WORDS GRACEY MAE - PRODUCTION EDITOR JENNIFER ELECTO - IMAGES COURTESY OF JULS BABY
Ghanaian artist, Dj and producer Julian Nicco-Annan a.k.a Juls Baby is someone whose authenticity and pride for his roots have made him one of Afrobeats' known names in the music industry not only for his fresh take on producing but his ability to blend different genres with the genuine African soul. Juls counts hip-hop heavyweights by the likes of J Dilla to Swizz Beatz as personal inspirations, but he went on to develop an uncluttered yet detailed hybrid of Afrobeats style.
The London-born creative was raised in England and Accra, Ghana and back in the early 2010s, Juls got deeply into beat-making after a period of casual interest. His supporting work started to gain significant traction, and, from then on Juls came to released singles of his own, including "Teef Teef," "With You," and "Give You Love," throughout 2016. 'Leap of Faith' was his debut album which was released back in 2017 and his history of collaborations includes some incredible names such as Kojey Radical ("Temperature Rising"), Maleek Berry and Nonso Amadi ("Early"), and Eugy, Not3s, and Kojo Funds ("Bad"). His single, "Maayaa," arrived in July 2019 and was followed by the innovative Colour project, which featured collaborations with a host of artists including Sweetie Irie, Sway Clarke, and Kida Kudz.
Most recently, Juls Baby has released his latest project titled 'Soweto Blues' which he describes as a "love-hate depiction of one's relationship with their city." The track is a perfect combination of the soft sound of house and soul with some strong elements of Amapiano. This is the new fresh soundwave flowing over South Africa and spreading throughout the world.
While in lockdown, Juls has been keeping busy with creating some more music in his studio and connecting with family and friends through FaceTime as well as doing some IG Live sessions for his fans. While in self-isolation, journalist, Afrobeats Radio Host and F Word's contributor Gracey Mae, has a candid chat with Juls to learn more about his new music, what he has been up to while in lockdown and much more.
Gracey Mae: Welcome! Your tag is Juls Baby. Where did that come from and who is that voice?
Juls Baby: Juls is short for my real name, Julian and the voice is by an artist, Amaarae. Amaarae is a Ghanaian artist. At the time when she did that, she wasn’t even really into music that much – she was kind of like learning. I think she was in school at the time but there was a time where I just looked at my phone and I sent a broadcast to about maybe 11-12 girls saying “I need you guys to say my name in the sexiest way possible”. There were some very erotic responses that I got…and then erm, Amaarae had the best one. Obviously, I pitched her vocals a bit to make it sound a bit different and that’s what I’ve been using on my beats ever since, and it’s become a household name I guess…simple thing, no long thing.
G.M: You’re an artist, producer, DJ – which one describes you best?
J.B: Hmm. That’s a good question. What describes me best? Explorative. If you’re asking in one word, it’s ‘explorative’. I like to try new things sound-wise. I don’t like to limit myself. I don’t like sticking to one particular sound because it actually gets on my nerves! I like to introduce new things, and if people don’t get it then, they’ll get it later. Everything around me is music. Living. Breathing. Eating. Music is life in my opinion. That’s my motto. Music is the fruit of life so that’s the best way to describe me, to be honest.
G.M: You’ve been in the game for a minute now, how do you think you’ll be remembered?
J.B: Why? Where am I going? [Laughs]
G.M: (Laughs) You’re not going anywhere but in terms of legacy, when we think of people like Olamide, we think of YBNL. When we think of Davido, we think of DMW. When we think of Don Jazzy, we think of Mavin [Records]. So when we think of Juls, how would you like to be celebrated and remembered? What’s your legacy?
J.B: I would like to be remembered as the guy who changed the game sound wise and always tried to elevate himself. When you say Juls, it should just be Juls. Like when you say my name, you should just know what it is. Like when you say Bob Marley, you know who Bob Marley is without asking questions. When you say Jay Z, you don’t ask any questions. When you say Burna Boy or WizKid, you don’t ask any questions. It’s just great music alternative – that’s what I’m trying to create.
