We Had A Chat With Grammy-Winning Producer Malik Yusef

December 4, 2020

The first season of the exciting reality TV show, MTN Y’ello Star is gathering steam as it marks its 4th week. A lot has happened in that time; some contestants have been evicted while some have stayed on for a chance to win an apartment with an in-built house studio, a brand new car, N5million cash, scholarship to study at Berklee Music and Henley Business School and a recording contract.

One of the judges of the show is a Grammy-winning songwriter and producer Malik Yusef. He’s worked with Stars like Kanye, Beyonce and Anne Hathaway.

Nigeria has a big appetite for music. Do you intend to diversify into the Nigerian entertainment scene?

Oh yes, very much so. I’ve been working with Nigerians since I set up a record label called Zooey Records in 2003, and I’ve always known Nigerians are incredibly talented. I do want to do some work with Nigerian artists, so I’m starting with MTN Y’ello Star. Although most of my work with the winners of the recording contract will be mostly in the United States, I intend to record some special parts of the album here in Nigeria. You definitely want some of that Nigerian energy on your work.

Are there any Nigerian acts you’re looking to work with?

As I said, there are a ton of super-talented people in Nigeria. It’s almost like four out of five Nigerians can sing. I’ve worked with D’banj and others. One Nigerian act I’d love to work with is Burna. He has a good ear for music. I’ve also have my eyes on Praize.

Above all, I’m excited about the work I’m going to do with contestants from MTN Y’ello Star. I’ve seen some incredible talents in the competition. I’m really looking forward to showing them off this Nigerian talent to the world.

As a Grammy award winner, what do you think about the talent on the show?

They’re super incredible. Before I came, I had my eye on a contestant, even though I’m quite non-biased. But when I arrived, I was wowed by the quality of the talent. One week, you think a particular contestant is the best, the next, another has taken their place.

Beyond the competition, what challenges do you think the contestants are going to face in the music industry?

Think of the music industry as a highway. When you’re learning to drive and you glide onto a highway, you see everyone zooming past you in their big cars. You can either join them or drop by the side. There’s no one to help you. No one to protect you. You’re by yourself. 

Most of these contestants are going from singing in front of their mirrors to singing all over the global stage. So they have to be prepared for the task ahead. This is why what MTN Y’ello Star is doing for its contestants is so essential. They get an opportunity to attend Berklee Summer Music program in the United States. They also get tutored by Henley Business School in the United Kingdom. Truly, MTN Y’ello Star is building a ferocious machine of music stars.

What are the challenges black people and African face in the white-dominated industry?

Black musicians face the problems we face in the real world, a lack of infrastructure. Competing against  a structure that has existed for decades is difficult. Now, we know black is beautiful, black is powerful. It’s important for the next generation of black people to know what they’re capable of. They need to know that they can be record label heads, producers, songwriters, singers and anything else they want to be.

We have to own our African-ness. When a white immigrant comes to America, nobody tells them “You can’t open a Greek store here” or “You can’t open an Italian restaurant here.” But when it comes to Africa, we’re asked to hide our African-ness. We need to stop giving away our power and we’ll be able to compete globally.

What’s your favourite thing/place about Nigeria?

It’s the intangible aspect of the hustle. There’s just a very determined spirit in every Nigerian you meet, especially in Lagos. Everyone’s about that hustle. My favourite place is Benin. It’s much less “city” than Lagos, where you have people coming up. Benin is quite peaceful and I like the vibe. I love how helpful everyone is, even when I don’t understand the language. They kinda hold your hand through it all.

You have a lot of experience in the industry. You once worked with Kanye and Beyonce. What do you think the Nigerian music industry needs to truly be global, the way American music is?

Like I said, I started in Label back in 2003. Unfortunately, the world wasn’t as global as it is now. There was no interconnectedness like we have now through the internet, so it didn’t catch on. Now, we have the tools, the willpower and the exposure needed to bring the industry to global acclaim.

Who would you say is your biggest inspiration?

Jay Z is my biggest inspiration. He’s not just about the talking, he’s also about the doing. When he says he’ll do something for the African-American community, he goes ahead and puts the work into it.

Catch the MTN Y’ello Star on Saturdays and Sundays on these channels.

Olufemi Fadahunsi

Join The Conversation

Bring a friend.

