The Nigerian star is ready for the next level.
- Interview: Nicolas-Tyrell Scott
- Photography: Kenny Germé
Asake is meticulous. Nested in the suburbs of northwest London, in a mansion assembled from various historical eras and geographies—basements that appear lifted from grand Greek villas beneath Elizabethan-style living rooms—he’s working to direct his photo shoot, scene by scene, look by look. It’s December 14, the day before Asake’s final tour stop, and the anticipation colors the afternoon. Over the course of the day, his nearly six-foot frame darts from room to room, inspecting every photograph of himself and conferring with his team. Asake doesn’t just want to look the part, he wants to authentically represent himself too.
“We have to go outside first,” the 28-year-old artist commands, removing his black leather Givenchy hat. He appears relaxed but adamant, and his russet-colored eyes shine in the dimly lit belly of the house. Outside the temperature is below zero and there are traces of days-old snow settled around the building. Born Ahmed Ololade in Lagos, he’s experiencing his first British winter—and the country at large. “I’ll have to come back in the summer next time,” he says later on, laughing.
After selling out his inaugural London date in minutes, Asake announced two additional shows. After all, hits like “Terminator,” “PALAZZO,”and “Peace Be Unto You” conquered the city’s nightlife, building anticipation for his arrival. The popularity of Afrobeats is nothing new in Britain; it’s the result of over a decade of communal efforts by the West African diaspora in the region to celebrate and boldly claim their countries’ cultural exports, especially music. Quintessential releases like D’Banj’s “Oliver Twist” in 2013, and Yemi Alade’s “Johnny” and Fuse ODG’s “Antenna,” both in 2014, graced university rave circuits and paved the way for the next generation of Black British musical experiences. It’s this audience that helped welcome early appearances from Wizkid, Afro B, Burna Boy, Maleek Berry, Mr Eazi, and Tiwa Savage across the region.
“I love the people here. I love the energy they have here,” Asake says, grateful for his ballooning global audience. “The people understand the music, what’s going on. It’s good to see.”
Asake’s debut album, Mr. Money With the Vibe,set a record upon its release last September, becoming the highest charting Nigerian debut album of all-time, when it hit No. 66 on the Billboard 200. His single “Joha” has tens of millions of streams across platforms. The numbers prove that he’s one of Afrobeats’ rising stars, his etched innings becoming more entrenched by the day. The album’s effortless amalgamation of amapiano, fuji, hip-hop, jazz, and gospel exemplifies this generation’s proclivity for genre melding. Its instinctive infusion of burgeoning sounds—already popular on the continent—and mainstays demonstrate prowess and taste that transcends generations. Mr. Money With the Vibeis successful because it is equal parts heritage and contemporary vigor. Tracks like “Joha” and “Sunmomi” strut across sticky dance floors, announcing the world’s musical future, while “Ototo” relies on the legacies of Afrobeats, jazz, and classical sounds.
Despite being an emergent face in Western purviews, Asake has been a creator and artist for years, fervently working on his craft. His manager, Stephen Nana, has been working with Asake since February and he’s quick to point out his ability to work under any conditions. He’s seen him through both his signing to Olamide’s YBNL independent imprint—also home to trailblazer Fireboy DML—to his larger, international signing to EMPIRE, which was announced at the top of last summer. According to Nana, Asake’s “always been ready” for the success—he just needed the visibility and platforms.
“If there’s anything you can say about Asake, he’s a sucker for recording,” Nana says. “We’ve been in London for two weeks and he’s recorded three songs. That’s someone who has hit songs, someone who should chill.”
From EP to debut album in less than 12 months, Asake is an embodiment of the contemporary musical ecosystem, where a steady flow of content is the expectation. Both his EP Ololade Asake—the singer’s first release upon signing to YBNL—and Mr. Money With the Vibe show a determination to embody what he believes he was destined for. On “Trabaye,” the opening song on the EP, Asake proclaims that it’s “time to show the world” what he’s all about. The focus on his journey continues on “Nzaza,” from Mr. Money, where he pleads with God to allow him to home in on his grind.
During one of our early exchanges, Asake and I discover that we share a mutual love of herbal lemon and ginger tea. None of the alcoholic beverages included in his rider are acknowledged in the early morning; instead, Asake is feeling his exhaustion and need for rest after a trio of shows across the country. This morning he completed performances at Birmingham and then a weekend traveling between Manchester for two back-to-back London performances. “I’ve stressed my mind, I’ve stressed my body. I need rest,” he says. “I think I’ve enjoyed Brixton the most. Everything’s come together.”
Asake’s fixation on his last Brixton show isn’t just a fleeting thought. Over the course of the day, he’s in the room, but also on-stage—in his mind at least—styling himself. “Are they bagging the clothes up?” he asks at one point, his eyes drawn to a matching caramel Gucci set. Featuring oversized shorts and a vest, it’ll be the perfect addition to his wardrobe for that night.
