Adekunle Gold Talks ‘Tequila Ever After,’ Signing to Def Jam

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Nigerian superstar Adekunle Gold is experiencing a renaissance of sorts. He’s just announced a North American tour, is celebrating a freshly inked deal with Def Jam and is reaping the fruits of his latest release “Tequila Ever After” — Gold’s debut album on the label.

“One thing that I’ve always done is just focus on the game,” Gold tells Variety. “My game is to make my music timeless and then make it code across territories. And I’m happy that it’s happening now. It feels good to put in the work and have the people see it. I went to Australia, [performed in] six cities and sold out all the shows — Who would think that my music would take me out there? I’m just getting started.”

“Tequila Ever After” comes off the heels of his 2022 album and tour, both aptly titled “Catch Me If You Can,” which featured Davido, Ty Dolla $ign and a plethora of other artists from across the diaspora. The Nigerian-born singer released his debut album “Gold” back in 2016 amid the global rise of African music and has been captivating the hearts and ears of fans all over the world ever since.

Inspired by Gold’s first-time experience with tequila in 2022, his latest album positions itself as a songbook of conversations with friends, his romantic partner and Gold himself. Declaring himself “Tio Tequila,” Gold can be found teetering between his native language Yoruba and English fluidly across the set. This approach also allows non-Afropop artists (take for example R&B songstress Coco Jones on “Make it Easy”) to seamlessly adapt to his vibe and shine in their own lane.

Album highlight “Falling Up” with Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers appears near the end of the tracklist and presents itself as one of Gold’s most experimental songs to date. It stands out with Rodger’s strings at its instrumental forefront and lyrically sees Gold reflecting on his blessings over a sonic mix of Afrobeats with traditional African choir elements and modern EDM/Amapiano.

“Tequila Ever After” also marks Gold’s first release under Def Jam and under the creative direction of executive producer and CEO Tunji Balogun. Balogun also served as an A&R on the project, and Gold heavily credits him for his overall creative insight as a Nigerian executive. Highly sought-after Nigerian producer Kel-P also produced several songs on the project.

Below, Gold tells Variety about the intricacies behind the making of his new album, opens up about his upcoming tour and shares praise for his new label home.

You’ve been creating music for a long time, but within the last 2-3 years there’s been a huge uptick in listeners. You’ve talked about performing in non-English and non-African countries and having fans singing every lyric of your songs. How does that feel to see your music and Afro music as a whole become even more global?

It feels so good. You know in the past I’ve been made to feel like my music was local. I’ve seen people call me a “Yoruba singer” [Yoruba is a West African language, native to Nigeria]… as if being a Yoruba singer is a bad thing (laughs).

A lot of recent popular Afro songs are in English or have very little Yoruba or other African language. Generally speaking, on your latest album, you have a way of flowing back and forth between the two. Is that conscious?

I don’t force anything. If the word or phrase sounds better in Yoruba, I’ll leave it. Do I think about how [the audience] will understand it?

No. For the most part, I don’t… because in music there is no limitation. Language is never a barrier. If it feels good, it feels good. There’s no process behind it. It’s just how I’m feeling in the studio. Yoruba is a beautiful language, and I don’t even try to even explain it. I just leave it there. That’s how I work.

How has it been at your new label home, Def Jam – specifically working with fellow Nigerian and CEO Tunji Balogun?

It’s the best thing. Having somebody that understands the sound is amazing. Having somebody understand what direction I should be heading is the best feeling. A lot of people are signing Afrobeat artists but then they don’t understand what to do with them. Do you want to know where you should be promoted? How you should be sold?

But my case is so different. Having an Ilorin [Nigerian city] boy being the A&R as well, and the executive producer is just the best feeling in the world. I’m grateful that I have his ears and his attention. I have the attention of the whole team – not just Tunji.

You have some impressive talent on this album such as legends like Pharrell and Nile Rodgers. What was it like working with them and how did the song “Falling Up” come about?

This album is just proof of manifestation. Everybody I worked with on this album, I wanted them. And I’m glad to see that God is on my side. And [“Falling Up”] came about because when I started working on this album, I always said I wanted Pharell on this project.

I went to Miami to work on the song [with Pharell], and four days before [that], I saw Nile Rodgers performing at the Grammys. I took a picture of him and sent it to Tunji. I said, “I’m manifesting this guy on my album.” Tunji ran into him on the plane and told him I wanted to work with him.

Days later Pharell and I were in the studio – and Nile walks in with his guitar. It was incredible. Pharell called me a “unicorn” and said I catch the best melodies. Pharell’s words changed my life… I can’t wait for people to enjoy “Falling Up,” it’s my personal testimony.

You’re getting ready for a multi-city North American tour, with over a dozen dates – what are you most excited about? How do you think fans will react to hearing the new music live?

You know I had a great tour last year [for] the “Catch Me if You Can [Tour],” and this one I’m looking forward to playing larger venues, now that I have a much bigger album. I’m looking forward to fans singing the music back to me. It’s going to be an amazing one. I’m bringing my friends to all the cities with me. It will be incredible.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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