At just 22 years old, it’s safe to say T.I Blaze is living his best life.
When he dropped his breakout single, Sometimes, in August 2021, with lyrics like “Steady grindin wan tire me” and “When no one to ginger me, I ginger myself,” TI Blaze put into words what most Nigerians were feeling after a global pandemic, the #EndSARs protests and daily struggle to beat the weapon fashioned against us AKA Nigeria.
Getting a remix with Olamide barely six months after the song’s release shot T.I Blaze into the stratosphere of fame. What followed was The Fresh Prince of Lagos EP and a couple of hit singles.
With the release of his debut album, El Major in November 2022, T.I Blaze is looking to cement his position as one of Nigeria’s biggest rising stars. He talks to Zikoko about going into music to impress a crush, meeting his idol and why he doesn’t see himself as just another street artist.
First off, congrats on the new album. But, bro, how did you run an EP and an album in the same year?
Bro, thanks man. I don’t think I’m the first to do this EP and album thing, though. Ayra Starr did it in 2021 when she came out. I’m always working, and it’s good to feed the fans with music back-to-back. Who am I singing for? I can’t let them rest.
Does it ever get tiring?
More than 80 per cent of my life is spent between the studio, interviews, shooting a video or a photoshoot — but it’s the life I wanted. I knew that’s what I was signing up for when I decided to become an entertainer.
Plus, I recorded some of these songs early last year. Alone was recorded in March, and then, I called Bella Shmurda to be on it. I just held on to the song.
How do you know it’s time to drop a song, EP or album?
I track streaming. For instance, let’s say a song used to get one million streams before, and now, it’s doing 25k, then I know it’s time to drop something new.
Serious monitoring spirit vibes. But before we get into the album, how did Akintunde Abiodun Timileyin become T.I Blaze?
If we’re starting from the beginning, then I’d say I had a very rough, no, mid childhood. I lived in a one-bedroom with my parents and younger brother in Agbado, Ogun State. My mum and grandma were choir mistresses, my dad played a lot of music in the house, and my older brother played instruments in church, so music was there, but no one took it seriously outside of the church.
It all started around 2014 when I was in secondary school. I wanted to be a rapper like Lil Kesh, but I didn’t get the chance to enter a studio until 2018 when one bros allowed me to record my first song, Asiko, in his studio.
What was that like?
Man, I was so happy. I didn’t even mind that I had no money and had to trek for two hours back home. That was the first song I played for my parents, and I remember my mum praying for me. Nothing serious happened until I moved out two years later, when I turned 20.
Moved out ke? To where and with what money?
It was 2020, and I didn’t have anything. I moved out and started crashing with one producer I knew. I couldn’t even ask my mum for money because she’d warned me about moving out, but I did it anyway because I wanted to be independent. I was recording and doing backup for artists who came to the producer’s studio. I even wrote songs and sold them without writer’s credit for quick cash because I needed to eat.
I lived like that until August 2021, when I met Shocker (producer for Small Doctor and Portable). This was the first time I was meeting a big-time producer, so I was nervous AF. We were freestyling when I sang that “Sometimes food no dey give man joy, but Canadian loud the feeling is different” line, and the studio went crazy. We recorded Sometimes that day, and even though they all thought it’d be a hit, I didn’t believe them.
I’d been recording songs, but nothing was happening. They were right sha because the song got like 300k streams in five days. But I was still on the streets looking rough until December that year, when I got to do some shows and earn enough money to support myself and family.
How did the remix with Baddo happen?
Mehn, I was on my own in January 2022, when my phone started blowing up that Olamide had posted my song on his story with a heart emoji. I actually started crying when I saw it. Even though I wasn’t verified, and he wasn’t following me, I got the ginger to DM him to say thank you. And as soon as he responded, I sent him one long message, begging him to be on the remix.
LMAO. How long was this message?
It was long o. I was nervous, so I just kept typing. He responded, “Okay”. He then sent an address and number and asked me to come to his place the next day.
Just like that?
I thought I was dreaming. I almost fainted when I got there and saw him in person. I introduced myself, we gisted for a while about my career and the things I wanted to do before entering his studio to record the remix. I asked him when we should drop it, and he was like, “Are you a joke? Omo, drop this thing tomorrow.”
That remix changed my life.
I have a feeling Akintunde from secondary school never saw this coming
I swear! I knew I had what it took, but I didn’t think I’d get this far. I thought I’d just blow on an “Omo Adugbo” level where people on my street or two streets after that know me.
Why didn’t you think it was possible? And when did it hit you that you had the talent?
Coming from the streets, I didn’t allow myself to dream too big. As for talent, I started singing because I had a crush on a girl when I got into SS1. I wrote a song for her called Long Time.
Okay, lover boy
I remember the lyrics: “Long time, long time, ti mo ba e soro.” I sang it in front of the class, and they didn’t believe I wrote it. All my classmates kept saying the song sounded like it was already out. That was the moment I realised I had something. If these guys in my class thought it was a hit song, then maybe this is what I’m meant to do.
You have an album now, so I guess you were right.
Talking about El Major, you have a couple of collaborations with Ladipoe, Bella Shmurda, Camidoh, Skibii, FAVE and Backroad Gee. But I’m curious to know which collab took the longest and why?
I would’ve said Omah Lay, but he had stuff going on and didn’t make the album in the end. Play with FAVE took a lot of time to set up because of scheduling. I love her music, and she was one of the first people to post my song on her socials and tag me. I wanted her on the album, so I’m happy we both got to work together with Rexxie.
Of all the 13 tracks, which is the most personal to you?
The second track, Benefit. I listen to it over and over again because it gingers even me, the artiste that sang it. But there’s also Alone, Far Away and Play. Don’t make me pick one, abeg.
Fair. Panic and Fire Down show a more romantic side of T.I Blaze. In a time when everyone is singing about “chasing the bag”, what inspired these songs?
Have you forgotten my first song was a love song for the girl in my class? Romance has always been a part of me. I love Burna Boy’s music and how he’s able to find that balance between singing about the craziness around him and how he feels. I’m not copying him, but I don’t want to box myself as a street artiste. I sing about my experiences and life — love is a part of my life.
I can’t be chasing the bag every time.
About love and the bag, Try and Lock Up talk about women who only love you when you have money or access. Is there a breakfast story here?
That crush from my secondary school ended up leaving me for my teacher.
That was my first breakfast. When a girl leaves you for another guy, it’ll pain you small. But a teacher? Haba. The teacher knew I liked her and kept using me as a scapegoat for everything, but I chested it. I managed from SS1 to SS3, and this teacher frustrated me throughout.
That’s messed up. Do you and this girl still talk?
Bro, she texts me. I still have the same number I used before I blew, and I’m still on my secondary school’s WhatsApp group. We say hi once in a while. Nothing can happen between us.
But how is the relationship thing going now that you’re popular?
I’m dating people, but I’m too young to be in a serious relationship.
That makes sense. So what did El Major teach you about yourself as a person and as an artist?
Making this album showed me how much I enjoy making music that ginger people. I want people to hear my stories and say, “Yeah, I can do it too.” I could make music about booty all day, but I want to talk about my life.
I don’t know what’s next. I need the album to have a significant impact, and from there, I’ll figure out where I’m going as an artist.