Kel-P Helped Shape Afrobeats Biggest Hits – Now He’s Putting Himself First
Kel-P says it’s ‘bully season’, the time at which the Nigerian producer invites his musical peers to listen to his craft as a songwriter; his own hunger game that intends to “separate the boys from the men”.
Having joined the industry at just 17 the hype-stream took Kel-P towards victory as a producer. The Grammy award-winning, multi-platinum producer and songwriter is a hero to many – with accolades glittering across his role in shaping the current sound that is afrobeats. His instant stamp on any track – “its Kel-P vibes” – has become synonymous with transcendent hits from Burna Boy, WizKid and Fireboy DML… to name a few.
Along the way Kel-P has turned a small hustle to a million dollar skill, collecting four Grammy nominations and billions of streams on the journey. This next chapter of Kel-P’s book insists on a level of selfishness. Tapping back into his vocals and intimate songwriting the artist has begun his self-portrait – a love letter to ones-self and a reminder to anyone who cares.
I saw you tweet something along the lines of “it’s time to separate the men from the boys”; in this particular chapter of your life, what does that mean?
It’s bully season. I’m trying to make people know that I can do this thing. I’m not just a producer – still the same Kel-P – but this side of me is something that you guys haven’t seen. I’ve always wanted to do this but was waiting for the right time. So that caption was me saying, I’m basically letting you all know that I can do this thing.
Talk me through the “eureka!” moment that had you switch working for others to working for yourself.
Well, I’m not gonna say I’m not doing it for anybody else. I’m just gonna say there are a couple of people that I’ve got a very good relationship with. And like, it keeps going on and on. But it’s not just going to be the same amount of time I get to invest in your project anymore. Like before, I’d have been working on the entire album – no more because I’m also working on my own shit.
I’ve always wanted to do this. I’ve always wanted to be an artist, but how I found myself in this producer thing… it happened and I fell in love with the craft as a producer. And I kept going on with it. So I didn’t stop doing what I’ve always wanted to do. And I’m not saying “fuck it” to my primary career, which is me being a producer. That’s what I started with. Of course, you still get a little bit of that side of me. But this is where I’m at right now.
How old were you when you actually started music?
I think professionally, I started music in 2017… so I must have been 22 or 23.
When you first started, you must have been trying everything. When did you get moved into that producer lane, do you think?
So in 2017, I used to be in a group.. four guys singing together and all of that. It was called Dynamites. Yeah so on one good day – my school is not far from Sarz’s house… so as a producer, he taught me how to produce and all that. So we went to the studio for a session to record. I was having conversations with Sarz in the studio, and he was like: there’s four of you, why don’t one of you learn how to produce? Make some beats. I was like: “hell yeah, I’m down”. So that was how I started.
The whole of 2017 I was actually dealing with us learning how to make beats. That’s how this whole music production thing happened. It just happened like that. And when I started making beats, I started recording on top of it, because I’ve always been singing and I was making stuff for the Dynamite group. And I was making peanuts change from all of that! Now my friends, they don’t have to go to producers… they just support me. I just kept that going. And I fell in love with the craft as a producer. So that’s how the whole thing kicked off.
So, going into your songwriting bag, how do you craft a Kel-P vibes anthem?
I write the melodies. The top lines, and the melody. When I do the melodies, and there are no lyrics, I tend to listen to how I feel. The feelings… do I get sadness, love, or affection? So if I feel some certain type of way, I start writing according to how I feel inside me. It could be about life, it could be about the hustle. If I start writing about life, I think about random things that have happened to me in life.
And I also work with these two guys, both writers – one of them is South African, and one of them is Nigeria, and they are my very good friends. So when I do my melodies, I FaceTime them and listen to the songs and they’ll add in some bits.
It feels like you travel through a different spectrum of writers, from one end of Africa to the other…
Because I’ve worked with so many artists, I like the division of labour… you cannot do it alone. There’s a level of success. Do you want to climb? Get the people involved, get the teamwork. Even though I write for people, that doesn’t mean that, oh, I’m gonna sit down in the studio right now and produce my whole album, right? That’s why I didn’t produce no tracks on my album.
Just for the fact that because I’m a producer. After I record on the beat and all of that we move on to the next thing, which is additional production. I tell the producers what to do. I want you to change elements, and so forth.
There’s a track on my EP – the first track – which is called ‘Tropicana Baby’. lt was produced by my friend Krizbeats. And after he did everything he sent me an mp3 version to listen to. I’m like: it’s dope, but the arrangement is kind of off. Could you send me the stems? So when he sent me the files I sat down, arranged everything by myself. That’s because I’m a producer, but I did not produce the track. You could say I did additional producer, arrangement… stuff like that.
Feels like a slight power trip from you though, no?
I’m just trying to tap into different worlds. And not all my favourite producers touched it. These are just people I’ve always wanted to work with. My actual album – which is like 16 tracks – is all my favourite producers.
When can we expect this album?
The album is 2024. It’s two years’ worth of content – I’ve been working on this since 2019.
I’ve traveled to different places, to tap in and understand where I’m taking the project. I went to Nigeria, Ghana. London, LA and Portugal.
Wow! And were you recording all the time?
Yeah! When I was in LA I went to like these different outdoor parties, and I was just slamming the product and listening to what everyone was playing out there… and I told myself: OK, I think I’m on the right track.
Words: Thandie Sibanda