Ever since an early Obongjayar demo first surfaced on SoundCloud in 2016, it’s been clear that Steven Umoh, the man behind the moniker, possesses a completely unique talent.


Ever since an early Obongjayar demo first surfaced on SoundCloud in 2016, it’s been clear that Steven Umoh, the man behind the moniker, possesses a completely unique talent. Known to his friends simply as ‘OB’, the Nigerian-born, London-based musician pens stirring and spiritual lyrics, while commanding a distinctive voice that flits between rap, song and spoken word. With afrobeats, soul and hip-hop influences, he has created a bold, genre-defiant musicality. Despite rich successes over the last few years; OB has never felt ready to release an album, until now, and his debut full-length, ‘Some Nights I Dream of Doors’ represents a real levelling up for Obongjayar. Across twelve tracks, he deftly moves through diverse sounds and subcultures while navigating a wealth of personal and political topics. Album opener, Try is an urgent and euphoric call to arms with a rousing beat and glittering production, ‘We used to be invincible, we used to be so beautiful’ he sings. ‘When you're a child, there are so many possibilities’ he explains. ‘You can be a pilot or an astronaut, it's all so possible. By the time you turn twenty, you realise you’re probably not going to become a brain surgeon; reality starts to set in. That's what the song and this record is about; where do those feelings go? At what point do we lose our innocence, our wide-eyed approach to the world?’ If his last EP, Which Way is Forward? posed a lot of questions as Obongjayar examined his identity and his place in the world, Some Nights I Dream of Doors is his coming of age moment. In OB’s exploration of everything from familial expectation to self-seeking politicians; there’s a boldness and a confidence to every track. Message In a Hammer pulses with Fela Kuti Zombieesque rhythm and urgency, while in Parasite, he offers a searing takedown of, ‘conservative leaders trying to tell people of disadvantaged backgrounds how to live and to better their lives, when they have no experience or understanding of our lives.’ The album is a real showcase of his vocal dexterity. In softer moments like Wish It Was Me - a song about his younger brother - and piano ballad Wind Sailor there’s a powerful vulnerability in Obongjayar’s lesser-heard singing voice. Some Nights I Dream of Doors has been many years in the making. Growing up in Calabar, Nigeria, OB remembers his first love was US hip-hop. ‘Kanye, Lil Wayne, Nelly; everyone wanted to rap. I could always sing but rap was the cool thing and I never questioned doing anything else.’ Aged seventeen, he moved to London to be reunited with his mother. He continued making music, but after a few years, realised something wasn’t right. ‘I didn’t know why I was doing it, I just clocked; I am not American, so why am I rapping? That's not my background, that’s not where I'm from and it’s not at the core of who I am. It made sense when those artists because the US is where rap was born, that was their form of expression. I had to find out what my own was.’ At 21, OB left London to move to Norwich. ‘If I hadn't gone, I’d be making drill or rap now. Instead, I worked in a shop and I met DJs who listened to soul, afrobeats, all this Detroit cool shit; I listened to Radiohead, Billy Bragg, Fela Kuti; I fell in love with musicianship, I didn’t want to just rap over the PA, I realised I could be myself, experiment, do my own thing, and Obongjayar became a blend of everything; the singing, the spoken word, rap would come into it but it wasn’t the singular thing I was doing.’ Ever since working out his formula, he continues to experiment, while accolades and co-signs continually rolled in - early guest spots on Richard Russell’s Everything Is Recorded project (alongside the likes of Damon Albarn, Giggs and Sampha) and contributions to Detroit rapper Danny Brown’s 2019 album, U Know What I'm Sayin? - It was his own EP, Which Way is Forward? that cemented him as one of the UK’s most exciting artists: God’s Own Children won Best Song Musically And Lyrically At the 2021 Ivor Novello Awards. Despite the difficulties of working in a pandemic, Obongjayar is unstoppable. Last year he went back to Nigeria and teamed up with Afrobeats producer Sarz on Sweetness; a four-track EP that reflects on the early stages of romance. Full of eighties-influenced synth-heavy pop songs, it’s like nothing he’s done before. This year, he featured on Pa Salieu’s Style & Fashion, as well as lending vocals to Little Simz’ Point and Kill. Both are zeitgeist setting collaborations, but for Some Nights I Dream Of Doors, OB kept the features to a minimum. ‘I’ve just got so much to say’ he explains, ‘if that connects with other people, then cool, but as an artist, it’s my duty to express the world in the way I see it. I don’t want to make motifs, I want to make music that is relevant and timeless.’

MS Dockville
MS Dockville