When it was time to name him, his parents settled for a sweet alliteration: Charles Chibueze Chukwu. He added another C when he elected to become a musician: Crayon. It has been three years since the Mavin Records star Crayon, along with music producer Ozedikus Nwanne, rode on a bike to Mavin Records headquarters in Victoria Island, Lagos. It was his first visit to the popular music power station. His talent had caught the ear of music producer Baby Fresh, who then invited him over. That day a star-struck Crayon met Don Jazzy for the first time. Unused to the air-conditioned affluence, he and Ozedikus dashed out of the building at some point. Amid boyish giggles, Ozedikus said to the then 21-year-old Crayon, “Oh boy, cold wan finish me for here”.
Since getting signed to Mavin Records in 2019 he has released two EPs: Cray Cray (2019) and Twelve A.M. (2021). One of his biggest hits So Fine is in the first EP; it is also here he teams up with Baby Fresh, the man who pushed the first Domino piece that got him signed to Mavin Records. Together they made the song Unusual. In his second EP, Crayon features Bella Shmurda in the song Jackpot, Rema in Top Correct, and One Acen in Man Dem.
He has several singles to his name: Tele, On Code, Shima, Sometime, etcetera. But the biggest of all is Overloading (Overdose), which was released in May this year to wide acclaim. Though a Mavin Records song, as it includes label-mates like Ayra Starr, LadiPoe, Magixx and Boy Spyce, it is Crayon who leads the ensemble, opening the song and taking the hook.
In this interview — which has been slightly edited for both clarity and brevity — we discuss his new single Ijo (laba laba), Overloading (Overdose), and his time thus far in the Nigerian music industry.
What inspired your new single Ijo (laba laba), and how was it like working with Sarz on the single?
I drew inspiration from the dance I was doing in Overloading (Overdose). When the oruma part came on I was doing a type of dance. At the time I didn’t even have a name for the dance. This was a day before the Overdose video shoot. I was in the house, playing the Overdose song and trying to get into the mood for the shoot the next day. I wouldn’t say I was practising because there was no mirror in front of me. Randomly I came up with that dance and then said I was going to use it in a video shoot the next day. After the video came out, I started a challenge for the dance. The dance inspired me to write Ijo (laba laba). The hand movements in the dance signify the movement of a butterfly when it’s flying. And laba laba means butterfly in Yoruba. Ijo means dance in Yoruba. Ijo laba laba is a cultural festival, a youthful anthem; it’s for everyone that loves being happy. It’s a blend of different cultures — it has words from Yoruba, Igbo, Nigerian pidgin English, Ghana, and South Africa in it. And I want to give a big shout-out to Embryo for co-writing the song.
I first met Sarz in a gym in 2019. We vibed a lot and exchanged numbers. I had talks with him around January this year regarding a musical collaboration, but I became really ill and had to be admitted into a hospital. After I recovered I sent him a message then we met in London. This was around April. He gave me a couple of beats, like six, seven. Crazy-ass beats. As I was about to leave, he said he wanted to play one more beat in his folder, something he’d been working on and had even forgotten about. I heard it — it was just chords and percussion, not fully developed yet. I really liked it. I thought it had a happy feel and sounded like a festival. So I took it home, and then Embryo and I wrote Ijo (laba laba) to the beat. Again, a big shout-out to Embryo!
You turn 24 next month. How would you say you are different from the Crayon that got signed to Mavin Records in 2019?
The difference between me then and now is that I have beards now. Joking aside, I’d say that I’ve grown a lot, in terms of music, writing, delivery, stage performance, stage control, and crowd control. I’ve learnt a lot in terms of relating to my fanbase and people, and also about the music business.
I’ve also learnt more about myself. I remember in 2020 I dropped like 7 songs and none of them blew. That was a very tough moment for me. When I dropped Kpano, the song was about to take off. Everyone was tweeting about it: Wizkid, Mayorkun… then the pandemic came then the song just went (blows raspberries). So, that really taught me a lot. It’s tough to take in.
