Interview: Music Producer, London on Making Beats for Wizkid, Ayra Starr, And The Future of Afrobeats

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“I’m humbled each time I remember that I am one of the instruments that God is using to take Afrobeats global.” This is London feeling grateful for how far he has come with his art. With countless hit songs in his bag, London sits comfortably as a role model for Nigerian musicians and record producers who want to make amazing afrobeat music and show the world the gems that exist in Africa.

But he wasn’t always this London with the odds in his favour. His story is one capable of inspiring every ear that hears it as his background is a very humble one. Real name Michael Ovie Hunter, London was born to a Nigerian mother and British father in London, but raised in Kaduna where things weren’t so easy for the potential star.

As a university aspirant, he worked several jobs including sachet water factory boy and assisting at a cyber cafe. His story took a different turn after he got into music production and met Blowtime Entertainment’s boss/ace music producer, BabyFresh.

“You know how it is after secondary school while waiting for admission into a university — you start looking for something to do to stay busy and earn some extra cash,” he said. “This was why I worked in a pure water factory at some point. And then a cyber cafe. I’ve done a lot of things in this life, but thank God for how far I have come. It wasn’t easy at all, trust me.” He talks about his big break, making beats for Wizkid, Ayra Starr, Magixx, Mavin’s new signee, working with Sony Publishing France & BlueSky Publishing, Apple Music and the future of Afrobeat:

Who is London?

I am one of the producers from Nigeria working towards global impact. I want to get to a point where one wouldn’t even need to hear my tag on a record to know that London made it.

So when did the big break happen?

I used to be a drummer back in Kaduna and I was very interested in music. At the same time, I worked at a cyber cafe. My boss used to make digital animations and all those things. One day at work, I saw him using Fruity Loops [FL Studio] on his laptop and asked him what it was. He told me it was the software used to make sounds for digital animation. As a creative guy who wanted to try out new things, I installed the software on my laptop and started experimenting with it. In no time, I was making trap beats and posting them on Instagram. It soon caught the attention of BabyFresh and I sent him a DM then. I would make beats and send them to him to get his thoughts and he would make some corrections. So I sent BabyFresh the very first Afrobeats beat I made and he really loved it. He sent it to Reekado Banks, who also loved the beat, so he and Reekado recorded a song, ‘Turn Up’, on it. I was in Benin, seeking admission into the University of Benin and waiting for Reeky to drop the song when Fresh called me to say that they wouldn’t be dropping the song anymore because Wizkid would be on it. I won’t lie, I was mind-blown. I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that the almighty Wizkid was going to sing on a beat I made. Mad! After that whole thing, I went to Lagos. I was supposed to be there for a week because I lied to my family that Wizkid was calling me. I met with Fresh and he started introducing me to artists and other industry people. And since 2018 when this happened, I haven’t stepped foot in Benin again.

And your name now begins most of the hottest Afrobeats songs at the moment. How does this make you feel?

Funny enough, I get very shy. I’m a very shy person naturally. I know I don’t look like it, but the truth is that I’m shy. That’s why I didn’t show my face a lot on my socials until my team advised me against it. So I started taking more pictures and making more posts. I’m a very low-key person. But whenever I hear my tracks come on in a club or something, it feels nice — you know to get all that recognition. Yet at times it feels very awkward. It’s just kind of weird when you are in a club and everyone is having fun, and then your song comes up and everyone starts screaming your name, hailing you. I’m like ‘ahh, damn. Why’s this happening right now?’

So take pride in it?

I know, right? Everyone is always like, ‘yo, why are you so calm about these big things?’ but honestly, I don’t know how to act. [Laughs]. Like what do I do? Should I jump all over the place?

If it were me, I would play my hit songs every morning and boast about prowess.

Funny thing is that I actually do this. But not all the time. I only do it once in a while to motivate myself to do more. Say like, three times a year.

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?

I don’t make my bed, I’m so lazy. I wake up and put my laptop in my hand. I have my speakers already set up and I stay on them all day. I also go through my email to check what’s up. I get very interesting emails all the time showing that some “big shots” want to work with me. My team takes it up from there. I make beats that they can flow on and then add my London feel to it.

Ayra’s Bloody Samaritan. Tell me about its making.

