccable and it emphasizes his quest for originality and growth. Afrobeat, soul, R&B and electronica have never sounded so good.
The minute he got on stage at Skepta’s BBK Homecoming Concert in Lagos alongside Naomi Campbell, Nasty C, Wizkid, Davido, Not3s, Olamide, Santi, and Jhus, international status was confirmed and we got the message. He headlined GidiFest’s New Gen stage in March 2018 and secured another deal with Warner Chapel Music UK, 2018 was arguably the best fit for his dream album and uprising. – Odunsi The Next Rated.
Alte Cruise video was directed by Santi and Demola Falomo, a mash-up of events, stories and highlights of what it means to be a quintessential Lagos Millennial. Like Twitter people will be quick to run the jokes, ‘rich/ middle-class kids who think dirty all-stars and durag is cool and also use mental health issues for social aesthetics.’ The narrative is however wrong. These kids are reinventing and living the best and early stages of Africa’s gentrification. The Engine is an attestation to this shift, he was born and bred in Lagos, the same place where he birthed his career and reaches his global audience from.‘ It will be unreasonable to highlight his rise without recognizing the efforts of Kimani Moore, his manager, and GMK, an old friend and producer of his songs. Kimani is young, determined and has built a name for herself by facilitating the business side of music between new age artistes she manages and international distributors. GMK, a trained pilot and music producer is the orchestrator of the sonic vibrations we owe the redemption too.
Recently, he got featured on Julie Adenuga’s Beats 1 Radio documentary, a three-part series juxtaposing the young minds and gems pushing the limits in Lagos. By now, it was no news that Odunsi was set to release his first album which was about to be the next big export out of Nigeria since Wizkid’s ’Superstar’ album. ‘Divine’ his love song with the continent’s biggest artiste Davido was already topping the charts and the response from new listeners was overwhelming. Hence, *vroom vroom bitches* His journey to stardom may seem like a quick shot, but it’s the result of a resilient, phenomenal creative representing a breed of conscious individuals particular about the representation of their art. Today, we celebrate a young man who has distinctively filtered his sound and name to places we can’t yet imagine, validating his throne as the next big thing. Maybe the greatest we may see out of Africa. But while we press play and groove to his melodies, recommend his music to friends and family and watch him take on the next phase of his career, it is imperative we protect this gem, at all costs, because he is the bridge to the promised land and more wonders that we’re yet to see in the era of the African explosion – Odunsi the rare one.