Oladipo Eso , otherwise known as Ladipoe, is pushing for a sound with no boundaries, one that rejects labels and categories.
Known for his fiery ‘lifelines’ and dynamic flow, which in fact earned him a BET nomination this year, the Nigerian artist is making his own imprint on Afrobeats and Rap. Detailing a vibrant childhood in Nigeria, the young riser went on to study Chemistry and Biology at the University of North Carolina, an experience which perhaps cultivated Ladipoe’s universal approach to his artistry. Following 2018’s debut project ‘T.A.P (Talk About Poe),’ this year saw Ladipoe embark on a journey of self-assurance, both within himself and musically, which he felt once hindered by. Recent EP ‘Providence’ celebrates an overcoming, where across a range of heavyweight features including Rema, Amaarae and Fireboy DML, the rap artist uniquely fuses elements of Hip-Hop, Afrobeats and Soul. Today, Ladipoe invites his core listeners to anticipate and collaboratively manifest a full body of work: the album.
CLASH sat down with the self-proclaimed ‘Leader of The Revival’ to discuss his early years, discovering his expansive musical inclinations, and experimenting with the creative process, whether that be in the studio or on stage.
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What was your experience growing up spending your early years in Nigeria to then studying in the US? How did they shape you and your outlook on life?
“Growing up in Nigeria was a really good childhood, I had parents who were very much present. My parents believe in words like integrity, legacy and stuff like that. Not even just my parents, it starts off with my grandparents, those ideologies have been passed down. My dad, he’s an architect and he’s the one that really introduced creativity into our lives. He was there for every art project we ever had to see. We were outdoors, we’re outdoor kids because of that. My mom, I think one of the reasons why, now that I think back, that I’m really into words is she was such a stickler for, your English has to be perfect. She was so into that, and we read a lot of books, I was exposed to books from young, I’ve always been reading. I had the outdoor experience, I had the indoor, creating with my brother, we would create comic books.
One thing that I believe that Nigeria also showed me was sacrifice, my parents sacrificed a lot for me to go to school in America, for my brother and sister to go to the schools that they went to, they sacrificed so much. So I learned that as well, that what I’m doing, me being, having this opportunity is coming at a cost. So yeah, growing up in Nigeria is amazing, it’s just, you don’t realise how crazy Nigeria is or Lagos is until you move elsewhere. There are no amenities being provided as such by the government, it makes life that much more hostile, harder. I think all of those things really shaped my experience, and the music as well. I was exposed to so much music. So much different kinds, like, my dad listened to soul music, my mom loved Al Green, at the same time there’s African music, there’s a lot of the old greats, the Fela’s, Victor Uwaifo, all these types of people. And then of course, we had rap, we had MTV, we had rock music, all sorts.’
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In turn, how do you feel that these two contrasting cultures, America and Nigeria, how do you think they’ve influenced your sound?
“That’s a good question. Going to school in America, the culture shock was crazy, because you see movies, you think it’s gonna be like the movies. I went to school in North Carolina and because I went to school in the middle of nowhere, there was no Walmart, I think that the store at the time was called the Piggly Wiggly. Listen to that name, the Piggly Wiggly! So I was in the middle of nowhere in the south, there was a culture shock real quick. But you adapt. As an African in America, I found friends, I first talked like the Americans but over time, I found my own feet. There was an African student organisation, I co-founded that with a friend of mine, we were the first persons to start that. That sense of self identity was so critical to enjoying life in another person’s country, you know, it was great.
I have amazing experiences and when it comes to music, that’s where I started making music. I met this guy, his name is Greg, Greg used to cut my hair. Greg had a cousin called Jeff, who used to rap and we used to hang out. Jeff would play some of the music he was working on and said there was this boy in his class called Kurt. Musically, his world was so much bigger than mine, which was just rap, hip-hop, R&B, yes some rock music, Kurt’s world was huge. He used to produce for Jeff, and Jeff introduced me to him and then we all started to work together as a group. Me, Jeff and Kurt, we called ourselves ‘Lyrically Equipped,’ it was corny, but it worked. We made music together and that’s how I first understood what it meant to rap, I didn’t know I had that ability until I met these guys. Kurt opened my mind because he introduced me to people like Death Cab for Cutie, you know, artists like Elliott Smith. He introduced me to people that I normally wouldn’t have even listened to so he made my musical world bigger. From there, you know, I also like Drake, I like Phonte from Little Brother, Elzhi from Slum Village. They shaped how I wanted to rap. But I’ll say one thing, if America taught me how to rap, moving back home showed me what I should be rapping about, what I should be talking about in my music. That’s where the stories were, the real stories, my stories, a lot of my music is about relatability.”
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Is there a specific moment you can pinpoint where your love for music blossomed?
