Producer LONDON is keeping busy. At just 23, the Nigerian-British music maker, born Michael Hunter, is scoring hits with artists like Rema, Wizkid, Ayra Starr, Black Sherif and Tiwa Savage — including the global smash “Calm Down,” which he co-produced with Andre Vibez.
“We have the same frequency, the same taste in music,” he says of collaborator Rema. “That’s why whenever we work with each other, it’s always straight bangers.”
“Calm Down,” which added Selena Gomez to its breakout remix, has taken the world by storm, reaching No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 3 on the Global 200. It’s also soundtracked millions of videos on TikTok, including a viral clip of a group of Iranian teenage girls performing the song’s dance challenge without hajibs in protest — for which they were later found and reportedly detained by authorities. (“To all the beautiful women who are fighting for a better world, I’m inspired by you, I sing for you, and I dream with you,” Rema tweeted in response to the video).
Rema and LONDON’s first viral TikTok moment was by way of the 2021 single, “Soundgasm,” which was co-produced by LONDON, Dro and Shanti. The sensual and danceable cut peaked at No. 15 on the Billboard U.S. Afrobeats Songs chart and racked up over a hundred thousand videos on TikTok, including many for its popular sped-up version.
LONDON says that the ever-growing attraction to Afrobeats on a global level has given way to a number of opportunities for African artists and producers. In 2018, he signed a publishing deal with Sony, which gave him access to “sessions and rooms normally I wouldn’t be able to get into.”
While LONDON has made a name for himself within the world of Afrobeats, he got his start making R&B and trap beats while working for a graphic design company. At the time, his aspirations were set on becoming a lawyer. “I wasn’t really thinking of taking like the whole music thing seriously,” he explains, “Not until I got that first track.”
The first track in question was DJ Tunez’s “Turn Up,” a shuffling 2018 cut featuring Reekado Banks and Wizkid. From there, LONDON continued his working relationship with Wizkid, landing a spot on his critically acclaimed 2020 album Made in Lagos with “Gyrate.”
LONDON is currently working on more music with Rema, a joint EP with Ayra Starr and his own album set to come out next year. “We [Africans] are so hungry for that spotlight to be on us,” he says. “And now that we have it, there’s no way we’re going to [lose it].”
Tell me about how you got your start in music.
I was born in Kaduna, a small state in [northern] Nigeria. I used to play drums in church, so that’s kind of where I started off musically. After high school, I was trying to get into college — but the system in Nigeria is really weird. You have to know someone that knows someone to get into college. So I had to stay back home for two years or so. Instead of just staying at home doing nothing, I decided to learn something.
[When I was 18], I used to work as a graphic designer and I got introduced to Fruity Loops by a friend of mine at the same firm. Everything kind of kicked off from there. I started playing around with the software and learned how to make beats pretty. And now I’m here talking to you.
What kind of music like were you hearing growing up?
My mom was a big music lover. I never really had a taste of my own because I was forced to always listen to what she was listening to. Every morning it was her tunes waking me up. A lot of Tina Turner, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson.
How did “Calm Down” come together?
“Calm Down” is actually a crazy record, because I wasn’t part of the beginning process. Andre Vibez, the other producer on the record, started the song with Rema. Rema played me “Calm Down” because I was executive producing his album — and he liked the song, but he felt like there were certain things missing. So we basically had to take everything apart [to make] everything work. We rearranged it, adding layers, adding some sounds, adding some effects, just to make everything blend together.
What were some of the changes you made to the song?
The arrangement of the song and the strings. He said he needed more emotion on the song, so I helped him putting more strings on the songs, he needed the drums to knock harder. So I just helped beef it up a bit. I helped him take the record to the next level. That’s pretty much what I did for his album in general. I produced 14 out of the 16 songs, and out of that 14, a few songs I co-produced with other people. When it comes to music [and] sound, we understand each other properly.
How were you discovered?
In Nigeria, it’s not really a thing to have a management body behind you. You basically just have to hustle, build your connects, always put your stuff out there for people to see. I used to like post little clips of me making beats on Instagram. That’s how I got discovered by [producer] Baby Fresh, who also played a big role in mentoring me.
Another person was Ozedikus, who produced Rema’s first hit, “Dumebi.” He used to put me through beatmaking and take me around for sessions. When I’d go for the sessions, I always happened to connect with everyone and exchange numbers. It was basically all through connections. I had no manager at that time. It was all just solo efforts just trying make it through the industry. But as you grow, you [need] a proper team to take you to the next level.
What was it like signing a publishing deal with Sony?
The deal came when I was fresh in the whole music thing. It was great news for me that Sony was interested to sign a young producer from Nigeria. I was really happy. I saw it as an opportunity to extend my reach globally.
Who is an artist you dream to work with?
I always say this man — I want to work with Drake.
Drake does love dipping into other cultural sounds.
Yeah, I want to do a full Afrobeats EP with him. He’s one of those artists I look up to and just want to make music with, because I really enjoy listening to them as well.
When you look at the landscape of Afrobeats, what do you think has to happen for the genre to continue growing in the mainstream market?
It just needs to keep evolving. If you listen to Afrobeats from way back, it was really dope, but it’s not what you’re hearing right now. The sound has evolved. Everyone is learning, picking up new things, trying different sounds. I feel like Afrobeats is going to stay [popular] and get bigger, because we Africans love to explore. We love to create something different, so we’re going to keep evolving and taking the sound to the next level.
Amapiano, too. It’s vibey, it’s dancey, everyone is having fun. It’s kind of taking over the “oontz” music in the club. No one’s listening to that stuff anymore, everybody’s on Amapiano right now.
The Afrobeats label is applied to a lot of different African artists. How do you define “Afrobeats?”
When you listen to Afrobeats, it makes you dance. It’s a big genre with multiple possibilities. You can have Afropop, Afro-R&B. It’s like pizza and you put whatever you want on it — like pepperoni, or like Domino’s putting pineapple on it. [Laughs.] It’s literally a blank sheet of paper and you can do whatever you want to do. We already have the base, which is the groove.
When it comes to your sessions, how do you create a comfortable space for artists?
I think my personality speaks for itself — I’m a really calm and happy person. You can’t be in the room with me and be serious. If I’m in a session and I feel like everyone is getting too tense, I pretty much just make jokes. I’ve never really been in a session where anyone is feeling awkward or everything is too serious. I’d rather not go for the session if I feel it’s going to be like that.