In just a decade, “TheBlackBoyJohn” has gone from being a Nigerian immigrant in College to working different jobs to get by. Now he is fully focused on the music with a certain level of determination which is admirable to watch. Capitalizing on the opportunities provided by the internet and streaming platforms, the Texas Rapper has been able to build a niche following around his music. In this revealing interview, TheBlackboyJohn defended his claim as the “Employee of the Month”. We also explored other topics, ranging from how he got into music, rap feuds and much more.
Who is TheBlackBoyJohn?
John Samari was Born and raised in Abuja. He grew up to his dad playing gospel records like Loius Armstrong, Kenny G and Yanni. His mom also played a lot of Bob Marley records back then, so he had a little feel of reggae. Everything changed for him musically when he stumbled on 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Trying as a 7-year-old kid.
He had to wait a few more years till High school, before he got the opportunity to pick up the mic and drop his first 16 bars. John had a few stage performances during the school’s variety night shows but rapping was done more as a hobby than something he wanted to pursue seriously. He admits to have been writing raps for about 10+ years but he really started taking music seriously in 2016/2017 when he put out his first official track titled Diego under The Blackbeat Company, (an imprint he co-owns with his senior brother Vino Samari)
His Major Influences
Speaking on people who played a major role in his music journey, John spoke highly of his brother, Vino Samari as a major influence. The two have collaborated on a number of songs together and the chemistry is visible in these songs. When quizzed about their collaborations, He said:
Vinomaadskillz!!! He has been very influential as far as me rapping because I literally watched him create magic in my house from almost nothing and it made me believe in myself because I could relate to that. It was also a large source of my motivation because it’s not like I’m hearing tales about this Vino legend I’ve literally watched him evolve.
Choice of Name
The choice of the name usually used by performers goes a long way in defining the identity of the artist. Rapper M.I Abaga calls himself the short black boy. Rapsody made a song about being called black and ugly and many other rappers have done the same. “TheBlackBoyJohn” recalled an era in his life where people always threw jabs at him for being seriously black. It wasn’t really a pleasing experience for him but with the growth, he began to get used to the feeling. He says:
“Theblackboyjohn was really a way for people to stop telling me I’m black/dark because I know lol you feel me. The name worked and when I started taking rap seriously, I figured I would stick with the name because it also goes with The Blackbeat Company.
Taking the higher road with the name-calling saved him a lot of stress. John embraced the identity instead of getting emotional about it. He channelled that emotion and buried it in his music.
Beginning of the Rap Journey
After graduating from high school in 2011, John proceeded to attend college in the United States. At this point, he was still writing rap verses for fun. It was later on while still in the states that he realised he can actually get in the booth and take this thing seriously. His brother Vino Samari, was back home as a producer doing his thing and had started the Blackbeat company. John joined in with him and he put out his first single “Diego” in 2016. At this point, he had to combine college work with studio time in a strange land. When asked about some challenges he has faced in his pursuit for this rap dream, he didn’t open up much but the pain could be heard in the little he had to say:
Yoooooo!! Let me not even start because the things I have to say are too much. But all jokes aside though, it has not been easy by any means. From getting shows to getting organic followers even from the African community here. It is like you have to work 10 times harder and as an artist, you are already working 10 times harder. So really, we have to go 100 times harder than everybody else because we are trying to breakthrough in 2 places. Home and Away.
Employee of the Month
TheBlackBoyJohn has released three projects so far since 2016 when he decided to take his music beyond being a hobby. FWD EP in 2017 and RED JOHN EP in 2018. His latest body of work “Employee of the Month” was released in November 2019. What I noticed from the rapper is how all his projects are thematically driven. He talked about a point some years back when he had to work different jobs to make ends meet. He is fully focused on the music now since he had to give it 100%. His time as a rapper with a 9-5 job inspired the tape.
Employee of the month is a projection of my work self into music. Just telling my experience while I was working different odd jobs. I felt I wasn’t the model employee but I sure as hell was the employee of the month even though I never got the award. I just felt like telling a working individuals story in rap, not every time violence and drugs even though that’s not all rap is about.
What was the recording process like and when did it start?
The process started earlier this year. I recorded most of the tracks myself but ended up going to Legacy Studios for the final mix, mastering and edits I needed. It was really smooth and I still had fun even though I couldn’t record most of the tracks with the featured artists because we couldn’t meet up but thank God for technology.
