“One of my dreams is to do two sets in one show. So poetry my first set then come back after intermission and do ALL HIP HOP! I can do both because I’ve got a catalogue and content that is entirely full of both.”
Ayoinmotion is a multifaceted, NYC-based Hip Hop artist, who never fails to rep either Harlem or his hometown of Nigeria. He is dignified, electric, cosmopolitan – and as told by the man himself – both intro and extraspective. Naturally influenced by Afrobeat, and complemented by his true spoken word talent, Ayo distinguishes his artistry by his ability to present himself with competitive ease, while exuding an energy that cannot go unnoticed.
On stage he brings a presence that demands attention and captivation. He’s a serious artist who doesn’t make you feel like he’s “too serious.” Whether it’s been opening up for Talib Kweli, or Gyptian, Ayo always has an intention to ensure that his audience is moved, feels good, and leaves the venue having had a unique and powerful experience.
He has performed at places such as the Legendary Apollo Theatre, Webster Hall, SOBs and the Shrine, and a number of European venues. He’s also served on panels with individuals such as Lupe Fiasco and Rap-Genius founder Mahbod Moghadam.
Afrocipha had a chance to sit down with Ayo to talk with him about his influences, artistic development and philosophies, among other topics.
S: What were your points of entry into Afrobeat and Hip Hop Music?
A: That is a very good question for me. Afrobeat was my prerequisite to Hip Hop.
S: What do you mean by that?
A: I grew up in Lagos, Nigeria and Fela is my biggest inspiration and always will be. When you see me perform live you can see the energy and feeling of passion when I am on stage. I am not saying I’m Fela. But I am saying that’s my biggest influence.. in terms of how I see myself as a performer. I was growing up in Nigeria and listening to Fela when I discovered Hip Hop. I have to say that I didn’t fall in love with Hip Hop immediately. Hip Hop was something I heard on the radio and had fun with. When I discovered Hip Hop albums and explored their content, I discovered that these were poets. My discovery of Hip Hop albums was late. I grew up during the heyday of Hip Hop when Puff Daddy and Mase and Bad Boyz were running everything. There was Tupac and Biggie and all of that happening. You know when you hear all of this on the radio in Nigeria and then you hear ‘All Eyez On Me,’ it triggers you to go and get those albums. That’s when you get the whole story.. That is when you find the gems. So when I was at home I started listening to the albums and seeing the beauty in ‘Illmatic’ and ‘Stillmatic’ and the beauty in all of this.
B: It’s like Tupac was the guy in America like Fela was the guy in Africa who spoke for all the people.
A: I think there will always be comparisons of Fela and Tupac.. Tupac was a poet and Fela was a poet.. There is poetry in music. But my thing is that Afrobeat moved me. Fela moved us because we are talking about growing up in a tyrannical regime and dictatorship in Lagos Nigeria, and Hip Hop is the music of the struggle. Hip Hop is the music of rebellion. Hip Hop is a music of counterculture. Hip Hop is the music of the still forgotten people who are saying, ‘THIS IS OUR MUSIC, This is our video! You can’t shut us up!’ Afrobeat does the same thing. And that was Fela’s way of saying the same thing.. And that was Fela’s way of saying ‘You can’t shut me up. You can’t shut up my story. You can’t shut up what I’m about. I am for the people.’ And so those commonalities are clear to someone who grew up with Afrobeat and fell in love with it and now hears Hip Hop and falls in love with Hip Hop. You can see that graduation. You can see that maturation.. You can see that evolution. It makes sense that Afrobeat is such a big influence in my work. It makes sense that I got into Spoken Word Poetry and it makes sense that I got into Hip Hop. And it makes sense that I am more than a poet and a rapper. Afrobeat is the influence that you find across all my music. Do you see what I’m saying?
B: Is your focus mostly on Spoken Word?
