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Interview

The Graceful Journey of DJ Spinall

By Ayomide Tayo on

On December 11, DJ Spinall dropped his fifth studio album, Grace, a rarity for a Nigerian DJ. The album underlines his longevity in a music scene where he has worked with the biggest names such as Burna Boy, Tiwa Savage, Wizkid, Mr Eazi, and others. He is also a master of constructing monster hits, such as “Nowo” featuring Wizkid, “Gba Gbe E” featuring Burna Boy, “Baba” featuring Kizz Daniel, and “Ohema” featuring Mr Eazi, which have helped propel Afrobeats internationally.

In 2020, DJ Spinall had to deal with the COVID-19 lockdown in California, the Black Lives Matter uprisings, and #EndSARS protests while working on Grace. During this period, the DJ reveals he refused to sell his soul as an international record label wanted him to change his sound on this album.

Despite all the turmoil, DJ Spinall says, “This year has been the perfect time to tell a story.” With guest acts such as Kranium, Niniola, Shaybo, Bella Shmurda, Oxlade, and others on his new album, he boasts, “unapologetically, I am the biggest person doing it right now in my field.”

He may be one of the biggest Afrobeats DJs in the world after playing in Glastonbury and touring extensively in 2019, but DJ Spinall believes he isn’t there yet internationally. For now, he is focused on making amazing music.

Why is your album titled Grace?

I chose the title Grace for a few reasons. The first reason is because my whole journey has been nothing short of grace. For those who have known the DJ Spinall brand from the get-go, I have hustled my way up, from being a nobody to somebody. What I am doing right now is mind-blowing for myself. When I look back and see all that we’ve done, as a team and as a brand, I say this is nothing short of grace. I have mastered my art. I have proven so many times I’m a music professional. Everything has been by God’s grace.

Also, grace in the sense that this year has been a rollercoaster of events from experiencing lockdown in America. I also experienced the Black Lives Matter protests and coming back to Nigeria to experience the #EndSARS movement. Everything has just been a lot.

The third reason is because “grace” is a five-letter word which signifies my fifth studio album.

How is this album different from your last four albums?

Oh, the year 2020 is enough for it to stand out. Aside from the fact that it has been a special year, I have done more on this project myself, in terms of the technical aspect, than on many of my albums. I have produced more sounds on this album more than any project I have put out.

The lockdown was also a blessing as I used it to my advantage in terms of sitting down and making out time to actually churn out sounds that I want to hear, that I prefer. I couldn’t meet producers to tell them what I wanted this time, so I was there in California, just working and working. I think that was a blessing in disguise to have had that opportunity to do that.

I wanted to drop this album with a big international label, and last minute I changed my mind because the label was taking out a lot of the records I felt were significant to the essence of Afrobeats. They wanted to change the sound. They were suggesting some other things, and I asked myself, “Is this the time to sell your soul?” We’ve come a long way in making Afrobeats, and I felt like Grace is what God has done, and I shouldn’t try to change this sound, and I should keep it as genuine as it is.

How did you work on this album with the constraints created by the pandemic?

Every day of the lockdown, I was a different person. I was a different person every week. I was a different person every month. Not knowing when it was all going to stop was enough reason to be a beast. Not making money, not going on tour, not visiting nobody, no one checking up on you was enough reason to be mad.

I would say all these emotions influenced what I did on this project. To God’s grace and to God’s glory, all the songs came out amazingly well. I took a lot of risk on this album. I’m super proud of everybody that worked with me on this album, especially all the artists, because it wasn’t convenient for them, but the love for music always wins. That’s why I only work with artists who genuinely love what they do.

How do you pick the artists you collaborate with?

I let the music lead, and I follow. I am not bigger than the music. None of us are bigger than the music. The music is the boss here, and we are just messengers. When I’m in the studio making sounds, I’m just basically doing what comes to mind, and when I’m done, my team and I decide which artist is right for this sound. It’s the music that does the talking.

I love to work with artists who are futuristic, who see the things that are not yet in place, who work ahead of time. I love to work with visionaries. I also love to work with people who respect the art of deejaying. I love to work with artists who understand what I’m bringing to the table is valuable.

Do you sit in the studio with an artist to develop the song’s concept, or do you send a beat to the artist to work on it solo?

Different strokes for different folks. Some folks catch a better vibe when they are in the studio with you. Some folks just love privacy. When I worked with Minz on the project, we were all in the studio with Bella Shmurda when we created “Energy.” Someone like Shaybo was in London when we made “Money.” The record with Kranium, we were both in the studio in London when we recorded “Everytime.” The goal is to get the job done and do it well.

Does this apply to producers as well?

For producers, it is quite different a little bit. Half of the time, when I want to work with producers, I give an idea, a direction of what I’m looking at. What sound? What tempo? What flavor?

You have to explain what kind of sound you are looking for. Producers have many files, so I’ve always known what I wanted. If it is good, I go with it. If it’s not, I create it myself.

Do you look out for hits or an album with a wholesome experience?

When I’m making music, I’m not going to the studio to say I want to make hits. I go to the studio to make classic music and something special. Half of the time, when I’m done, the songs become hits. When I was making “Everytime,” we just wanted to make something sweet. It’s just about making something I love, and I hope that a lot of people who listen to it will also love it.

Afrobeats has gone international with artists like Tiwa Savage, Yemi Alade, Wizkid, Burna Boy, and Davido leading the movement. Do you feel the international spotlight is on Afrobeats DJs, too?

I don’t think so. I’m hoping that as time goes on things will change. Our people are different, and I think we are just getting to understand who a DJ is. I don’t think there is enough attention paid towards the DJ. It’s getting better, for a fact. As we see more amazing DJs, I’m sure people would try to ask more questions.

The DJ industry has not been given much attention. For instance, everybody wants to interview the artists, but they don’t spend as much energy to interview the dancers and the producers. It has been like that for a long time. I’m looking forward to a time when people will pay more attention to the DJs instead of just putting all the DJs in a box.

How are DJs important in the rise of Afrobeats globally?

If you remember, back in the days, I’m talking about before streaming, when I used to put out mixtape links on Twitter just because we wanted to spread the music. This was an era when so many DJs put on so many artists like DJs in the diaspora and DJs in Africa. These mixes helped the music travel far and wide. DJs have assisted many Afrobeats artists to get record label deals across the world. A lot of people might not know this. African DJs have been fantastic in helping Afrobeats grow internationally. God bless their souls.

Photos by Tope Adenola.

InterviewDJ SpinallAfrobeatsNigeria