#Unboxed Vol. 13: Dreamer Isioma’s ‘Princess Forever’ Is A Redefinition Steeped In Triumph And Self-Discovery

The new album has the Chicago artist “tapping into” their more feminine side and is a crash course in doing whatever fulfills you.

The cosmopolitan upbringing of Dreamer Isioma, who has experienced life in the Midwest, West Coast, Europe, and Africa, is beautifully reflected in their diverse musical expressions.

Born in Chicago, this multifaceted artist seamlessly intertwines elements of afrobeat, R&B, hip-hop, and alternative rock into their music, maintaining an authenticity that is unmistakably theirs. Isioma, a second-generation Nigerian who spent a portion of their youth in Lagos, skillfully presents their newly-released album, Princess Forever. The album is a rich tapestry of Pan-African sounds reminiscent of Fela Kuti, but it also emanates Chief Keef's unfiltered, free-spirited ethos. It’s a truly unboxed musical experience.

However, the most remarkable aspect of this exceptionally versatile and extraordinary new work, which was released just last month, might be the personal transformation it represents. As of 2023, Dreamer has courageously undergone their biological transition, a process marked by profound emotional and psychological growth.

In a recent interview with BET, Dreamer Isioma shared insights into their journey, emphasizing how this project has allowed them to embrace their femininity, as the album title suggests. They also expressed a desire to fearlessly inspire others to express their true selves through their music. The 22-year-old artist further explored their unique upbringing across continents, the creative process behind their new LP, and the various elements that contributed to its creation.

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BET: You’re from Chicago and a second-generation Nigerian. Take me back to growing up there and the sort of background that helped shape who you are now…

Dreamer Isioma: So I actually didn't grow up in Chicago. I was born here, moved to the burbs, moved to Lagos, lived in London for a little bit, moved back to the burbs, moved to L.A. for school – almost got kicked out of that school – moved back to Chicago for school, dropped out of school in Chicago and now I'm here so like I have a lot of influences from everywhere. I've really seen a lot of s**t growing up whether it's from Chicago, whether it's from moving to the burbs and like dealing with that surrealism that is being Black in the suburbs. Then also living in Nigeria, in Londonz – what that was like.

It definitely influences my music a lot as well because like all of those cultures have their own type of music. In the burbs, a lot of like rock s**t like Midwest emo, and then it's like Chicago. We got the whole drill scene and all of that, you got the UK whole drill scene, but also like the soul aspect of it. Of course Lagos, Nigeria, like Afrobeats, Fela Kuti. I was raised on that.

BET: Speaking of Lagos, your parents are from there. How much does your cultural background and heritage mean to you and as an extension, your music?

Dreamer: I love Lagos because it is truly a lawless land, like you can do anything there – whether it's good or bad. So it really just instills I guess like my free spirit. I feel like my free spirit comes from Lagos.

BET: You learned music very young, playing violin and piano since you were 3 years old. How did you get introduced to that being so young?

Dreamer: I have an older brother and I wanted to be like him so bad. My parents forced him to do violin and piano. So they put me in violin piano and I just loved it. It just gave me something to do. I don't know. It's very stimulating, I guess. I just always loved it. I love the sounds even like in the womb my mom was playing music on her stomach. So, I don't know, it's always just been like a major like part of my life.

BET: You also grew up on many Christian rock, partially because of your religious upbringing. Considering the type of music you make now, that's quite interesting…

Dreamer: Yeah, it's so funny because now as an adult, you're not gonna catch me like bumping Hillsong or nothing, that’s just not in the rotation. But like, at the time, I loved it. I loved the chords, I love a positive message. I liked the beat breakdowns like, I don't know. When I was younger, that s**t slapped. And it made me love guitar. I always thought the band that plays in the beginning of church was so cool and they had everyone so turnt and stuff.

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BET: Stepping into you nowadays: Your single “Give Me A Chance,” really loved the video and song. It exemplifies your artistry well if people aren’t yet hip. Can you talk about putting that song and video together and what went into it?

