The rapper talks aspirations for global success, cyberfraud allegations and pioneering a sound and dance that’s been embraced by Burna Boy and Beyoncé.
Zlatan doesn’t think that it’s a big deal that Beyoncé can do the legwork.
In the summer of 2020, the Nigerian online lost its head when a clip in the movie for Already, her collab with jeweled celebrity Shatta Wale, revealed Queen Bey pulling off a perfectly synchronised form of the zanku-inspired dancing pattern.
“I wasn’t surprised because we are all one race,” says Zlatan, the 26-year-old rapper and zanku innovator, as we sit in his airy living area in Lekki, Lagos one day in March. “People kept tagging me into the article, but I understand African culture is vibrant and our brothers and sisters overseas wish to feel the same things that we believe. I’m just thankful that something I made served as the bridge.”
Since breaking with a scene-stealing appearance on fellow rapper Chinko Ekun’s monitor Able God in 2018, Zlatan has become an unshiftable totem of Nigerian pop culture. He pioneered the zanku wave — a viral phenomenon influenced by the bass-heavy fusion music of southern Lagos, a chaotic mix of jarring production, taunting street lyricism, and high-octane adlibs endorsed by an equally energetic dance style finishing with a leg shuffle.
“Where I’m from, you hardly saw people go to make an impact on the world. A lot of visions died in that place”
Throughout his recent ascent, Zlatan has collaborated with various notable Nigerian popstars, bringing the zanku flavour into the job of Burna Boy and Davido via full-throated pubs and gutsy hooks their tunes Killin Dem and Sweet From the center , while the two superstars also looked on Zlatan’s 2019 debut album. But despite all of the success and acclaim, he’s still not convinced that most men and women know the true significance of zanku.
“It’s beyond genres and classifications,” Zlatan clarifies as he fiddles with his iPhone,”because it takes weight to what it signifies to me along with the streets. We try to express ourselves with our audio and dance”
To truly know how zanku music is almost indistinguishable from Zlatan’s identity, you have to understand where he’s coming from. Born Omoniyi Temidayo Raphael and raised in a thickly populated block of single rooms (known locally as’face-me-I-face you’) in Ikorodu, a working-class border city in the north of Lagos, Zlatan had to navigate a complex labyrinth of hardship, absence, and depression to make a name for himself. “Growing up was hard for me where I am from, you barely saw people go on to create an impact on the planet,” he says. “Lots of fantasies died in that location due to a lack of infrastructural support and motivation to perform better.”
A shot getting out of Ikorodu introduced itself when Zlatan got admitted to study Business Administration at a polytechnic in Abeokuta, the capital of neighboring Ogun state in 2014. With one eye to a music career after his win, he knew he could not remain in Ikorodu. “I told my mum I was leaving home since I did not want to wind up a king in the hood” Following months of couch-surfing, he signed his first record deal in 2017 and began buzzing at the Lagos underground landscape.
“What I know is that hard work beats talent,” he informs me about that formative period of his career. “I’ve just been putting in work and tried to stay consistent with it and I believe that’s why I’ve been able to accomplish what I have done.”
However, as Zlatan began to blossom in 2019, a brush with the Nigerian anti-graft bureau, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), threatened to disrupt his trajectory. He collaborated with the contentious star Naira Marley on the provocative single Am I A Yahoo Boy, which was released in the thick of a national conversation on the civilization of digital fraud in Nigeria, headed the EFCC into Zlatan’s doorstep one day after the song dropped. Everybody present — including Naira Marley — was arrested.
“These four days of being locked up were the worst times of my entire life,” Zlatan tells me. “It felt like I was dead since I had been cut off from everything…” he trails off, carrying a long gulp of his juice for the first time all afternoon.
“I was only coming into the business at the time and a great deal of people were curious about the origin of my wealth, they had been insinuating things about me that weren’t true and it only happened. But the EFCC came for a regular check and when they did not find anything suspicious they let me go. I took it as a learning curve and proceeded on from it.”
Despite going and dusting off aspersions from this period of time, questions about his place on cybercrime persist.
“That has been me trying to explain that success requires drastic steps and, on my trip, that was being persistent about my music,” he states. “I can not decide what the next person will do. If a person takes the wrong manner, they also need to realise that there are results to getting captured. Any manner Id way but things can happen.”
Regardless of the controversy, Zlatan has large ambitions for the next stage of his career. His most recent song, a guest-heavy remix of his 2020 hit Lagos Anthem, is the last thing he plans to fall before groundwork for his sophomore record commence.
“I feel like I have proven my purpose for a musician in Nigeria, and the next step is to cut across borders,” he admits, eyeing up the Sort of International crossover success a number of his fellow peers are currently enjoying. “I wish to take my music outside Nigeria and make songs which aren’t just for Africa alone. It is time that the entire world hears my songs ”