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Omah Lay Is #UpNow

By Nicolas-Tyrell Scott on

What’s up next in culture is #UpNow on Audiomack. Our emerging artist program is dedicated to spotlighting and promoting the next generation of global music superstars. Listen to our official #UpNow playlist featuring Omah Lay.

Omah Lay would prefer to stay off of social media. The rising 23-year-old singer finds the medium distracting. “I’ve dealt with [social media] in the best way I can,” he admits. Despite his aversion to digital platforms, Omah Lay has amassed an enormous and rabid online following over the last eight months. He restarted his Instagram in December as an independent artist with just 8,000 followers before his Get Layd EP released on May 22, 2020. The act has gone on to earn over 250,000 followers—and over 100 million streams—on Audiomack alone in the subsequent months. “I’m really, really grateful for everyone sharing and listening to my work,” he concedes.

Omah Lay’s “Do Not Disturb” reveals an incredible potential. The ambient, guitar-led song amassed over 1 million streams on Audiomack within weeks of its April 2019 debut. It was early 2020, though, with the releases of “Bad Influence” in January, and “You” one month later, which signaled a seismic shift in Omah’s career. The two singles sparked a rapid rise to prominence, leading to the true Big Bang moment that was the Get Layd drop.

Get Layd’s ode to contemporary Afrobeats—through its incorporation of percussion-based instruments—helped lead to its juggernaut success. Totaling five tracks, the project eschews today’s customary bloat for a succinct experience, delivering nothing but hits. We’re treated to an intoxicating blend of hip-hop, highlife, Afro-pop, and R&B. Not too loud or complex in production, Get Layd allows the singer’s distinct vocals to guide us through the project.

Both the EP and “Bad Influence” topped Audiomack’s album and song charts, respectively, with Get Layd’s five tracks garnering over 70 million collective streams on the platform to date. In just a few months, amidst a global pandemic and with only a handful of publicly released tracks, Omah Lay has established himself as one of Nigeria’s most promising contemporary musicians.

Omah Lay’s momentum might shock some but never forget: he has always been an effective and inspired crooner. Goaded on by a lineage of musicians, Omah Lay was hypnotized by highlife as an infant listening to stories about his grandfather’s roots in the music business. As he grew, so did his musical palette. Snoop Dogg’s “That’s That Shit” was quintessential, pushing him to debut as a rapper. At 17, he and his cousin formed a hip-hop duo called The Big Two, building a steady presence in his hometown of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria.

Quickly, however, Omah Lay decided rap wasn’t his true calling, opting to learn more about production and songwriting. “At that time, it was difficult being a rapper from where I came from,” he shares. “Something wasn’t right about the process for me. I realized that [rapping] wasn’t really my thing.”

Four years later, Omah Lay pivoted once more, moving to Lagos in 2019 with hopes of pursuing success onstage and behind the mic—this time as a singer. Omah Lay had always known he could sing, but it was the rates and lack of placements as a producer that spurred on his commitment to marrying all of his talents together. “It was a sort of clapback that became my new dream,” he noted in a previous interview.

With a few months still to go in 2020, Omah Lay is poised for even more success. His Get Layd follow-up, What Have We Done, is set for release this Friday, November 20. The project, another five-track EP, will include the “Damn” remix, which features Atlanta singer-rapper 6LACK.

Beyond his upcoming material, Omah Lay spoke exclusively to Audiomack about Get Layd’s construction, his creative process, being selected as the first African #UpNow artist, and more.

Your sound combines hip-hop and R&B with elements of contemporary afro-fusion and highlife. What genre would you say has the biggest influence on your music?

I would say it’s hip-hop and highlife, but mainly hip-hop. I listen to a lot of Drake and other hip-hop music. It’s basically hip-hop, but highlife is also a huge influence throughout my life.

Talk us through your journey in music.

Taking it back before I even got into music, my father was a drummer. My grandfather—I never got to meet him—was a professional percussionist for the legendary singer Celestine Ukuwu. Coming from that background let me know music was important.

It was later on when I thought, “Maybe I have it. Maybe I can do it.” Growing up, there was a song by Snoop Dogg called “That’s That Shit.” I listened to it a lot. I heard that song ,and I said, ‘Yo, that’s that thing, music. I can do this.’ I’ve been a rapper, then a producer, and now I’m back as a singer.