I went ahead to drop about 7 songs and all of them were underrated. So I was underrated for a while, in 2020, 2021… It taught me a lot, especially as I dropped the song So Fine that blew and really introduced me to the game. To date, it’s still one of my biggest songs.
Fast forward to 2022, I’m not going to lie: Overdose changed the whole thing for me, from being that guy that’s underrated to being that guy that’s killing it. It feels good. Big shout-out to every artist that was on Overdose. And a big shout-out to Don Jazzy as well.
I put out a single Excuse Me in 2021, which at that time was underrated. After Overdose’s release, that single went number one for like a month plus. It was like people were rediscovering me, and I got a lot of flowers. So yeah, I’m really thankful for where I am now.
What went into making Overdose?
So my team called me and said there was a group song, and they wanted me to take the hook and that I was starting the song. I heard Ayra Starr, LadiPoe, Magixx, Boy Spyce were going to be in it. So I was excited. From my voice, you could tell I was really excited. It was my first record that was going to come out in a year. It wasn’t just me; everyone involved was hyped up. The room was gingered during recording. There’s a video of that that went viral on TikTok.
You grew up in a family of four in the Ojo area of Lagos. And you’ve described your time in Ojo as a financially difficult period for your family. Would you say you have managed to stay true to your roots?
So I grew up around a lot of people, lots of family members. That’s why I love having a crowd around me. First of all, I was born in Orile. We were staying in a one-room apartment: me, my mom, my younger brother, and about five of my relatives. Then we moved to Ojo and got a room and parlour self-contained. I never had a room to myself all my life, but I have a house now.
I would say that I’m still that guy. I stay grounded. I still went to my former secondary school — Treasure Court College — in Ojo this year to show them love. This was June 1st.
You quit school for music. Do you think you’d ever go back to a university for a degree?
I think I would. But not in Nigeria. If it would be in Nigeria, maybe a private university. I remember I wanted to go to school so bad: I wrote the UTME exam like five times. I passed thrice. On the fifth time, I was in UNILAG writing the Post-UTME exam. This was 2017. I was there for hours, from around 8 in the morning, yet the exam was yet to start. We eventually entered the exam hall to take the computer-based exam. Before that time I already met Don Jazzy and Baby Fresh. While in the exam hall, I started thinking if I really wanted to do this [school]. I was wondering how I was going to do school and music. This went on for like thirty minutes. Meanwhile, everyone else was writing. I was sweating, ‘cause this was the biggest decision I’ve ever made in my life. I wanted to go to school so bad. Then I just stood and walked out of the hall. And everyone was looking at me like, “Who’s this fool?”
I was so scared. As I went home I asked God if I wasn’t making the biggest mistake of my life, and that I hope this music thing really works out for me. I couldn’t tell my friends. I only told one friend who lived in Benin then. To date my parents don’t know I didn’t do the exam. I lied to them that I sat for the exam but my result didn’t come out. That’s one of the sacrifices I made for music.
If you went back to university, what would you study?
What do you listen to these days?
To be honest I listen to different genres of music. I listen to Afrobeats, trap, highlife… My playlist is really diverse. I listen to Drake, Rema, Fireboy, Burnaboy, Victony, Wizkid, and Asake. Everybody, to be honest.
When can we expect your debut album?
To be honest I can’t really give a date. Right now I’m just focused on my single Ijo (laba laba). The material for an album is not the problem. Material yapa (plenty). But when my team feels like we are ready for an album, then we would make one.
Any parting remarks?
I want to say a big-shout to Culture Custodian. I see all the things you guys do for Afrobeats. Thank you for supporting my brand and music. Thank you for this interview. I feel honoured. And I want to say a big shout-out to my fans, Cray Army. Thank you for standing by me in all those crazy years. It’s only going to get better. And I want to say, go stream Ijo (laba laba) on every platform.