Omah Lay ‘Boy Alone’ album interview

With all eyes and ears on the global meteoric rise of Afrobeats, many are tuning in to the work of burgeoning vanguard Omah Lay. The Nigerian artist recently followed up his 2020 EP What have we done with his official debut album Boy alone, which saw his introspective storytelling, mesmerizing vocals and infectious rhythms come to life even more.

The Afrobeats phenom, who hails from Port Harcourt, already had music coursing through his veins after watching his grandfather play percussion for revered highlife artiste Celestine Ukwu. Then dabbled in rap and hip-hop before setting his feet firmly in what he claims he knows best: Afrobeats. With his own touch on the undertones of R&B, reggae, trap and West African musical influences, the 25-year-old star is steadily becoming a household name for more Afrofusion and Afropop fans as well.

With Boy alone Acting as a new feat for his growing repertoire, Lay stays true to his own history and experiences with the help of Justin Bieber on the hit song “attention” and Tay Iwar on “tell everybody”. Collaborations are intentionally minimal to convey Lay’s most authentic self, with songs like “i’m a mess” and “purple song” serving as unfiltered and vocal approaches to his vulnerability.

As Lay prepares for an upcoming world tour spanning places like the US, Canada and parts of Europe, HYPEBEAST had the opportunity to discuss his latest record, his creative journey thus far, and his biggest takeaways from it.

HYPEBEAST: First of all, congratulations on the official drop Boy alone. How do you feel about this release so far?

Thank you very much. I’m excited because my fans love the album and the reviews have been so heartwarming. There is nothing more I want than that.

You’ve had previous releases that have pushed you to the forefront, but since this is your official debut album, was there a specific story you were working on for this moment?

This album is a series of my own experiences. It has been two years since my last project and Boy alone watching me capture every moment of my life since then. It’s like a photograph, but in words and melodies. You will hear everything from my highs to my lows, but ultimately the project is part of me and my truth.

Lots of songs on Boy alone come from the heart. What was the most challenging part of making the album?

I hit serious writer’s block every now and then. It felt like I was stuck with one thing and it got to the point where nothing started to make sense to me. I also had trouble writing the “bow down” track because I wanted to be very deliberate with it. But those setbacks were all part of the process, and I’m very grateful that the album came out the way it did.

There are many references to Port Harcourt throughout the album. Can you tell us a bit about your upbringing and how music became a big influence on you?

I grew up in Marine Base, Port Harcourt but I live in Lagos now. Port Harcourt is different from the rest of Nigeria in the way we talk, eat – everything. It’s really different. All this definitely influenced my music so much because growing up in Port Harcourt was very tough, but that experience made me who I am today. I will never forget it or stop rendering my city.

Was Afrobeats something you always wanted to pursue?

Yes, Afrobeats has always been my thing, but I first got into hip-hop as a rapper. Then I started trying music production. But the fact is that I am a Nigerian, I am an African. I felt it was best to give what I actually own and can give better when it is actually mine. Afrobeats is in my blood.

With such exponential growth, how do you feel about Afrobeats’ presence in today’s music culture?

African music is the root. It’s taking the world a while to realize this, but I’m glad people are getting over it now at this point. I’m really excited to see what Afrobeats becomes and what it turns out to be. I feel like in the next couple of years it’s going to be super, super massive. And it is this kind of movement that I want to show the world.

What’s the local scene like?

In Nigeria, it is what everyone listens to. It’s what everyone dances, cries and laughs to. That’s the shit. I am very grateful to be here and it is a great blessing to be among the people who are doing it right now.

Are there any local artists you feel deserve more recognition?

A whole lot of them. My boy Bella Shmurda deserves so much. He deserves more than he is already getting. Others like Oxlade, BNXN fka Buju and Victony are super good and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for them.

Who do you look up to the most? Any artists, dead or alive, you are inspired by?

An artist I listen to everyday is Celestine Ukwu. In fact, I listened to an album of his from 1975 for about an hour the other day. It’s old Nigerian music, it’s highlife. He’s the person my grandfather used to play percussion for. If there was one person I could ever make a song with, especially a local artist, it’s him.

Put critics, reviews, social media and all external influences aside, what keeps you grounded?

I think I found my light and I realized that I have always had a clear picture of who I want to be. For a while it became unclear, but I learned to hold on to it. Everything that happens to me feels like it’s on the page because I’m focused on who I am and who I want to be. What do they call it? Tunnel vision. There is also the saying “trust the process”, which is something I live by.

Sticking to the bigger picture like you said, what is in store for Omah Lay fans?

I have my US tour soon, as well as a deluxe version of Boy alone. Like I said before, the album is another part of me and it’s so good, but the next one is going to be super crazy. Trust me. There is more of Omah Lay, there is more of my stories and of many others. Tunnel vision, bigger picture, keep the light on. That’s all I can do.

What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned on tour?

Hmm, a big lesson was not to fall in love all the time! *laughs* I used to fall in love with every city I went to. It was a good time until it wasn’t for my mental health. They say catching flights don’t feel, and I think that’s what I’ll be doing from now on. Tunnel vision, you know? *laughs*

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