New Jersey-born singer-songwriter Chris Akinyemi is an ambitious young man. He’s also very confident. He’s barely released his first single and he’s already taking shots at the world of corporate radio and self-satisfied record label suits.
In the scathing (but very funny) song “Radio,” this 20-year-old child of Nigerian parents outlines the formula for a one hit wonder: “A instrumental from Swizz Beatz/A couple bars from Weezy/And Diddy gotta say somethin’.” He then sagely addresses a question to the music industry as a whole: “If your formula work oh-so well/how come y’all CDs never sell?” Oooh. Burn!
Despite his somewhat world-weary lyrics, Akinyemi’s approach to music is fresh, with a subtle hip hop and R&B influence on his classic pop songwriting and sparse, guitar-centered instrumentation. His answers in our interview with him were also surprisingly optimistic — and to the point. He is a man of few words, or maybe he just saves them all for that notebook where he pens his lyrics.
As you can tell from the lyrics in “Radio,” he’s hardly naïve about making it as a musician and knows you usually have to get things started on your own these days. To that end he’s released a single, is preparing to release an EP, and is even shooting videos without the help of a label. And the kid’s in college!
All this hustling to get heard paid off recently. It got him into the MTVU “The Freshmen” video contest that got him on our radar.
Read on to hear about making the video for “Radio,” the rewards of being an independent artist, and Akinyemi’s musical inspirations.
Your song “Radio” is a sharp witted critique of the music industry. Do you even want to sign to a major label and get airplay for your songs?
Yes, I would sign to a major label and get mainstream airplay, if the terms are right and I can stay true to myself as an artist.
What’s the last great song you heard on the radio?
Taio Cruz’s “Higher.” It’s so positive and energetic.
How did you shoot the video for “Radio” and what was your budget for that?
My friend from NYU, Kristopher Rey-Talley directed the video. He also shot a Chiddy Bang video, “Dream Chasin,” and we shot it for $4,000, and I had a great time.
What kind of music did your parents play growing up?
They played a lot of Christian music and Afrobeat music.
Do you feel influenced by any Nigerian musicians?
Yes, mostly Fela Kuti. He’s awesome. He was the voice of his generation.
Do you hope to play in Nigeria in the future?
I would love to perform in Nigeria in the future.
We hear you are pursuing your music career while going college. Have you picked a major yet?
Yes, I’m an accounting major at Montclair State University. I did experiment with being a music major, but I ended up sticking with accounting because it’s something I’m not used too and I’m curious about the business world.
What’s the hardest thing about being an independent artist these days?
Getting heard has to be the hardest because there are so many musicians out there, so to get out of that pile and stand out is a heck of a challenge.
What has been the best thing about doing it on your own so far?
Accomplishing so many things on my own feels so amazing. I started just about a year ago, and now I’m doing an interview with MTV Iggy.
Do you think you’ll always go for a simple acoustic sound or are you coming out with an Auto-Tuned single next?
I’m going to experiment with different sounds, but I don’t think I will be going for the Auto-Tuned single any time soon.
Watch the video for “Radio”