Two Years Ago, Pheelz Was at a Low Point. Then He Posted a Song Snippet on TikTok
In early 2021, things started to fall apart for Pheelz. That February, he released his debut EP, Hear Me Out, following nearly two decades of producing some of Afrobeats’ greatest hits. The EP was relatively successful, racking up millions of streams all around, but the process cost Pheelz a lot of money, leaving a huge dent in his finances.
Then, his girlfriend ended their five-year relationship, and his best friend of 15 years sent him a text one night, abruptly declaring their friendship over (for reasons Pheelz declines to expand on). “It was a moment of being alone with myself,” the 28-year-old tells Rolling Stone. “I have a vlog where I’d record myself and my thoughts every day. Two months ago, I checked that vlog and I saw myself, and it was just crazy because I had [a] beard. I didn’t have enough money to buy bottled water; I would have friends send me food. I lost everything except the roof over my head.”
What may have been a breaking point for some was to Pheelz — an intensely metaphysical person — just fate doing its thing. “I just think it’s the universe. I feel like for this level that I’m on, that period needed to happen,” Pheelz tells me one sunny Wednesday afternoon in February, a few days after the release of his second EP, Pheelz Good.
Pheelz and I are sitting in the living room of his former home in Gbagada, a partly commercial, partly residential area on Lagos Mainland. It’s a two-story building with faded gold and dull red paint. Right next to the gate is a much smaller building, and inside of it is the studio where Pheelz produced many of the hit songs that shot him up the ranks of prominent Nigerian producers. (He’s moved out, but converted the room into a workspace for his creative team.) Today, it’s easy to tell from his wide smile and bounce in his step that he is still feeling jaunty from the release of Pheelz Good.
But to get here, he needed to go through that low period. Somewhere in the depths of his creative and financial rut, he recorded a new song, “Finesse,” featuring BNXN (FKA Buju). He decided to post the outro of the song on TikTok. His expectations, at that moment, were considerably low. “I had just opened my TikTok a week before and I had 21 followers, so I posted it there because I was looking for content to post,” he says.
Then, something amazing happened. “The next day, boom!” he says. “Everyone started reposting and asking, ‘Where is this song, bro? This is fire.’ Then, two days later, BNXN messaged me about the song, and we finished it together.” A midtempo jam addled by soft guitar strings and witty lyrics, “Finesse” blew up from the first snippet Pheelz shared on TikTok. The song became one of the most Shazamed songs in 2022 and inspired millions of TikTok and Instagram trends with its catchy refrain “If I broke na my business.” It also finished fifth on Rolling Stone’s list of the best Afropop Songs of 2022. Since then, Pheelz has gone one to perform at the BET Awards, as well as at London’s O2 Arena, during Davido’s sold-out concert. When he got onstage that night, Pheelz remembers, “It was bright as fuck. Everywhere lit up, and everyone was singing ‘Finesse’ from the top to the bottom. It was a moment for us, and after that, everything just changed.”
If the events of 2021 allowed him to recalibrate, 2022 helped him return to himself. Pheelz Good is joyous and complicated, a tightly woven, introspective narrative about a man expressing love, ambivalence, and the joy of making it out of the tunnel. “I make music from how I feel,” Pheelz tells me. “So I was combining these three different things just to show the world that I’ve felt these things.”
“Stand by You,” a slow-paced number, allows him to look back on past struggles, with lyrics like “My eyes have seen/So many shit on the street/And I’ve been through places/You’ve never been.” “Ewele,” a club banger and one of the sure hits on the project, finds him expressing gratitude but also promising to keep things YOLO. “They wan see my sorrow/But thank God say man baff up,” he sings in his soft tenor.
Pheelz’s appeal as a producer lies in his ability to flip well-known sounds on their heads, introducing esoteric, obscure influences so that they sound familiar but also retain a particularity that only him can pull off. It’s a skill that’s allowed him to craft some of Afrobeats’ biggest hits, songs like Olamide’s “Durosoke” and Adekunle Gold’s “Sade.”
“For every one of my productions, emotions are very important,” he tells me. “Regardless of whether I am making a rap song or a club song, you must feel something, something beyond the words. Yeah, the words are important, but the emotion of the beats are important to me as well, and also just that need to be boundless. That’s why sometimes I can be as spontaneous as having an Indian sample on a traditional club beat or a song like Fireboy’s ‘ELI’ getting a Chinese sample from the 1760s or sampling a choir for an Olamide song. Those two things are important to me: emotions and being boundless with my creativity.”
