Trailblazing isn't a job for the faint of heart. Having faith in something no one else can see, and maintaining enough focus to block out the noise from naysayers, is what separates the wolves from the sheep. Trailblazers are loved and hated for the same reason. Hated for coloring outside of the lines, then loved once everyone sees the big picture. It's a complex existence, but it's necessary for the progress of society.
Music would most certainly not evolve without trailblazers. What would we do without individuals who push the envelope in terms of sound, visuals, performances, and everything else required for music to reach the masses? DJ Soupa Model created a lane that didn't exist in a country that had yet to break into the U.S. market, and she did it all from behind the turntables. As Afrobeats makes its big push to crack the American airwaves, it's time you meet one of the players responsible for the genre's expansion.
Hailing from Nigeria, DJ Soupa Model is Africa's first-ever female DJ, and she's built that into a fruitful career as a producer. Her imprint Music Blvd Group boasts an impressive portfolio of originally-produced music for the likes of Disney, Showtime, CNN Films, BET Networks, ESPN, and more. On top of that, she's produced for huge artists such as Beenie Man, Missy Elliott, and Wale, as well as new stars like Tory Lanez. Not bad for the girl who stumbled upon her love for making music at the age of thirteen.
"There was a part in a song that the choir needed someone to sing and rap to, so I said I'd do it," Soupa Model told REVOLT TV. "That was how I got involved little by little, understanding the structure of music as far as harmonies, sopranos, tenors, and what not. Still, I never wanted to be in the forefront."
A random conversation sparked Soup's interest in becoming a DJ, as she and her friend joked about pursuing the craft. That conversation led them to a record store, and the rest was history. After purchasing the proper tools, Soup set up shop in her basement where she obsessively watched YouTube tutorials learning how to scratch, transition, and blend tracks. Back then, there were no female DJs—not only in Nigeria, but in Africa as a whole. Obviously, some folks weren't so eager to see her on the scene.
"I wasn't easily accepted," she said. "It was taboo for a female to want to DJ. I remember gigs I've been to where they looked at me and asked for the DJ, and once I told them it was me I would get that unsure look. It made me work ten times harder. I had something to prove."
In moments of doubt, an animal instinct kicks in for trailblazers. Instead of conforming to expectations, a fire is lit inside to prove themselves right. DJ Soupa Model was sure she'd found her passion in life, and happily took on the burden of making believers out of anyone giving a side-eye to her dream. It just so happened that at the same time, Afrobeats was in the beginning stages of what would become a huge wave of acceptance worldwide.
It's no secret: America is in a whirlwind of turmoil. Politically, we're a mess. Socially, it seems the powers-that-be want to reset society to 1960. To top it all off, our education system is stuck in an industrialized format that cranks out worker bees instead of forward thinkers. As a world super power, we have a lot of cleaning up to do. Still, America is seen as the land of opportunity for anyone aspiring to make a large impact through their work. This is especially the case when it comes to music.
It's no wonder that artists worldwide are always looking to break into the U.S. market. Success here comes with a stamp of achievement for introducing a foreign sound in the heart of the music business. It's one thing for individual artists to win in the United States, but it's a completely different beast when an entirely new genre makes its way to America's airwaves. Most recently, we've seen Afrobeats touch down in a very convincing way. Artists like Davido, Wizkid, and Tiwa Savage are at the forefront of Afrobeats crossover into mainstream recognition. Each artist has signed lucrative deals with major labels, but the bus can't stop there.
DJ Soupa Model filled us in on a few variables that must be tended to correctly for the continued growth and success of Afrobeats.
It's safe to say that with the outburst of Afrobeats in the America, a lot of labels still don't understand and quite frankly know how to deal with it or how to monetize it. It's best that most labels offer Afrobeats artists single deals and go all out with a 360 structure to make it a mega-hit song. This allows them to test the market first and also puts them in the position of lesser risk. It's career suicide when these artists are locked in multi-album deals when no one has ever tasted the food in the pot to know how to structure and market it properly.
It's also beneficial to have these artists go through a development phase without assumptions that they know the ropes already. Many of these artists are coming from a different structure and mindset, and sometimes just don't know how the music business structure works in the States. The artist development phase would be deeply helpful. Lastly, have a diverse team around them. Have a little bit of African-ism within the American-cultured music veterans making up their team. This creates an understanding of the actual culture and origin of the sound intertwined with the minds that understand the American music culture.
This has been the missing piece to a gigantic puzzle. In order for acts to break into any type of market, they have to be marketed properly. Most of releases to date are not on terrestrial radios and played at the top of the hour. To supplement that, most artists have taken advantage of a rise in audience reach and revenue through streaming services. However, labels need to market Afrobeats acts properly like they would with the same Tier 1 or at least Tier 2 artists in America. It's understood that songs have to be formatted, written, and structured to work for American radio. Most Afrobeats artists write their own songs. While this is a good thing, it has also proven to be a damaging factor as they may not necessarily know how to write to fit the American radio structure. This applies to storylines, hooks, verses, bridges, background vocals, arrangement, the whole nine. Labels should have writing camps around these artists to propel their writing skills, magnify their stories, and deliver a radio-ready product. Afrobeats artists should also maintain an open to American culture and structure of song creation. It's a two-way street.
Venues are vital components to any artist's brand. At the same time, it's not quite a deal breaker. The amount of demand for an act dictates the venues they can perform in as expenses are incurred, and need to be recoupable. If an act can't pull 20,000 people in Madison Square Garden, it's obviously not a good business decision to go that route. However, when Afrobeats acts are signed with the hope of expanding their brands and reach in America, it's only right for the label to mix them into the existing culture and their counterparts. A perfect scenario is having Afrobeats acts tour with established American artists. This would do two things: one, increase their audience and fanbase; two, expose the sounds to brand new ears.