“That’s been from young, I think just being Nigerian born, you can’t escape music being constantly around you, whether it’s somebody singing off key in church, or when I was back at home and my dad was playing CCM, Bebe Winans, or my mom was bumping Al Green. You’re constantly bombarded with sounds that you like, that you connect with. It really informed how I started to make music because I don’t really categorise my music based on genre. I rap, that’s my form of communication but I don’t adhere strictly to hip-hop because how can I? There’s too much that I was surrounded by. Hip-hop is an important sound anyways, so I’m going to find my home on anything that I feel works for me, because I feel like people often ignore, particularly here in Nigeria, the artist, part of the title, ‘rap artist,’ and focus just on the rap. Eventually in your career, if you’re lucky, you will eventually drop the ‘rap’ and just have ‘artist’ because that’s really what we are at the end of the day. CLASH: Yeah, that’s a good point – when do you evolve into an artist or a musician. Ladipoe: There are levels to it.”
In 2021, the alté scene is very much spreading across the globe. How would you describe this movement to someone who has never come across it before?
“Wow, the alté scene. All I can really say about that is it is a movement, it’s less about music, it’s just about a person, your inner essence, your inner core, your choices, the fact that you’re not quite what people consider the norm. I think it’s a scene that really grew out of people’s confidence in their own self-expression. They were confident with who they were, they knew they were comfortable in how they’d dress, their musical tastes, their preferences as artists, and their ownership of the fact that they were creative.”
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Yeah, and it just seems like there is a natural gravitation towards self expression. Would you say you felt a growth between your debut project ‘Talk About Poe’, and this year’s EP ‘Providence’?
“Definitely, for ‘Talk About Poe’ I was just coming out of the identity crisis. I want to say particularly rap artists but probably other kinds of artists, within Nigeria, feel the identity crisis. There’s this old narrative surrounding rap and hip where if rap is your predominant means of communication, people feel like you should and must sound a certain way. I think that a lot of rap artists get stuck because they want to express themselves in so many different ways and they don’t know what works and then if they sing, is that bad? Once I had gotten through that, I was ready for ‘Talk About Poe’ which was really me accepting that this is who I am, the record is good. In the middle, you’re going to hear a Tems record that has this R&B feel to it and a bit of a dancehall bounce. Then there’s another record on there that has this very Afro vibe called ‘Hello Goodbye.’ It has this very, rough, raw hook from Sir Dauda.
It was me accepting that it’s not going to be the genre of music that would define my sound, it’s how I rap. I call how I rap my lifelines. At the end of ‘Talk About Poe’ I came into this idea of the Leader Of The Revival. That whole moniker is what ultimately pushed me into Providence. Providence means timely preparation for future eventualities. It just felt like this moment, this season, anything that people can describe my career being in now, I feel ready for it. While sometimes I look around and I’m like, ‘wow, we’re getting closer,’ I’m not surprised. I don’t feel out of sorts, I feel like I’ve been moving in this trajectory and there has been growth. Providence is trying to show people a glimpse of that growth before they get the album, it’s less about me introducing myself, it’s more of me saying, I know who I am.”
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LOTR II, your opening track, is slick lyrically and has a unique hip-hop feel. What does it mean to be the Leader Of The Revival?
“I feel like the Leader Of The Revival, that moniker really came when I did my headline show, that was the first time I said, I am the Leader Of The Revival. I feel like they told us a lie out here, they lied to me that my music had no place, they lied to me about the mere fact that I rapped predominantly in English, it’s not going to work in a place where it’s lingua, street slang or indigenous language driving rap music. They told me that, because my music has a particular lean towards it, it’s not necessarily based on just vibes, it’s lyrics that have meaning, that this is just not the place. So to me, the Leader Of The Revival is a reminder first and foremost to myself, that I have a place at the table, that this whole artistry that I’m holding at such a high standard is relevant. It can encourage people and it can create two things: legacy and impact. I have people in my DM’s saying that it inspires them. That’s how I grew into this idea of bringing back that artistry that we were told had no place. That’s what LOTR means.”
In tracks like Providence, you make references to Bible passages, how important is religion in your life?
“It does. That’s interesting, you’re the first person to ever ask me that question. I realise now, when I think back, I have it in quite a few tracks. It’s just how I grew up, my mom, she’s never going to give up. She is a very spiritual person, she has a very strong faith and it’s something that she tried to imbibe in her children as well. I love stories. I love narratives. I love books, I love worlds, being in another world. She had these books, Bible passages and parables but they were like stories. So that’s how I learned a lot, my knowledge came from just reading what I thought were stories. Although I’m not as religious as my mom would like, I do have my faith and I do believe it is a powerful thing and gets you through a lot. These stories stuck with me, the importance of these stories stuck with me and the fact that if you believe in something larger than yourself, you can do impossible things. I do believe in that. I guess I tried to impart that with the verses and I think they also make for great lines.”
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Yeah. You cannot possibly know everything, so you put your worries or your hopes into a higher power – I think that’s what manifestation is really.
Yes, honestly. That’s essentially how I feel it is, we see it similarly.
Your music pays attention to detail, specifically on Love Essential where you can hear the sounds of nature, you can hear the birds. Are you an artist who spends a lot of time going over their work, making tweaks and experimenting or are you more of a one-take kind of guy?
