J Balvin and Mr. Eazi’s ‘Como Un Bebé’ Brings the ‘World to Africa’
On a visit to New York City last week, the Nigerian star Mr. Eazi visited a shisha bar in midtown Manhattan and heard “Como Un Bebé,” his recently released collaboration with J Balvin and Bad Bunny, three different times.
“They were playing the same thing when I went out to Montreal,” the singer says happily, lounging on a couch in the courtyard of his midtown motel. “I’m seeing videos on YouTube from [fans in] Panama, Colombia, Spain, Argentina. I feel this is the first time there is pure Afrobeats from Nigeria in the pop scene.”
“Como Un Bebé” came out on Balvin and Bad Bunny’s Oasis at the end of June; it has amassed 5.2 million streams in the U.S. to date, according to the analytics company Alpha Data. The track might have the year’s best bassline, courtesy of Nigerian producers Legendury Beatz. “Como Un Bebé” also represents the next step in a global conversation happening at the highest levels of the pop pyramid, as producers and singers from Nigeria, Colombia, Puerto Rico and elsewhere send musical rallies back and forth across the Atlantic.
Legendury Beatz started “Como Un Bebé” in their London studio; from the start, they were aiming for an intercontinental audience. “We were making a lot of South American sounds because everything was sounding Spanish,” says Uzezi, one half of the production duo along with his brother, Okiemute. “We’ve always produced with the mindset of bringing the world to Africa,” Uzezi adds. “The way we do that is just take sounds from around the world, find what we think is interesting, and try to create it from the eyes of an African.”
Uzezi and his brother homed in on certain characteristics of reggaeton hits that amass billions of streams. “The South American sound is very repetitive in terms of the bassline, always a loop, and that four-to-the-floor bass drum pattern as well,” Uzezi explains. “Those are prominent in reggaeton, and those were the elements we want to include when my brother and I were thinking about creating that crossover African stroke.”
Once the demo was finished, Legendury Beatz deposited it in a folder titled “African South American bounce or something silly like that.” They later sent some of those songs to Mr. Eazi — “a visionary and a very good friend,” according to Uzezi — who in turn brought them to Balvin.
Balvin and Mr. Eazi met through Michael Brun, and they have become increasingly close, collaborating on music and touring the U.S. together. During a studio session in Miami, Mr. Eazi played Balvin a series of instrumentals, including a version of “Como Un Bebé” — which he did not expect Balvin to like. “I thought it was too intense for people that are not from Nigeria,” Mr. Eazi remembers. “I didn’t even want to play it for him. It just played.”
To Mr. Eazi’s surprise, Balvin was immediately smitten with the “Como Un Bebé” beat, which he saw as an opportunity to “merge [different] worlds.” Balvin recorded his parts carefully, asking Mr. Eazi for guidance. “It was a truly collaborative effort,” Mr. Eazi says. “Balvin would be like, ‘how would you do this?’ Even when we got a verse from Bad Bunny, it wasn’t, ‘this is my verse, this is it.’ [It was,] ‘do we think we want to add anything?’ We bounced back and forth until we got the arrangement.”
That spirit remains in the finished version of “Como Un Bebé,” especially during the chorus, where the three singers take turns throwing out the phrase “baila pa’ mí,” or “dance for me.” Balvin sings it first, then Mr. Eazi echoes him. Moments later, Mr. Eazi takes lead, and Balvin assumes the role of backing vocalist. On the third go-round, Bad Bunny jumps in, and Mr. Eazi slides into the background again, completing a pleasing aural version of a three-man weave.
Like Mr. Eazi, Legendury Beatz consider “Como Un Bebé” an inflection point: “The first true pop record that has real African representation in terms of production and sound design.” “For Balvin and [Bad] Bunny to put that record on there shows where the world is at,” Mr. Eazi adds. “It’s only going to open the conversation. People who have never heard of afrobeats are going to be like, ‘what kind of groove is this?’”
Some American listeners haven’t quite reached that point, though: Of all the songs on Oasis, “Como Un Bebé” is the least listened-to, according to Alpha Data. It’s likely hurt by the fact that it’s the last song on the album in an era when many streamers browse rather than listening all the way through. That’s unfortunate, since “Como Un Bebé” is easily Oasis‘ finest moment.
But Mr. Eazi is heartened by his experiences in North America, and he is preparing to make more songs in the vein of “Como Un Bebé.” “I’ve got songs I’m singing in Spanish from A to Z,” he says. “Balvin’s coaching me every day.”
“In the next five or six years,” Mr. Eazi continues, “the number one record worldwide will be 100% Afro-influenced or [will have] an African artist featured or on production.” That’s a prediction — and a promise.
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