Journeying With Nigerian Afro-life Artist, Fireboy DML

Fireboy DML had a nimble rise to stardom and was well on his way to superstar status after the release of his albums, “Laughter, Tears and Goosebumps” and “APOLLO”. He is an agent of change, bridging the gap between Africa and the rest of the world through timeless music.

Born Adedamola Adefolahan, Nigerian Afro-life singer/songwriter, Fireboy DML had a nimble rise to stardom after signing to Olamide’s record label, YBNL Nation (YBNL) in 2018 and was well on his way to superstar status after the release of his debut album, Laughter, Tears and Goosebumps (2019). Before getting recognized by one of the most respected music heads in Nigeria, amassing millions of fans, topping the charts, and touring the world, Fireboy was balancing a college workload. He spent much of his time alone when he was younger and out of boredom, passed the time by writing poetry, which he found to be a natural talent. Although he was not born to musicians, he developed his taste in music early on through diverse sounds from the likes of Passenger, Wande Coal, Celine Deion, Elton John, and Yinka Ayefele. It wasn’t until studying at Obafemi Awolowo University that Fireboy truly found his purpose through music and decided to pursue it full-time.

Fireboy DML
Fireboy DML, Photo: Dazed

With a bachelor’s degree in English added to his list of accomplishments, the Ogun state native eagerly closed that chapter of his life, packed up, and moved to Lagos where he was steadfast in making something of his unripened music career. Like many starving artists in Nigeria’s most populous city and the most saturated with talented artists hoping to get their big break, Fireboy quickly realized the arduous journey of a developing artist. In 2016, he discovered his sound and went in full hermit mode to record and release as many songs as he could from 2017 to 2018. While dancing with adversity, he built character; and his consistency drew in a small support base.

In 2018, Fireboy signed to YBNL, a record label founded by Nigerian superstar, Olamide who discovered him. Fireboy contributed his first song, “Jealous” to YBNL’s collaborative album YBNL Mafia Family in 2018. “Jealous” scattered the airwaves and became a smash hit in Nigeria, eventually leaving its imprint on Europe. The song’s success was a taste of what was to come for the rising artist. Fireboy went on to release two singles, “What If I Say” and “King,” establishing a successful track record with his first three songs, each released within months of each other.

Fireboy’s debut album, Laughter, Tears and Goosebumps (LTG), released in November 2019, was a manifestation of what he saw for himself when he made his way to Lagos with starry eyes and an ambitious heart. The album comprises 13 tracks and intentionally includes no features to showcase his sound to the world, which he coined as Afro-life. Fireboy channels his emotions through exceptional songwriting and warm melodies that tell stories of calamity, love, and optimism. He rode the wave of LTG’s success and delivered his sophomore album, APOLLO, named after the Greek god of music, art, and poetry in August 2020. The title stemmed from fans and critics putting him on a pedestal. They were quick to pit the two albums against each other and questioned if he would be able to replicate his successful formula. APOLLO is a more expressive body of work, highlighting his evolution and includes three features from D. Smoke, Wande Coal, and Olamide. Fireboy referred to the album as “the soundtrack to my life”. Both LTG and APOLLO are reflections of the different stages in Fireboy’s journey, coexisting harmoniously as we await the next body of work.

As Fireboy was acclimating to a new lifestyle in Lagos and creating some of his best work under YBNL, I was on the road, relocating from the Natural State (Arkansas) to the Lone Star State (Texas) to pursue a career in education. Unlike Fireboy, I obtained my bachelor of arts degree with an emphasis in Graphic Design and a minor in Spanish. But similarly, I shifted gears and manifested a new path. By the time Fireboy released his debut album, LTG, I was in my second year as a 7th grade English Language Arts teacher at an under-performing charter school on the Eastside of San Antonio. I was just getting my feet wet with Afrobeats, but would soon immerse myself into the exuberant soundscapes, languages, and cultures. I was eager to explore all that the genre had to offer. 

The likes of Burna Boy, Wizkid, and DaVido had a place in my daily listening due to their chart-topping collaborations with American artists like Chris Brown, Beyoncé, and Drake. After spending some time expanding my music library and “discovering” Nigerian and Ghanaian artists, I wrote an article with Afrobeats artist recommendations because I couldn’t allow others within the African diaspora to sleep on what I was now waking up to. As I reflect on the article, my attention goes to the section where I stated, “America is late to the Afrobeats party, but now that listeners have joined the wave, the sound is in high demand.” Here we are in 2022 and Afrobeats is taking over.