Rap and Handling a 9-5
As a rapper, John went had to juggle college and handling various odd jobs. One would wonder what time there is available to still write rhymes and keep the music hustle going. Some rappers are gifted with words. All they need to do is hear a beat and they are ready to go. Others might need to process many things before writing. John didn’t shy away from revealing his creative process. He said
I usually listen the first time and let the beat speak to me. Then I start freestyling to get my rhythm and flow, after that it’s just to find the words to describe what I feel. That’s if the beat is already made, but if not I just go on the fly. If I had a melody I wanted to create or if he (producer) has something for me then I might spit some rhymes I already wrote. But I like going off fresh energy so I mostly write fresh rhymes every time.
Faith and Spirituality
Listening to the “Employee of the Month” tape, I noticed two things. A bridge between a hustler narrating tales of his diligence and resilience to make the music dream possible. The same individual refusing to take the glory for how far he has come with this dream of his. Most of the glory went to God. These days with so many opinions flying around, it is easy to lose focus on the existence of God. John spoke on how far faith has carried him on this journey:
Let me put it to you like this; I wouldn’t be here if not for my faith. It has not been easy because your faith is always tested. There are times I’ve actually thought my faith was holding me back because there were decisions I couldn’t make because of what I believe in. But all in all I’m happy because all the rights and wrongs have led me to this point.
Upcoming artists face a major dilemma on their rise to the top. This has to do with them being paid to perform at shows. Many promoters collect big money for shows but they hardly break a crumb from this money to give to these artists. On the promoter’s part, they say they are doing a lot by offering the artists a shot at exposure. Therefore, they don’t feel the need to cut a cheque. Most people feel at this stage that giving an artist something for a performance is the right thing to do. The first track on the Employee of the Month tape titled “Don’t want it” touched on this matter. I sought the rappers opinion on this
Haha this is a very touchy issue because some people feel they are entitled to get paid because of the work they have put in. But if it is not recognized by the promoters or those in charge of the show you’re basically treated anyhow. What I’ll say is, these promoters don’t respect their local artists. And going back to doing music here it’s even worse cause if you are not really known nobody will pay mind to you. They are trying to see Davido or Burna not you. But definitely we do this to make money. Also, it is like a job both for the love and to put food on the table so at least we shouldn’t have to pay to perform because that’s another thing I think is shitty but that’s a discussion for another day.
Employee of the Month
Education in Nigeria
As a country, Nigeria has a lot of problems with one centred around education. Earlier this year, a video went viral of a girl somewhere in Warri. She was sent home due to the inability of her parents to pay her fees. The girl expressed a particular level of confidence in the way she spoke. This was quite funny and worrisome at the same time. The video revealed one thing though, our education sector is in shambles and if something isn’t done the next generation will pay for it. The track grateful began with this skit and this got me thinking how people in the diaspora viewed this situation.
That track hit me hard. I’ve cried at least once listening to the song cause of how deep the song is to me. I don’t think I would have let them flog me so I could attend school. She however, knew what she wanted in life and was determined to get it even at a young age it just moved me. I mean education is free till college here so a lot of people couldn’t relate I had to explain it to them.
On Rap Feuds
Rap music witnessed a certain level of attention in Nigeria this year. Some say it is the best it has had in recent years. This level of attention was mainly centred on feuds among rappers. Blaqbonez declared himself the best rapper in Africa in June. The Martell vs Hennessy cyphers ended up with MI and Vector going head to head for the crown. It was quite an entertaining year for both fans and critics of the culture. John is of the view that;
Feuds are needed. Especially in a place where hiphop is still planting its roots. But I mean it shouldn’t be that serious to the point of death. That’s not what rap is about. We have lost too many people because of the streets taking rap too seriously. With the way artists are just springing up, only the strong can survive so feuds basically separate the boys from the men.
Marketing and Promotions
The Texas-based rapper has capitalized on the internet to garner a decent following. He realizes the importance of how he needs to push his sound. He also sees the necessity of being accessible to his fans back home;
for now I push most stuff online, through sites and streaming services like NotJustOk, Datpiff and Audiomack. But yes I definitely have to return home because I feel like the people need to see you sometimes to believe in you. I need my city ABJ behind me.
TheBlackBoyJohn with a Blackbeat Merch
With three projects done and his mind fully tunnelled into the music, TheBlackBoyJohn is optimistic about the future. He plans to go on tour, shoot some videos and pursue more collaborations. The main thing though is he wants to work and see how he can expand “The Blackbeat Company”.
You can stream the Employee of the Month Tape here
Follow him on all social media platforms @theblackboyjohn
For more information on TheBalckBoyJohn’s Projects and latest releases click here