A: I think it’s love right now. I am on my second life and I am about to enter my third life with a combination of what is to happen. So in college I discovered poetry. poetry is where I found my voice. I am about to enter my third life, with a combination.. poetry is where I made my first album. It is where my musicality started. Then, I moved on to Hip Hop and transitioned. Now I feel I’ve given Hip Hop a Sonic Dissertation as I’ve given poetry, now I am on my way to my third phase, my third life.. I feel that I can… in fact, one of my dreams is to do two sets in one show. So poetry my first set then come back after intermission and do ALL HIP HOP!.. I can do both because I’ve got a catalogue and content that is entirely full of both.
B: So it’s like Afrobeat ushers in the creativity and energy?
A: Exactly. Afrobeat is the energy, the ability to write, the ability to tell a story and be content driven, and to call my Hip Hop and to call my poetry.. Do you see what I’m saying? So Afrobeat is the foundation of everything I do. It’s the template. It’s the Blueprint.
B: Yeah. Yeah.
A: As I evolve into my own musical talent this is how it is happening. Now I am Ayoinmotion and it is just movement and the movement of music and moving toward a dream. That is why I say, Ayoinmotion.
B: When did you come to the States?
A: I came to the states from Nigeria a little over ten years ago. I was a teenager. Finished high school and college. And so I’ve been in America now for a little over ten years. I went to college in Michigan and I came from Flint, Michigan to New York about three or four years ago.
B: With Fela, people always talk about how it is for them in Nigeria. Describe your experiences in Nigeria and in the United States.
A: I always say there is a story between Africans and African Americans and we are all united and we are one people, but often what you may see is a division. So basically to answer your question, Blackness cannot be defined as one thing. The beauty of Blackness is that it is diverse. The beauty of Blackness is there are colors within colors. So that, depending on where you find yourself, in Brazil, in Nigeria or in Ghana or in Cuba; whether they are doing Candomble, Garifuna, or Yoruba religion, or African Culture in the United States, what you are always going to find is this tapestry of what Blackness is and that’s beautiful. It spreads across everything. But it is unified. You know Blackness when you see it. That is Blackness for me, regardless of whether in Nigeria or the USA.
S: What was your specific point of entry into African American culture when you were living at home in Nigeria?
A: It was through music more than anything else.
S: What music from African America attracted you the most?
A: I would say Hip Hop. Tupac. Biggie.. Puff Daddy and Mase.. The Entire Bad Boy clique. Definitely Busta Rhymes. Pretty much anything that was hot here (in the United States) was hot in Nigeria. The entire Bad Boy Clique.
S: How was Hip Hop music circulated in Nigeria when you were coming of age?
A: Radio stations were playing it. TV was playing it. More than anything, I remember hearing Hip Hop music on radio stations in Nigeria. Radio stations like ‘Rhythm and Ray Power’ and ‘Cool FM.’ All of those DJs played whatever was hot in America and whatever was hot in America was hot in Nigeria. The Hip Hop Nation was virtually one nation in that sense. Basically, Hip Hop was already worldwide when I was coming up. It’s amazing to people when they realize, ‘Oh, you grew up in Africa and you were listening to Tupac? Wait a minute, Oh you were listening to Pac in Nigeria!’ And I say, ‘Yes, people swear that it was Thug Life. People swear that it was East Coast vs. West Coast.’ Thousands of miles away and it was THUG LIFE! And they would say, ‘But you’ve never even been to the West Coast.. You don’t even know what California looks like.’ And here we are talking about “California Love” in Africa. That was our reality. We had our own music, too. But Thug Life was our reality! I got to run and catch up with my people. But I’m going to say this real quickly. It’s Ayoinmotion like Poetry in Motion. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. Shout Out to my man, Spady. I’m going to check out the book, Tha Global Cipha: Hip Hop Culture and Consciousness. I think it is great that the Afrocipha is doing this. Let’s stay in touch so we can continue to build. We are all a part of the movement of music.
Be sure to follow Ayoinmotion on all fronts. You can also catch him performing this Thursday, August 13th with Mickey Factz and Cross Cultures at Webster Hall in NYC.
© James G. Spady and Akinyemi Bajulaiye 2015