The Fonda Theatre, Hollywood, California, Photo: Terrionna Brockman

I had the opportunity to see Fireboy in concert at The Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles, California on February 25. When the tour dates were announced for ‘The Apollo Tour,’ there was no question that I would be attending. Seeing Fireboy in the flesh sparked memories of when I was introduced to his music in 2019 and my deep connection with LTG. I went from not knowing much about African music to delving into Afrobeats, Highlife, and other niche sounds, connecting with artists and their work, learning pidgin through music, attempting footwork, and embracing the various cultures. The music spoke to every part of my being and I have Fireboy to thank for creating a project that ignited my love for Afrobeats and helped me to discover parts of myself.

2019 was an unforgettable year considering where I was on my journey—a second-year teacher on the verge of burnout. The only thing that kept me motivated to do my job, aside from the students that I taught and my desire to finish what I started, was music. I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. The same year, a Nigerian friend at the time texted me a list of artists to listen to, Fireboy being one of the nine. I did my due diligence and was instantly drawn to Laughter, Tears and Goosebumps. The title alone is a metaphor for my second year in the classroom and my life at that time. My response after listening to LTG was, “He’s Amazing *watery-eyed emoji*”.

I’ve connected with music before, but LTG was different, both sonically and emotionally. It stayed in rotation and those around me would groan the moment they heard the intro to “King”. I played the album in the rising, on my way to work, in the classroom, on break, on my way home, grading papers, winding down—on repeat. It became a part of my life at that time and I needed the comfort that it provided me. I wasn’t aware of Fireboy’s rise to fame but quickly began to learn more about him through the music and by following his journey online. I tuned in at the right time. I was an Afrobeats novice, yet so connected. By 2020 I had graduated to Afrobeats aficionado. When Fireboy released APOLLO I was adjusting to my new environment in Los Angeles and had been living there for three weeks. It’s an indescribable feeling to be able to grow with an artist whose art impacted you in a major way. I was going through another big shift in my life and it was gifted with another exceptional album.

We weren’t in Los Angeles that night. We were in the heart of Lagos.

‘The Apollo Tour’ was a deja vu moment that put everything into perspective. It was a chilly night in Los Angeles and there I was on Hollywood boulevard at The Fonda Theatre standing in line under Fireboy’s name in lights. The Lagosian crooner had made his way to the west coast and for the first time, a milestone in his journey—one that I bore witness to. Once inside, there was no struggle to find a good spot, so I situated myself directly in front of the stage. The sounds of African artists blared through the speakers, creating an energy like no other. Bright lights danced across the stage and stagehands zipped and zapped from all corners of the venue like worker bees on a mission. Peering around to get a sense of the time, I could hear murmurs of individuals expressing their shared excitement. The murmurs began to fade and the crowd was anticipating Fireboy’s presence. Everyone began to tinker with their cellphones, determined to capture the moment. Fireboy entered stage left with a zealous smile, fans hooped and hollered, and camera lights were flashing. Fireboy stood center stage, grabbed ahold of the microphone, took in the crowd, and began to speak, “I want to say a special thank you for coming out tonight” and eased into a beautiful performance of “Need You”. We weren’t in Los Angeles that night. We were in the heart of Lagos.

Fireboy amongst others are helping to bridge the gap between Africa and the rest of the world, showcasing the diverse musical talent and affirming their place in a space that at one point didn’t know how to receive them. Two of Nigeria’s biggest stars, Wizkid and Burna Boy were both awarded Grammys and we’ve danced and sang to some of the biggest international crossovers from Drake and Tems’ “Fountains”, Adekunle Gold and Lucky Daye’s “Sinner”, to Tiwa Savage and Brandy’s “Somebody’s Son”. We also have African immigrant communities to thank, as they have helped to keep African music alive. Their dedication to their cultures and the artists who create without bounds have sparked widespread appreciation and interest in the music coming from Africa, which has encouraged audiences in all parts of the world to pay attention.

As for Fireboy DML, the move to Lagos wasn’t a dead end. Originally planning on becoming a professor, he found his purpose and stood confidently in his decision to pursue music in a sprawling city where he knew no one. Fast forward, he has two successful albums in his archive, just wrapped up his first-ever US tour, and millions know his name. The superstar is also backed by a powerhouse team. In February 2020, his label, YBNL announced a joint venture with US-based record label and distribution company, Empire, taking the world by storm.

Fireboy’s journey is a testament that all things are possible when you remain true to yourself and pour into your craft regardless of who’s watching. I am genuinely happy for his success and for being able to show an outpouring of love and support over the past three years. There’ll be more to bear witness to and as he confidently affirms on “Champion”,

“Remember this /

I’m a King /

I’m a legend in the making /

I’m a champion”.

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