Born to pastor parents in Ojo, a low-income Lagos neighborhood, Pheelz (real name: Phillip Kayode Moses) regularly set up church plays with his brother while learning how to record and make beats. In his final year of secondary school, he started interning with ID Cabasa, a prominent Afrobeats producer and owner of the Coded Tunes record label, best known for his works with 9ice and Banky W.
The internship was hectic. “It was Coded Tunes from Monday to Friday; Saturday I’d go home for choir practice, and Sunday I’d do church, where I played the musical instruments, and that was the schedule for, like, two, three years,” Pheelz remembers. While sharpening his production skills, Pheelz also made long-lasting connections at Coded Tunes. There, he met the legendary rapper and longtime collaborator Olamide — who at the time was also an intern like him. “We were the studio rats basically, that’s how we bonded,” Pheelz says. “Then we started working. I stole Cabasa’s password, and we would combine money to buy fuel for the generator, and in the middle of the night, just the two of us in the studio, I’d log into Cabasa’s system. We would work and save it on a micro SD and delete it from the system. That is how it kept going.”
After leaving Coded Tunes at 14, Pheelz worked at a few other studios. When he turned 16, Olamide reached back out to him to reconnect. “The first song we did together was ‘First of All.’ The next day, he dropped it and ‘Boom!’ Bro [the reception] was wild!” Pheelz tells me, his voice going up many octaves in excitement.
The early 2010s was a revolutionary time for Nigerian music, and Pheelz was in the middle of it. Street pop was fully taking over, Wizkid had just released his debut album, street-rap pioneers like Dagrin (who passed in early 2010) had a strong hold on Nigerian music, and Olamide had just begun dissecting the complexities of street life and hustle culture in Yoruba, one of Nigeria’s prominent indigenous languages. “At that time, there was a lot more interest in what the street was saying,” Pheelz says, explaining the uniqueness of that era. “A lot of focus was on the talents, the sound, the vibe and the energy coming from the streets.”
“It was just really exciting to see amazing talents and listen to amazing music,” Pheelz continues. “The music coming out then was unlike anything we’d ever heard. It was crazy, it was exciting, it was new. And just being part of it was so much blessing, ’cause I’d get into the studio and try to create the next sound or the next vibe. Whether it be ‘Durosoke’ or ‘Melo Melo’ [another Olamide track], I just tried to add my little bit to the movement. I didn’t really see it as something monumental at the time, I was just that young kid who was really excited about all the music I was hearing and all the artists I was working with.”
Pheelz’s formal entry into this era began with the Azonto-inspired dance track he produced for Olamide, 2012’s “First of All.” “When we made ‘First Of All,’ I don’t think the Azonto craze was that huge in Nigeria,” Pheelz says, referring to the Ghanaian style of music and dance comprised of quick, repetitive hand and leg movements that began to make waves across the continent and the diaspora in 2011.
“’First of All’ was one of those songs that made Azonto a thing in Nigeria,” he continues. “I got onto the Azonto vibe and was really inspired by what Ghana was trying to do, and I was thinking of how I would put my own twist to it. So when Olamide and I linked up, we made the song within, like, 40 minutes to an hour. Because as I was making the beat, Olamide was already writing and the beat was really simple, so it was just a seamless music-making process.”
Pheelz has helped usher in a generation of new voices into the industry since he became a part of it, having worked with Teni the Entertainer, Fireboy DML, and redefined the sound of OGs like Tiwa Savage, Phyno, M.I, and others. “It’s a blessing I don’t take for granted,” Pheelz admits. “To be able to inspire generations of creatives is something I wish I can keep doing forever ’cause it’s really my drive and I just feel really grateful.”
To Pheelz, Afrobeats has grown into something his generation could only dream of a decade ago. “The world is smaller now,” he tells me. “Every artist back then had dreams, but there was a ceiling to the dreams. Only a few would dare to dream bigger than the continent, and it wasn’t even a bad thing — it was just contentment. No one thought Afrobeats would be this way, and it’s such a blessing. I count myself really blessed to be one of the forerunners of this moment and to still be one of the forerunners but as an artist. It’s just like a bigger blessing for me.”
The new creative journey Pheelz is on was inspired by a personal commitment to explore every part of his creativity, no matter what people might think. “There’s a lot less overthinking. You know as a creative, you have this self-critic that’s just sometimes louder than your soul and talking you out of the direction you should go,” he says. “During Covid, that just stopped for me. Covid was a scary time for the world, and it really showed how fickle life is. From then onwards, I knew I would just create fully and die empty, regardless of what anyone thinks.”
In true metaphysical form, Pheelz leaves predictions of what his future holds to the universe, but he does envision “more tours, amazing songs, arenas. It is me making products that shake and inspire the world. I also want to get into fashion and tech. Just make a mark in my world and have a name that is unforgettable.”
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