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Bimi Is Done Playing Games On “For Real”

Written by on March 22, 2023

Nigerian-born, Chicago-based singer and songwriter Bimi sat down with Vocalo afternoons host Nudia Hernandez to talk about her latest single, and making music which connects her early influences to her cultural heritage.

Chicago-based, Nigerian-born artist Bimi pays homage to her heritage through her music. Though her sound is influenced by many Afrobeats artists, she says her first love was R&B, growing up on Brandy and Mariah Carey. Her signature style blends the two, combining her passion for powerful, lyric-driven R&B and the high energy of Afrobeats into “Afro-pop.” Bimi is proud of her Nigerian heritage, and loves the way Afrobeats — and her signature Afro-pop sound — connects the mainstream to her culture.

“I was always listening to [Afrobeats],” Bimi said. “I was like, ‘You know what, I really liked this music, in the same way that I really liked R&B… Why not try and combine the two?’”

Chicago-based artist Bimi sits down in the studio to chat with Vocalo afternoons host Nudia Hernandez about her signature style and latest single “For Real.” Morgan Ciocca/Vocalo Radio

Though Bimi has only released eight singles since debuting with “Again” in 2019, she has made a name for herself in the city as an Afro-pop artist; in 2020, Bimi was crowned winner of Chicago radio station Power 92’s Afrozons Independent Artist Contest — a competition highlighting the influential Chicago artists fusing hip-hop and Afrobeats.

Her latest single, 2022’s “For Real,” made its way onto Vocalo’s on-air rotation for January 2023, and was one of morning host Bekoe’s top five adds that month. Following its addition to our playlists and airwaves, Bimi sat down in-studio with Vocalo afternoons host Nudia Hernandez to share the story behind the track, which was produced by fellow Chicago artist Ro Marsalis. The two also discuss writing music and some of her favorite Afrobeats artists.

Nudia Hernandez: Vocalo Radio Chicago’s urban alternative, Nudia in the Afternoon here with you in studio! You know, we have our “In Rotation” artists, Bekoe has his top picks for “In Rotation.” And this lovely lady was on the list. And when my intern turned on this song in the studio, I was like, “We have to get her in here!” It’s Bimi hanging out with us here on Vocalo, hello. 

Bimi: Hey, hey!

NH: How are you?

B: I’m good. How are you?

NH: Okay, so your song that’s in rotation, I kind of want you to talk about it. Because we talked about it a little bit before you got on, and you said that you didn’t like it, but the single is “For Real.” It was produced by Ro Marsalis.

B: Yes, yeah! That’s where I’ve been recording, over at Fort Knox Studios. Yep.

NH: Oh, really? That’s amazing. Because Ro Marsalis, he’s a friend of Vocalo. 

B: Is he? Oh, what? 

NH: Yeah. He performed at our last Chi Sounds Like Showcase. 

B: Wow. Okay, cool!

RELATED: Vocalo’s December Chi Sounds Like Showcase Recap

NH: Yeah. So I when I saw that, I was like, “Oh, that’s so cool!” And we turned on the song in the studio, and we both started dancing to it. Me and intern Josh definitely were like grooving to the song. 

B: I appreciate that 

NH: And I was like, “I call dibs!” I was like, “I want to interview her.” And then I checked out your Instagram, I was like, “Okay!” I was getting ready for this interview, and I almost didn’t put on my fake eyelashes, and I was like, “Okay, hold on. I know she’s gonna come correct!” So I put ’em on. And I want you to talk a little bit more about the song. You said, before we started this interview, that you didn’t like it originally. 

B: Yeah. So when I first wrote it, all I had was the hook. The hook, I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not. I was like, this is kind of annoying. It’s like borderline annoying to me. I was like, I feel like it’s not giving what it’s opposed to gave. So I sat on it for a couple of months. And then eventually I came back around, I started writing the verses. I found a different beat. So it was written to an entirely different beat. So I found a new one, put the hook on the new one. And then it just kind of came together. And that’s when I headed over to Ro to get it done.

Bimi’s signature sound is “Afro-pop,” a blend of 90’s to early ’00s R&B and Afrobeats. Morgan Ciocca/Vocalo Radio

NH: And then, really, could you break down what the song is about?

B: The song is about… 

NH: Is it a little bit about love?

Yes, it’s about a crush. It’s about being with someone, or wanting to be with someone, rather, and letting them know, like, “I’m not playing. This is not a game. I want you, and it’s for real.” It’s just for real, you know?

NH: Because I know, when I was listening to the lyrics, I was like, “Hold on, the lyrics are not matching what I’m seeing.” I feel like it should be the other way around. But I love this new day and era where people are getting really vulnerable. 

B: Yes. 

NH: And it’s like, look, because a lot of people are like, “Okay… us beautiful women…” But sometimes, we catch feelings not flights! Sometimes we catch feelings, too.

