Fireboy DML Is Ready To Drop Gems From His Year of Growth

The Nigerian pop superstar retraces his musical journey with BET as he discusses his next studio album and his hopes for the future of African music.

Fireboy DML has never been one for big birthday celebrations. Unlike some general public who treat their yearly orbit like a party extravaganza, the YBNL Nation-signed Afrobeats singer usually opts for solitude. It’s likely a symptom of living a sheltered life in a small Nigerian town, where he bore his big brother responsibilities at a young age. This month, though, Fireboy’s 28th birthday was different. With so many exciting things happening at once —the 66th Annual Grammy Awards, his special day spent in Los Angeles, and newly-released music bubbling— he’s in a more festive mood. 

“[The label] threw a dinner for me. The whole Grammy experience was also a birthday gift, sort of, so it was nice,” Fireboy tells several days after his birthday and first-ever Grammys appearance. “It felt really great to see a lot of people that I've looked up to over the years. Lenny Kravitz, Jay-Z, Beyoncé. It was nice being in the same room as legends like that.”

Fireboy DML has a knack for sharing space with icons. Just three years after releasing his debut album, 2019’s “Laughter, Tears & Goosebumps,” the singer-songwriter —now one of the biggest names in Afrobeats— found himself on tracks with the likes of Ed Sheeran and 21 Savage (“Peru” remixes), Chris Brown and Shenseea (“Diana”), and, yes, Madonna (“Frozen Remix”), too. Those collaborations, he says, impacted his life beyond music.


“They’ve changed me in the sense that when I collaborated with those people, I didn't just make the songs with them and dip,” Fireboy explains. “I made sure that I built a relationship with these people, and I learned a few things from those I could learn from. People like Madonna and Ed Sheeran, apart from the fact that they are legendary artists, are also amazing people who have really remarkable traits about them that I have picked up over the years. They've really changed my view of what success is and what we should focus on as human beings. Collaborating with these people has been important for me, not just in my career but in my personal growth. I think I've taken all that experience and knowledge and [turned it into] character development.”

Born Adedamola Adefolahan, the first of three boys, Fireboy has always been observant of his surroundings. “That's how I learned to discover myself,” he notes of his upbringing as a “nerdy little kid” in Abeokuta, a sleepy city in southwestern Nigeria. “I learned to observe people, observe things. I had a lot of time on my hands to really watch and study people. All those stories that I grew up watching, those people that I grew up watching, culminated into the stories that I write about today.”

BET Awards 2022: Fireboy DML Lights Up The Stage With Performance Of 'Peru'

Growing up, Fireboy often kept to himself at home, busying himself with poem writing and penning love letters to his school crushes. One of his first brushes with music came from participating in a local church choir when he was young, though he says he only dabbled in it to appease his mother. The singer gives much more credit to those he came up listening to. “It was a really short spell in the choir. It wasn't that deep,” Fireboy shares. “I picked up most of my knowledge about music from listening to a lot of people growing up. I listened to a lot of Elton John, James Blunt, Celine Dion, and also our Nigerian legends, like Wande Coal, Whiskey, 2Face [Idibia], people like that. All that stuff shifted me into the musician I am today.”

When he went to university, Fireboy’s time away from home also changed him a lot. “I learned to sustain myself and make decisions by myself. That was when I really learned to live as a man,” he remembers of his late teenage years. However, his eventual journey to Lagos, where he went off to pursue his dreams of being a musician, is when Fireboy’s artistic transformation truly began. “​​That was the real running away that I did,” he says. “I told my dad, ‘I'm not doing this school stuff anymore. I need to get the f**k out of here.’ And so I left school and went to Lagos on my own. It was just me. I had help from people who really believed in me, and I'm grateful for them for life. It was a tough couple of years, but I finally found my big break, and we're here now.”


Here, where Fireboy has reached the upper echelons of global success, being mentioned in the same breath as Nigerian artists like Burna Boy, Tems, and Wizkid, took a while to arrive. According to Fireboy, his first break in the music industry “came pretty late” and wasn’t without its ups and downs. “I met people who exploited me, who helped me, who took advantage of me,” he shares, “but instead of putting myself out there in harm's way, trying to seek help, I learned to sit down, focus on making music, discovering my sound, and building something special; something that will attract the right people into my life, rather than going out there seeking favors, looking for free gigs, or someone to sign me.”

