Ogi actually had no plan to be a full-time singer. That’s the most shocking part about the Chicago-born Nigerian-American singer. Prior to everything that’s occurred for her over the last four years, Ogi had plans to pursue a career in law as a student at Northwestern. However, all it took was one cover she shared on Instagram to change everything for her. “It was just something that I did for fun on the side,” she tells Uproxx over a Zoom call. “It all really came to a head senior year, like this doesn’t make any sense. To this day I’m still confused.”
Amid the slight confusion and reality shock that Ogi is still sorting through, the young singer has been putting out great music. She received co-signs form PJ Morton and No I.D. while also signing a deal to the latter’s Atrium Recordings imprint, a place that Snoh Aalegra and Jhene Aiko also call home. This past spring, Ogi released her debut EP Monologues and it struck as a beautifully constructed project carried by her rich vocals and textured production.
Monologues earned her plenty of attention from the music industry. She performed at Pharrell’s Something In The Water Festival as well as at the 2022 BET Awards. Ogi has toured with The Marias and Snoh Aalegra, and now, she’s getting ready to hit the road again, this time with British singer Mahalia.
Before things pick up again for Ogi, she took a moment to speak with Uproxx about Monologues, her rise towards success, her Nigerian background, and what she wants to do next.
I’m really drawn to your music because of how rich, textured, and just full it is. As a Nigerian born and raised in the Midwest, what influences did you have growing up that helped you make the kind of music you make today?
I think it came from a lot of things, but primarily, it started from my parents — I mean, that’s how it starts with everybody. They had the aux cord, so to speak, for my childhood. My mom played a lot of Nigerian hymns growing up [and] a lot of gospel. She introduced me to people like BeBe & CeCe Winans, John P. Kee, J. Moss, Smokie Norful, people like that. My dad played a lot of reggae, a lot of Highlife right? So it was people like Cardinal Rex Lawson. My dad is Igbo, so he played that Highlife from that tribe and a lot of reggae, a lot of Fela Kuti. I think all of that kind of culminated into what I listened to. Once I got old enough, I started listening to hip-hop and rap. My sister introduced me to like 106 & Park, so all the R&B of that time. I think that plays a role in my cadences, a little bit, and the way that I write lyrics. But yeah, my parents influenced the way that I create the sound, but lyrically, I think 106 & Park [and] things a little bit more recent influenced how I speak.
Pursuing a career in music or art altogether isn’t the first thing our parents want to hear. What were those early discussions like, and how did the level of support change or grow as time went on?
So, I had the conversation with my mom first and she was obviously like, not about it at all. She’s like, “This is nonsense, you’re wasting your time.” I was in my senior year, I was right there, it felt like a distraction there. It wasn’t until one of the people who were interested in me flew us out to LA. He took me and my mother to LA and really showed off what being in this industry can do [and] the money. I think that was the moment she was like, “Okay, there’s security here, she could maybe do well.” Then, she realized it was a business. My mom is a very shrewd businesswoman, she’s very on it. Once she realized that perspective, I think she was a little bit more about it.
My dad, I think he’s just realizing what’s going on. When I told him that the music stuff was happening, he wasn’t as upset, but I think he didn’t take it as seriously. He was like, “Okay, this is your passion project, you’ve been in school. Go ahead, just do it, and like a year later, you’re gonna go to law school as we planned.” I think he’s now realizing that that’s not what’s happening. So he’s been kind of looking back on my life to wonder how did we get to this point. He’ll say, “I got a piano for the house, and you would play it, but I didn’t think it would become this,” that kind of thing. Now he’s kind of onboard. He realizes that I’m good at what I do and he wants me to do a jazz song, things like that. So I think the parents are onboard.
Now that we’re a bit removed from its release, what would you say you’re most proud about Monologues?
I’m proud of the response in the sense of like, I’ve seen people do covers of the songs on the EP. Which is like… That gets me because [that means] you found something that you felt enough like you that you wanted to take it and then use those words as your own sort of expression, like something resonated in that. The first time I saw someone do a cover of my song, it made me cry, that’s huge. I mean, that’s how I came up, that’s the only reason why I’m here. I did PJ Morton’s “Alright,” which is a song that I would sing to myself when I was studying LSAT books. I was comforting myself and singing that song, so to see somebody else do that, felt like a real full circle moment.
Aside from the success Monolouges has brought you, what would you say the EP has personally helped you with?
I think it’s been a positive affirmation of vulnerability is power. Being afraid of something that would alienate you, like in music, is actually the thing that brings people towards you. The song “Bitter” is about me being like, “Dammit, nobody wants me. What’s going on?” Having that moment, which in other contexts would be like, “Ew, you want people to know that about you?” people use those words as something that they understand and feel. It’s encouraged me to be even more vulnerable in the way that I express myself, and just to dig deeper. I think the things that resonate the most are the things that people don’t think other people are going through. To show that I’m going through it too, I think that’s what brings people together.
You’ve toured with The Marias and Snoh Aalegra, and now you’re hitting the road with Mahalia. What excites you the most about these next string of performances?
I’m really interested in just meeting because her EP is so dope. I mean, to talk about vulnerability, like the story of her EP is about her trying to save another girl from the mistake that she made in being within with a guy that is also pursuing her. That’s a big thing to do, you know? I’m curious to see what that story is gonna look like onstage. I listened to it, and I’m a fan. I’m also excited about my growth as a performer. I strive to be better and better each time and I look at this as another opportunity to grow in my craft. I want to be more energetic and more expressive. I have the opportunity to perform my whole EP now, so I want to create a story with that, like what can I do next? So I think that’s what I’m excited about.
Looking back, what about your heritage and/or childhood do you think contributed the most to your success now?
My name honestly. I’m from Wisconsin, so there weren’t a lot of people that had a name like mine. There used to be times when I was kind of ashamed of it. I would tell people that it translates to Michelle… like no it doesn’t, it never did. I would just lean into it, but like, I’ve been Ogi since I was three years old. Now, it’s contributed to what my name is as an artist and it points to my heritage, who I am, and the things that made me who I am. I’m very proud of my name, I like it when people ask me, “Is that your real name?” and I get to say yes, that is my name. The thing that I felt alienated me, fills me with pride now.
When would you say that you started to embrace everything about your culture?
It was always a kind of love/hate relationship because I always loved it when my mom would come and wear her dresses, and everyone would be like, “Oh wow!” you know what I mean? I think it was in high school and college when I finally kind of claimed it for myself. That’s when I started seeing people like me. College was the first time that I refused to start straightening my hair all the time. Stylistically you can do whatever you want, but for me, it was tied to “my hair isn’t beautiful unless it’s straight.” I just started accepting my blackness and looking at myself and being like, “I’m African and I love it.” That’s also gonna make its way into my music eventually. I mean, it’s still there in terms of Highlife influences, but I think I want to lean into that part of my identity in the future.
Looking ahead, what’s something else you’d like to accomplish within the next 12 months?
I’d like to release some more music for sure. I just want to travel, I want to go to different places through tours and shows, just to see where I am. One thing that I regret from college is never studying abroad, and I feel like this is my moment to go wherever I want — or I guess wherever people want me. So I guess that means I just gotta work hard. I’m trying to go to Tokyo and Seoul and I want to go to Lagos for sure, I gotta go. Rio de Janeiro would be so dope. I want to go to South America, Africa, and Asia. I’ve been to places in Europe because I have aunts and uncles that live out there, but yeah.
Monologues is out now via Artium Entertainment LLC/Atlantic. You can stream it here.
Ogi is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.