Dreamer: Okay, so let's start with the song. This song is so old. This song is probably two years old. 2021. I was in L.A. with Saint Lewis, who's one of my best friends, we collaborate all the time out here in Chicago. We were in L.A. together, and our friend Baird who did a lot of production [for] BROCKHAMPTON and he’s like the coolest, sweetest guy. He invited us to his studio. So we pulled up and it was grimy. L.A. is scary as hell, very much crack energy, but the studio itself was beautiful. Anyways, we pull up and we were just like kicking it. [Saint Lewis] had a whole drum set and a bunch of cool synths and instruments. We were just twisting knobs and s**t, making sounds. And then I started playing the guitar part, and then [my homie] Berhana said, “Yeah, keep doing that s**t.” Then Baird hopped on the drums and started doing it.

At first it was all one normal song, but then I was like, What if we shift the key in the middle of it… And with that, I had to then sing the song a couple of pitches down and then shift my vocals and there was just like a whole lot of s**t going on in the song, but it came out, obviously beautifully.

BET: You mentioned BROCKHAMPTON. For “Touch Your Soul,” you collabed with Merlyn Wood for that song. How did that come together and what sort of the story behind that?

Dreamer: Oh my gosh, so I have been a fan of Merlyn forever – even before BROCKHAMPTON I loved him. So we followed each other on socials like a year or something ago. I just hit him up, like I just DMed his ass like I have never met him to this day. I'm hoping to meet him during my L.A. show. But I hit him up – he was in Ghana, I was in Lagos, and I was like, “Yo, West Africa, link up?” He was like, “Bet,” and [he] slid on the beat.

BET: These songs are off your new album Princess Forever, which is fantastic. You can hear the afrobeat influence, but you touch many genres. How did it come together and what do you hope people will get from listening to it?

Dreamer: I hope they feel the love. I put a lot of love into this project. It is a love album and it's all about that and that type of journey of falling in love. So yeah, I just hope they feel good. I hope they enjoy it, can vibe to it. You can Mosh to it, vibe to it, cook to it, clean to it. I just hope they like it.

I started conceptualizing it around the time of Goodnight Dreamer’s release, which is my first album. This is like post-transition, just had surgery, good with the pronouns, I feel good with myself, but now I need to redefine myself again. I feel like life is just a lot like finding myself, especially in my early 20s-type s**t. So I was just trying to get more tapped in with my femininity because I love my femme side. I love the girly side. I love pink. I love wearing makeup. I love looking good, getting my hair done, nails done, all that. So I wanted to tap more into it, which sparks the Princess Forever character because you don't have to be a girl to be fabulous. You don't have to be a girl to be a princess. I can still be raw as f**k, beat people’s ass, climb mountains and s**t in a pink space costume and no one's gonna tell me s**t. That was the energy, for sure.

BET: I love that dichotomy because you mentioned your transition, but it’s like, yet I’m still a bad b***h too, and I’m going to make whatever the f**k I want…

Dreamer: Yeah, I feel it's very empowering to be a transmasculine person who's also very comfortable with themselves and their identity to present in a feminine way and not be afraid of that. A lot of transphobes are like, “You're confusing me.” And my response to that is, F**k you, bro. I'm doing this for me. If you don't like it, go away. Maybe if you’re confused, catch up or read about it, bro. I just love being a bad b***h. That’s all I can say.

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BET: Something interesting to me is that you being from Chicago, the drill scene was pretty influential to you with Chief Keef, Lil Durk, Lil Reese, etc. How did that play a significant role?

Dreamer: Yeah, you will definitely catch me, like I’m small, petite individual but catch me blasting the most violent, abrasive music in my ears. I love that s**t. I love Chief Keef. I think he's a genius across the board – in music, fashion, art, everything – he's so raw. He really just paved the way [and] gave people, especially who grow up in rough areas – I will never claim that – but I know what that is like, and he really just paved the way and gave them a vessel to speak for them and even me in the burbs.

BET: What would you say are your biggest goals as an artist?

Dreamer: I like making the bag like I'm not doing too bad for myself, I won’t lie – gold record chillin’. But timeless music is also essential as well, especially for someone like me. I consider myself that Afro-futurist. I like to think about pushing things forward, pushing culture forward, changing the game for a lot of people – whether it's strictly sonically, musically, or literally the business-end of music. I want people to know that you can make whatever you want, but these entitled, old white people are trying to make you into something that you're not. I want to encourage artists who are coming up that they can do what they want to do on their own time and get their s**t on their own time.

Listen to Dreamer Isioma’s new album Princess Forever here.

For information about Dreamer's headlining U.S. tour, click here.

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