#PLTFRM: Cuppy

Debut album 'Original Copy' lands today ft. Wyclef Jean, Stonebwoy, Julian Marley, Ms Banks + many more...

No longer renascent and localised, Afrobeats is experiencing a worldwide takeover – the Pan-African movement perennially championed by one force of nature in particular.

Standing at the intersection between the Afrobeats/Afroswing movements popularized by artists from the West African diaspora in the UK and the cornucopia of regional sounds birthed on the African continent (kudoro and Rumba, to house and amapiano to name a few!), Cuppy – born Florence Ifeoluwa Otedola – has been distilling all that Africa has to offer as a DJ and tastemaker for much of her burgeoning career. Recently, she was named the new host of Apple Music's Africa Now show – broadcasting a continuum of homegrown talent to a world braced for sounds that have defined a generation.

Drawing on a treasure trove of experience, Cuppy’s stepping out on her own terms: ready to present the raw, unvarnished version of herself to the world in the form of ‘Original Copy’, her long-gestating debut LP. It’s a technicolour record, fusing celebratory avowals of black pride and identity with intricate production that spans the full spectrum of Afro-pop and house. Brimming and augmented by rising Nigerian talent, it centres Cuppy’s roots in Lagos, Nigeria, deftly succeeding in not diluting her legerdemain as the polymath at the helm of it all.

CLASH spoke to Cuppy on the eve of her new release as part of our newly launched digital #PLTFRM series. Our new In Conversation feature spotlighting global talent making waves on the scene.

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Your debut album ‘Original Copy’ is a statement of intent – a culmination of growth and time spent fine-tuning your craft. Can you detail the process of making this record? When did you start recording?

I’ve always wanted to put out an album but held back because I was a bit scared. I’ll say the process started years ago because my experiences in the industry helped in making smart decisions. I started working on ‘Original Copy’ intently in January and had to pause everything for a few months after to focus and prepare for my new radio show, Africa Now. There are songs on it I’ve had for over a year and there’s another that was added after I initially thought the album was done. The whole process of working on this project wasn’t the easiest; there were highs and lows but every minute spent working on it was worth it.

How does it feel to have your labour of love out there? It’s a landmark moment in an already storied career.

It feels surreal! I’ve dreamt about this for such a long time and I can’t believe that it’s finally happening. I’m beyond happy and to be honest, I’m quite nervous. It feels like sending your child to school for the first time. You’re proud of them and sure they’ll do well because you’ve equipped them with all they need, but you’re still worried and hoping they’re treated nicely.

You’ve been honest about your desire to be taken seriously as a credible musician after the release of your earlier singles. ‘Original Copy’ certainly puts you on the map as a producer, tieing all these elements and collaborators together. Was it a case of struggling with your perception by the mass music media or was it more of an internal struggle – a desire to prove to yourself you could mastermind a project like this?

For this project, I was solely focused on staying true to my authentic sound. Beyond trying to get people to take my craft seriously or proving the naysayers wrong, I wanted to put out a body of work that was originally me. For years, I’ve been lost in my sound; I finally found the courage to create melodies that resonate with me and found artists of like minds to work with. ‘Original Copy’ embodies my growth, my wins and all the obstacles I’ve overcome throughout my career. It is Cuppy unfiltered.

There’s an easy breezy, aspirational vibe to your single ‘Jollof On The Jet’, and actually much of the accompanying LP. It’s triumphant, affirming and feel-good. Why did you want this track to be the introduction to this new era?

To be honest, picking the first track to be released was a whole process on its own. My team and I had different opinions on which track should be the first single off the album. I chose ‘Jollof On The Jet’ because it’s a cheerful and upbeat song. At a time when there is so much uncertainty and people have been stuck at home, ‘Jollof On The Jet’ is intended to just breathe some new life. I wanted the introduction to my debut album to be happy and put a smile on listeners’ faces. I’m glad ‘Jollof On the Jet’ achieved that goal.

I can foresee ‘Original Copy’ making a dent on the charts in the UK. Songs like ‘Cold Heart Killer’ and ‘P.O.Y.’ (Piece Of You) have crossover potential. When you made these songs were you thinking of commercial success or was it a case of “I’m making music I love and that’s it”?

Definitely a mix of both. I started making music because it’s something I’m passionate about and have stuck through because it’s something I love. But just like everything else, there has to be a balance. To build the empire I want, my music has to be financially buoyant too. While I was recording ‘Cold Heart Killer’ and ‘P.O.Y.’, I definitely felt the UK vibe and know to promote those more in the UK.

Cuppy wears Mina Novski top, Fenty Denim suitearrings from TopShop & sunglasses from The Vintage Trap

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Tell me the inspo behind naming your debut LP ‘Original Copy’? Did you consider any others?

Picking a suitable name for my debut album was very crucial to me. I wanted a name that was unique; self-explanatory and fun but still embodied all the tracks on the album. ‘Original Copy’ is an oxymoron, a beautiful contradiction because that’s exactly what I am. A lot of people feel I’m being a bit of a rebel without a cause. I played around with a few names and finally left the decision in the hands of my fans, the Cupcakes. After a really long process and a social media poll, ‘Original Cuppy’ was picked but I decided to tweak it to ‘Original Copy’ so that people would also learn the correct pronunciation of my name (laughs).

Your album features these voice notes; little conversations and affirmations you’re exchanging with the listener. Why did you want to integrate these into the fabric of the record?

