The Many Sides to Seyi Vibez: Afrobeats’ Non-Conformist

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Black and white picture of Seyi Vibez

For a lot of people, Seyi Vibez did not so much arrive at the mainstream scene as he barged into it. An intruder: a lanky, dark skinned occasional dreadhead draped in oversized clothing with a mouthful of flashy grills. A street pop creation that devours the zeitgeist and then rigorously regurgitates it his way.

Christened Balogun Afolabi Oluwaloseyi at birth, Seyi Vibez was born in Ketu, Lagos State, Nigeria, but grew up in Ikorodu. Raised in a household where music was a constant presence, Seyi Vibez developed a keen ear for rhythm and melody, and an innate understanding of the power of sound to move and inspire. A musical prodigy from the start, he began honing his craft in the hotbed of the Lagos underground. His breakthrough came in 2020 with the release of his hit single, God Sent

One of the most commendable things about Seyi’s ascendant popularity is that he has consistently proven himself to be aware of and interested in probing the sonic possibilities of present-day Afrobeats. His music channels both the genre’s inherent drive for innovation, taken to its fullest expression. But it’s also a product of the early sounds that defined his childhood: Apala, Fuji, Highlife. He has traced this pattern throughout his recent projects. Fuji Interlude in Vibe Till Thy Kingdom Come, Highlife Interlude in Thy Kingdom Come and Apala Interlude in NAHAMciaga. With each release, however, his sound matures, assimilating new influences while retaining its core identity. 

His debut album, No Seyi, No Vibez (NSNV), dropped in August 2021, a season of optimism and musical open-mindedness, when people were ready to accept the unfiltered story and catchy urban hooks from artists who immediately communicated that they were from the streets without trying to embellish themselves. His rise parallels the resurgence of street pop, a subgenre previously relegated to the fringes but now permeating the mainstream. Artists like Daddy Showkey, African China, and Olamide laid the groundwork, their honesty building a hungry audience and Seyi Vibez stands amongst those who embody this rise — the new generation of street pop artists who are fast becoming global fixtures. The grime and grit of everyday life seep into his musical consciousness with a flow laced with poignant observations about life on the margins. 

Seyi Vibez has become some sort of status symbol, an unadulterated modern version of the eccentric Afropop star for people who don’t care about the charts, and just want to enjoy good music. He is one of the most authentic artists currently on the rise, promoted by Dapper Music, a record label with an ear for the raw talent and untapped potential in Nigeria’s street scenes. Dapper’s artist-centric approach and understanding of urban dynamics have proven instrumental in Seyi Vibez’s career. Headed by Damilola Akinwunmi, Dapper amplifies underground subcultures, positioning itself as a catalyst in an industry undergoing rapid transformation. Under Dapper Group, Seyi Vibez has since flourished, releasing a string of successful projects, earning accolades such as the Headies award for Best Street Act in 2023, and selling out shows at home and abroad. Thus when Dapper Music and Entertainment teamed up with Seyi’s own Vibez Inc. last year, it felt like a natural fit.

Seyi Vibez’s music — in addition to having the crunchy pop-boy swagger and hooks that burrow into your brain even when you don’t want them to — is about the usual things: redemption, motivation, frustration, ambition, gratification, and, of course, a smattering of hedonism. Much of his music is thumping and linear, his production choices, a jarring blend of genres;  big drums, big hooks, the beats and lyrics urgently clinking together to produce sounds that have been described as dissonant and incoherent. However, beneath the surface of perceived chaos lies a deliberate intentionality to his sound. His music is a tool for propagating his radiant image, which is continually interesting to behold.

Incorporating different forms of Quranic recitation with elements of gospel, Seyi Vibez’s distinctive style often leans towards chants, characterized by their hypnotic cadence and rhythmic complexity. His songs are peppered with personally meaningful ephemera and Islamic prayers. An example is his track Kun Faya Kun (which translates to “be, and it is”) which is a prophetic phrase found in the Quran, specifically in Surah Yasin, verse 82, which extols God’s almightiness.

In addition to his religious influences, Seyi Vibez’s music draws deeply from his Yoruba heritage, a tradition rich in storytelling and cultural expression. He infuses his music with elements of folklore and tradition, creating a sound that is uniquely his own. Inspired by the legendary Fela Anikulapo Kuti, he integrates elements of Afrobeat into his music, blending traditional Yoruba rhythms with modern instrumentation to create a sound that is both fresh and nostalgic. The female vocals present in his music are a nod to Fela’s use of female backup singers and choirs. His wild, startling, raspy vocals enliven the words he sometimes adds in small clusters, creating a staccato delivery defined by bursts of vibrant pronouncements. “Pick one. Pick two. Straight winning. No handicap.” He possesses a potency and urgency in his complicated but animated delivery. Individual phrases take on a kind of weird resonance independent of their contexts. It’s impossible to get a sense of how even a single verse will sound at the end. It’s thrilling, exciting. For this, he has been accused of lyrical incoherence but doesn’t especially mind. The streets understand. 

Of course, some people don’t like Seyi Vibez. A look into his artistic persona will tell you that Seyi Vibez has not set out to be liked. A kooky amalgam of tangible intensity and electric energy crackles around him, never without the mischievous glint in his eyes when he grins wide, fully displaying heavy grills. He seems too rough around the edges, and his music is perceived as weird, feral, and funny.

But amidst the cacophony of polarizing opinions surrounding his persona, Seyi Vibez remains unfazed by the need for validation. He’s not playing a role for you, because he doesn’t seem to be able to see himself from your perspective and play to your desires. An artist determined to be understood on his terms, he pours himself into his work. His rise is supported by the organic devotion of his loyal fanbase. He has cultivated a grassroots following that reveres him as a voice of the streets. Para Boi, churns out music at a pace that borders on obsession. He doubles down on his connection with his core audience and throws his arms open for newcomers. His songs have become staples on radio setlists and at clubs all over the country, most popularly the oddly affecting anthems Bank of America and Chance (Na Ham) which everyone can’t resist rapping or bopping to anytime it comes on. 

The artist does not engage in the online discourse and doesn’t offer explanations or justifications. He is not interested in scrambling to translate himself to people who do not care to understand him. Seyi Vibez is still Oluwaloseyi. He reminds you as a beat drops. An unorthodox prophet juggling religious pluralism, tethered firmly to his roots. He’s still the same Loseyi who interpolates Arabic chants, quotes verses from the Christian Bible, uses an image of his younger self taken at perhaps his Walimatul Quran  (the successful completion of the Quran by a student) as his album cover art, whose songs are even sung by Alfas. In an industry where talent often takes a backseat to image and marketability — one currently plagued by monotony and homogenization — Seyi Vibez cuts through the predictability and the boredom, shunning the trappings of a formulaic template.

Melony Akpoghene is a writer who believes the world can be saved if everyone listens to Beyoncé. She spends her time reading, writing, and eating cakes.