I made the beat while I was in Uganda. This was around November 2020. Ayra Starr had the beat with her for more than six months and had not recorded anything. I messaged her and at the end of the day, we hooked up to work on the Bloody Samaritan beat because I actually named the beat Bloody Samaritan. We went into the studio and taught her how to record herself while I stepped out to get something. By the time I was back, she had recorded the chorus. She then said she would continue the song the following day, but I insisted we finished it that day. By the time we doubled the vocals and it started sounding really mad, she didn’t want to leave anymore. We did some vocal productions and worked on the second verse. She called her brother who happens to also be her writer and he added magic to the second verse which left us with some space that we didn’t know what to do with. We sent the song to Jazzy and the Mavin team and everybody loved it but we all weren’t sure what to fill the empty bars left with. So one day, I hit Ayra up and asked her how she would love a sax for the empty bars. We called a sax guy and Ayra whistled her ideas to the guy. I contributed and boom, the song was done! Johnny Drille did an amazing job with the mixing and it’s out now, doing mad things.

And then there’s Fashion Killer.

Yo, Fashion Killer is doing very mad numbers, surprisingly.

Why surprisingly?

Fashion Killer’s beat wasn’t made for Ayra. I made it for another artist, but they weren’t serious, so I gave it to Ayra and she performed magic with it. Now, the song is the favourite of many.

What do you think about Magixx, Mavin’s new signee?

He’s dope! He has a very interesting vocal texture. He’s super dope. He has more tunes coming. We have only worked together for “Pati” in his debut EP but I’m sure there’s a lot more coming. I totally loved what he made out of the “Pati” beat.

You now publish under Sony Publishing France. What does this mean for London and his music?

Bro, it means more hits! It’s an opportunity for my music to spread across oceans and continents. It opens me up to working with producers and artists from all over the world. I’m humbled each time I remember that I am one of the instruments that God is using to take Afrobeats global.

On days when you have creative blocks and feel down, what drives you to still create? What motivates you?

Hunger, bro. Hunger go inspire you, guy. Bro e be like say hunger never catch you oh [Extended laughter]. No make beat. You’ll tell me how you want to make money. I cannot do any other thing in this life oh. It must be music. So whether I have a block or not, I always try my best to do something. You never know what can come out of how you’re feeling per time. I had a block when I made “Soundgasm” and I never knew it was going to be this mad.

I think it shows discipline when you work even when you don’t feel like it sometimes.

Very true. It’s normal to feel down every now and then. It’s another kind of feeling, so why not just express it through your art? This is what makes us creatives. Just put in the energy of your feelings into what you do. You just have to do it! As a producer, you are the most important person in the room. Without your stuff, the artist has nothing to create. You give them what to work with. So you have to push yourself to do it at the end of the day and create. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take some time back to reflect on what you do because sometimes, you experience blocks because you keep doing the same thing over and over. I remember working with Rema on “Raves & Roses” and I started making very similar beats. It put me down because I wanted to do more. So I had to take some time to myself to meditate over my skill. I’m always under pressure with myself; motivating myself to try out new things. Yet, I make sure that I always deliver. Always.

How does it feel to have had Apple Music put you on the spot amongst leading music producers on the continent on several occasions?

We had the Oshe playlist for Independence Day and then Behind The Boards that had all the songs I’ve produced in a playlist. Apple Music is family, mehn. My team and Apple Music have this relationship. My own is just to come and ask, “what do you want me to do? Take a picture or what?” and then I do it.

The whole world is coming to cherish African music now more than ever. Where do you picture Afrobeats in the next 10 years?

That depends on what we do with all the attention we are getting right now. We’ll see Afrobeats do big things in 10 years if we handle what we are getting right now well. Billboard is on fire with African hit songs. Ckay, Tems, Wizkid, doing mad things on international charts. Everyone is looking our way but it’s one thing for a sound to be popping and it’s another for that sound to keep popping.

What do you suggest?

I feel like we should just keep doing what we are doing. They started getting interested because of the authenticity of our sound so let’s keep at that. We should have a good structure in our music industry. The way we structure ourselves is what will take us to that global domination. It’s like giving a poor man money. If you give a poor man two million Naira and he doesn’t handle it well, he’ll be back to square one in no time. I feel like we need to figure out a way to structure our labels and artists and take branding and marketing to a whole new level. Now is the time for us to go in harder. Every sound coming out of Africa has to be top tier. We can’t drop the bar right now that the limelight is on us. Now is the time to work two times harder. We want to start hearing Rihanna, Ye and the rest on Afrobeats. The harder we go, the more recognition we get.

At the end of the day, what would make you feel fulfilled?

When I’m on a yacht in Dubai. [Laughs]. That’s cap. Can a man really get fulfilled? Can a man really be satisfied? For me, I really want to be part of the producers that’ll take Afrobeats to the next level. When history talks about people who took Afrobeats global, I want my name to be one of them. That’s a generational recognition and I want that for my descendants.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

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