On a tiring trip to South Africa, Nigerian star, Ycee, catches up with Helen Herimbi

Ycee is a trooper. The only sleep this Nigerian rapper has had since arriving in Joburg is during the drive to this interview. He attempts to smile through his yawn and he tells me he’s fine. His mojito is placed on the table and he scoffs at my green juice – he’s not losing sleep over getting some nutrients into his tired body.

The reason for his staying up all night? He’s been in studio with the hyper energetic hitmaker, Gemini Major.

“Me and him had been exchanging emails a lot,” Ycee starts. “We actually hadn’t met prior to this trip. So as soon as I got here, I called him and we linked up over the weekend at Cassper’s (Nyovest) house and made a song there. Then, last night, we linked up and did another joint, which everyone is feeling really good about. It’s good to see someone like Gemini who makes trap, afro trap and pretty much every sound that’s important right now. As soon as he played me last night’s song, I was amazed. We’re already talking about shooting a video.”

Ycee, who was born Oludemilade Alejo, is no stranger to gaudy music videos. His 2015 hit, Condo (featuring Patoranking) is the stuff of teenage boys’ dreams. To be fair, he was a 22 year old who was trying to get out of his marine biology studies at the time.

“After we recorded Condo, everyone just felt like the song needed to come out immediately,” Ycee recalls. “We put it out, shot the video and I remember that the song dropped on the weekend, and on the Monday I had an exam. When I got to school, people were pointing at me and whispering : ‘Oh, that’s the guy who featured Patoranking!’ And by the time my next single, Jagaban, came out, I could not go to school anymore.”

Since then, Ycee has had a few more hits. Juice, featuring Maleek Berry, is one of the songs that has given Ycee a name in Mzansi. It’s been hailed as a song that is reviving afrobeats. But Ycee has a different view.

“You know when I made Juice, I wasn’t thinking about making an afrobeats record,” he explains. “The beat is definitely afrobeats but I tackled it like an r&b record. I rap and I sing, so when I want to make music, when I am presented with a rap beat, I infuse some melodies.”

“We recorded three different songs before we got to Juice,” he continues. “We had that beat for two years before it came out. So we had taken the studio equipment to record at a hotel and someone said something and I just thought of that ‘I don’t wanna wait for nobody’ lyric. It sounded like a good song that could be better, so I sent it to Maleek and he had recorded his parts in a matter of days. I remember my guys would tell me about other songs that say ‘juice’, then I’d have to listen and make sure it doesn’t mean we have to change anything.”

He has also been promoting Say Bye Bye – an instruction to his love interest to tell her man that Ycee said to tell him bye.

“I think the message just came from a hashtag that was trending a year or two ago,” Ycee recalls. “It was called #SeizeTheBae and it was a situation where people were saying your girlfriend is not the love of your life and your boyfriend is not your husband. So the idea behind Say Bye Bye is me saying: ‘I respect your relationship but do you really think that this guy is The One?’”

The video for Say Bye Bye sees Ycee windup in a threesome with two women who both thought they were stealthily cheating. Ycee received a lot of online heat with some people saying he arrogantly believes he’s so irresistible that he uses the male gaze to turn women bisexual.

“My response to that,” he pauses to take a sip of his drink. “If they did not want to do it, then they would not do it. With Say Bye Bye, that situation is very possible – it’s a circle of attraction. I’m honest. That’s something that would happen in my life.”

Ycee’s life is spent on the road and around the continent. It shows in his features. The Omo Alhaji remix is a catchy song that features our very own Maphorisa.

“Initially, Maphorisa was just supposed to remix the beat and give it his own sound,” Ycee explains. “When we arrived, he was already finished with it and we started listening to some other songs. I think I recorded about three that night and then I guess Maphorisa was really feeling the song, so he jumped onto the mic. I was very new to the gqom sound but I liked it and by the time we shot the video, I loved it.”

Late Night Vibrations – a collab EP with Tinny Entertainment labelmate, Bella – is Ycee’s latest release. As the name suggests, there is a sensuality to the music. But Ycee is not getting pinned down. I point out that he’s wearing a gilded ring on one hand and a diamond ring on the other.

“My ring fingers on both hands usually have rings on them – I love to keep the ladies guessing,” he smiles. “I like to make music and speak to women in a way that they haven’t been spoken to before. I feel it’s played out when songs say: ‘Ooh, fine girl, move your body. Shake it, shake it.’ There are a ton of things you could say and that’s how I challenge myself when I make music that is aimed at women.”

If the music is anything to go by, it’s clear he’s enjoying the challenge.