Interview: Skales On The Global Growth of Afrobeats and How He Has Stayed Relevant For Two Decades

Photo Courtesy of The Artist

In the last decade, afrobeats have experienced an evolution partly thanks to the streaming era of music which has allowed afrobeats to connect with a global audience and has led to it dominating the global charts and radio waves. Today, the genre has made its mark on the global stage: many of the veterans of afrobeats are now considered global stars, chart-topping bangers are seemingly dropped every other week and new artists are breaking records consistently and regularly. To say afro beats is thriving is putting it lightly.

This evolution and globalisation of afrobeats have made it a much more competitive space. Forcing artists to push themselves and redefine their artistry and sound in an attempt to maintain longevity. Despite this, very few artists have been able to achieve this career longevity,  quite like Skales whose career spans two decades of consistently releasing certified bangers and maintaining a solid fan base while remaining influential through the rise and evolution of afrobeats in the last two decades.

Here writers Oladele Owodina and Nana-Fatima Onujabe spoke to the singer about his career, and how he managed to stay relevant, grow and have longevity in a fast-paced and constantly changing music industry. 

You’ve spent twenty years in the industry. What has it been like from when you started till now?

The journey has been really crazy. It has really been wild. A lot of ups and downs. A lot of crazy moments where you just look back and be like “wow! So I went through that”. But, I’m just really happy about where it is now, where artists are making money from just anything you can imagine. 

Before, artists would just make money from performing, and maybe record sales. Now, whether the record is selling or not, as long as it’s been streamed, as long as it’s played somewhere, it’s used for one thing or the other, artists get to reap the fruit of their labour. 

How have you been forced to change over the years as a person?

Funny thing is, somebody was asking me this question and I haven’t really thought about it. The way my life moves, as new things and new challenges come, I grow with them and I feel like I’m open-minded. Anything that either makes me better or makes the revenue for the music or makes the streams for the music better, I learn it. It’s basically how you live through life and you learn every day. That’s how it has been for me.

Is switching back and forth from rapping to singing a thing you picked up to help with career longevity or it’s just something that is part of you?

For me, It has been about what I like and this is how I want to express myself. There would be people that might not like it and there are going to be people that will like it. This narrative, I feel like in my entire career, I’m going to probably keep having this discussion, where people think I started out as a rapper.

What happened was I was never just an artist you could fix in this genre and say “this is where he is”. I was just that artiste that just knew how to express himself because I grew up around music. I was surrounded by music. My mum used to sell cassettes, so you could imagine I’ve listened to all kinds of music. When I was a little kid, I was a mummy’s boy, I was always with my mum. What happened was the song that went viral when I was still an underdog was a rap song. I also had singing songs from way back. 

As a matter of fact, I had it from way back, some years before I released it. When that happened, people labelled me as a rapper and I’ve always tried to tell them that I’m not just a rapper. I’ve gotten to a point where I just don’t care anymore. I feel like before the likes of Drake or before anybody was singing and rapping, and I’ve been doing it from secondary school. A lot of people that know me from way back know that I was doing it from secondary school, even before they even heard of “What a Drake is.” I just love music and for me, I feel like I can express myself anyway, be it chanting on a beat, be it rapping on a beat, be it singing. It’s just how I feel and how my soul just wants to express itself musically.

Photo Credit: @yungskales

You are going on a European tour soon, can you shed some light on that?

Honestly, this tour was impromptu. I was supposed to come for a festival, but I think they had issues with the government and you know what’s going on with all these Covid issues, the world is trying to strike a balance. Some countries are still trying to balance.

Basically, it was just an impromptu tour and we put it out there that said “Hey, Skales in Europe”. And before you knew it, all the cities started filling up. So basically, I would say this is a warm-up to a bigger tour that I would be planning with my team. Of course, I’m working on my deluxe album which is coming out towards the end of the year. This is a warm-up tour. I don’t want to give out too much, but this is a warm-up tour for something bigger. 

