Global Music Month: Meet Ogi, R&B’s Latest, Stunning Singing Sensation

The Wisconsin-bred, Los Angeles-based vocalist is enchanting and sets a high bar musically and lyrically.

The first time you press play on “Envy,” the opening introduction from the Nigerian-American singer-songwriter Ogi’s debut EP Monologues, you’re whisked into the enchanting world of a vocalist who is impressively assured of herself.

This writer’s initial reaction was in awe. Her honeydew melodies and revealing lyrics helped her stand apart from the cookie-cutter offerings from artists that become trending memes on social media. I would repeat that song and “I Got It” for the next two days while delving into the Wisconsin-born, Los Angeles-bred talent’s backstory. 

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Growing up, Ogi was a full-blown audiophile. She played viola and was involved in the jazz choir in high school while her parents played Nina Simone, T-Pain, and Marvin Gaye around the house. Imbued with a passionately deep fire and perfect pitch, Ogi went from performing in groups to composing solo demos in GarageBand.

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As the story continues, she’d catch the attention of two Grammy Award winners — PJ Morton and No I.D. — the former sharing her take on “Alright” via his own page and the latter noticing with his imagination turned up to 1,000. Fast forward to now, and the Artium signed wunderkind has cultivated her own style of confessional truth that connects to music lovers of any age.

To continue our Global Music Month celebration, spoke with the rising eclectic about transitioning away from school for the studio, how Nigerian riddims influence her sonic expression, and why “I Got It” felt like a fluke. “Envy” was a fantastic introduction for listeners to learn how vulnerable yet cool your style is. What was your process in finding your voice amidst what expectations others may have for you? Also, how was that initial moment for you in learning that legends like James Poyser, Dammo Farmer, and Steve Wyreman were feeling your breakout single?

Ogi: I thought about how far the demo had come. The thing about this project is that most of the songs were made when I didn’t think I would even be a musician. [During Monologue] I was mostly in my room making acapella demos for absolutely no one. So, seeing these songs expand to what it is now [and] seeing how all of these incredible musicians transformed “Envy” while keeping the integrity of the demo intact was amazing. In this writer’s opinion, you and your music represent a rising collection of African singer-songwriters who didn’t let school interfere with their dreams. After graduating from Northwestern, what was the tipping point for you that led you away from academia and towards a music career?

Ogi: For me, the tipping point happened when I was still in college. I created that singing Instagram page the summer before my senior year [at Northwestern], thinking that it would be a little creative outlet for myself once I was in law school. It wasn’t until I linked up with No I.D. that I realized that I could actually make this into a career. What’s happening now is that there is a beautiful bridge being rebuilt between African and Black American artists. As a child of Nigerian parents who shared the wonderful riddims of highlife, hymns, and other West African music, how would you say those flavors influenced your style? How would you describe your sound to someone hearing you perform for the first time?

Ogi: Hearing my mother sing hymns was my first introduction to any harmonies, which is a huge part of my music. African music also influenced my rhythmic cadences. I’ll sometimes mimic drum patterns from songs I’ve heard when I was younger. For example, the last verse of “Bitter,” where I say, “Stay away, f**kboy be gone like right away,” is considered R&B, yes, but also laced with soul, highlife, hip hop, and jazz. “Bitter,” another groove that finds you flossing your style effortlessly, is a Joelle Grace Taylor-directed visual that features your vocal dexterity and songwriting prowess. Who were some early influences that may have inspired how this song came about?

Ogi: I feel like my answer changes every time I answer this. It’s a mixture of hi-life and R&B-slash-melodic rap from the late 2000s and early 2010s. My sister and I would watch BET’s 106 & Park all the time, so a song like “Bitter” definitely takes its cues from people like T-Pain, OutKast, and a few others.

Singer Ogi performs at the SiriusXM Studios on June 16, 2022, in New York City. You mentioned in a previous interview that “I Got It,” another song I had on heavy repeat, was a statement about the “power of trusting yourself.” What growing pains did you work out through your songwriting that helped you actualize this truth?

Ogi: The biggest thing I had to overcome was imposter syndrome. Things have been moving fast for me, and I’ve had a few moments where I’ve said, ‘I don’t belong here.’ It was topped off by the fact that I wrote “I Got It” kind of jokingly. It felt like a fluke, but it wasn’t until I began to perform it and sing it live that I started to believe in the words I wrote. It eventually became kind of a mantra for me. You had a breakout performance at Pharrell’s ‘Something in the Water Festival,’ as it was much-talked about during and after the event. What did that moment mean to you? And who would are you keeping in mind for collaboration in the future, Ogi?

Ogi: It is incredibly important because that was the first time people would be coming out specifically to see me. I haven’t performed a solo show before, so I was excited to see who’s all been listening to the music and thank them while onstage. [Laughs] I’ll speak to as many people as I can. The names featured on the lineup were people I’ve respected for a long time. Obviously, [working with] Pharrell would be incredible, but [getting in the studio with] Tyler, the Creator, EarthGang, Ashanti, Thundercat, and a few others would be crazy, too. Your collaboration with No I.D. has been fruitful. He has worked with some of the best in the business, now including yourself. What has been some helpful advice that he’s shared with you that informs where you want to take your sound and career? What advice would you share with others looking at your journey as fuel to go after their passions?

Ogi: No I.D.’s the mentor, you know, so he’s shared a lot of wisdom. I think that what he and Terrace Martin said resonates with me the most: to think of music as a service and a form of creative expression. That [advice] has helped me the most when performing. I would think and know that it is not about me; it’s about the exchange between the crowd and me and about bringing joy and having fun.

My advice to others who want to go after their own dreams is to make sure you have the right people around you to help push them forward. God has blessed many of us with musical talent, but having a team can make a world of a difference. With July being Global Music Month — what have been some memorable experiences for you while on tour for the first time that you’d love to enjoy again when you headline your own experience? What does being a global-influenced musician mean to you?

Ogi: I want to continue catching the wonder of it all. I never thought I would be doing something like this, so I’m constantly surprised to see where I am. I really want to keep that [same] energy [and] stay in the moment.

[To me] Black music is hegemonic. Every musically significant moment in this country is tethered to a Black person singing, performing, or touching an instrument — that’s just a fact. In the U.S. and abroad, the music’s influence is deeper than we can imagine, so [I believe] that Black music is music at its highest caliber.

Kevin L. Clark is a screenwriter and entertainment director for BET Digital, who covers the intersection of music, film, pop culture, and social justice. Follow him on @IAmKevitoClark.

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