When sociologists and historians seek to make sense of 2022- a definitive year in Nigerian history, they will use certain moments and people as capstones upon which their findings will center. They include the rock stardom of one Peter Obi- the former Anambra governor whose popularity could potentially upend the country’s political balance by cracking the dichotomy of the country’s main political parties. They will touch on the Japa trend- the mass exit of Nigerians for the west to fulfill the yearning for functioning societies and economic prosperity which currently precludes the country. On a cultural level, they will center their attention on a certain dreadlocked artist whose music has captured the attention of the country and inspired a musical run for the ages. While Asake’s sound has captured parts of the country by melding fuji influences with upbeat instrumentation leveraging the Amapiano trend towards a fusion which Sarz once described as “Omopiano”, a key to this success has been the work of a 27-year-old producer, who in a John Legend style moment of nominative determinism goes by the alias “Magicsticks”.
One sun-washed Wednesday, I and a colleague visit Magicsticks in his Ajah residence in Lagos. Elsewhere Asake’s newly released debut album, Mr. Money With The Vibe, is stirring a pleasant ruckus. Guard dog safely locked away, Magicsticks ushers us into his duplex—it was here he produced all the songs in Asake’s album. Inside, my eyes settle on an abstract painting and two of Magicsticks’ friends, the air incensed with smoke and the shy quietness common among people who have only just met each other. A joke lightens the air, driving out the quietness, leaving the smoke.
My eyes dart from abstract art to the one on Magicsticks’ skin. Each tattoo, he tells us, is inked with meaning. One of his arms bears his mother’s face, the other a Mickey Mouse image, a tribute to a late friend who loved the Disney cartoon character. But if his many tattoos and his hair dyed brown hint at a colorful personality, his bland social media presence belies it. He rarely tweets and he is scarcely controversial: good for morality but bad for showbiz, a space where the volume of speech sometimes outstrips the volume of talent. He knows it, for he says that “I know in this business one has to make a lot of noise. But I just prefer to be in my own space. I don’t know how to seek attention online. I’d rather my work speak for me.”
For Magicsticks, this moment is the culmination of two lifetimes of complete dedication to the craft of music. He notes that his father, an oil and gas executive, is a hobbyist DJ and the source of his interest in music. It was this path, which he sought to recreate in 2018 would led to his interest in music production. “My dad played music all the time. All kinds of music: old school, house music, afrobeat, jazz. I was always listening to music. It’s not like I was paying attention deliberately. I was taking it in subconsciously,” he says. This background helped relieve the potential pressure of pursuing a path in the creative industry. The support of parents who allowed free will to figure out his path and supported him as best as they could was also a liberating factor to enable the pursuit of his dreams.
For Magicsticks, this moment in the sun is the legacy of years of consistent grinding, upskilling, and collaborating. While he learned how to produce on his own, he cites Jay Pizzle as a key accelerant in his growth. “He was the first person to give me a shot by working with me. Then he started pitching me to artists. If you are not yet a big producer, artists don’t really want to fuck with you. So Jay Pizzle having that industry influence was able to help me. If an artist was in the studio, he would tell them to listen to some beats I made.” Jay Pizzle was also the source of his signature “Tune into the King of Sounds and Blues” tag. It was in the course of this process that he would make the acquaintance of DJ Neptune who invited him to production and writing camps with Mr. Eazi’s Empawa camp. It was at one of those sessions he laced the beat for Nobody- the upbeat Joeboy and Mr. Eazi record which would go on to top Turntable Chart’s 2020 Year-End Top 50 chart. His freshman status meant that it flew under the radar but it was a formative experience in that it marked his first taste of mainstream success and helped whet his appetite for more.
The Asake and Magicsticks partnership is possibly the most prolific artist-producer partnership of recent years harking back to the days when D’Banj and Don Jazzy ruled the charts. A parallel could be drawn to the approach of both Magicsticks and Don Jazzy whereby they took the backseats in the partnerships and allowed the artists to do the work of narrative-building. He first met Asake in 2019 through the comedian, Sydney Talker, and the connection was instant. “I really connected with him. We just clicked; I can’t say why. For me, it’s very rare for me to connect with someone that way because I’m the kind of person that l doesn’t like people in my space.” Their first record together was Asake’s breakout hit Me I No Dey Cap (Mr Money). The remix with Zlatan and Peruzzi ensured that they found another wave of momentum last year. Fast forward to the moment when it all changed. To hear him tell it “we just kept working and working until our prayers got answered and God blessed us with Baddo”. That the blessing came in the form of one Olamide “Baddo” Adedeji, the greatest artist-executive of his age is an apt measure of his unyielding influence. To frame Olamide as the greatest kingmaker in the modern history of Afrobeats is not an understatement. Beneficiaries of the Baddo stimulus package include; Fireboy DML, Adekunle Gold, Lil Kesh, Pheelz, Young Jonn, Badboy Timz, and Fave amongst others. With the added benefit of his current joint venture with the world’s leading independent label and distro, Empire his immediate value to the Asake and Magicsticks axis was underlined. When Mr. Money With The Vibe made its debut in the Billboard 200 and Asake followed up with a Stateside tour, it captured the merits of alignment with the right industry forces.
In the midst of this, while Magicsticks acknowledges the impact their partnership has made, he encourages his collaborator to look far and wide. “I advise artists they shouldn’t work with just one producer. I tell them to work with different people in order to get different sounds. I won’t feel any kind of way if he decides to work with other producers. That’s what he should be doing actually.” It’s advice he’s been taking as he hints at new music coming with the holy trinity that is Wizkid, Davido, and Burna and wanting to expand his tentacles in the international market.
As the interview winds down, he puts on a South African house set as the background noise of sorts before going on to play Olamide’s single which bears his production. As far as he’s concerned, the grind is really just beginning. The hours of work and clear focus are beginning to bear fruit and as I broach the subject of young artists he’s tipping for greatness, I get a peep into the potential future of the Nigerian music industry. He cites Logos Olori whose presence in the room offers the sometimes long-winded nature of music stardom. He also mentions Ryan Omo and Zamora. As far as his future in the game? He acknowledges an ambition to continue the path his father toed by entering himself as a DJ—the king of sounds and blues.