SAY IT LOUD! The understated euphony of O.L

When he sings, rising pop star, O.L summons the great crooners all at once: Brown, Timberlake, Antwi, Jackson. His honeyed delivery conveys a singular sensual charisma. That he arrives...

When he sings, rising pop star, O.L summons the great crooners all at once: Brown, Timberlake, Antwi, Jackson. His honeyed delivery conveys a singular sensual charisma. That he arrives in the classic tall, chocolate build, and delightful smile that appeals to the fairer sex makes him the more troublesome. 

A singer-songwriter/ self-taught producer, the crooner has so far, published three singles, and has stealthy eyes set on becoming a trusted conveyer of love stories in this town. Judging by high-profile co-signs he’s courted so far (from Patoranking, Seyi Shay, Kaakie, Praiz, Jupitar, Captain Planet of 4×4 among others) and passionate glimmer in his eyes when he testifies of his affection for melody, one can hardly question this goal. 

O.L’s origin story is textbook: he grew up in a home where music has always enjoyed a constant presence. His mother, aunt, and younger sister all belonged to the choir. He picked up the rudiments of rap from his older brother. His father, a computer engineer constantly spun old classics (Celine Dion, Michael Jackson, Femi Kuti, Fela Kuti, Amakye Dede etc) in their parlour. Naturally, he would take a unique liking to music, and when he came into youth, decide to pursue it beyond church choir level. 

Like Mr Eazi, O.L (born Chinedu Victor Iphy) straddles two identities, having been born in Nigeria but bred in Ghana. He’s alumnus of Amazing Love and Keta Secondary School, both in Ghana’s Volta Region. 22, O.L, who set out professionally in 2014 is often referred to as the new voice. In 2017, he inked a recording deal with Renzel Music, under which he published a number of critically received records including “High,” “Hangover,” “One Chance,” and the Kelvyn Boy — assisted. Following his exit from Renzel Music in 2018 to go independent, he released viral covers on popular records including Wizkid’s “Fever,” and the Sarkodie — curated “Biibiba.” O.L is a 2018 beneficiary of Mr Eazi’s EmpawaAfrica program, an enterprise to shine the light on 100 emerging African acts. It was via that platform he published “Rihanna.”

When he started listening to pop music seriously, he promptly selected Chris Brown as primary technical model (Being compared to Chris Brown or Wizkid, does not necessarily bother him, he parries the question. He is O.L, after all, and in time, it will shine through). 

Brown possesses a delicious vocal range that is virtually impossible to replicate. Not for O.L, who acknowledges a parallel vocal texture as the American R&B megastar.

“I could easily sing him. When I sounded out his songs, l it was easy for me to relate.” He would listen to a Timberlake, or an Usher, or a Bieber, but none of them communicated to his inner senses the way Brown did. With Brown, it was as though O.L was singing his own specific emotions, chiefly relating to love. 

“Love has always been the foundation of my life,” says O.L, now signed to GadOne Empire. “I am a happy guy. R&B [the genre his creativity is founded on] is love, and with love, it’s easy to share. Love connects to the root of your heart via a specific emotional flow.”

Surely, such dense philosophy on love must germinate from somewhere. “With me,” he confesses, smiling coyly “love songs started coming into my life when I started feeling love; when I started loving someone.” The smile expands into a full chuckle by the time this next sentence falls off his tongue. “When you watch someone you love, they give you so much motivation.” 

Unsurprisingly, O.L finds love songs the easiest to make. He submits that with that thematic picking, he doesn’t even need to have a beat before penning it. Rest assured, he’ll still supply earworm choruses.

To O.L, choruses hold utmost primacy, especially within the climate he practices music. “We are in Africa,” after all. “You are trying to sell your music very well. O.L observes that on the continent (unlike the US, for example) music commerce works under a different infrastructure. Here, “you have to make sure it’s easy for the people to listen, so that varied demographics can consume and enjoy the music,” notes he. 

It is the opinion of all who know him that O.L was born for this. Indeed, his entire childhood has served as preparation for his current trajectory. He only ensures that he’s rooted, for he didn’t come from particularly rosy circumstances. His commission, he says, is to “do me as best as I can.” Furthermore, O.L is a firm believer in surrounding one’s self with matured people as maturity begets wisdom. Little wonder, therefore, that many people question the authorship of his songs. How such a young man can render love songs so expertly, they wonder. The trick to that? He leans forward:

“I actually take my time to write them [songs].” Sure, songs sometimes come very fast, but however they come, he ensures that whatever I am saying, he’s visualizing sincerely. Take “Selassie,” a cloying, promise-filled mid-tempo joint he published back in March. “I pictured it. I was saying everything I wanted to do for a girl; meet her mom, meet her dad…”

Here’s another not-so-conventional outlook he harbours about the creative process: beats are like meals, he says to his interviewer who’s now squinting from confusion. “How do I put it?” He pauses searching for an appropriate analogy. “The process before the satisfaction comes in—that’s how I feel when somebody sends me a beat. I feel connected. The beat tells me the kind of song I would end up writing.” 

Hence, even before beat fully runs, he has bot chorus and lyrics. 

“I connect to the beat,” he continues. “I listen to it very carefully; each note. Most times, it is what kick starts the whole process.”  

O.L notes that the above notwithstanding, songs ultimately evolve the way they decide. “Hangover” was made at dawn. He woke up with the melody and proceeded straight to play the beat. Like everything he sings about, that record is based on a personal story: a girl he used to date, upon realizing that he’s now become a commercial sensation, appeals for another chance. He refused, to which she said, “if we don’t get back together, I’ll be in an endless hangover.” Everything is connected. Every song that I write comes from me,’ he stresses. “I wouldn’t create a song that I have never lived because I wouldn’t know how to write it.” An example is the subject of money: “I wouldn’t be able to give you the best lyrics because I haven’t been it yet.

Other song happened out of anger, for instance, at criticism on his genre choices. In protest, he entered the booth, requested a specific beat, and waxed pure island vibes. No two songs have the same creation process. 

The worst places are where your heart feels deepest. O.L subscribes to this paradigm as a scribe of love songs. For one, he suspects that love singers are, from the very start, cursed by their own gift when it comes to the quest to find love, starting with the Casanova typecast. ”Everybody sees you as a playboy,” he worries. “Everybody thinks you have this power to change emotions, so when you are with the one girl and you really really love the girl, she would always doubt that it’s 100%. So, it makes relationships difficult for me as an artist.”

In O.L’s case, it doesn’t help that he often assumes the behaviour of a hermit to make music, reinforcing the impression that he’s more committed to love songs than the partners who inspire them. 

“My flaw that is I am always missing in the picture. I get lost. As a result, it often casts me erroneously as somebody who is not serious,” he laments.

Away from sad love stories: for as long as he will do music, O.L shall not be boxed. His work will always ooze a soul, but he refuses to be defined by a single genre. Music is enormous—as big as God. “If you decide to stay in one type of genre you will imprison yourself.” So if he goes out of Ghana, to, say, South Africa, and hears House music, he’s not averse to experimenting with it. He’ll dabble in RnB, Dancehall, Afro-Swing–all of it. “I need to be open to music so that I can experiment—so that when you hear O.L, you don’t get bored of him. When you listen to O.L you hear something different every time.” 

Finally, to those who worry that he’s underrated, O.L has comforting words. Timing is everything. Secondly, he’s got a plan. His management ensures that. He’s learned not to compare himself with anybody, as everybody’s journey is different. This much he knows: he’s his own competition. Therefore, he will continue to himself and “say it loud (as is his catchphrase) —till his good is better, and his better, best.

Pop writer from Accra.