DEFINING HIS ART: During his short time at Baylor, Bōlají has been around downtown Waco taking album art photos and even shooting a music video.
Turn Up The Volume
Balancing school and music looks easy for Houston fresman rapper. Bōlají, as he grows his audience with new sounds and skills.
Story By Mallory Harris
Photos courtesy of Bolaji Oyedepo
“My first time in the studio, I think I spent all my money on this studio, and then I come back and I go in the car and play it for my dad, he looks me in the eye and says ‘This is trash,’” Houston freshman rapper Bolaji Oyedepo said. “Looking back at it, if he had lied to me, who knows where I would’ve been, and so from there I really worked on my voice more and reworked my setup from there.”
Releasing his first album entitled “Bōlají in 2022 and with over 38,000 current monthly listeners Oyedepo, more known by his stage name Bōlají, has been crafting his musical abilities since kindergarten. Giving “big props” to his mom for seeing his talent at 4 years old when he started playing piano, it was his kindergarten teacher who heard something special in his voice while in choir. Over the years continuing to be in church and school choirs, Bōlají kept playing piano while picking up drums and learning about melodies and what sounds good. As his first memory of writing music goes back to 2019, he still counts those experiences as learning moments to build up his confidence and songwriting skill.
“Around that time and before that I wasn’t as confident, I was insecure of myself and so I would write a song and be like ‘eh, is this good enough,’” Bōlají said.
Although there was a moment in high school where his music was paused for him to pursue basketball and soccer, Bōlají knew music was where he needed to be because it continually followed him. Despite his own doubts, Bōlají continued to work on his craft and during the COVID-19 pandemic wrote, recorded and released a song with his sister on social media that caught the attention of local news. While this track was inspired by his mom, and she continues to be an influence in Bōlají’s writing today, this was the first moment where people outside of his immediate circle gave their opinion on his music. With a small snippet of success and name recognition, Bōlají knew if he put in the effort he could become something bigger.
“From that, I was like ‘Now I gotta drop something that I really like,’ because to me I didn’t really think it was my best,” Bōlají said.
Consistently being in the studio and writing his own music, Bōlají feels that he’s broken the code to having his music sound different from other artists. Taking influence from Frank Ocean and other artists, Bōlají explained that he first makes a melody in his mind then pays attention to the lyrics. The majority of his lyrics form a story that’s either happened to him personally or a story that he thinks is really interesting that’s he’s been told. For example in his song “Lavish” Bōlají said it’s a true story that happened to him with his dad where he needed to be content and grateful with what he had, whereas his song “Intentions” has a lyric saying he had $50,000 which in reality isn’t true but goes with a story he was told. Writing songs that he feels are relatable and are from other people’s perspectives is what gets him excited about his own music.
Another layer of making his music that Bōlají enjoys is the recording process because of his choir background, the layering of harmonies and stacking the production is where he sees his style come through. While other artists go back into the studio to add ad libs to their songs, Bōlají said he goes back in to have fun and see how he can make the music his own.
“The first thing they say [when people hear my music] is that you can really tell the artistry, the musicality, [because] a lot of people when they go through a song one layer, but me I go back in and I’m adding layers, harmonies – that probably stems from me being in choir — but I’m just adding a lot of stacks,” Bōlají said. “Definitely recording is my favorite part, and coming up with the idea, just that vibe of when you know that you hit it, it’s the best feeling.”
Even though he’s been more intentional about dropping music consistently, Bōlají said it took him his entire first semester at Baylor to figure out his own schedule and that balance between work and school. During his first semester, he focused on his studies and didn’t have much time to write music or record. Bōlají is also part of the duo Palace Floor with Atlanta producer Chicano Blues, and while their music has become popular in 2022, Bōlají knew this was another thing on his plate to balance. However, by getting a planner in the spring semester he’s been able to schedule his days to have at least an hour of music every day either practicing or writing. While being a student and an artist comes with challenges, there are ways that Bōlají has had the college atmosphere work to his advantage, such as fan growth and recording spaces on campus. Utilizing the audio booths on the garden level of Moody Memorial Library, Bōlají said it’s beneficial compared to when driving to the studio in Houston just because of time.
“I have a set time to do what I need to do, so that I can focus on studying because obviously I’m here and I don’t want to waste being here getting my degree regardless,” Bōlají said. “Definitely on the breaks, every single break I’m somewhere. I was in Atlanta the last [winter break], and I take that and I spend a lot of time [working].”
Although one of his least favorite aspects of being an artist is promoting his own music and his name as an artist, Bōlají uses social media to put his name out there with the help of the Baylor Music Industry Club. San Antonio junior Milo Langmore, president of the club, explained the group is an interest group on campus that focuses on helping promote student artists and is open to those interested in going into the music industry. Finding Bōlají on Spotify, Langmore said he grabbed lunch with Bōlají and explained the club’s strategy and they partnered up. When choosing artists to promote, Langmore explained that the club makes sure it’s someone who has put in the work, has quality music students are interested in and they have aspirations to seriously pursue music.
“He mentioned to me later that he didn’t have that high of expectations about our club, but then after we put on a couple of concerts he came back to me and was like ‘You know y’all really went past my expectations, “ Langmore said. “I feel like he’s a really good artist and I think he’s growing exponentially, and so I think Bōlají is going to be huge by his senior year.”
While still young in his career, Bōlají said the consistent support from his family has been a big factor that’s allowed him to explore his music and take risks. Being Nigerian and the first-born in his family, he understood that he needed to set the example for his siblings. When he sat down with his parents to discuss his music as a serious career path, he assured them that he knew it was scary but worth the risk.
“‘I know this is my purpose and I know it’s hard especially since anyone can make music, but it’s just one of those things where this whole thing is risky. I know how it looks, but just trust me on this,’” Bōlají told his parents. “ Even with me showing results, I know that helped too, but just me putting in the work and them seeing that and they’ve been fully supportive.”
To describe his music, Bōlají said it’s for people who are open-minded. Langmore shared the same sentiment saying it’s very broad and most people can find a beat or lyric they resonate with. As social media helps Bōlají expand his reach to new listeners, he’s been able to remain an independent artist and be in control of his own music. Looking forward to earning his degree and making more music along the way, Bōlají is making his own path.