B: It’s so unfortunate. But we do! We catch feelings. And I’m not opposed to going after someone that you want, but you have to… you got to make sure that it’s reciprocated. So that’s really what the song is about. Like, “I want you, so if you want me, we can make this happen.”

NH: And is does that come from experience? Have you ever been the one to like, you’re like, “You know what? I’m gonna make this move.”

B: Unfortunately! Unfortunately, I have been the one to make the first move, but it was also off of liquid courage, I’m not gonna lie. But it worked! It worked, I got him. [Laughs]

NH: And so a lot of your songs, because people that are artists and also songwrite and things like that, a lot of your stuff comes from your personal experiences, right? 

Bimi discusses her latest single “For Real,” which is about letting someone know you want to be with them. Morgan Ciocca/Vocalo Radio

B: Yes, for the most part. I think sometimes I definitely have to dig into imagination. I’ve written some love songs about being crazy, mad in love. And I wasn’t experiencing that at the time. So I was like — but that’s what I want to write about right now. So… I kind of had to dig into imagination for that. But for the most part, it is things that I’ve seen, heard and experienced.

NH: Oh, that’s kind of beautiful, though. Because I think we all could, even if we haven’t experienced the crazy love, we can all kind of imagine what that feels like.

B: Exactly, exactly. I really have to dig deep.

NH: You know what’s funny? I’ll never forget — oh my gosh, I don’t even know what year this was. It was when Beyoncé dropped “Crazy in Love,” back in the day, kids! MTV used to do a making the video, a behind the scenes. And I remember… she’s getting blown up in a car, and I’m just like, “Hold on, if he loves her, why is he…?”

B: Right! It wasn’t making sense.

NH: I was asking my mom, and my mom’s like, “You’ll understand when you’re older.” And you know what, Mom, I understand now. 

B: She was right! 

NH: Because sometimes I’m ready to blow up someone in the car. 

B: Right? But you love them. It’s crazy.

NH: So what’s coming up next for you? Are you in the studio right now? Are you working on a few projects? 

B: Yeah. So I’m working on a couple of projects with other artist friends. I’m working on new music. I’m recording, I’m writing. So yeah, I’m contemplating, I’m going back and forth with myself about shooting a video for “For Real.” I haven’t really come to a consensus on that yet. But it’s not out of the question. I would love to do that. I haven’t shot a video in a while. So it’s not completely out of the question.

NH: Because I also — you’re a performer, right? 

B: Yes. 

NH: Like I heard, I was reading some notes… that you’re a dancer and a performer, and so I want to see that in a music video.

B: Definitely. I haven’t also performed in a minute, too. So I would love to find an opportunity to perform the song for you guys. But yeah, definitely, if I do shoot a video, there’ll be some dancing. There’ll be some movement, some vibes.

NH: We’re going to be given the full performance, okay. 

B: Absolutely. 

NH: And so I love this, that you describe your style as Afro-pop. 

B: Yes!

NH: I love that, because you are Nigerian, right? 

B: I am. I was born in Nigeria.

NH: And you moved here when you were 3. 

B: Yes. 

Bimi cites her early influences as artists including Brandy and Mariah Carey, whose style of music continue to influence her sound today. Morgan Ciocca/Vocalo Radio

NH: And so, has that always influenced your music? Or I feel like, Afrobeats only became mainstream and quote unquote, “popular” until…

B: Like recently. 

NH: Yeah, recently. 

B: Not necessarily. So I grew up on like the ’90s and 2000s R&B. And that’s the type of music that really made me fall in love with music, in the first place. So when I first started making music, I was definitely more of an R&B artist, for sure.

NH: Who were like your top artists growing up… who were you annoying your parents, playing over and over?

B: The list just goes on and on. I remember I couldn’t get enough of like Toni Braxton and Brandy and Mariah Carey. I just really loved their storytelling. And their range. They had the range. They really had the range. So, loved those artists. But I think, as I grew up, especially as I entered college, that was when Afrobeats was becoming a thing, at least within the African community. Like we knew about it. The world didn’t know about it, but we were — I was always listening to it. I think eventually, I didn’t really think that I would be making Afrobeats. But I was like, “You know what, I really liked this music, in the same way that I really liked R&B.” So I was like, “Why not try and combine the two?” So I did. I did that with one of my earlier Afrobeats songs, or Afro-pop songs, titled “Again,” and I think it’s just been kind of snowballing from there. And I was like, “You know what, I really like this sound. I really think I’m good at it. I think I can… make better and better Afrobeats music.”

NH: And I love that, because I feel like sometimes, it also makes you feel closer to your culture. 

B: Yes

NH: Right, your roots. Do you feel that way?