G.M: I thought you might mention that you’re MOBO nominated, and you’ve worked with Grammy-nominated artists like Burna Boy, but you didn’t…
J.B: But those were moments. Those were moments and I feel like they’re gonna happen again. Do you know what I mean? Working with Grammy-nominated artists is one thing but being Grammy-nominated is one goal that I’m trying to get. And when I get that, then it’s onto the next goal which is continuing to make music that crosses borders; blend the sounds. You know there’s so much music out there. You’ve got the Latin world is another world on its own that hasn’t even been explored to it’s fullest yet, it’s crazy! The festival culture there is wonderful, I don’t see why you can’t blend that with Africa. It’s already started. You know [Mr] Eazi’s tried it with J Balvin…I don’t know if Afro B…
G.M: Yeah, Afro B is about to drop his ‘Joanna’ Latin Remix, Rema’s done a few remixes for ‘Dumebi’ with Latin artists…
J.B: You see so we’re tapping into that market. Do you know what I mean? So once we tap into that market you’ve gone clear because they’re doing some crazy numbers and their music is in abundance and their festival culture is incredible. It’s just amazing to be a part of that you know? If you look at J Balvin and Bad Bunny and what they’ve done in that world. We wanna be able to do the same thing – and also in the Caribbean. Sean Paul, Beenie Man, Popcaan…you know all of these guys. Just blending cultures man, that’s what I’m trying to do. So once that is done properly, I feel like I need a few more prolific artists under my belt and that when I know, we’re getting somewhere so when they say my name, it’s like a Quincy Jones type of thing. That calibre.
G.M: With that being said, here’s a two-part question: how important are awards to you, and, how important is it to take the sound outside – but also to bring people to your sound?
J.B: Awards to me are very important, in the sense that it feels like you’re achieving something. Me personally, I hope to win a Grammy one day, I hope to win a MOBO one day, a BRIT one day… literally all of these things but then, you know, I just need to keep working hard. An MTV Africa award, listen! I’m ready for all of this. The nominations – I’ve had some great nominations. I’ve been nominated in Nigeria for awards like SoundCity, I’ve been MOBO nominated, I was close to getting a Grammy nomination but we didn’t get the nod but Goldlink’s album did incredibly well. I’ve worked with Grammy-nominated artists like Burna Boy so it’s almost there. I just need to keep going. At the moment, I’m working on figuring out the sound I feel that can tackle that. Once I get there then BOOM! How important is it to blend sounds? The main reason being that’s the only way we’ll cross over. What happens is if Afro B does a song with J Balvin or Shakira, or Burna Boy doing a song with Serani, or WizKid does a song with Damian Marley or Chronixx, you’re introducing people to your sound so real music lovers will start to dig…You have to keep building and building and building until it reaches the masses.
G.M: True. I love that! I’m gonna ask you a few random questions now. They're completely off centre. Are you ready? What is the most surprising image on your saved images on Instagram?
J.B: I didn’t even know you can do that. Is it that Collection thing? I don’t even know how to check it. I can’t even lie to you. That’s old age bro. I have no idea what you’re talking about. [Laughs] When I see something on IG, I screenshot it and I save it in an album on my Pictures – that’s what I do. Sorry mate. Don’t know what you’re on! [Laughs]
G.M: [Laughs]. Next question! Weirdest Whatsapp Group name?
J.B: Erm…Power Circle.
G.M: Okay…That’s not weirdest. That sounds dope.
J.B: Ah Okay. I don’t have any weird names then. Everything is literally business or family. I’ve got a group with my boys about Fantasy Football league but I guess I don’t have any weird Whatsapp groups names. There are some aunties that I’ve had to mute though.
G.M: Savage. Most random number in your contact list?
J.B: Travis Scott’s manager.
G.M: TikTok, Triller or Houseparty?
J.B: I haven’t explored TikTok that much. Triller gets on my nerves. Houseparty is cool. Yeah, Houseparty.
G.M: Obviously, everyone is using all three during Quarantine but you’ve taken to IG Live with lots of mixes; how is being received and why do you think this is the best way to connect with your fans?
J.B: It’s been very good! I said I was going to do the last one last week and people were commenting “Why is it the last one?” It’s a very organic gathering. Do you know what I mean? It’s literally people who are friends, and people who I know and people who told people to come and join in so we’re making new friends. For me, it’s helping to build my skills because I hardly get to DJ these days. I’m always in the studio making beats and producing and recording so it’s a nice way to sharpen my tools. Hopefully, people will see the energy that it’s bringing so that when this quarantine thing is over, I can get bookings. That was a plug! A lot of people have just been receiving it very well. They like the vibes, they like the energy. I mean I do a lot of good parties anyway so it’s literally just bringing the parties to virtual live. I’ll try and do another one soon, not sure when but soon.
G.M: And in general, there’s a lot of bad news around us, lots of death. How are you keeping sane and upbeat during this quarantine season?
J.B: I speak to family a lot. My studio is five minutes down the road so that’s literally what I do. I’m mostly at my house, go to the studio to work, then come back. Literally studio in and out. I’m watching Trace TV; just checking the music out there. Looking at videos. Getting ideas for new music. I’m also listening to a lot of old school stuff. Any ideas I get, I just note them down. I’ve started drawing again, I used to draw a lot when I was a kid. Getting into animation and cartoons. If people have been following me for a while, they know that I love cartoons but I’m tryna see if I can do it on my own now because these cartoonists cost so much money man. It’s a bit too expensive. That’s literally what I’m doing. Spending time with people close to me as well. Making phone calls. Catching up on people that I haven’t spoken to. Bussin jokes here and there. That’s it really.
