ALBUM: BOJ – “Gbagada Express”

Written and recorded during the most restricted periods of 2020’s lockdown, BOJ’s third solo album sees the DRB Lasgidi alum and alté pioneer at his most collaborative yet most introspective. “I grew up in a place called Gbagada, Lagos. During lockdown, I was just there, and I soaked in the whole environment,” BOJ (real name: Bolaji Ojudokan) tells Apple Music. The album (which shares its name with the area’s main highway) serves not only as a dispatch from his hometown, but also a vehicle for a deeper connection to it—a complicated idea for an artist born in London and raised in Lagos, and who’s spent much of his adult life moving between the two. “‘Home’, for me, is where you feel the most comfortable, where you feel most yourself,” BOJ explains. “In lockdown, I really tapped into myself and found a new way to express myself.”

Assisted by a similarly multi-faceted group of collaborators he brought together during a lockdown songwriting camp, BOJ’s journey of greater self-expression mimics what he sees as the evolution of the alté scene — the term he and fellow DRB alum and longtime collaborator Teezee coined in their 2014 track, Paper, describing a sound and a lifestyle that can’t be pinpointed. “I feel like a lot of people have started to really understand the concept of alté,” BOJ explains. “For us, it means freedom to express. There shouldn’t be boundaries when you’re expressing. You should be able to go all out.” Here, BOJ talks us through key tracks from Gbagada Express.

Owo Ni Koko [BOJ, Fireboy DML]
“When I moved back to Lagos, one of the first things that I learned is that you need money to make anything happen here. And if you don’t have it, you just need to shut up and keep grinding ’til you get it. So, ‘Owo Ni Koko’ means ‘money is the koko’—money’s the real deal. I talk about how I’ve been grinding for a minute, how we need to put our moms in a drop-top. We need to make it. And if, if for any reason, I don’t make it, God forbid, then it would be my fault because the world is my oyster.”

Tinu Ewe
“It’s actually a funny song. It’s basically me telling people about how I was in the past, as opposed to how I am now. Back in the day, I used to be about getting very drunk, just going out, partying all the time. Things weren’t going so good for me, so I drank and smoked and everything for escape. But now, I have my head screwed on. Yet there’s still challenges—with people acting differently, for instance—jealousy, envy, all those kinds of things. And I find that I still need escapism. I still need to drink. I still need to smoke. So, basically, that’s what I’m saying in that song.”

Awolowo [BOJ, Wizkid, Darkovibes]
“I dropped this song in 2019 originally, and it had a good run. Fast-forward, we’re in 2020, and one day in the middle of the lockdown, I think, I get a call from DarkoVibes saying, ‘Wizkid wants to jump on this song. I’m at his place right now.’ So, I sent it to him—I wasn’t even sure if he was really going to do it—and then maybe, like, two to three days later, I check my phone and see, ‘Wizkid mentioned you on your story.’ I click on it and then I just start hearing the song playing; then I hear his intro and I’m like, ‘He actually did this s**t!’ And the rest is history. It gives it a new life for sure.”

Get Out the Way [BOJ, Kofi Jamar, Joey B]
“I’ve been going to Ghana since I was young, so I always do Ghanian collaborations. A lot of people have said they want to hear me on a drill beat. So, I just went for it. I sent Kofi Jamar the record, but Joey B and I were really close. So, for Joey B’s verse, I actually went to his studio and woke him up from sleep to get him to record his verse. And then we shot the video the next day. It was fun to explore that scene with my UK background, and how those influences all come together.“

Culture [BOJ, ENNY]
“After the whole Dave collaboration [on the British rapper’s 2021 track ‘Lazarus’], a lot of people were wanting to do things and I’m just like, ‘We’re working on this album right now, and we’ve got this buzz, and I’m from London. I consider London home. So, why not just do a collaboration with someone I like who I’m feeling right now from London? I reached out to ENNY, who is an amazing artist. We went into the studio, like, five times, just working on different things.”

Unconsciously [BOJ, Victony]
“This is a song that has actually brought tears to my eyes because of the whole situation around the song. My videographer had been telling me about this young artist, Victony. And [at the time] nobody really knew this guy. We had to bring him to the [songwriting] camp. Victony pulled up with his boys, and I was just mind-blown by this guy, by his whole aura and everything. Just a superstar. My manager runs one of the biggest events in Nigeria, and he collaborated with Victony on a project, and that kind of gave him a platform. And from there, things just started happening for him. And then he was involved in a very serious car accident. So, it was just like, yo, man—this guy was almost not here anymore. It was so close. And that’s how you know that this guy is destined for greatness.”

Money & Laughter [BOJ, Zamir] (feat. Amaarae)
“I sent it to Zamir, and then I sent it to Amaarae. Amaarae comes back with, like, 32 bars—and the 32 bars are insane. So, I’m now in a situation because it’s so good, but I’ve only done, like, eight bars at the beginning of the song. So, I need to come in again. But then, [after] listening and listening and listening, I’m just like, ‘Yo, I like this s**t the way it is, man. And that’s another thing about just being alté: I don’t care if it’s not the normal way, or it’s not the normal structure. I enjoy listening to it. It sounds like this; that’s how it’s going to be. So, I just left it like that.”

Action Boyz [BOJ, Obongjayar]
“Obongjayar is one of my favourite artists. Someone told me that Obongjayar was shooting a video in Lagos, and he wanted to meet me. I’m like, ‘Are you serious?’ So, we hung out for a bit. And then we set a day for studio. I just sat back there, and I was just like—mind blown. This one is about, basically, action boys. We’re not just talking anymore. We’re all about action. I’m talking about how I’m staying true to myself, to my sound. I’m talking about how I went through the storm, and I came out of it. I’m talking about how, when we moved back to Nigeria and we were getting told that we couldn’t do what we were doing, that it wasn’t going to work here. And I’m like, ‘Nah, man, I can’t be stopped.’ I usually don’t talk about things like that in my music, and this was a part of me I was able to tap into during the lockdown.”

Gbagada Express
“This one is basically talking about when I went to England in 2019, when a couple of major labels were trying to sign me. And I was just really feeling like these people were looking at me as less than them. [I decided] I’m not just going to sell [my] soul like that. So, in this song, I’m saying how I’m not less than you ’cause the colour of my skin. I’m saying how, before I make a deal with the Devil, money must start falling from the sky, basically. That, until that happens—until God sends me money dropping like rain—I will be making no deal. It’ll always be on my terms. And saying that I can’t say all the things in my head, ’cause the world can’t contain what I have in my head, basically. But here’s a hint.”

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