LadiPoe: Too Smart To “Just Rap” – Joey

It’s been a long journey for the Mavin Records rapper. Through twists and turns, he’s had to keep pushing for his mainstream shot. Now things are looking the brighter than they have ever been for him.

“I don’t want them to know where I live,” Ladipoe says, looking around his estate for a spot to take a photo where the distinct buildings won’t feature. We’ve just spent an hour in his car with the ignition on, windows wound up, and air conditioning running on this rainy Lagos afternoon. Yes, for those familiar with estates located on Lagos Island, you might recognize his neighbourhood. No, he doesn’t want you to know which one it is. That’s the way he’s kept things and prefers that they remain so.

“My private life allows me to create good music, keeps me sane”, he once told a Guardian journalist. “And giving people a window into that life may ruin it.”

“I don’t want them to know where I live,” Ladipoe says, looking around his estate for a spot to take a photo where the distinct buildings won’t feature. We’ve just spent an hour in his car with the ignition on, windows wound up, and air conditioning running on this rainy Lagos afternoon. Yes, for those familiar with estates located on Lagos Island, you might recognize his neighbourhood. No, he doesn’t want you to know which one it is. That’s the way he’s kept things and prefers that they remain so.

“My private life allows me to create good music, keeps me sane”, he once told a Guardian journalist. “And giving people a window into that life may ruin it.”

Wikipedia, however, has a few things to tell us about the rapper, singer and songwriter. A cursory glance online will offer the basics of his existence so far. He attended college in the USA, graduating with a double major in Chemistry and Biology from the University of North Carolina, where he also discovered his music aptitude.

He’s signed to the Nigerian record label, Mavin Records, helmed by music mogul Don Jazzy. LadiPoe has the honor of being the rapper the label is taking a chance on. And while we know that he is a highly skilled MC, the full range of his gifts is lost on us.

We know he’s super smart. His music emphasizes that. With each release, LadiPoe’s raps lean heavily on cerebral foreplay. While on a phone delay to schedule the interview, he referred to a family member as ‘loquacious’. Lesser mortals would use ‘talkative,’ but not LadiPoe. LadiPoe, the rapper says it as it comes. It comes to him in huge doses of intellectually superior dumps– bars which he christens ‘Lifelines.’

“You get a gift, somebody sends you something, you’re excited,” he explains in a low voice, eyes looking ahead, hands moving with conviction. “The punchlines are the wrapping, it’s attractive, it’s dope, your PS5 is inside. But eventually, you’re going to take it out of the box. Lifelines are the gift itself.”

You see? That’s how smart people talk. In stories and anecdotes that explain complex concepts in the simplest ways. I did a little research into Poe’s time in school. In 2007, Ladipo Eso was on his department honours list with presentations that read like “Production of Biodiesel from Vegetable Oil by Transesterification through Continuous Enzymatic Reactor.” Yes. This very LadiPoe, who finished his masters immediately before returning to Lagos.

You see? That’s how smart people talk. In stories and anecdotes that explain complex concepts in the simplest ways. I did a little research into Poe’s time in school. In 2007, Ladipo Eso was on his department honours list with presentations that read like “Production of Biodiesel from Vegetable Oil by Transesterification through Continuous Enzymatic Reactor.” Yes. This very LadiPoe, who finished his masters immediately before returning to Lagos.

You get a sense that Poe is on the cusp of something big, and he deserves it. He’s put in work, gathering a string of sleeper hits, which raised his profile and built a fanbase populated by a wide spectrum of music listeners. On one end you’ll find the obnoxious rap nerds, who swear he can body anyone when he gets into his zone on ‘Double homicide’ and ‘Man Already.’ At the opposite end, sits the sappiest of romantics, riding his flows on love tunes like ‘Adore her’, and Showdem Camp’s ‘Feel alright.’ They draw life from his lifelines. But until 2020, none of it broke through to the pop mainstream.

None, except his latest release, ‘Know you’, which surprisingly became the soundtrack of Nigerian escapism in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The duet was written in 2017 with singer Simi as a collaborator, then kept on ice until the time felt right. Now, it’s tearing through the country. It’s cracked Nigeria’s pop charts, leading playlists, and inspiring a viral TikTok challenge.