Morning, noon, and night, Fireboy spent his early days in the industry locked away in studios back home, “building myself into an all-rounder,” he says. The certified star learned how to mix, produce, and record himself, eventually reaching his goal of becoming a “complete musician.” Soon enough, his music made its way onto DSPs and finally caught the ear of someone who’d change his life completely: fellow Nigerian artist and YBNL Nation founder Olamide.

“Immediately, he picked me up,” Fireboy recalls of being signed in 2018. “I think he really saw something in me that I didn't see in myself. Maybe he saw that I had put in so much work and I was on my way to becoming a complete package. He saw that and recognized the potential in me, signed me up, and we started working.”

Fireboy has become a leader in the Nigerian pop scene in the last few years. At one point, he even coined a term to wholly describe his unique style: “Afro-Life,” his flip on the jazz, funk, highlife, and West African musical styles that Afrobeats is known for. “I was really focused on making music, but I needed to find an identity for my sound,” the singer says of his career beginnings, “because I knew from time that my sound was different. I knew that I was bringing something new to the table. The Afrobeats scene before I came in, it has always been beautiful. It was built on vibes and energy and percussion and instruments and everything. But I realized that there was something lacking, and that was pure soul and lyricism in our music. That was what I brought into the game. And I figured if you're bringing something new to the table, it needs a name. That's why I call it Afro-Life — it’s Afrobeats that has some depth to it.”

These days, as he ushers in his next phase, Fireboy is lightening up on the labels. It’s hard to box in what he’s accomplished as a creative force in music, fusing genres like pop, R&B, reggae, and dancehall to birth his hybrid sound; he says he may tackle jazz next alongside Jon Batiste. For now, though, Fireboy wants to be known as “an African artist who makes Afrobeats.” “There's no limit right now,” he says. “Afrobeats is really about just doing any genre of music and putting your essence, your African, Nigerian essence, into it. That's what Afrobeats and African music mean to me.” 

Afrobeats will always be at the core of Fireboy’s music, that he makes clear as he teases his next album, which he’s currently finishing and planning to tour. In December, the singer released a two-pack of feel-good singles, “Outside” and “Obaa Sima,” though he says they’re not part of his new LP rollout. “It was on a whim,” he says, dropping the new tracks. “If I'm being completely honest, I was in a different head space at the time. It was a time when most of my peers were really outside performing and attending parties and going to clubs. December is always a time for us Nigerians to celebrate, especially us who live in Lagos. We love to go out and have fun and party all month. The environment and atmosphere were just brimming with celebration and happiness, and it made me want to release music that evokes that same feeling.”

Sure enough, Fireboy assures that his upcoming fourth studio album will maintain that vibe, describing it as “fun, exciting, entertaining,” and all about “celebrating love.” It’ll also feature some “amazing, unlikely collaborations,” as Fireboy says, “I'm really expanding my reach” this time. Most of all, though, the album will peel another layer as the singer reveals the “new perspective” he’s gained following another lesson-filled year. 

“It is a culmination of what I've learned in the past couple of years,” he says of the forthcoming album. “I mean, the past year, mostly because 2023 was a year of learning for me. I’m learning that success is not always glamorous. Success is not always the glitz and the glamour that we all see. Sometimes success can be personal. Success can be relative to you, who you are, and the things that matter to you. There are a few songs on the album that really talk about focusing on the things that matter —family, personal health, peace of mind, my relationship with God, sharing love with the people that really matter to you. The album is almost like a perfect balance of the three that I've released so far, and that makes me really excited to share it with the world.”

While unleashing new music is Fireboy’s next anticipated feat, his attention is also on what’s ahead for his genre’s future. He’s already plotting to work with big names like Burna Boy, Post Malone, Travis Scott, and Don Toliver to take it to the next level. However, he has even bigger dreams for his homeland. “I'm looking forward to what this year and [future] years beyond hold for African music,” he says. “Really exciting times. It's almost like with every passing month and day, Afrobeats and African music seem to be attaining new heights. I'm excited [about] what the future holds. We've had a few interesting breakout stars over the past few years in the Nigerian music scene, so I'm excited for who's next.”

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