Davido has been working in music, becoming a star overseas, for over seven years, but now might finally be his time to break through the U.S. music industry. The Nigerian-by-way-of-Atlanta artist has been capturing the attention of more American listeners since last summer, when his single “Fall” climbed its way up to No. 22 on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart. Since his recent success, Davido has collaborated with everyone from Popcaan to Wale and Quavo.
Across popular U.S. music, consumers are increasingly venturing out of English-language tunes, hoping to uncover melodies that resonate even if they don’t speak the language. “It’s a great feeling to know that people love it,” Davido, who released the plucky “Fall” along with the track “If” last year, tells Billboard of his music, “even though they don’t understand.”
Similar to reggaeton in its crossover, Afrobeats — a fusion of African pop, dance and hip-hop music — is finding its place in the market while catering to an international community. With today’s social media influence, that crossover happens faster than ever, and Davido has been ready for it for years. Davido spoke with Billboard about his recent wins, friendships with rappers and what happens after you become an international phenomenon.
You were born in Atlanta but left for Nigeria as a toddler, before you returned years later. You recently attended Gunna’s show in New York, and he’s as Atlanta as they come.
I think I connect with Atlanta artists, especially having lived there for about four, five years there. I currently have a house in Atlanta, so when it comes to the American culture, I learned most of it in the South. So I think I relate better with Atlanta artists, being around [Young] Thug and being around people. Like, I been knew Gunna even before either he or I popped off.
What was your ultimate goal when you started making music in 2012?
My first goal was to just see my video on TV. That was my first dream, but I just kept on making music, kept on getting bigger and the goals just kept on getting larger. Before we knew it, we got here.
It’s crazy because [“Fall”] got picked up in Atlanta and it’s about to get picked up in another two states. In a while, it’ll be in all 50 states and we’ll probably finish up in L.A. and drop the album. I’m working on two albums right now: one for Africa and one for out here. That’ll be crazy. That might be a double album.
What changed in your strategy for you — as a “new” artist — to end up with two singles in just a couple of industry quarters?
I don’t even know what happened. I just woke up and I was everywhere. People always asks what happened, like, “How did you just cross over like that?” And I’m just like, “Honestly, I have no idea my brother.”
What’s been your favorite collaboration to date?
My favorite one I think is the track I did with Casanova and Tory Lanez. The record called “2 AM.” I really like that record. The video was shot in Nigeria [and] Casanova came out there. I just like the bridging of Canadian, Nigerian and American, coming together to do something crazy.
We spotted you with Casanova at the Gunna show in NYC.
I actually came to the show to meet up with him. I don’t come to New York without calling Casanova and he says that he won’t come to Nigeria without calling me. He became a brother to me when he came out there to Nigeria to spend some time with us. He’s always shown mad love.
What do you want to happen within the next 12 months?
I want to drop this album by the grace of God. Hopefully, we get to hit No. 1. I just want to share great ideas and great music with other artists, influence other artists, write and produce for other people. Just getting to the dream. I’ve lived the African dream, now I’m trying to get to the American dream, you know?
On the production side, have you been working with a lot with other artists behind the boards?
Not really, but I’ve been doing production for myself. I’ve mostly been trying to get these verses done for other people, writing hooks. By the time I’m done with my album, that’s when I’ll start working on other people’s albums, because when I drop this album, they’re going to want the sound because it’s different. They don’t even know what I’m saying but they like it because they can feel it.
Did you do all the production on this upcoming album?
Nah, hell no. I‘ve got producers and co-producers back home. There are like four producers that I work with. I’m trying to get in the studio with Pharrell to finish up the album, but it’s gonna be crazy. This’ll be a good one.
Is there anyone you look forward to working with that you haven’t yet?
I don’t really like that question because it’s like I’m open to working with everybody. I just love music, so I’ll work with anybody, as long as we produce some great content.
Afrobeats is growing as a genre and with you leading the charge, at least in the States…
Man, everywhere. [Laughs]
Okay, with you leading the Afrobeats charge everywhere, what can people look forward within its future?
Just good music. And it’s crazy, because people in jail have heard my music. Like I said, a lot of times people don’t even know what I’m saying, like they don’t understand me. But if there’s anything, I say things however I have to say it so that people enjoy the music.