There was a time I was so worried about completing my album because some artists were yet to send their vocals and Efya, who I asked to be on a track because of her amazing voice, sent me a voice note to cheer me on. It’s one of the nicest things I’ve ever received, I felt rejuvenated. It felt so good receiving the most uplifting voice note at a time when I was struggling. I knew I had to put it on ‘Original Copy’.

‘Epe’ is my favourite from the record, a serene convergence of house with Afrobeats. It’s the first song on the album; we’re immediately introduced to the sounds of your birthplace.  What does this song mean in the context of the record?

I’m so happy you love the track! ‘Epe’ is one of the most important tracks on my album because it’s my hometown, it’s the way you enter the project. This track was inspired by a trip to my hometown where a lot of field recording took place. You can literally hear my Grandma, these animal sounds from my family farm and a voice note from Efya in the background. ‘Epe’ takes me back to my roots. Even though I’m making music for everyone globally, I still wanted to represent where I’m from. I hope everyone that listens to it, is reminded of their heritage and is proud enough to at least identify with it.

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Cuppy wears Mina Novski top, Fenty Denim & earrings from TopShop.

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Lyrically and thematically you dig deeper on this record – covering identity, black pride and love, all through a prism of openness. How was the experience of writing more soul-baring songs – a departure from the more “vivacious” Cuppy we know and love?

The African story is being told by non-Africans and there are so many false notions about us. It is very important that we tell our stories as Africans by ourselves and I am very passionate about the proper documentation of our history. This album shows the different sides of me; the fun as well as the serious side. I wanted my debut album to be a body of work to be rich and detailed hence why I delved into black pride, love, self-doubt and all the other issue individuals face daily.

‘Original Copy’ is very feature heavy – you have 13 collaborations! Tell me a bit about the process behind cherry-picking your collaborators? 

I’m so honoured to have worked with some of the most creative minds on this project! Unlike the norm with some DJs, I wanted to create music organically from scratch to finish and have my collaborators augment the sound not detract from it. I knew the direction and genre of songs I wanted, so I reached out to artists that complemented each song and was willing to work with me. I’m so grateful to all the artists that believed in ‘Original Copy’ and took out time to collaborate with me.

What I appreciate about ‘Original Copy’ is that you’re spotlighting nascent Nigerian talent. Lots of hometown glory going on, from Fireboy to Rema to Stonebwoy, ‘Original Copy’ is brimming with local talent. Why was it important that you didn’t dilute Nigerian representation on your album?

Nigeria is blessed with emergent talent ready to take the world by storm and I am committed to taking Afrobeats to the world and contributing my quota in spotlighting my fellow African creatives. My album would have been incomplete if there was no Naija flavour.

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Cuppy wears jacket from Krasimira Stoyneva, rings from Feather Pendant & earrings from TopShop.

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I wanted to delve into your show 'Africa Now' on Apple Music 1. It presents the “latest African sounds in their lush entirety, be it amapiano, Afrobeats, highlife, alté, house, hip-hop, Afrobongo, or kuduro etc”. Only the very best curator could front a show like this – one who forecasts trends before anyone else does. What’s it been like curating a show of this magnitude?

It’s phenomenal how Afrobeats is taking over the world. Music lovers from all over the world can now attest to the truth that the African sound is unique and are beginning to appreciate it. A revolution is happening and the spotlight is now on us.  It’s so beautiful to watch and even better to be an active part of it especially through my radio show, Africa Now. For 60 minutes every week, I bring the unique sounds & culture of Africa to the spotlight. My show brings the ‘Africa Now’ playlist to life, with a bit of Cuppy peppered in!

Curating, tastemaking and DJing in this oversaturated industry is challenging, especially in a streaming landscape run by big label monopoly. You have a treasure trove of experience as a multi-hyphenate DJ. What advice would you give to budding curators/DJs who are trying to stand out? What do they need to do?

I’ll say stay true to your craft; stay original and trust your guts. Things started working out for me when I simply decided to be ME and accept myself for who I really am. You are unique, so you don’t have to sound, look or act like someone else. Find your niche and be the best at it. Be the best original copy of YOU.

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Cuppy wears jacket from Krasimira StoynevaFenty Denim, top from ASOS & earrings from TopShop.

Cuppy wears Mina Novski top, Fenty Denim suitearrings from TopShop & sunglasses from The Vintage Trap

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Now that your record is out, what does the future hold for Cuppy? Will you be touring ‘Original Copy’ in a post-pandemic world? 

Yes, there’s definitely going to be an ‘Original Copy’ tour once we are in the clear of the pandemic! It’s been an eventful and inspiring journey for me so far and in the coming years, I hope to continually strive to be the best version of me; breaking norms and exploring my creativity. I’m always brainstorming new ideas and I’m positive I’ll be out with something really big soon! I look forward to working on bigger projects and expanding my repertoire with collaborations. I hope my journey inspires others to just go for it. I hope to see some more Original Cuppys in the future. 

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Stream Cuppy's hotly anticipated debut full length album 'Original Copy' here now.

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Writer: Shahzaib Hussain

Photography: Joel Smedley

Photography Assistant: Scott Coller

Styling: Felicia Brown

Styling Assistant: El-Shaddai Nyagodzi

MUA: Mahina Makeup

Hair: By Lotanna

Video: Clash Film

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