“No, I’m definitely the former, the detail is important to me. I feel like the people deserve for me to get it right. But at the same time, I’m also realising that I have to really be disciplined, and not allow this quest for perfectionism to take me down another route. Also, I heard this really cool quote that I try to remember every time I want to do another take : ‘perfectionism can be a form of procrastination.’ I’m constantly trying to seek that balance between putting it out there and getting it right. In terms of my process, my recording style, I’m starting to rely a lot more on my first feeling, my first take, the first time I hear the beat when I record. I will still write because the lyrics are important to me but that first feeling moves the music in a different direction than I may have thought of, if I sat down to write the entire thing. That spontaneity is important in the music as well. CLASH: Definitely. You’ve worked with a range of artists, many of whom stand at the forefront of, as we spoke of earlier, the alté scene. Is there a collaborative moment, one that you felt was unique, that really brought your music to life and maybe inspired you to reflect on your own artistry? Ladipoe: That’s a good question. You should help me pick one. Throw one at me and I’ll tell you.”
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I think ‘Running’ is very anthemic, it’s quite special.
“First and foremost, ‘Running’ started with a conversation. I sent a message to Fireboy DML last year, just to let him know that, ‘I think you’re really good writer, I feel like you, amongst your generation, you really care. You care about lyrics.’ He appreciated and at that time, I’d released a song called ‘Know You’ which featured Simi and it was doing some things and he congratulated me on that song and its success. So it started off with that mutual appreciation. We saw each other in 2021, D Smoke was in town, from America. Fireboy had come up to link with him, I’d also come up to link with him at some boxing ring, just messing around. From the 2020 conversations and linking up at that time in 2021, we eventually ended up in the studio. We knocked out three songs because there was already this mutual appreciation for one another’s music. We were confident, he was confident enough to be like, ‘when we work on a song and we get to a certain point where it’s in a nice place, let’s do something else, let’s keep going, let’s hop on to another one.’ That’s not always the energy. ‘Running’ was the third song we worked, so if we didn’t have that approach, we wouldn’t have gotten to that. The energy was really, really pure. It was honest. It was authentic. ‘Running’ captured that, ‘Running’ feels like part two of the story I was telling with Buju on ‘Feeling,’ in a more serious way.”
What do you want your listeners to feel when they listen to Ladipoe?
“I just want them to, it’s cliché, to feel something. Even if there’s a dance record, like on ‘Law Of Attraction,’ I knew I wanted something really rhythmic, where whenever you take the time to listen to the lyrics, you feel touched by them and you feel something. That’s why I always say, my tag line is no punchlines, just lifelines. What I’m really saying with that, because I definitely do have punchlines, is the fact that lifelines, they are something you connect with in your own life, somehow. I think that’s the greatest quality in music.”
This summer, you performed at All Points East with Rema. What does the live experience mean to you, as an artist? Can we expect more shows from Ladipoe this year?
“There’s two major loves for me: making records in the studio, it’s a massive feeling when you love a record, saying exactly what you want to say, and then performing the record. There is no other place where you can turn unbelievers into believers in that great a number. There’s no place where you can make people who already believe, to believe even more than when you’re on stage. I don’t play with that opportunity, I don’t play with it at all.”
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If you could collaborate with anyone who would it be?
“I have a whole sort of new philosophy now collaborations. I don’t have a list anymore, I’ve shredded my lists. I really want to just be in the studio with people that want to be in the studio with me. When I look back at the collaborations I’ve done that really had an impact, that’s how they came about. Working in the studio with Simi, that one on one relationship and we came up with ‘Know You’ just because we’re both songwriters, and we really enjoyed making a record of a love story, in our own way. For me, I want to have some level of common ground because I recognise the fact that when I collaborate with somebody, that collaboration is not done after the record is cut, it’s after, when the song comes out, we still collaborate and how we push it. I really want to work with people who love music, the music that we made.”
Yeah, we see that a lot and I think that’s a really good approach to collaboration. As we approach its closure, what have you taken away from 2021?
“Two things, I’d say. One is the fact that you can’t call it, you can’t plan it. This year has had some of the deepest, most painful experiences for my family. The beginning of the year was very tough. But it was still an opportunity for my career to really grow, and then also my personal life as well. There’s some really amazing things that happened in my life, I couldn’t have seen that through the darkness of the beginning of the year. I don’t know where I’m going to be in the next five years, but I do know that tomorrow, I’m going to give it everything. I can tell you that much. So 2021 has told me that if you love it, it’s worth doing. I had a lyric on a song, ‘nothing done for love is worth giving up’ and I think that holds true for my career.”
Looking ahead, what does 2022 have in store for you and your fans?
‘The fans can definitely expect a lot more visuals, I’m a very visual artist. But more than anything, I’d say the biggest thing that has to happen, that I’m manifesting, is the album. The album is something that is on my mind. I’m going to be working towards that. I was in the UK earlier on this year, I met a couple of artists and that’s a part of the world I want to create in. I met Pa Salieu, his energy is beautiful, and Mahalia. These are people that I don’t know very well, but the early connection counts. So when I come back to the UK, one of the things I want to do, besides just interviews and stuff like that, I want to be in the studio. 2022, we’ll see more collaborations, the album and headline shows.”
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Words: Ana Lamond