B: That was definitely what was. I thought it was gonna be hard, but it wasn’t… I was very much in tune with the rhythm and the vibes. And I was like, “This is who I am. I am Afrobeats. Afrobeats is me.” Yes, it came very, very easily. Yeah.

NH: I love that. And especially like, I know now, this past year, Tems was [one of] the first… Nigerian artist[s] to win a Grammy and stuff. And so who are some of your favorite Nigerian artists?

B: Girl, the list. The list goes on. 

NH: You’re about to put some people on!

B: Listen, I know everybody loves Wizkid, Wizkid is a huge, huge favorite of mine.

NH: And I think we do have to, like, you have to give him his flowers. You have to give him his props for… making Afrobeats more mainstream.

B: Definitely. Especially with the “Essence” song with Tems. I was like, “Well, that’s, that was like the… the takeoff.”

NH: That was an amazing phenomenon. You could drop that song from the one anywhere, and immediately people would react.

B: And everybody would start vibing. So definitely Wizkid. Right now I’m really feeling Omah Lay, he’s very much like chill Afrobeats. So it’s definitely… because, for the most part, Afrobeats can be very dancey, very vibey, very upbeat. But he definitely knows how to take it to the other end, the other end of the spectrum for Afrobeats, and I really enjoy that. Right now, I’m really feeling Ayra Starr. She’s another female Afrobeats artist, and her style, her vibe, her voice is incredible. So those are probably my top three right now.

NH: I love that. We’re gonna make this a segment. I think… the first, one of the first Afrobeat songs I heard was Davido, “Fall.” I was just like, “Oh my, am I in love? I’ve ever felt love like this before! Is this what it feels like?”

B: I think he, one of his songs was also one of my first Afrobeat songs that I heard, like back when I first started listening. It was like, I think it was his very first song. 

NH: If he hears this, he’s gonna feel so old.

B: No, you’re not old, Davido! No, you’re just legendary. That’s all.

NH: That’s what it is. What song were you saying?

B: It was “Dami Duro.” “Dami Duro” was one of his first songs, if not his very first song, that I was like, “This is a vibe. I love this.”

NH: Yeah. And so it’s amazing, too, because I think I had a conversation recently with Adam Martinez that, with Spanish and Latin music being mainstream. It has bridged cultures and made me feel closer to my culture. And so I’m so happy that the genres are diversifying. And we’re getting to see music from other places, artists from other places are able to make it on American music charts. So I love to see that, and here at Vocalo, we love that too. I know we get a lot of music submissions from all over the world. And it’s so funny, because Ayana Contreras, our program director, she’s like, “Yeah, anything that comes from Nigeria or Afrobeats… it’s so playable.” Like, we could just play it all.

B: It’s definitely infectious music, for sure. Yeah.

NH: And so, for your future projects and things that you want to work on, do you still want to pursue the Afro-pop style, is that what you’re focusing on?

B: Yeah, right now that is what I’m focusing on. Like I said, it came easily for me, it’s becoming more and more of my thing. And I just really genuinely enjoy Afrobeats music, both listening and making it. So, yeah.

NH: Well, I’m so happy to have you in here. Because I feel like this is one of the things we’re gonna need to archive. Because I’m just like, I feel like this girl is gonna blow up like, you have the look, you have…

B: Don’t tell me that, don’t tell me that! Thank you, I really appreciate that, I do.

Bimi puts on her sunglasses as Vocalo host Nudia Hernandez sings praises for her music. Morgan Ciocca/Vocalo Radio

NH: She put on her sunglasses! No, because… that’s one of the best things I love about being in radio, is talking to someone early in their career. And then you see ’em pop and you can’t even get a hold of ’em anymore! You’re like, “Hold on! I interviewed them like two years ago!”

B: I hope… I don’t become that. I hope I do blow up and I come right back here.

NH: It’s not always them, it’s just like schedule. Like they change managers and things like that. Yeah, it gets hard to get a hold of people sometimes when there’s like three management teams now you gotta go through. And so I was like, “Oh, we have to get her in here.” Like, some people just have it, and I think you’re one of those people who definitely have it. 

B: I really appreciate that, thank you so much. 

NH: And I’m excited for everyone to see, and I’m excited to hear more! And maybe you at a showcase or something.

B: Yes, yeah. One of your next showcases! I didn’t know that you guys did that, so that would be really dope to be a part of that, for sure.

NH: It would! And so let’s go ahead… we’ve been talking about the song. So let’s go ahead and get to it. 

B: Hey, y’all, this is Bimi, and this is my new single, titled “For Real,” on Vocalo Radio.

Bimi and Vocalo host Nudia Hernandez discuss her influences, both past and present. Morgan Ciocca/Vocalo Radio

Keep up with Bimi on Instagram, and stream her music on Spotify below.

Interview and audio editing by Nudia Hernandez

Photography by Morgan Ciocca

Introduction written by Joshua X. Miller and Morgan Ciocca

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