Get to Know Igwe Aka [Interview]

Brooks Finby
Credit: @nathographer

For Igwe Aka, the question of whether he will make it big is not if, but when. The Nigerian-American rising artist has been making a name for himself with catchy independent releases such as “TONY ON THE RADIO” and “DONT NEED A SOUL.” His four-track EP SUPER EAGLE provides a brief but bright window into his coming-of-age story as an African immigrant growing up in Sacramento. The colorful, twelve-minute project showcases Aka’s thoughtful pen game and versatile flows. It marked his first release after having moved to Los Angeles in the summer of 2022 to pursue music full-time. His latest project, entitled BEFORE THE REIGN, is a heartfelt outpouring of emotion. It’s a seven-track mixtape of vulnerable raps, most of which were written while he was in Nigeria visiting family. On the opening track, “ANATOMY OF A MAN,” Aka begins by mentioning his mother’s “golden ticket to get a better life.”He described her incredible immigration story to me in detail during our conversation over Zoom:

“In Nigeria, my mom got an opportunity to come to New York as a nurse. It required her to pass a test in Ghana, but she didn’t have a passport or nothing. She had no credentials to get over the border, but she still went for it. When she got there, she was the only person to pass the test. It was like destiny. I mean, she wasn’t even supposed to be in the country! She got the ticket to New York, but on the plane, she lost her job offer to someone else. My mom ended up stopping in California to stay with friends from college. Then, she moved to Sacramento and started up her own shit. After a couple of years, she moved us all to America one by one. So when I think about my immigrant process, it makes me want to work hella hard. So much has always been on my mom’s shoulders. That’s why my siblings and I never asked for stuff growing up. We didn’t really get Christmas presents. We got food. So we all feel so grateful to be here. We understand the weight that my mom carried. Not only did she take care of us, but all of my cousins and aunties as well. She paid for everyone to go to school. Now, that weight is on my brothers, and I’m next. I’m getting ready to carry it.”

He continued, reflecting on his recent trip to Africa in December:

“Going to Nigeria made me feel like I can’t give up. I’m so close. I have to play my part in helping out. My side of the family is the only arm of our generational body that has this level of opportunity. I want to make sure the left hand, the right leg, all the limbs have the same opportunities that I do. I’m not any more deserving than my cousins. We’re all hardworking, respectful, and kind. I just got lucky, you know? My immigration process is what drives me to do everything I’m doing. I want to maximize my opportunities and share my success with the rest of my family back in Nigeria. I want them to have the chance to vacation to America. Going to Nigeria was the first vacation of my life.”

Aka then shared with me how his Nigerian roots have influenced his perspective and sound

“I think part of being Nigerian is finding joy in anything. Two years ago, I was in a holding cell, but I caught myself laughing like a motherfucker with the nigga sitting next to me. That’s the part of being Nigerian that influences my entire being: accepting things as they are and still being able to find joy in any moment. Musically, it influences everything—my melody patterns, my harmonies, my videos, my cover art. Since I was born, I’ve been listening to Nigerian music. I love new Nigerian music like Asake, Wiz Kid, Bella Shmurda, but old African music is the soundtrack to my life. Artists like Osita Osadebe, Sunny Adé, Oliver de Coque, and Tony One Week. I feel like every song I have, I try to discuss something that’s on my heart. I’m inspired by old African music where even if it’s a song for bitches to shake their ass to, it still has something to say. Life is too real not to. We’re still under the clench of the Western world in Africa. We have to talk about what it’s like for us to exist. That’s how we relate to the rest of the population.”

Aka describes BEFORE THE REIGN as a “poetry project.” The mixtape isn’t designed for commercial popularity but rather for personal self-expression. It’s an emotional time capsule, a cathartic release before his upcoming project, FIGHTER JET, which he states will be a thematic continuation of SUPER EAGLE.

I chose the title because it’s prophetic,” Aka told me, “I believe my words are powerful. I get myself into every situation I dream up. 2024 is going to be a crazy year for me with the music that’s coming. FIGHTER JET has some of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever made.”

He then showed me a painting he made to help him conceive of BEFORE THE REIGN. It depicts a blank-faced, green bear-man standing in front of a sky filled with pink clouds. He explains the symbolic features, telling me that the blank face represents the mixed emotions he’s been experiencing and the clouds signal the impending reign, a play on words. He describes the bear as a symbolic caricature of an area boy, Nigerian slang for hustling street kids.

That’s the spirit I’ve had my whole life,” Aka commented, “Go outside and get it.

Listen to Igwe Aka’s mixtape, BEFORE THE REIGN, available now on all platforms.

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