Afropop singer-songwriter Yemi Alade is no musical novice. With 6.5 million followers and upwards of 100 million YouTube views for a single video, Yemi’s made a name for herself in her native Nigeria and all throughout the continent of Africa.
Gaining prominence after winning the Peak Talent Show circa 2009, Yemi is best known for her hit single, "Johnny,” which garners over 103 million views on YouTube to date. In 2014, Yemi appeared on Nigerian rap star Yung6ix’s track "Lights,” as well as on a remix of "Sebiwo" by Beninese afropop star Lace.
In the same year, Yemi joined current afro-fusion boy wonder Burna Boy, among others, in singing the theme song for Port Harcourt, Nigeria, the UNESCO 2014 World Book Capital, as part of an education initiative aimed at keeping Nigerian youth in school.
She released her debut album, King of Queens, in the latter part of 2014, and then went on tour. After years of running the festival circuit throughout Africa and other international destinations, Yemi is gearing up for a potential “crossover” blitz in the U.S., with the official remix to her latest single, “Oh My Gosh,” featuring Miami rapper and hip-hop mogul Rick Ross.
A long time admirer of his work, Yemi conspired with all the universe and caught Rick Ross’ attention thanks to a relentless work ethic and a mutual point of contact.
“I’ve just been Rick Ross’ friend in my head for a long time [Laughs],” Yemi tells BET. “I just always really respected him and his artistry. And to be sincere, when we finally met, when he sent his verse, I was flipping all over the place.”
Upon meeting in person, Ross – a record executive and champion of entrepreneurship for as long as anyone can remember – saw in Yemi what he sees in anyone belonging to his Maybach Music Group: hustle.
“I learn by just watching him. So when he said the one word to describe [me] is motivation, I couldn’t understand,” Yemi recounts while filming content for spirits Belaire and Bumbu. “‘Til today I am still perplexed as to how is it that this man would see me and call me motivational.”
But perhaps what the Boss also saw in Yemi was the future and an unadulterated talent, whose musical influences are made up of everything from Whitney Houston and Destiny’s Child to the indigenous sounds of highlife and jùjú.
“Africa is used to a certain sound, and the West is used to a certain sound. If you’re going to introduce something new to them, most times you have to crawl before you jump,” Yemi says, offering her thoughts on genres like afrobeat gaining pop culture eminence only after a North American artist appropriates it. “My brand, for example, is way bigger in Africa than it is in the rest of the world.
"When you say the music gets bigger because of the influence of the Western artist, it just gets bigger on that side. Because the music is already big in Africa. There are a lot of records that are big in the Western world that would never cross over into Africa unless you have an African artist on it. It’s the same thing [with afrobeat in the U.S.]. We’re almost two different worlds musically. I just can’t import something that’s totally different from everything you heard without bringing something familiar.”
Familiarity, in the case of Yemi, comes by way of one this generation’s most respected MCs. On the heels of its worldwide debut, watch Yemi Alade and Rick Ross in “Oh My Gosh (Remix),” set in Atlanta and directed by longtime MMG collaborator Ryan Snyder.
(Photo by Emmanuel Oyeleke)