When Drake dropped The Motto in 2012, “You only live once/ that’s the motto baby/ YOLO” immediately became one of the most memed phrases in pop culture. The principle is evident: we only live once so throw caution to the wind and see where it takes you. Naturally, it has come to guide the lives of those who have taken the mindset to heart. For 22-year-old Nigerian musician Toyé, it also underlines the message he feels he was born to deliver: a constant commitment to living in the moment and appreciating what we have now. Translated to Yoruba, that message reads that “faaji (enjoyment) is everything”.
The two encounters we have in working on this story take place in the same location: a studio in Brookhaven, Atlanta that Toyé and many other Nigerian and African acts in the area frequent. However, there’s a clear contrast in the atmosphere both times. The first time, I walked in on a studio session with his photographer Joey, producer Isaac and two friends Nifemi and Fai present. During the session he was building a song to send off to another artist for a feature. The record, one I hope the world hears, pays homage to Ibadan, the Oyo state capital and is typically aligned with Toyé’s distinct sound. I specifically use the word builds in reference to the creation of that song because Toyé’s approach to that track was so systematic. “I gatts change that one Ibadan to Eko, get the Lagos people on board too,” he said to Isaac of JZ Productions, one of the go-to audio engineers for African artists in the Atlanta area. It’s the kind of approach you’d expect from a marketing genius working on building an intricate plan to sell a product. A background studying Economics in college adds some context. During our second meeting, it’s just Toyé and Nifemi in the studio when I walk in with a mutual friend. Over the course of our near two-hour conversation, he channels the spiritual a couple of times. In the first instance, it’s when we’re talking about staying grounded, ready, and never losing oneself in the hustle that is the entertainment business. The other point is when we’re talking about how he manages to stay authentic to his Nigerian roots despite being near 5000 miles away. He posits that “spiritually, I am in Africa. Body-wise, I just dey here” before he adds that Atlanta is home too, acknowledging the privilege of being a dual citizen. He was born in Atlanta but raised across the capital South West cities of Ibadan, Ado-Ekiti, and Osogbo where he went to High School. Ibadan particularly stands out to Toyé because it was one of the first places he called home in Nigeria and also where he spent his formative years. He credits his message, likeness, music, and a lot of who he is today to experiencing that city and calling it home during his formative years.
Mastery in any line of work comes from studying the work of one’s predecessors, aping the successful and learning from their failures and integrating it into a plan. While he’s careful about over-burdening himself with any grand plans of, for example, becoming the biggest African act in the South of the US over the next few years, much like Ayo Jay once was on the East Coast, as I suggest because I believe it could be within reach, Toyé is rather simplistic in his thinking and simply wishes to be the best version of himself and inspire people. It does not stop him however from continuing to study the work of those that have come before him. He listens to a lot of D’Banj, Lagbaja, Davido, Wiz, Burna, Flavor, Fela on the Nigerian front, “all the Browns (Chris Brown, James Brown), Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson, Travis Scott” and so many more artists who escape his mind at the moment on the American front. On his Mount Rushmore of Nigerian artists though, he says “Fela and Lagbaja” then pauses for what seems like a lifetime and asks me “why e gatts be four now” to which I respond “that’s Mount Rushmore now, no be four presidents dey Mount Rushmore.” We all laugh. He pauses again then adds “D’Banj and Davido. Each of them has something they’ve added to me musically and really it’s bigger than just the music. Their personalities, they all speak to me on a spiritual level.”
A great philosopher once said, “Life eyan le change any fucking time”. If I ask Toyé for his Mount Rushmore a few months later while we’re in Newark, New Jersey at the premiere of Justin UG’s sophomore movie, High School Chronicles, I’m almost 100% sure his response to the Mount Rushmore question would be markedly different. In May, Davido was the last name he mentioned. Right now, it’d probably be the first one. At this point, you all probably know why but if you don’t, it’s because Toyé and Isaac know they’re about to be on Davido’s next album. When the topic comes up throughout the night, you can hear the excitement in Toye’s voice but only a few people at the time knew he had not only written a song on A Better Time but that he’d actually written and would be credited on a song that featured both Chris Brown and Young Thug. Shopping Spree was written by Toyé and produced by Isaac. Toyé is clear that though he’s clearly excited, he’s under no illusions about what this means and the work that lies ahead to leverage the blessing, own the moment and use it as a catalyst to build on some of the inroads he has made in his career.
Successful people often possess an innate drive and belief in themselves that convinces others to give them a chance. Success is relative and while Toyé is only on the road there, he possesses the drive that should get him over the line. His debut release as an artist Shayo was produced by Grammy-winning Liberian producer Ace Harris who boasts production credits ranging from Koffee’s breakout single Rapture to work with artists like Lecrae, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, and Lil Uzi Vert. Toyé remembers reaching out to Harris via DMs and talking himself up. For context, Harris was the first person to receive any music he had recorded in his room at the time. Initially, the response was lukewarm. One song Toyé sent though caught his attention. He got an invitation to Harris’ studio and the relationship has evolved with the producer billed to executive produce Toyé’s debut project.
African parents like good business people are all about results. Unsurprisingly, Toyé’s parents pushed back on his music.“We’ve fought so many times, we’re still fighting sef” he told me in May. “Is this what we brought you to America for?” he mimics. He cites his recent Colors Studio performance as earning some goodwill with them. He’s also had the benefit of Davido speaking to his parents and helping them understand that their son was for real! Touching on how his Colors performance came to be, he takes a trip down memory lane to a 2016 Davido performance of Skelewu on the show before the millions of YouTube views that is now the norm with their content. It interested him at the time and he immediately began pitching himself to the music platform. He never got a response as he didn’t even have any song out at the time. But it’s telling of Toyé and who he is. An artist betting on himself with the kind of confidence necessary for any creative to thrive and succeed. He skips forward a few years and says his manager just got a message asking if they’d be interested in coming on the platform. Quickly, he moves on to the moment he thinks put him on many radars- opening for Burna Boy in Atlanta in April 2019. The biggest players in what he has become; God, Ace Harris, family, friends and lastly, the women who serve as muses.
Some years back, Toyé and his brother made “faaji” their catchphrase. It’s what he was about before the music and it’s a reminder of one of the beacons of many successful people. Only selling products they feel an immense connection to. When he started making music he decided it was the brand he was going to push wholeheartedly and today, he and his group of friends, popular for events in Atlanta, push a brand called Faajipolitan. On what it means, Toyé says “enjoyment is a way of life and what faajipolitan teaches is you must learn how to enjoy yourself.” He goes on to say it’s important to find the little things that make life worth living every day and that’s what he’ll always represent, the bright side, straight-up in-your-face enjoyment, and trying to find the little to help the days go by. Toyé is selling enjoyment, a product many cannot see, but because it aligns completely with who he is, he has successfully sold it without much effort and if everything pans out as it should, he will continue to sell it in Atlanta and beyond for a long time.
Photos by Issa Nigerian, Styling by Natasha Asante