You'll like this

March 26, 2020

2020 has been a supremely shitty year so far, with the Coronavirus basically stopping the world in its tracks. So, in a bid to find some much-needed laughter, we’ve gathered some of the best @yung.nollywood memes that describe how we are all feeling right now. 1. This meme that aged like fried rice: View this […]

Watch

Now on Zikoko

January 26, 2021

Times are tough for everyone. But for people whose friends earn more or have a higher purchasing power, social anxiety is always a thing. This is definitely not fun. In this article, 5 Nigerians talk about what it means to be the ‘broke friend’ and everything that comes with it. Dayo, 26 My friend buys […]

January 26, 2021

Growing up, Max* hated dresses and, for that reason alone, he loathed Sundays when his parents demanded that he and his younger sister wore a dress and a head covering as they went to church.  ‘‘I wore a skirt to school from Monday to Friday, but it was the dresses on Sunday that really made […]

Recommended Quizzes

What are you like in a relationship?
February 7, 2020

Your taste in music can say a lot about you, and this time, it’s going to reveal what you are like in a relationship. So, pick a few of your favourite Nigerian love songs, and we’ll let you know if you’re typically a distant, passionate or unbothered partner. Here you go:

December 11, 2019

In the past month, we’ve made quizzes that guessed the last time you had sex, how many people you’ve slept with, and just how good you are in bed. For our latest attempt, we will use your taste in Nigerian music from the 2010s to ascertain what you’re like in bed. Take to find out:

October 30, 2019

2010 was a game-changing one for Nollywood, with our movies making serious cash and getting international acclaim. So, which of these hits released between 2010 and 2019 — from the pace-setting The Wedding Party to the divisive Trip To Jamaica — best suits your personality? Well, that’s what this quiz is here to answer:

November 12, 2019

Are you a single pringle, stuck in a complicated situationship or happily married to the love of your life? This quiz is here to guess your current relationship status, and as you know, Zikoko quizzes are incredibly accurate (don’t quote us). So, give a shot:

January 2, 2020

Do you have even a single romantic bone in your body? Well, if you’re not sure about just how sweet and thoughtful you can be to someone you love, that’s what this quiz is here to answer. 11 Quizzes For Nigerians Who Are Ready To Marry  Are you ready to marry? Take these quizzes.

More from Inside Life

January 25, 2021

You’ll hear a lot of names in Nigeria. I mean, Nigeria has over 250 ethnic groups with a wide range of languages. While some names are very common, in different parts of the country, some other names are less popular, thus harder to pronounce. As a survival technique, many Nigerians with unpopular names modify their […]

January 21, 2021

Being an Airbnb host means having to interact with different kinds of people, some great, others unsavoury. I spoke to four Airbnb hosts about their experiences and how they coped during the pandemic. Arike Being an Airbnb host in Nigeria is quite an interesting experience. Many times, we have great guests who aren’t a bother. […]

Watch

Trending Videos

Zikoko Originals

December 14, 2020
What happens when a group of chatty young Nigerians talk about things they're passionate about? You get Nigerians talk. A show that discusses very familiar struggles for the average Nigerian. From relationship deal breakers to sex education with Nigerian parents to leaving Nigeria, be prepared for a ride.
November 2, 2020
'The Couch' is a Zikoko series featuring real life stories from anonymous people.
October 26, 2020
A collection of videos documenting some of the events of the EndSARS protests.
June 22, 2020
'The Couch' is a Zikoko series featuring real life stories from anonymous people.
June 22, 2020
Hacked is an interesting new series by Zikoko made up of fictional but hilarious chat conversations.
June 4, 2020
What happens when a group of chatty young Nigerians talk about things they're passionate about? You get Nigerians talk. A show that discusses very familiar struggles for the average Nigerian. From relationship deal breakers to sex education with Nigerian parents to leaving Nigeria, be prepared for a ride.
June 2, 2020
Quickie is a video series where everyone featured gets only one minute to rant, review or do absolutely anything.
May 14, 2020
Isolation Diary is a Zikoko series that showcases what isolation is like for one young Nigerian working from home due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
March 12, 2020
Life is already hard. Deciding where to eat and get the best lifestyle experiences, isn't something you should stress about. Let VRSUS do that for you.

Z! Stacks

Here's a rabbit hole of stories to lose yourself in:

Zikoko amplifies African youth culture by curating and creating smart and joyful content for young Africans and the world.
X