What differences have you noticed about these European countries’ reception of our music over the years? 

There’s been a lot of difference now. For a fact that our music is worldwide now. The fact that you can do shows now in venues. Because before when we used to do tours, it was mostly clubs and all, but now it’s venues. Yesterday, I just did a show in Sweden and it was incredible, it was packed. I mean, this is years later and Skales is still saying “wow”. I’m still in disbelief. It was just incredible. I was on stage and I was having so much fun. I said “wow, this is why I make music” 

Tell us about your choice of 1Da Banton for your latest hit ‘Say You Bad’ 

The featuring part of Skales, if you look back, how Skales works, with all my features from Burna Boy to Davido, it’s just good vibes. I have a mobile studio I go around with and if someone tells me that “oh! I like this one, I’ll be like, hey, I got my studio here, do you want to record?” So basically, that’s how it happened. I’ve known 1Da for a long time and I was like “Oh I have this song I want to remix.” And he was like “send it though” and I remember him calling me, hitting me up, and telling me oh I just got back from the club and I recorded around five or six am that I just got back from the club and I recorded the verse, he sent it over and he was like let’s release this song. And we did.

Can you recall your “Yes, I have really made it” moment? 

There was one time that I did a song with Nicki Minaj. I was the first Nigerian artiste to actually have a song with Nicki Minaj. The whole thing was hooked up by Major Lazer. I used to be a fan of his for seven, six years before he influenced a part of my music. Major Lazer made the song happen. I sent her a message and she sent me a message back, “Hey, you’re the one that did that verse from that song, blah blah blah, you’re so amazing, I checked you up”. I was like “wow”. As a matter of fact, I was looking for the DM because I wanted to munch it but it got deleted because I was in a very toxic relationship with someone that was always going through my DMs. I need to find it, it should be there but I’m going to find a way to look for it. 

The first time I actually spoke to her on the phone, I was in London and I had goosebumps. Even when people insult you and they say this Skales does not know what he’s doing, you’re actually low-key achieving your thing and moving on. Definitely, if the hustle wasn’t working out, you would stop.

What do you want your legacy to be?

I’ve been thinking about it and I’m still thinking about it, but I would love to be remembered for something. I don’t know yet, but what I always say is that I want to be remembered as someone that when you think about him, you just have hope that anything is really possible. 

I remember when I was in EME and I had a fallout. Of course, they claimed they dropped me and all those kinds of things. I didn’t have a say because I was not the bigger artiste at that time and my opposition was a bigger artiste. Everything is cool now. Imagine you didn’t have a house to stay in, you were pushed out, you had nothing. That’s one of the things I look back on now and say “wow”, everything changed in the space of six months. 

When I was in EME, I never saw a million naira in my account, then the first time I had a big song, the first income that came in was like ten million naira, I was like “wow”. I remember seeing it, I didn’t want to move the money, I just love seeing the zeros. I went from having probably 500 naira to 10 million naira. I had nothing when I left EME. All I had was my studio and my car because I was also crashing in my car. A lot of people didn’t know because we had ‘Baddest Boy’ and a couple of other songs out. 

I feel like I’m still working on my legacy, but for now, when you see me or hear my name or my story, just have hope that things can be achieved. 

What advice do you have for younger artists out there?

All the younger artists now are fire. There are so many that I’ve heard that are not even out there. All I will say is that be patient. Just because you see another person blowing up doesn’t mean that people are not paying attention to your talent. Your time will definitely come, stay away from drugs, try your best and understand the business. Learn the business properly. 

Now, we’re exposed to all kinds of information online so learn. I’m one of those people that was fortunate to have a lot of people around me that understand business, so I learned from them, but try and go online, and learn things. There are so many ways with your music, whether you blow up or not that you’ll still be making money. Still funding your music and all. So learn and be hard-working, sharpening your skills at every opportunity.

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