“I used to think I was underrated, but not anymore.”
Bella Shmurda is as honest as they could come. It’s popular knowledge that while making a list of the most lovable African music creators, Bella would have to come tops. Yet, as at early 2023, the artist didn’t feel he was getting as much celebration from fans and the industry as he should have.
And it is totally understandable. Bella happens to have one of those typical street artists’ breakout stories where he almost had no help (save the likes of Poco Lee & Olamide). His is one of those where the artist had to work over time to fight financial and psychological limitations in order to garner some public attention. It’s nothing close to easy – coming from that, into a space like the highly-saturated and equally competitive music scene, with so many uncertainties and unanswered questions.
However, it only took Bella Shmurda some alone time to figure out that he already had so much to be grateful for, and crown himself his own biggest fan.
“You know, sometimes you just feel like you’re not appreciated enough or people are not really giving you your accolades, but later on, I found out that the best accolade you can get is from yourself,” proclaimed Abiola Ahmed Akinbiyi (real name).
Plus, it is from being by himself that he was able to properly cook his latest EP project, typically titled ‘DND’; a notice for carriers of bad vibrations, selfish thoughts and general ill behaviors to not disturb his peace of mind. It was born out of the superstar wanting some time to himself to find and maintain internal happiness.
He talks about this and so much more in this exclusive chat with Itty Okim, predicting the future of street pop and the continual rise of Afrobeats culture.
Where were you, mentally, while making the DND project?
Well, I was in my house (laughs). So majorly, my headspace is always in a Do Not Disturb mode and I just want to get a hold of myself and get things right and get my sound right. So it’s majorly a do not disturb mode and all the music on the project creates the stay-at-home and make-yourself-happy vibe. You can have a party for one at your house and do whatever you need to do to make yourself happy, without disturbance from other people.
How would you describe your music run in the industry since your breakout in 2020?
It has been amazing and it has been challenging as well. I am enjoying all the good that has come from it, and facing all the challenges that have come from it as well.
“I don’t wait for people to celebrate me, I do it myself. I celebrate myself.
DND is your fourth music project. What’s your favorite part about rolling out your albums and EPs? What’s the most interesting part for you?
The most interesting part is recording and having to shoot music videos. Videos can be tiring, but you’ll have your friends, team and everyone around, so recording and making visuals are very interesting for me.
Usually when artists want to make projects, they go clubbing and partying to get real life experiences to write about. Do you have any of those outings?
I think I’ve done enough going out in my life. I don’t need to go anywhere to get experience, you know. I’m an experienced man. All I just need to do is get my headspace together and put my lyrics together and make it awesome. That’s all I need.
You seem like a people’s person Bella. Do you think you’re a people’s person?
Well, I don’t know, I can’t say. Only people from the outside can actually tell me for sure, but I’m sure I have a couple of friends which I support and we support each other. So if you say “people’s person”, fine.
You once said something about how you think people do not celebrate you enough. Do you still feel like that?
Well, I got over that already. You know, sometimes you just feel like you’re not appreciated enough or people are not really giving you your accolades, but later on, I found out that the best accolade you can get is from yourself. It’s you at the end of the day. So I don’t wait for people to celebrate me, I do it myself. I celebrate myself.
What has fame changed about you?
Oh well, a lot of things have changed. I’m a lot calmer now and I feel like I make better decisions now. Before, I was always outside but now, I’m always inside. I’m still on the streets, but I’m on another level of the street; if you know what I mean.
Dem say money dey make person introvert, na true?
Yes now! You go wan calculate more. You go wan understand and take things slower than before. Unlike when you were desperate to make money and could do absolutely anything, now that you have it, all you want is peace of mind and how to maintain the money and things like that.
How did the collaborations on DND happen?
Well, for Tiwa, Ladipoe called and told me she was in lagos and said ‘what of Bella now, shey he no dey Nigeria?’ and they hollered me. I called my producer and Poco [Lee] and we went to Tiwa’s place. I played a couple of songs for her and she loved NSV and she jumped on it. Shoutout to Tiwa on that, God bless her.
Then for Lil Kesh, he sent me a song and said he wanted my chorus on it and then after I finished the chorus, I ended up loving the song so much, that I had to beg him like ‘ah bros, abeg you go give me this song’. So I collected the song from him business-wise and then that was it for DND. And for Pheelz, he came around to my place and we made music majorly. We made about three songs that night and I picked Bankruptcy so we are outside.
Another thing that’s peculiar about DND is that even though it is music that comes from a place of peace and calmness, there are still songs you can dance to in clubs. How were you able to balance that out?
DND does not mean you shouldn’t party, but you shouldn’t disturb my party. While you’re partying, your response should be ‘abeg no disturb me oh’ or ‘abeg no stress me’ you know, those kinds of things. So basically, do not disturb my party.
What is your favorite thing about your music?
No matter the kind of music I’m trying to do, my favorite thing is trying to put people in their emotions and speak words of truth into them so they can hear “reality things”.
We’ve heard people say that street pop might never get the global recognition that other subgenres in afrobeats are getting. What do you think about that?
I feel like street pop right now is getting more attention than any of these sounds. The likes of Asake and even Burna Boy still do the street thing and everybody is trying to get into it. So, I think street pop is definitely one of those things to look out for and I feel it’s a major focus right now because everybody wants to dance and that’s the core of Nigerian music for you – just dance.
What’s your word to rising street popstars?
Self control is very important. Personally, I have had issues with self control, but I feel I’m getting over it now. I think self control should be important to an upcoming artist. Also, there is so much music outside that will get you confused and make you start sounding like another person. You need to know your sound and stand by it.
At the end of the day, after all the projects you have dropped and everything, what will give you that sense of fulfillment?
Having a legacy and having a good name at the end of the day is very important to me. Not ending up in unnecessary controversies is what will make me feel most fulfilled.
Cover Photo: 22.Jumpstar