Nigeria’s trap scene is bewitching enough to amass its own loyal fans, its muted glamour seen in the pockets of social media interactions, distressed, minimalist fashion and insular parties. When trap does explode into the mainstream and surely it will, 23-year-old Straffitti would be one of its correspondents, emerging not just to maintain the status quo but to disrupt it further. With a dollop of vocal engineering, Straffitti’s voice can mutate to embody the emotions he’s feeling.
It’s trap after all, hermetic enough to be a distinctive hip hop genre but still permeable that intermeshing with other genres is never an impossibility. Think Post Malone. Straffitti’s debut EP Vanilla Sky, released in 2017, wasn’t exactly a definitive trap offering but it had undeniable agility and swagger. Released under his indie imprint Thirsty Worldwide (more on this later), the EP scored a feature from Remy Baggins and also M.I. on Cozy Wave, with its digitally distorted interludes and trap-centric chants. Cherry Game Girl, on the project still, exhausts itself with programmed synths and a candy-coloured video, a tableau of fast-changing sequences and the use of animated motifs.
While his peers might feel inclined to churn out more short-form projects as they artistically mature, Straffiti went long-form with the arrival of his debut album Molotov in 2018. Consisting of 13 tracks, its lead single 100Benz featuring PsychoYP and Blaqbonez is also the album’s most popular entry, combining snares and hi-hats and booming kicks. It’s trap maximalism. Straffitti was happy to tease a snippet from the song.
‘‘My nigga copped benz scam cash / when you see us on that fresh, na nylon, ” Straff raps, ”Omo merin lori bed, we die here,”
100Benz speaks to trap’s cultural tilt towards hedonism and excess. Other tracks on the album are just as noteworthy: the sneering, seedy noir of El Fuego, the trap-emo-pop of Kar Keys, the narcotized plunge of O.D and the trap ballad of Demons Inside You. Molotov, at its core, is Straffiti reconfiguring the rules of trap and exceeding at it.
Born Olawale Olukolade, Straffiti comes from a family of four sisters. He’s the only male. He recalls his earliest memory of making music, ”Back in high school, recorded my first ever track myself at the back of my bed in my room on FL studio with the laptop mic. I decided to go into music cause I love art itself as a whole, which helps me express myself.”
His family individually gravitated towards music of various kinds, offering him a first glimpse of how music doesn’t have to be straitjacketed. ”Different things were being played by my uncles, they listen to rap, my aunt listened to R&B, my mum listened to reggae, my dad listened to Afro, so it was a diverse taste for me. From Wutang, to Lil wayne, to Bob Marley, to Ne-Yo, to Westlife, to Fela, to Madonna, e.t.c.”
His third project Straff from Nigeria was released in 2020, and finds Straffitti leaning unabashedly towards the hyper-commercialized sounds of Afrobeats/Afrofusion. Lepa is perhaps the most robustly resonant, but the closer Kuronbe featuring Zlatan, Ice Prince and PrettyBoyDo manifest as Afro-trap, a gradually skewing micro-genre that wrestles trap away for its western originators and brings it home. ”I explored a different genre,” reveals Straffitti ”Something artistes are scared to do these days, still willing to try more sounds am privilege to. I feel music for me should be genre boundless.”
Straffitti makes his own beat sometimes as a producer, recording and mixing but most times he’s usually co-producing with his producer friends on songs they have made. What’s remarkable about this is how artistes of his generation hold more than one creative title. They juggle being producers and audio engineers, and in Straffitti’s case – photography, graphic designer, video producer, image consultant and fashion designer. Some of these artistic paths feeds into the creative collective Thirsty Worldwide which he founded.
He explains, ”Thirsty Worldwide started 6 years ago, by making cool clothes & recording music from our bedrooms. The clothing line started taking off 2015, and came to a pause after 2 years, we decided to rebrand and branch out to throw our own shows and make more income to build the brand. Thereafter more creatives saw the light. All these were inspired by our “Thirst” which is the driving force instilled in us to keep breaking boundaries set by us in our mind. Our mind is the greatest tool there is.”
The Thirsty Worldwide look embraces simple wardrobe staples like graphic tees, chunky sneakers, sweatshirts, bandanas and hoodies. More interesting attempts can be found in the hand-ripped, distressed denim embossed with logos and badges, denim crafted into handbags and hats, and this cocooning bandage-y wear. Undeniably, Straffitti is the brand’s most visible emissary, combining streetwear coolness and denimcore to forge his own subcultural vocabulary.
Designing is also where Straffitti’s stage name came from. He reminisces with a laugh, ”My friends started calling me that after they misspelt Graffitti for Straffitti on a design that I made.”
Straffitti is currently listening to artistes from 2000’s Akon, T-Pain, Sean Kingston and trap artistes in Miami, Los Angeles and elsewhere. Last month, he linked up with fellow trap rapper GCL3F for collaborative EP Endless, a 5-track project skirting around RnB but still trafficking in elements of trap and pop with songs like and Sxt Me and Taboo plumbs the depths of sex. ”That’s my bro, we had to explore something else, r&b has been untouched so we had to dive into the waters and explore. We would be creating more capsules like this in the nearest future.” Straffitti says.
When Bernard Dayo isn’t writing about pop culture, he’s watching horror movies and reading comics and trying to pretend his addiction to Netflix isn’t a serious condition.