“I don’t have a favorite brand,” he says. “Gucci, Givenchy, there are loads I love.” Outside of his love of flared trousers, leather gloves are Asake’s signature. Even as he shoots, he seeks out a set, asking everyone in earshot. Unable to source a pair that go with his outfits, sunglasses become his fixation. He cares about the details; he’s a walking mood board, embracing every environment and how he augments it.
Asake’s second, third, and fourth UK dates—held in Manchester Academy and O2 Academy Brixton—showcased a tweaked template following a heavily scrutinized inaugural performance in Birmingham. After apologizing (and alluding to promoter mishaps), Asake recruited the trusted Black British instrumentalists The Compozers to ensure a better show. The bass and keyboard-led band have built musical authority across the city aiding performers such as Davido, CKay, and Mr Eazi. Reviews instantly changed in tone.
According to Asake, it was always the plan to bring The Compozers to his show. “They understand what they are doing, they understand the story. So much energy onstage,” he says. Nana corroborates this. “When Asake came [to the UK], he said he wanted The Compozers; it was the promoters who said to give these new boys a try in Birmingham,” he says. Like his attention to detail on set, once the original show faced mishaps, Asake went back to the drawing board, trusting in his original blueprints for both set design and sound arrangements. “Asake felt something was off, and when it went wrong, he changed it for Manchester and London,” Nana says.
The fans came from north, west, south and east London (as well as surrounding areas like Kent and Essex), a largely West African congregation that arrived dressed meticulously—a ritual for Afrobeats concerts in London—with outfits infusing elements from streetstyle and high fashion, PrettyLittleThing paired with UK labels like The Archive.
The second of his trio of Brixton performances allowed his natural abilities to shine through in environments foreign to him and spark euphoria both on and off the stage. Basking in an array of street signs from his hometown of Lagos, Asake leapt around the design and at one point even removed his heeled boots to engage in some impromptu dance. Playing crowd favorites like “Organise” and “Joha,” he powered through his debut album with a showmanship that far exceeded his years in music. The roughly 90-minute set boasted dramatics born from his childhood passion for performance.
“I love acting,” he says, a bit wistfully. “People going to watch and clap for people they don’t even know, it comes from the heart. That’s why I studied theater.” Graduating from Obafemi Awolowo University, Asake’s theater and performing arts degree shaped the scripted parts of his visuals and tour. During the Brixton show, for instance, children in blazers took the stage to dance, and also to tease and ask questions of Asake.
The unwavering joy of the Sunday and Monday shows should have led to a triumphant conclusion of Asake’s time in London. Selling close to 15,000 tickets, his third and final performance on December 15 came to a halt minutes after it began. A crowd crush outside the O2 Academy ultimately resulted in the deaths of two individuals, Rebecca Ikumelo and Gaby Hutchinson. On Instagram, Asake shared his bewilderment and sympathy, writing, “I am overwhelmed with grief and could never have imagined anything like this happening.” He has gone forward with performances back on the continent; during subsequent shows in Lagos, he took a break from his set to acknowledge the tragedy with a moment of silence. This feels consistent with how I’ve come to understand Asake’s character. He’s patient, thoughtful, and resilient, and has his spirituality to draw on in the wake of such a terrible loss.
Affirmations, spirituality, and God are omnipresent in his music; his faith shapes his day-to-day worldview, too. That day on set, he was quick to remind the photographers and his team of God’s all-encompassing presence. “If that’s what God wanted, it’s what he wanted for me,” he said of one set of photographs, before moving on to the next scene.
“We started working in February and I thought at first he was just being grateful,” his manager told me. “But it’s December, and he wakes up every day praising God before even talking to me. That’s who he is.”
Nicolas-Tyrell Scott is a London-based music and culture journalist whose work has appeared in GQ, Pitchfork, Dazed, Apple Music, and others. As a speaker, he’s been featured on BBC, Channel 4, Wray and Nephew, and Soho House .
- Interview: Nicolas-Tyrell Scott
- Photography: Kenny Germé
- Styling: Edem Dossou
- Styling Assistant: Kevin Lanoy
- Photography Assistant: Jim Tobias
- Photography Assistant: Nicole Leblanc
- Digital Operator: Luke Bennet
- Grooming: Pål Berdahl
- Set Design: Thomas Conant
- Set Assistant: Nye Conant
- Location House: Rococo House
- Production: Town Productions
- Production Assistants: Jonathan Faulkner, Vanessa Grasse and Eugenia Redhouse Sotgia
- Date: January 18, 2023
Asake is meticulous. Nested in the suburbs of northwest London, in a mansion assembled from various historical eras and geographies-basements that appear lifted from grand Greek villas beneath Elizabethan-style living rooms-he’s working to direct his photo shoot, scene by scene, look by look.