Rema sees himself as something of a prophet. The 21-year-old from Benin City in Nigeria talks online with family every day, occasionally flying them out to him (wherever he is) to bond and pray. But he has not set foot in Benin City since his breakthrough over three years ago—hundreds of millions of streams and numerous No.1s later. “I’ve been waiting for God to give me a prophecy to go back at the right time,” he replies in an unplaceable mid-Atlantic accent. “This [year] feels like the right time.”
Speaking over Zoom from an apartment in Lagos, his home-away-from-home, the artist is just back from the US, where he spent most of it holed up in a LA recording studio, putting the finishing touches to his debut full-length, Raves & Roses. He has been in perpetual motion since 17, when he flew the nest from Benin to Ghana to help keep his family afloat during a particularly tumultuous period. “There’s no time to ball or flex,” he exclaims when asked whether he can picture himself settling down. “Living every day with a handful of achievements is my high.”
In conversation, the soft-spoken young rapper has a tendency to toggle between two extreme poles: ultra-confident messianism and bashful humility. In song, he can also be hilarious, whether he’s complaining that booty oppresses him like the Taliban (“LOA”) or when on “Soundgasm”, in sotto voce, he compares sexual foreplay to killing an insect. These qualities have been on full display since 2019, when his eponymous debut EP — a thrilling Atlanta trap and Nigerian pop amalgam — cemented a new poster child of Afrobeats, a neologism that emerged in the UK in the late 2000s to bracket together a multitude of West African music styles for diasporic consumption. That release brought him to the attention of the likes of FKA Twigs, Skepta and Mahalia, all of whom have since become his collaborators.