Interview: Bella Shmurda’s Rise to Fame Is What Dreams Are Made Of
Creating music that reflects authentic realities through raw narratives is carved in the DNA of the very best performers. Artists like Fela, Burna Boy, Sound Sultan, MI attained commercial success by representing Nigerians’ quotidian struggles in their lyrics. Following suit is Bella Shmurda who sings about his growth from the streets and experiencing newfound fame and wealth from that lens.”Everyday life inspires my music, what people face, what I see, the day-to-day activities that inspire me,” he mentions to OkayAfrica.
Bella Shmurda razzled the music scene in 2020 with his High Tension EP, putting his unique spin on the familiar street-hop bounce popularized by artists like Zlatan. He subsequently released a freestyle track “Vision 2020” with Olamide, it highlighted the government inefficiencies and young people’s plight of dreaming big and trying to make it out of a system set up to keep them oppressed.
Since then, Bella has been on an amazing run, releasing one of the biggest songs of 2020 “CashApp,” where he sang about the effect cyber criminals have on Nigerian pop culture. His hitmaker status catapulted him to features on the albums of afrobeats heavyweights Davido and Olamide.
Bella Shmurda began 2021 with a bang, releasing another hit “Rush” which spent several weeks at the top of Nigerian charts. “Rush” chronicles Bella’s current star status and how he focuses on his path amidst negative media representation. He was also nominated for the Next Rated Award at the Headies Awards (Nigeria’s apex music award show).
We spoke to Bella about growing up, the impact his mum had on his music, and his debut album Hyper-Tension. “I’m writing more, I’m thinking more, I’m facing more and this is making my music and lyrics evolve. You can’t expect the old me, I’m evolving,” he says.
Photo courtesy of the artist.
What was life like growing up?
It was a life worth living, it was of learning, it was a life of evolving. I’m thankful for those times, it wasn’t easy though but I understand why I went through that path. If you want to be great, you’ll face great problems. it’s all good, it’s all blessings. It’s a tough life but I’m happy I’m representing it.
What were your musical influences?
I grew up listening to Pasuma because my mum loves Fuji, so I listened to a lot of them before the hip-hop. Then I started listening to D’banj, Wizkid, Phyno, Olamide. My favorite is Olamide though. What I want to hear, Olamide always delivers and I respect that about him.
“If you want to be great, you’ll face great problems… It’s a tough life but I’m happy I’m representing it.”
Did you face any let downs when you started your music path?
The truth is music for me was just passion, was just love, I was not doing music to make it. I was in school, and at some point, I used to be a fashionista and I make clothes amongst other things. I really just loved music, I love it when I hear myself. The way I listened to Pasuma or Wizkid, I wanted to hear my music like that. Mostly I did the songs for myself, I never thought of making it. I enjoyed it and improved on myself.
When did you know it was time to take it seriously?
There was a point when my mum started listening to my music, she had it in her car and listened to it on her way to work or she’ll be in the kitchen singing my song. That made me feel that if my mum could vibe to my music, I should put more effort.
Photo courtesy of the artist.
You mention your mum a lot in your life and music, how big of an influence has she been on your career?
She’s an educationist and a disciplinarian. She’s a single mum and their lives are different. She had a great impact on my life and on my music.
What events inspired “Vision 2020”?
I actually recorded “Vision 2020” in 2018 but people don’t know this. I released the first version in December 20th, 2018. At that point in my life, I was kinda confused. I wasn’t unsure of what path to take, either the music or school or whatever. I was just praying for better days ahead, “Vision 2020.” I brought around all my situations, I was in school then so I brought everything together and just poured out my mind on the song. Poco posted the song and Baddo reached out to me and we did the remix and sorted things out with ID Cabasa and boom.
How was crafting your breakout project High-Tension?
High Tension is a mix of ‘desperation’ and ‘future efforts.’ Then I was desperate to make it, I want to buy things, do things. I was coming with fire, ‘I no dey look anybody face’ (‘I’m not going to allow others get to me’).
You worked on big albums like Olamide’s Carpe Diem and Davido’s A Better Time, two of the biggest last year? How did that feel?
It’s a really big deal for me. While growing up I never thought I’ll end up here working with these superstars. It’s a great privilege to work with them, Shout out to Davido, Baddo, Runtown for giving me an opportunity. It was the start of a new Bella, an evolution for me.
Tell us about the new evolution?
I learned a lot. Learned how to approach the public, control the crowd and I learned a lot about the game and music from them.
Photo courtesy of the artist.
Diving into “CashApp,” your break-out hit a lot of meanings to different people. Being the real voice behind it, what does the song mean to you?
Like I always say, my music is conscious. I’m always trying to awaken everyone around me about the things we’re all going through, the things that are wrong that shouldn’t be and how we’re meant to be in a better place. The system turned everyone into devils, into alligators and snakes. It’s really just something conscious, for those who understand music, who can look left and right. If you’re conscious about the state of things you’ll get “CashApp.”
“My music is conscious. I’m always trying to awaken everyone around me about the things we’re all going through, the things that are wrong that shouldn’t be and how we’re meant to be in a better place.”
Speaking about things going wrong, have you ever been a victim of police brutality?
Yes many times, before I became Bella Shmurda and after. Many times, both on the island and mainland. I sometimes have to get down and fight physically. I don’t like oppression. You can do any other thing but never try to cheat me. I’ve faced the police so many times and our government has to do something about it. The police system needs to be reformed, they need better pays, better barracks. You can’t expect the police team to feed their families and still stop crime on such terrible pay and lack of resources. They can’t protect anything. Garbage in, garbage out.
You’ve had a momentous rise in your sound as an artist, why do you think people across Africa have reacted so positively to your music?
They understand me, where I’m going to and where I’m coming from. It’s easier to connect when the vibe is free when the vibe is true when it’s what you’re feeling.They’re connecting to the music and that’s brought them closer.
Are you working on anything now?
I have loads of projects coming. ‘Hyper-Tension’ is coming. The
want to shake everyone!