When Nigerian musician Fireboy DML thinks of his earliest influences, a few names come to mind. There was Passenger, the English folk/indie band turned solo artist, that led him to fall in love with American artist Jon Bellion. Then there was the legendary Afrobeats star Wande Coal whose intentional lyricism within the contemporary scene shaped how he approaches songwriting. But most notably, there was Ed Sheeran, whose songs inspired Fireboy to learn how to play the acoustic guitar, an instrument that, many years on, has remained a core part of his sound.
“When I started listening to music by myself, Ed Sheeran was one of those people that caught my attention because he had this cool demeanor, [and] soulful, honest lyrics that were very intentional,” Fireboy says via Zoom.
Last week, he released a long-awaited remix to his popular single “Peru” featuring none other than Ed Sheerann himself. The 25-year-old musician told Rolling Stone that he was “ecstatic” about Sheeran’s appearance, but that in his eyes, the collaboration is mainly “a big one for the [afrobeats] culture.”
Born Adedamola Adefolahon, Fireboy DML had his big break in early 2019 with the re-release of “Jealous,” an Afropop head-bopper that announced his presence as a major talent. It was initially included on YBNL Mafia Family, an album featuring artists under the label he is signed to in Nigeria, YBNL.
Fireboy doesn’t drop singles at the pace of most musicians in the streaming era. He released his debut album Laughter, Tears, and Goosebumps in 2019, and his sophomore album Apollo the following year. He explains that his process lets him sit with his music for a long time, “looking for any flaws.”
This is why he admits that “Peru”, a song he says took less than an hour to put together, took him into a different artistic direction altogether. By letting go of some of that patient perfectionism, he was able to loosen up. Fireboy says making the original track taught him not to overthink things, to “just enjoy the music, enjoy the process.”
It’s fitting since “Peru” is, at its heart, something of a diary entry retelling the musician’s first summer in the U.S this past year. The Nigerian producer Shizzi, who has worked with Wizkid and Davido, wanted him to come to San Fransisco and listen to some beats he was working on. In no time, a chart-topping single was born.
“If you [think about] it, the song is really about a young man in a foreign land, enjoying himself, and just coming out of his shell and having fun and living life,” he says. Whether telling us about being in “San Francisco jamming” or “flying in from Miami,” Fireboy’s goal for the song was to lean into his carefree side, a sharp contrast with the pensive and reflective edge that underlies his first two projects.
On the “Peru” remix, Fireboy and Ed Sheeran bring a fresh perspective to a song that, like Ckay’s “Love Nwantiti” or Wizkid and Tems’ “Essence,” was one of Afrobeats biggest exports this year. Ed Sheeran takes over the second verse with lyrics peppered with upbeat pidgin and interlaced with words from Yoruba which forms the lyrics of the original song.
Although Ed Sheeran isn’t a stranger to Afrobeats — he was featured alongside Burna Boy on Stormzy’s “Own It” and in 2017 he released “Bibia Be Ye Ye” a folklorish Afrobeats tune sung in Ghana’s Twi — international collaborations are still relatively new terrain for Fireboy. And while remixes like this one continue to expand Afrobeats’ global reach, many fans have expressed a certain skepticism about whether such collaborations, between Afrobeats singers and pop stars from the West, are powered more by business strategy than creativity.
Fireboy, who is gearing up for his first U.S. tour in February, insists that he values a genuine relationship with anyone he works with, first and foremost. “I do not care how big an artist is. If there’s no connection, if there’s no vibe, if there’s no energy; I’m not down for that,” he says. “[Ed Sheeran] was the perfect choice for the song because, personally, he is someone that I resonate with musically.”
And something is surely clicking between the two artists. The “Peru” remix is already blowing up online, racking up around 5 million YouTube views over the holiday weekend. “I know that they will love it when they listen to it, despite mixed feelings and opinions flying up and down,” Fireboy quips. “They will listen and I’m pretty sure that most people will love it. And that’s what counts.”