BY KEMET HIGH
Afrobeats has been steadily infiltrating the U.S. airwaves for the past few years. In fact, you may have heard Afro B’s “Drogba (Joanna)” thumping out of someone’s car speakers this summer, bringing the uplifting vibe you need when the sun is out.
The term afrobeats has been used to describe a collective campaign of different musical styles stemming from Africa, not to get mixed up with Afrobeat, which is a West African music genre blending fuji and highlife music with American jazz and funk, pioneered by Fela Kuti. Afrobeats is a word that’s used to bring awareness to African-influenced music from collectives like the Flight Club, artists like Davido, Burna Boy, and Wizkid, and producers like P2J.
The sound of afrobeats has heavily influenced new albums like GoldLink’s Diasporaand Beyoncé’s The Gift, both released this summer. America is a bit late on the afrobeats wave, but now that the sound has started to crack the seal, it’s in high demand, giving producers like P2J time to shine.
Pro2Jay, also known as P2J, is a Nigerian, London-based producer who has been making afro-pop, afro-house, afro-rap, and afro-jazz since the beginning of his career. After shooting his shot and traveling to the United States with his manager seven years ago, he experienced an influx of artists reaching out in attempts to collaborate. Once P2J earned a placement on Chris Brown’s Heartbreak on a Full Moon, he become one of the go-to producers for artists looking to add the afrobeats flavor to their music.
P2J spoke with Complex about what we need to know about afrobeats, what it was like working with GoldLink and Beyoncé, and how the Flight Club have been breaking barriers and infiltrating American pop music.
How do you feel about the term afrobeats being widely used in America?
The term afrobeats is very fresh over in America. Over here, there’s a very, very wide range of sounds in Africa. There’s afro-house music, there’s afro-jazz, there’s Fuji, there’s afro-pop, and it’s all under the same umbrella. But there’s different genres of afrobeats music. When people say something might be afrobeats, over here we might not clock it as afrobeats because of all of the umbrellas we know, and all of the sounds under the umbrella. In America, they might use the term for a lot of different vibes, just because of the way it feels. It might not necessarily be afrobeats music but they consider it afrobeats music.
It’s incorrect to generalize it, but it is something people use to describe the sound. Is that something you would like to eventually see change?
I feel like it’s not a bad thing that they call it afrobeats music. I just think it depends on the song and the style of music that they call afrobeats music. I don’t think its a bad thing, because it just puts the genre on the map more. When certain sounds cross over to America, for example with “Joanna,” “If,” and “Fall,” those kinds of songs are like what everyone over here calls afrobeats. So when they call it afrobeats in America, it’s like they’re flying the flag. We’re proud and we’re happy to say, “Yeah, that’s afrobeats music.” It’s crossing over and people are taking to it.
Some people say that the afrobeats introduction came on Drake’s “One Dance.” Where do you think the introduction truly came?
I’ll say a piece of it was, because that’s a big afrobeat artist on there. Wizkid is a household name in Africa, so him alone being on there, I can understand why people think this is afrobeats or afro inspired. I can understand where that comes from. I’ll say that it definitely played a big part because of the vibe and the actual way it came about. I think it was produced by an afrobeats producer as well. “If,” “Fall,” and “Joanna,” those songs have crossed over. People are actually taking joy of it in a sense now. That’s a very strong representation of afrobeats music, of people over here, and of Africa. “One Dance” is definitely a part of it. The song itself might not be afrobeats, but I understand where the connection would be formed in people’s minds and the vibe.
You worked on Beyoncé’s The Gift and Goldlink’s Diaspora. Is it a goal of yours to bring afrobeats to a mainstream U.S. pop audience?
One hundred percent. That’s been my goal for years. I’ve always tried to infuse African music in anything I do. Whether it’s African music like afro and R&B, afro and house, afro and pop, or afro and rap. I’ve always tried to infuse it in any way. I saw that when I worked with GoldLink especially: He had the exact same vision that I did in terms of being the bridge and trying to cross that bridge of African music into the rap world, or the American market. That’s why the album is very eclectic. It was very specific and it’s always been my goal to bring African music into the mainstream in the states.
Is that something that was difficult to do?
I’ve worked with a lot of different artists. I started working with new artists from the beginning, and that’s where I really started to cross my style, with new artists. When my style started to get out there a bit more, some of the bigger artists heard the sound and wanted to get in on it. It was a steady process. It wasn’t necessarily that it was easy or that it was hard. It was a very organic process and each step was a meaningful step. Every step was correct. I took every step with every artist. I’ve worked with every artist I wanted to work with in the afrobeats scene. It’s all been a steady process. My sound has gradually grown each year, and I was put into a room with the right people at the right time.
Your manager Sam spoke with me about how difficult it is for black artists to get airplay in the U.K. Do you think that taints the sense of unity among black artists and producers?
I don’t think it’s ruining anything. I feel like the scene right now is growing and it’s definitely in a better place than it was five to ten years ago—or even two to three years ago. It’s steadily growing. There are a lot of artists on the charts now that you wouldn’t even think of three years ago that make you think, “Wow, how did they even get here?” Now they’re here and cemented into the scene. Now they’re selling out shows, they’re doing their own shows, and they’re doing festivals.
The scene is in a very good place, an even better place than it was about three to four years ago. Over here, I feel like everyone supports each other, because we know how hard it has been to get to this point now. No we’re here, so it’s like, “Let’s stick together and let’s support each other and get each other the money we’re supposed to be getting.” A lot of these people are really talented and they deserve the credit they’re getting. Over here, it’s definitely a supportive thing. Everyone supports each other, and that’s why I think the scene is growing. Before, I feel like we weren’t getting in the doors, and we weren’t getting a lot of airplay, but now they can’t stop it. Over here, everyone wants to hear it so they can’t really do anything about it. And rightfully so, that’s really good.
We see that as well, especially on The Gift. How did you get involved with The Gift?
It started off with one song, an idea that we had that we sent off. They heard it and loved it. It all started with that one idea, and that was the “Brown Skin Girl” idea. From there, we segued into other sounds and other ideas. I basically started creating vibes, and then literally started getting involved heavily. I worked with some of the artists as well, and that’s basically what started that. It started from one song, and from there it went into full-on work.
“Brown Skin Girl” is one of the tracks from The Gift that’s picking up the most steam. What was your creative process like for that beat?
Literally, I just started the groove from an idea in my head. In another five minutes, I laid down the chords. When the chords were done, I just heard the melody in the background with one of the writers in the room. We were just vibing and vibing, and I was like, “Yo, this could be special.” Then they put the lyrics to it. That whole session was very spiritual. It was a vibe that I haven’t felt in a long time. I knew when the song was done that it was going to be special. That’s one of the first songs in my career that I thought was going to be very special. I’m just happy that the world gets to hear it. It’s a big moment for Africa. It’s a very big moment.
Were there any other sessions that stood out to you during the making of The Gift?
Yeah, a lot of them did. The Burna session was very special. Every time we get in, it’s a very spiritual vibe. I’m a producer that works off of feelings in the room. When I make music, it’s very spiritual for me. As soon as I connect with something, I’ve connected the vibe. I knew that something special was going to happen. That’s how I feel every time I work with Burna. When we got that song, I knew that it was definitely something special. I laid down the beat, and he just found a quick melody and wrote it literally off the top, just going as the spirit took us basically, going with the vibe. Nothing was forced. Everything was off of good energy.