About a year ago, Ogi, a rising vocalist of Nigerian descent, was at a crossroads, or what she describes to Rated R&B as an “existential crisis.” For as long as she can remember, she had a goal to enroll in law school after attaining her undergraduate degree.
But, Ogi didn’t pursue that trajectory after graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, where she studied political science and minored in legal studies. Instead, she created an Instagram account to post a capella videos.
Ogi admits she wasn’t prepared to engage with law school recruiters anyway. “I decided to push off taking the LSAT (Law School Admission Test) because I realized that I had not studied enough to do as well as I wanted,” she confesses to Rated R&B while riding to her next destination.
Forgoing this childhood dream didn’t mean Ogi had abandoned another one. On the contrary, she had exhibited a healthy love for music at an early age, often gravitating toward the electric music her Nigerian parents introduced.
Growing up in Wisconsin, where she felt was short on diversity, Ogi appreciated that her mother played gospel music, particularly Nigerian hymns, and her father exposed her to reggae and highlife, a popular West African genre.
“In some ways, it felt like a vehicle towards different cultures that I didn’t have in the immediate world around me,” Ogi shares. “I found a lot of refuge and connected with my Blackness.”
Like any child who had a favorite song, Ogi sang around the house. Citing gospel legends BeBe and CeCe Winans, John P. Kee, and Marvin Sapp as vocal inspirations, she would be soon shut down by a sibling who criticized her live chops. It would result in a seven-year stint where she would stop singing.
But as luck would have it, her friends joined a jazz choir in high school. Ogi eventually registered for the chorus in her junior year. She had already regained “enough confidence to sing again” through her affinity for gospel music.
Using what she learned from her worship influences while practicing in her parents’ basement, she surprised anyone who didn’t know she had a voice.
Ogi credits the jazz choir for facilitating an oasis to unlock the infinite wonders of her voice. One thing she picked up during those rehearsals was finding the beauty in what her vocal instrument offered.
Unable to see herself as a soprano, which she felt had become the law for women singing popular music at the time, Ogi found admiration in some great women in jazz to gain proper footing.
“Being in a jazz choir helped me listen to people like Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, or Sarah Vaughn,” she reveals. “Those were people that I eventually wanted to like to model my voice after and lean into the warmth and depth of my tone.”
Joining THUNK a cappella, a historic vocal group at Northwestern University named after Thelonious Monk, was another crucial waypoint in Ogi procuring full agency in her singing abilities.
“It taught me how to rely on my voice entirely,” she explains. “It [also] allowed me to learn how to create very coherent arrangements that weren’t overly heady. I would not know how to do what I do if I hadn’t joined it.”
Attending school while actively participating in the a cappella group ignited a fire under Ogi to advance her music career in other ways. She began to diligently make demos on Garageband, a studio workstation. Many of those rough drafts are what she presented to super-producer NO I.D., who has worked with artists like JAY-Z and Snoh Aalegra.
Ogi and NO I.D. met at a Red Bull event in Chicago, where she saw him being interviewed. After going to Los Angeles for a brief trip, she fatefully ran into NO I.D., who she calls by his middle name Dion. He was eager to lock in studio time, but Ogi knew that couldn’t happen just yet.
“I made it very clear that I have to graduate first because I was in my senior year, and I am Nigerian, so it’s not a game with education. We finish it,” Ogi affirms.
Soon after making Los Angeles her new home, Ogi reached out to NO I.D. They immediately started collaborating on Monologues, her debut EP, out now.
Among the six tracks on Ogi’s Atlantic and ARTium Recordings release, three were unfinished versions that later became marketable, courtesy of NO I.D. she said. “When I gave them to Dion, he had a very clear sense of what to do with them. He made them into records and singles.”
“These songs are my outlet to say what I really felt about something but didn’t say because my feelings didn’t fit the script,” Ogi said in a previous press statement. “These are performances of songs by a person who feels like she’s performed all her life.”
The first single from Monologues was “I Got It,” which arrived in early February. It was just enough time for The Marias to catch on and invite her to be the opening act for their Cinema Tour.
Less than a month later, before she premiered the follow-up track, “Envy,” she was asked to open for Aalegra’s – Ugh, These Temporary Highs Tour.
With last year in the rearview and any doubt about the career path she took now subsided, Ogi is ready to step on stage, audition Monologues for the world and wait for a callback. But crying to a video of someone performing “I Got It” with a band online, she knows what the feedback will be like: you’ve got the gig.
In Rated R&B’s interview with Ogi, she breaks down every song from Monologues.
“Let Me Go”
“Let Me Go” was prompted by an impromptu text from an ex that I really did not want to hear from at all. I’m saying it in very flowery language, but it’s essentially me saying, “Yo, leave me alone. It’s over and done with.” I think that song is the closest to what my arrangements used to be when I was in college. It’s very vocally driven.
“Envy” was one of the first demos that I ever created. It’s based on a relatively petty place in my heart. This is my moment to kind of boast about myself. That song was one of the first ones that I really saw transform by what Dion could do and the team he had around him. Dammo Farmer is on bass; Steve Wyreman is on guitar and keys; and James Poyser is on synthesizers and keys. They’re all incredible instrumentalists. [“Envy”] holds a good place for me just because that’s where I saw production really take place.
“I Got It”
I did that one in my senior year of college, and it was more me saying: “How can I make a song that my little brothers would like?” We have different tastes in music. The first line of the song is: “All these blessings falling in my lap like I’m a grandpa.” That’s not my most serious lyric to date. But it was weirdly the [song] that people liked the most, and it used to frustrate me so much that people fell in love with that one before all the other demos.
By the time I showed it to Dion, we were like, “Oh, I don’t know. I don’t know.” But then he put a drum pattern on it that totally changed it and made it feel like an entirely different song. I started to finally see myself in it. It’s a very braggadocios song, kind of like “Envy.”
In a general sense, it’s like, “Look at me,” which is something I usually don’t fall into. That’s why I think I was a little embarrassed at the song initially. Now, as I perform it and sing it and do it, it’s become one of my favorites.
“Follow Me” is inspired by a conversation between me and my friends about a person that they were seeing that I really did not like. It was really me just saying: “Follow me. Let’s go this way, leave this guy alone.”
“Bitter” came from a really bad date that I had in college. I was just laughing at myself, like: “Man, of course, this is how it happened. Of course, this is how this date was supposed to go.” It started with that sort of whimsical baseline in the demo and, I guess, is now in the song. I think that was also one of the first demos I ever made.
[As for the lyrics], I was thinking: “Man, I just gotta leave these dudes alone. I’m tired. I have other things to do. I’m busy. So why am I putting so much time into thinking about these dusty — I’ll relax. But just people that I should not be putting my time into.”
“IKYK” was written for my little brother just to make it clear: We are family, and if you need anything from me, I am here. As you can tell, a lot of the songs that I write are about circumstances around me and, in some ways, they’re the things that I wish I had said a little more.
With “IKYK” in particular, like that one, I say it to him —he knows. We are all aware that this is a supporting family. But a lot of the time, the songs that I write are based on things I wish I had said, but I was too afraid to, for fear of what that might make me look like. But with this EP, not anymore.
Stream Ogi’s debut project Monologues below.