NME Radar: Breakout

Fireboy DML: “In years to come, my name will definitely be a part of Afrobeats history”

The Nigerian star further bridged the gap between Afrobeats and the world after his 2021 hit ‘Peru’ went global - now, with his new album ‘Playboy’, he’s hoping to embrace his inner “superstar”

Each week in Breakout, we talk to the emerging stars blowing up right now – whether it be a huge viral moment, killer new track or an eye-popping video – these are the rising artists certain to dominate the near future

It looks like Fireboy DML is finally having his moment. You may already be familiar with the Nigerian singer/songwriter for his 2021 hit ‘Peru’, the Afrobeats party track which has been subsequently re-released with features from Ed Sheeran, 21 Savage and Blxst, and has, at the time of writing, racked up over 150 million Spotify streams. Inspired by a trip he took around the US where he “experienced new people [and] new things, and simply had fun”, the 26-year-old’s biggest track to date may have started life as a carefree freestyle, but it’s provided the necessary platform to take Fireboy’s music to the world.

Before ‘Peru’ thrusted him on to the global stage, Fireboy’s music career had been steadily progressing. Thinking back on his early days in music, Fireboy (real name Adedamola Adefolahan) recalls to NME how, as an unsigned artist in 2017, he would release song snippets on Instagram and watch his followers go crazy, to the point where he’d have to put them out on SoundCloud because he “had no money for any other Digital Service Provider”.

With such a growing demand for his music, it was no surprise when Fireboy’s fellow Afrobeats juggernaut Olamide signed him to his YBNL Nation label. Since then, he’s released his 2019 debut ‘Laughter, Tears and Goosebumps’ and its 2020 follow-up ‘Apollo’: two records where Fireboy’s often romantic take on Afrobeats was placed on full display, drawing in fans of the genre in Nigeria and beyond. Then came ‘Peru’ – the Sheeran remix of which reached number two in the UK charts back in February – which took Fireboy DML to a whole new level – including a collaboration with Madonna in March.

Now readying his third studio album ‘Playboy’, Fireboy found time to speak to NME about the massive success of ‘Peru’, the current debate surrounding non-Afrobeats artists making Afrobeats music, and how his next album will see him embracing his newfound superstar status.

NME: What’s it like having a smash hit like ‘Peru’ under your belt at this point in your career?

Fireboy DML: “Honestly, I never saw it coming. I’ve always wanted a song like this: I’ve always prayed for a smash, an international smash, ever since Afrobeats went really big and global. I’ve always wanted this [success], but I didn’t see it coming this early. I knew I had a very big song in ‘Peru’, and I knew they were going to love it in Africa, especially Nigeria. It has a catchy hook and stuff like that, but I didn’t see this going as big [as it has].”

How did you write ‘Peru’?

“It was my first time in the US. I hadn’t dropped a song in a while and I was having a creative block, and I really wanted to change my environment, so I went to the US. I went to San Francisco, Miami, New York; just living life outside of my confines of Lagos, Nigeria, where I live and work. I did things that I would have never done before and it opened up my mind. So when I finally got to San Francisco, [‘Peru’ emerged through] a 45-minute freestyle, telling my story my own way — the Afrobeats way.”

How have you managed your newfound fame?

“I was ready for all the fame as soon as ‘Peru’ came out. When something you created in the confines of a room is getting so much love and attention, and the fact it represents the growth of Afrobeats, that all just means a lot to me. That’s where all the energy of mine is going: pushing Afrobeats to that level where it deserves to be. In years to come when they mention [the] names of people responsible for taking Afrobeats [to] where it is now, my name will definitely be a part of history, and that alone is enough. I feel like I deserve that, and I’ve put in a lot of work.”

“I’ve always wanted this [success], but I didn’t see it coming this early”

Did the success of ‘Peru’ help grow your self-confidence?

“I think it’s a growth thing. I’ve always been this reclusive superstar who overthinks what they do, but making ‘Peru’ and the process behind it has opened my eyes to how, sometimes, you don’t have to overthink stuff: just let go, and see where life [and] the music takes you. You don’t have to be in control of everything. At some point in your life, you realise you have to relax and step out of your comfort zone.”

Some people have criticised the idea of non-Afrobeats stars collaborating on Afrobeats remixes. What’s your take on that?

“I understand the importance of collaboration, especially for this ‘Afrobeats to the world’ movement. There’s only one sure way to take a sound global and make it bigger than what it is, and that’s collaboration. It’s a powerful tool: it merges cultures and builds bridges. That’s how I see it, I don’t see it any other way. I definitely do not have a problem with other artists being a part of the Afrobeats movement, because it’s our sound: no one can take it from us [Africans]. I don’t understand the fear of gatekeeping. I feel like historical, deeply-rooted genres like hip-hop, Afrobeats, reggae, amapiano, they cannot be taken away. It’s not possible. So it’s only right that we collaborate, merge cultures and build bridges for the future. I think that’s what’s most important.”

What was it like working with Ed Sheeran?

“People will always talk. When I announced the Ed Sheeran feature, many went, ‘Blah, blah, blah, [I’m] upset by it’. But it’s not like Ed Sheeran is a stranger to the culture: he’s been a part of Afrobeats in some way over the past few years, so he’s a familiar face. Someone like Ed Sheeran isn’t doing the song for the sake of it, he’s doing the song because he loves it. He genuinely cares about the song and the culture. We can see that from how successful our collaboration was. He’s a very down-to-earth person, very humble. For such a successful artist, he’s so kind and calm. You can understand why his music has such positive energy. It wasn’t awkward like some American artists and Afrobeats artists coming together. It was like two brothers who came together and made a collaboration.”

Fireboy DML
Fireboy DML (Picture: Zek Snaps / Press)

You’re now turning your attention to your new album, ‘Playboy’…

“Yes! Growth is the word. I’ve moved from being this young, native lover boy to this [playboy]. In 2019, when I was that lover boy, I was new to my life experiences, experiences with women, and new to fame, money, success – and this all showed in the music, naturally. There was this kind of vulnerability in the music that people loved. Then 2020 came and I had grown into being a superstar, into being a big guy, but I was still reclusive.

“Making ‘Peru’ changed my mindset completely for this album and I was like to myself, ‘Yo! You need to step outside your shell and your mindset. You need to accept yourself, and come out and play’. That’s where ‘Playboy’ comes from. It’s just me in my superstar element. I’m finally embracing who I am: my life has changed, embrace it. There’s still one constant: love songs. I feel like there’s no Afrobeats without love songs, but on this album these love songs aren’t mushy, lovey-dovey love songs. They’re written in a matter-of-fact way. It’s a different spice, and it’s a straight-to-the-point album. Very Afrocentric, cohesive, but very light-hearted. I can’t wait to get it out.”

What’s the biggest motivation in your career?

“The hunger is still there, because it’s the hunger that drives me. It doesn’t matter about how much money you make or how many streams you have, human beings are insatiable naturally, and you’ll always want more. I already feel fulfilled by the fact my dreams have already come true, but in the grand scheme of things, this is all bigger than me and bigger than my dreams.”

Fireboy DML’s new album ‘Playboy’ is set for release on August 5 via YBNL Nation/EMPIRE