G.M: Jumping off of your time in the studio, let’s talk about your brand new track, ‘Soweto Blues’ with Jaz Kharis and Busiswa. How did the track come about? What inspired you to jump on the Amapiano sound? Give us all the T.
J.B: So, I was introduced to Amapiano about two years ago when I went to South Africa for a camp. It was like 3 or 4 days – it was an Empawa camp by [Mr] Eazi. I met a guy there called Kwesta – he’s a rapper. He was talking to us about this Amapiano sound and I didn’t think too much of it because I hadn’t heard too much. Fast forward to a year and a half later, my manager and I were in the car with [DJ] Neptizzle and they were just playing this music. And the music sounded like House, so I was like “What is this?” They were like this is DJ Maphorisa – this is the new sound and I just started listening to it. I started doing my research about where it originates from and I was like “yo…this is really really good”. And I knew Maphorisa already from time ago from when he was doing Gqom [A South African Genre of House] and all of that so I’ve always been a fan of that music. Now Busiswa and I just happened to like each other’s music so we followed each other on social media, and you know, we were doing that thing where you support each other from afar. I liked her stuff – she liked my stuff. Then I just messaged her one day and was like “yo! It would be really dope if we could work on a song together”. She was like “yeah, that would be really really sick” so I sent her an Afrobeat and she did her thing on it. Then as I began to listen to it over and over and over again, I was like “ah man! Why don’t I try and change things around to make it a bit different?” There are about 6 or 7 versions of ‘Soweto Blues’ but they’ve all got different names as I was just messing with her vocals. Then I finally came to a particular version, I was like “aight! This is really sick but to make it full I need to make it more of a house type of thing so that people can sing along instead of just chanting.” So, I reached out to Jaz Kharis. Now I’ve been a fan for a minute. She was introduced to me through P2J. He executively produced her EP – amazing EP as well. We had a session a year and a half back, we recorded some stuff, and then I hit her up again last year. I was like “yo! Let’s come to the studio. I’ve got this song – I think you’ll be perfect on it.” She came to the studio, she heard the song, and she was like “what’s the concept?” I was like talking about a love-hate relationship so she just made her verse in two takes.
G.M: Oh wow. That's sick.
J.B: Yeah. She took about 25 to 30 minutes to write, we mixed it down and it was perfect. You know, it sounded like it was a love-hate relationship with a person but it ended up being a love-hate relationship with the place you’re from. Hence why I called it ‘Soweto Blues’. When I went to South Africa again this year just to connect with the people and embed myself in the culture before the whole Corona thing happened, I got to experience their lifestyle and their culture. Soweto is a place where a lot of the culture and the music comes from; in terms of what makes it popular. If you want to know what’s popping, people go to Soweto. They have so many DJs having events there. There’s a place we went to which is called Moja Café – Moonchild [Sanellly] took me there. It was the best night of my life! Ever. So then I was like 'aight! Cool. This is what I need to call this song’ because the song just gives you a chilled, cool vibe but you can still dance to it. It’s very soulful but at the same time, it’s an indirect telling people that no matter where you’re from, you’re always going to have a love-hate relationship with that place. We’re from London; we love London sometimes but most times we hate it. I’m sure some people living in New York feel the same thing about their city. They will rep New York until they die but they hate New York at the same time. Ghana the same. Nigeria the same. Anywhere really! That’s literally how the song came about.
G.M: That’s amazing, obviously the video was shot in Soweto as well. What was that experience like for you?
J.B: Oh, amazing! It was probably one of the most straight forward video shoots I’ve ever had because it was just vibes. I knew exactly what I wanted it to be and how I wanted it to be. I wrote the whole story of the video – I had it written down already before I went to South Africa, it was just about who would be the right person to execute it. It was shot and directed by Nigel Stöckl who works closely with Maphorisa and his team. He’s done all of their recent videos; from Koko to videos for ShaSha from South Africa as well. He’s a sick cinematographer and I told him the kind of shots I’m looking for and yeah! We were there all day, we shot from 9 am to 6 pm. I didn’t get tired, I was just enjoying. Everything in that video was just organic: the dancers they were just hanging around, they were excited to be in the video so we shot them. Boom! When the video shoot was done, I went to the studio to record a new song.
G.M: Oh okay, is that the next release? What else can we look forward to for the rest of the year?
J.B: Well with the Corona thing going on, God knows! Maybe I’ll put some music out again. I’m just seeing how ‘Soweto Blues’ is doing at the moment. ‘Soweto Blues’ seems to be doing quite significantly well. People like it.
G.M: Last but not least, what’s your favourite F Word?
Juls Baby will be releasing his Progressive Playlist 'Happy Place' on May 1st, 2020. You can listen to it HERE.
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