What Creatives Can Learn From Rema About Interviews And Branding
Since making his music debut in 2019, Rema has arguably been the most written-about artist. Especially in long-form features where writers try as best as they can to capture his essence. The content of his appeal. As a music maker, his interests were varied, but not hard to place. There is an obvious inspiration of Bollywood and Telenovelas.
There’s the Wizkid touch to his delivery (at times though), Young Thug and Gunna would approve of his stylistic leanings whenever he rapped, the insistence on youthful elements, on dreamy landscapes tethered to an imaginative childhood. Video games, comic books, Nigerian, XXX Tentacion, star signs, Benin City, Pop star, Trapper – all these went into who Divine Ikubor was, otherwise known as Rema.
Only recently, Camille Storm, a PR agent, and writer I greatly admire shared on Twitter that it’d been one year since she profiled Rema for The Fader. It’s a great piece, one which has aged so well. Rema is a global star today, has worked his way into the greatest rooms and the grandest stages. Across nationalities, people (especially young people) don his music as a badge, a mutually beneficial relationship established between both fans and artist, both parties validating the other in some sense.
This essay is however written with a more recent “event” in mind. Noisey, a United kingdom based media house, under the parent company Vice, welcomed the 20-year-old Nigerian into their studios. ‘The Noisey Questionnaire of Life’ had, expectedly, options for Rema (he was typically given three options to choose from), and in the 4 minutes run time of the video posted on Twitter, the artist articulated himself so brilliantly and in a fresh manner.
Where Rema Got It Right In This Interview
As a journalist, I’m intrigued by the innate (practice goes into it however) usage of storytelling to prop narratives. That there’s literally a concise and well-informed Rema feature in most media spaces bears testament to what he’s doing right. The young man has hacked the sensibilities of allyship between journalists, artists, and viewers/listeners.
He knows the right amount of detail to give each person, and for the sake of better interviews and profiles, here are some takeaways from that video.
Often, the bane of celebrity is that your humanity is stripped from you. In the sense that one often forgets to put down the glorious perfect charm of celebrity and be human. Rema obviously is, from the “blood in my hands” metaphor (when discussing his video game skills) to his admitted fandom of XXXTentacion, who many are quick to distance themselves from, due to his problematic dealings while he was alive.
But not Rema; Tentacion is a great influence to several artists worldwide who emulates the unique shape his art took, an arc spread across music, mental health, and young black life.
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In my line of work, I speak to people all the time. Over the phone, I try as best as I can to get a stranger to open up about his art and his dealings. Often they do. Sometimes, they don’t, and when the final words are said –the “thank yous” and “have a good day”– I play the recorded call in a frenzy.
Was it clear enough? Did I get enough? Often the answer to the second question is no, and it’s left to me to mould a coherent story to make up for the lack of original content. Here, I’ll likely write that “Artist CY has been the name on everyone’s lips” instead of a reported phrase: “Artist CY recalls how wild the Jos and Lagos crowds went when he performed.”
Rema tells stories, his recent song Ginger me exemplifies this. Each profile on him (my favourite being on publications like Native Mag, The Fader, Highsnobiety) portends an intimate session with him and his inspirations, his thoughts. His opinions aren’t as fully formed yet but there’s the unmistakable presence of conviction in his existence, which he relays through stories.
‘That was where I was discovered. I posted a picture and it went on from there,’ he explained, after picking Instagram ahead of Twitter and Tiktok as his favourite social media platform amongst the trio. It’s a well-known story by now but doesn’t hurt to exploit a chance to ingeniously tie a period of one’s musical journey to an interview right?
Know Yourself (“That’s some ‘me’ vibe”)
In what is probably the “biggest” question of the session, Rema was asked to pick between the Nigerian trio of Burna Boy, Naira Marley, and Wizkid. Many might have expected the youngster to choose Wizkid (given the obvious similarities) but he instead went for Burna Boy who was the right answer (sonically, that is) and made to explain why he’d done so. ‘I love his (Burna Boy’s) story. I listen to Burna from days back. I also, you know, saw a lot that was happening around that time And seeing how he got to deal with those battles was very inspiring,’ he said.
The next question was poetically fitting. Scar, Mufasa, or Simba? In 2011, American rapper J. Cole had rapped about being Simba, how he couldn’t wait to be king. Rema, in choosing Simba, echoes the same sentiment, and he’s channelling his greater forces to achieve that crowning feat. “He came back, took the throne. That’s some ‘me’ vibe,” he said, noting that “he was young, he strategized, and (that) he waited for the right time.”
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Obviously Rema is media-trained by the best professionals in the business but it isn’t strictly a music thing to see who his person is. New artists without the backing of a record label and its related benefits (e.g media training and PR-focused classes) clearly and importantly have to learn on the job as their own bosses. Signed artists and creatives, too. Hopefully this help –another suggestion would be for creatives to read widely across music business sites and blogs, widen their knowledge on how artists and journalists perceive branding and apply it to their professions. Just like Rema’s always done.
Watch the video of the interview below:
Emmanuel Esomnofu is a Nigerian music journalist. He presently writes for Notjuskok.
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