Why this one and not a previous song like say a ‘Jaiye’? I don’t know. And I don’t think it’s just the feature. The feature is amazing. I don’t know. I’ve never been the one to say ‘oh the stars align.’ It’s hard work,” LadiPoe explains, owning his win.

In that car, in front of his flat, the rain drizzles around us. Relaxed, we settle into a warm conversation about everything that led to this moment.

How’s Covid-19 treating you?

To me, it’s been the way people think: ‘Oh man, you’re locked up, you’re writing mad bars or mad songs.’ I haven’t written that many songs. If anything, it’s just been clarity on how I want to approach things. For me, the lockdown has to be positive because we are not in a positive situation. I have to make my own little bubble positive. It’s just more figuring out how I want to approach things. I’ve had the mental space to line that up. So I think that’s where I’ve been the most creative. That’s where I’ve applied my creativity to really.

Does it help that you’re currently getting a lot of love?

I won’t lie, that’s always good. Joey, let me tell you something. What we do, this music thing is a massive risk. It’s a massive individual risk as well as a risk you take your family or whatever the case is. You’re a little bit crazy to do it. So it’s almost like when you see this kind of love, or response, it’s almost like ‘maybe I’m not as crazy as I thought.’ I’ve always known that there’s something there. But it’s good that other people see it too. That’s how it is. It’s almost like ‘naah nigga, you’re not that crazy.’

Is this the biggest love that you’ve received so far?

For a song? For a single song? Yes. I mean, there’ve been huge pockets of a huge outpouring of love when I did Ladipoe Live, every single time I get on stage. When I jumped in Abuja on Johnny Drille’s Live, the aftermath—at least in my own universe—it’s always very big. But this is now crossing into different people’s worlds. Everybody is noticing as well. It’s a good time and I’m fortunate that I’ve been working and the music has been consistently good. I’m proud of that. So the few people that would say ‘you know he’s dope, let me see what else’ and they are like ‘oh! That’s what I want.’

Why do you think this one is different?

I don’t think it’s as much as it’s different as it’s more about a situation where…It’s hard to put it as one thing. One thing doesn’t get more credit than the other. Because a lot of people feel it is timing. People are forced to listen. But it’s more about; this time is noisy, there’s a lot of things happening but you can only really listen and like the things you really like. The things you don’t really want around you would not be around you. There’s nothing to force them into your lives. Anything that you are paying attention to is because you’re actively placing it there. And I feel like ‘Know You’ is a great song. Just a really good song. Why this one and not a previous song like say a ‘Jaiye’? I don’t know. And I don’t think it’s just the feature. The feature is amazing. I don’t know. I’ve never been the one to say ‘oh the stars align.’ It’s hard work. The stars aligning is somebody to push those stars. But there’s so many things that came together for this to happen and I know that it’s not luck, it’s destiny. That’s how it has always been but good things take time.

You’ve been on the cusp of breaking through for a while.

This is probably one of the reasons that Talk About Poe’ took so long. I always felt that I’m a gifted rapper, but I need to be an artist. I need to be somebody that has a lot of substance. That’s why it took me so long because I need to figure out what my own kind of artistry is. What it is based on. I used to be the guy that is like, ‘yo the verse would be dope. If you feature Poe, his verse would be dope.’ But I needed to be the guy that his songs are amazing. I think it’s less about me. Personally, I think it’s more about the audience base. I feel like we’ve had to slowly cultivate the ear. Though I generally think that four, five years ago, the people that listened to popular music and people that listened to our sound was just imbalanced. Now, it feels like there are more people that fuck with our sound personally.

This is probably one of the reasons that Talk About Poe’ took so long. I always felt that I’m a gifted rapper, but I need to be an artist. I need to be somebody that has a lot of substance. That’s why it took me so long because I need to figure out what my own kind of artistry is. What it is based on. I used to be the guy that is like, ‘yo the verse would be dope. If you feature Poe, his verse would be dope.’ But I needed to be the guy that his songs are amazing. I think it’s less about me. Personally, I think it’s more about the audience base. I feel like we’ve had to slowly cultivate the ear. Though I generally think that four, five years ago, the people that listened to popular music and people that listened to our sound was just imbalanced. Now, it feels like there are more people that fuck with our sound personally.