How old were you when you pivoted into producing?

I was probably around 16-17. I was a rapper before that in my local area with my cousin, [we were] called The Big Two. At that time, it was difficult to come out as a rapper in my hometown. I did a lot of rap music at the time but something wasn’t quite right about the process. It wasn’t really my thing. I loved music, but I thought, Maybe rap isn’t for me. I wanted to learn how to make music, though, so I learned how to make beats. I did this for four years, writing songs and making beats for other artists. But some point after that, I wanted to pick up the mic again, and here we are.

Your debut EP is titled Get Layd, which is open to interpretation. What does this name mean to you?

[Laughs] I usually let everyone else come up with that meaning. What I thought when I came up with the name is that my name is Omah Lay, so getting Layd is getting a part of me. That was the idea. But just like you said, it can mean different things to different people. I leave everyone to love and use whatever meaning is best suited to them.

How long did Get Layd take to create? I know that you produced some of the EP.

I’ve lost count of how long it took because I moved down to Lagos about this time last year, and for eight or nine months, I recorded a whole bunch of songs. I started recording before I’d gotten my current deal, independently.

Initially, it was called Child’s Play. I recorded a bunch of songs, then sat with my team; we restructured that EP and named it Get Layd, then picked the right songs for it. It was a long process, and I remember having to take six months away from social media to get it done. It was fun making it.

Do you tend to regularly take time away from social media when recording?

I do that a lot. I’m a person that deals with writer’s block a lot. One of the things that gets me back on track is actually staying off [social media] and leaving distractions away from me and being by myself.

Writer’s block impacts a lot of creative talent. What are some other coping mechanisms that you used to help deal with it?

It depends. I dealt with writer’s block for a period of three months during the Get Layd process. Sometimes, I just listen to my favorite artist’s music really loud and just stay by myself for the longest time possible.

Another thing that brings me back is making the sort of music I love to make. Sometimes I make songs I wouldn’t necessarily want to make, but do it to push myself in the studio to experiment. But then, I go back to my zone to get over writer’s block.

How did you learn to write songs?

I’d say it comes down to my family and us being so musical. Particularly the old-school highlife records, they sound so pure. You can’t find that sound a lot anymore. The lyrics and composition are top-notch.

Then I’d say the Lil Waynes, the Rick Rosses—hip-hop that shaped me into what I am and my writing. My music is 70% reality and about 30% fiction, so it’s easier to write my truth and how I feel directly.

Going back to your digital presence, you’ve risen in popularity significantly over the last few months. How do you cope with your growing fanbase online and on social media?

I’m the kind of guy who’s not 100% digital, but I’m dealing with it the best way I can. I started off with 8,000 or so Instagram followers before Get Layd, and now it’s grown so much. It’s the people listening to the music that I’m proud of. But I always try to take time away, even now. I have to.

Afro-pop and its visibility beyond Africa have grown so much over the last decade. Do you feel pressure to conform to the more popular sounds coming from West Africa?

I just do me and tell my stories in my songs. Really, I do wanna make my sound better—like everyone should aspire to—because I’m a music guy. I don’t feel pressure to compete. I’m not the numbers guy. I just make my music and focus on making it better for me. I don’t care about the market. I make my music for the people who like my music.

How does it feel to be the first African artist selected for Audiomack’s UpNow program?

Audiomack has been one of the platforms that have played a big role in my career; I will always have a love for the platform. The majority of my listeners are coming from this app. It’s a huge thing for me, so I’m grateful to everyone.

Do you remember what you first uploaded to Audiomack?

I actually used another Audiomack account years ago. I didn’t even know how to use the platform [back then]. I think the first song I ever uploaded was “Welcome Party.” I’d just started making beats and uploaded it.

You currently have over 100 million streams on Audiomack. Do you remember what it felt like to cross your first million?

It was incredible. I’m the type of person who celebrates 100,000. When we got to 1 million I didn’t know what to do. It was such an amazing feeling to know so many people listen to me. It’s a blessing. I want to give this credit to my listeners.

Creative Direction by Dotun Abeshinbioke. Photos by Danielle Mbo for Abike Studio. Styling by Dami Oke for Dami Oke Style. Interview by Nicolas-Tyrell Scott.

InterviewUpNowOmah LayAfrobeatsNigeria

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