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Rema: “My name is going to be in the Afrobeats bible”

At just 23, the global musician has become the most renowned artist from his hometown of Benin City, Nigeria. He’s feeling blessed about it.

Rema seems to know exactly what he’s doing, even when he won’t explain himself. The Nigerian singer and rapper moves with intention; he is acutely aware of how he is perceived, and he is more than willing to let his plan reveal itself to sceptics when his work proves them wrong. He doesn’t like to talk about himself. That’s intentional too. He likes the focus on his music, and with good reason: he has formulated a sound that speaks for itself. As we chat about his perpetual drive, he is taking a short break from shooting videos in Los Angeles to get a new tattoo. Soft-spoken but firmly resolved, he only ever gets animated speaking on the trails that he is blazing for others, both those that came before him and those who will come after. “A legend talked to me and he said, ‘Oh, I really like what you did for Afrobeats. A lot of people will not tell you this, but you helped me,’” he says. “It’s all about who’s going to say the truth and who’s not going to say the truth. I don’t care because I can see the back end, so I already know my impact.”
At only 23, Rema is already one of Afropop’s greatest ambassadors, a next gen innovator and one of the biggest artists on the planet. He spent his summer playing festivals across Europe and touring America. More than once, he talks about his shows as a symbol of his expanding influence, as a means to represent where he comes from. Culture has power. Just as the Korean Wave has increased South Korea’s international standing, the pop music of Nigeria is beginning to have a similar effect. To Rema, every new place that his music touches is a greater win for Nigeria, and for Africa.
Born Divine Ikubor, Rema is from Benin City, among the oldest cities in Nigeria —the remnants of a pre-colonial kingdom. “It’s a place of history and tradition. A lot of hardship, a lot of suffering. But the people are warm people. There’s much love in the community. Everybody knows everybody. It’s a place of big talent, most especially in sculpting, in bronze art and music,” he says. It isn’t a stretch to say that Rema is the most renowned artist to come from his hometown. He thinks fondly of its people and the way they communicate: “Nigeria has, like, 156 or more cultures, but the people are distinctive in the way they talk, the way they behave, the jokes they make, the way they react. They’re very expressive. They make up a lot of words, and when it’s popular, it’s a thing. We’re just fond of creating words and sound effects.” It’s somewhat fitting, since creating words and sounds has been Rema’s purpose for quite some time now.
Rap and spirituality were pillars of Rema’s upbringing. Those worlds collided early when he first began performing in a church program called Rap Nation, rhyming to gospel songs as a draw for young potential churchgoers. He was introduced to trap by cousins, and he parrotted his older brother’s embrace of hip-hop fashion. Rema was drawn by the look as much as the sound, and in time rappers like A$AP Rocky and Playboi Carti became influences for his own personal style. The serious pursuit of a rap career became top of mind, and he eventually started using a phone he got from a member of his church to download beats he would freestyle over.
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