I just think, I know where I’m at, I know what it is about. I know where my artistry is. I’m confident in my artistry and I’ve been for a while now. But Jazzy always tells me, ‘it’s always one song. It’s always going to be one song—if you’re a lucky artist or a destined artist—that would allow you to be you, but would gain wide acceptance. That is not an easy duality. A lot of people have to twist and conform to something else for them to be recognised. This is me. This is lifelines. This is songwriting. I’m not just proud of it because of the rap, but because we sat down and wrote it, the lyrics, the hook.

Did you write that sweet hook together?

Yes.

When did this happen?

I wrote the song in the latter part of 2017. But I didn’t put it on Talk About Poe. I needed people to know who Poe was. And this is the standard. And then get more stuff like ‘Jaiye’. I think I recorded ‘Jaiye’ the same year I dropped Talk About Poe. I had ‘Jaiye’ but ‘Jaiye’ is not going to go on the album. You need to get Poe first before you can understand that this is versatility. Before you get confused as to which is Poe, which is not. Yeah, 2017 is when we wrote it but it took how many years?

In that time did you believe it was a good record?

We felt we had a song. We weren’t worried that this is a hit record, it was more like we have made an amazing song, and we’re both really excited about that. And you know, Simi doesn’t play. I respect Simi as an artist but as a person because even when I was dulling and slow on the song, she was like ‘bro give me the song if you don’t want to.’ And I always knew I wanted to use it. For me, it was just about the timing. Timing has always been either a blessing or a curse for me. And then before I dropped it, I went back to the studio with Ikon and did some things to it.

Have you been actively chasing pop music?

I like that question because I feel like it’s time to settle that concept. I think that way of thinking has placed a lot of artists, particularly rap artists, in this flux. This identity crisis. I feel like because they are wondering ‘what is pop? What is rap? What is hip-hop? What do I represent if I do this and do that?’ They stagnate or get confused or they don’t represent themselves well. That is a problem because it slows you down. You’re thinking too many things. Me, I want to make great songs. I have the capacity because of the influences. I listen to a lot of rap but I also listened to a lot of pop growing up. MTV was huge. Even when I was in Yankee, it was not just Lupe and Drake and Kendrick, it was freaking Vampire Weekend, it was MGMT, it was Postal Service. It was pop records. White boy records. My producer was a white kid who played the guitar. So how can I deny those influences because they say ‘Poe you’re a rapper, therefore you should be hip-hop?’ Not just even Niaja hip-hop, in fact Yankee. Or you’re too Yankee, Naija

No, you’re not going to tell me anymore. I’m a writer. Imma write what I feel. So I co-wrote something amazing with Johnny Drille, why should I not? Because I’m a rapper? Really? Nah, that box is too small man.

Have you struggled with an identity?

For sure. Definitely.

Why do you think so?

Because I started rapping and a lot of people got introduced to me. For you, it was ‘Koyewon.’ Fo other people, it was SDC. And both of them are hip-hop-type tracks. So that was where you were going to be placed. It’s not like I’m even struggling to break out, I just know that there’s more. And then when I do the different types of records, I get the response that ‘ha, but this is not…’ mean, I did a song on the Collectiv3 called ‘Sexy Bitch’. If anybody listens to that song, I don’t know what it is but I know it’s not hip-hop. So to me, the identity crisis comes from realising you can do more but being afraid that it won’t be accepted. But I guess I don’t have it anymore because I know my job. My role is to create. Somebody else’s role would be to categorize. I can’t bother myself about that. But Joey, one thing that would be consistent is the lifelines. The sound will change Koyewon’ is different from ‘Adore Her’. ‘Adore Her’ is different from ‘Let Me Know’, ‘Let Me Know’ is different from ‘Jaiye’. I’ve never really released the same music twice or stuck to a sound. But the lifeline, the style of rap, the way I express myself will always be consistent. So I decided when I did “Talk About Poe” that I will anchor my sound to the way I speak, the way I rap. So my genre of music as far as I’m concerned is lifelines. So that’s my identity now. Artistry first.

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