One oft overlooked problem with being an globally-acclaimed musician: where to keep your awards. Wizkid has won so many (by loose count more than 80, including three Grammys, EMAs, VMAs, and as of last week, two brand new American Music Awards) that it can be hard to keep track. “My awards are all over the place,” says the Nigerian star. “I have a few at my mother’s house, at my house in Lagos, and in London. It’s crazy because they are objects but they are above all blessings, and I appreciate them all.”
If you’re not up to speed on the reason behind the trophy haul: Wizkid, real name Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun, is the undisputed king of Afropop, a subgenre of Afrobeats, the genre that has shifted from dancefloors to the charts, thanks to the explosion of talent coming out of Nigeria and Ghana. Wizkid—formerly known as Starboy–has been recording since the age of 11, and a chart mainstay at home in Nigeria since 2011. In 2016, he went multi-platinum with a guest appearance on Drake’s “One Dance”, and has since turned up with sound-defining collaborations including Beyoncé’s “Brown Skin Girl” (for which he won that Grammy) and most recently “Essence” with fellow Nigerian breakout Tems.
GQ caught up with Wizkid in Paris at a party to celebrate the release of his new album More Love, Less Ego, to talk about making music, fatherhood, and collaborating with some of the biggest names in the business.
GQ: What’s the first thing you did this morning?
Wizkid: I woke up and immediately kissed my son.
You are now the father of four children. What has fatherhood changed for you?
Oh, it is the most amazing thing ever! The greatest blessing that has ever happened to me.
How has the way you make music evolved since you became a father?
I’ve become a bit more aware and every time I work on a song or an album, I’m more intentional because I know my kids are going to listen to my music. So, I want to make sure I always have inspiring songs that can really touch them deeply.
Does that mean you make music for your kids now?
Yes, in part. My son sings my songs at home… All my children love my music and it’s a blessing for me. It is the greatest blessing there is.
Do you take them to the studio?
It’s happened once or twice, but I don’t want to force them. Whether they want to make music later or not, I will always support them.
Let’s talk about your latest album: More Love, Less Ego. Where did the title come from?
From me, but it is above all a conversation with the rest of the world. I feel like right now we need a lot of love to move forward. It is through this message that I intend to share my happiness with people.
It took you two years to finish it. What did you learn about yourself during the process?
I learned to accept the ups and the downs, to live the moments of happiness and the periods of sadness in an equal way because all that is part of life. It’s yin and yang.
Has your process changed since your earlier albums?
Artistically, I’ve learned to be more patient with myself, but it hasn’t really changed.
What is the first step when you begin working on a new album?
I always start from the title. When I know what I want to call the album and what I want to say, I start creating the music. And most of the time when I’m working on an album, there’s a moment when I let it go. I leave it for a moment. The most important thing is to be intentional. For Made in Lagos for example, I wanted people to know where I come from and who I am. With More Love, Less Ego, I want to share a message of love that will make people vibrate. Love should be the greatest religion in the world. I believe that we can love, for real. So, my message is love one another and take care of your neighbor.
Afrobeats has conquered a large part of the world and you are one of its biggest stars. How far can the phenomenon go?
When we make music, we hope people like it, and we hope it travels far. The popularity of Afrobeats has grown a lot over the past two years, but that’s just the beginning. We will go even further and even higher.
It’s not just a trend.
It’s never been a trend for me, because it’s music that comes from the soul.
And music that makes you dance! I still remember the days of [2013 hit] “Azonto.” You have evolved a lot since then. What does this era represent for you?
Oh my God! This is my youth! It’s all those years in the studio working tirelessly. I just wanted to make music that people would enjoy. I didn’t think about the money. I was going to the studio every day to make music, and I thought of nothing else.
Do you listen to your old songs?
Sometimes, when I go out to clubs.
Are you self-critical?
I am my biggest critic. I judge my music, my performances, my clips, everything!
I was at your last concert here in Paris. You give a lot of energy on stage, but which city gives it back to you the most?
It’s definitely my home in Nigeria. Every time I’m on stage in Lagos, it’s crazy! But I enjoy performing and doing concerts everywhere, and I love my fans from all around the world.
You have worked with huge artists like Drake, Beyoncé and Fela Kuti. Is there anyone you haven’t worked with yet that you want to collaborate with?
I’m open minded. I could work with any artist who makes amazing music, whether it’s mainstream, old or new. I don’t really care who it is as long as the music is amazing.
Who did you first call or text when you won your Grammy?
Nobody because I was at home, surrounded by my family, so everyone shared this moment of happiness with me.
Who are your real-life heroes?
My dad and my mum because they really did everything for us.
You’re on top of the world today and I imagine you can’t move around in public without being recognized. How do you deal with fame?
The truth is that I am very discreet. I move very low-key. I can still go places and leave before people recognize me. I still have this little pleasure, even if at times it becomes a bit hectic.
What has been the stand-out moment of your career so far?
When I was able to buy a first house for my parents. I was so young, but I realized how blessed I was. Being able to do this for my parents who sacrificed everything for me was a big moment.
Especially since African parents often find it hard to believe in artistic careers, right?
It’s true, it’s always better to go to school and have diplomas. I had to convince them by going to school and making music at the same time, to show them that I could do both. When my career started to rise, they changed their minds, but I understand them better now that I am a father. Today, it is more accepted, even cool, to make music when I was young, but when I started, there were not many African artists of my age.
How much do you think about the future?
I live my life and leave the rest in God’s hands.
Any final word?
Love, love, more love.
This story originally ran on GQ France with the title “Wizkid : “Tous mes enfants aiment ma musique et c’est une bénédiction pour moi””
Photographs by Rob Rusling with Fecreatives
Styled by Karen Binns
Produced by Clever Paris