Emoseh Angela Khamofu began crafting beats at age 12 and wrote her first song on a piece of tissue paper. This innocuous interest quickly developed an obsession with music that, later, propelled her to incredible heights.
Within a year, the 25-year-old singer and songwriter now known as Bloody Civilian released two EPs: Anger Management and a remixed version, Anger Management: At Least We Tried, and signed to 0270 Def Jam. Her song "Wake Up" featuring Rema is on the GRAMMY-nominated Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack.
Bloody understood early on that she'd have to approach her career holistically. Across her body of work, Bloody uses her "unparalleled” storytelling ability and lyrical dexterity to take listeners through personal and societal hardships.
The moniker Bloody Civilian refers to the struggles encapsulated by the often-derogatory term directed at Nigerian citizens by the military, and is also a poignant homage to a challenging chapter in her life. Born into a religious family in northern Nigeria, a young Bloody and her family relocated to the national capital, Abuja, due to unrest; she later moved to Lagos to pursue music.
"Growing up as a female in Nigeria is unnecessarily hard. It's unnecessarily complicated, especially when you do something unconventional," Bloody Civilian tells GRAMMY.com. "I had to fight for a lot of the leniences that I experienced."
Ahead of the 2024 GRAMMYs, Bloody Civilian discusses pursuing music as a girl in a religious home, becoming a serial entrepreneur just to buy recording equipment, and the art of production.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You gravitated toward music started at such a young age. What was it like charting a path that went against the pious, conservative norm you were born into?
It was a difficult process. Stopping making a beat to go wash plates just doesn't bang. As a Nigerian female, my brothers don't have the same home experience as I did. They had enough time to cultivate various skills and for me — if not for the level of obsession that I had for what I was doing — this could have been impossible. The chances of you being distracted at home as a female, is way higher than as a male.
Your dad played as a bassist in a band. Surely, you wanting to be an artist could have been seen as following in his footsteps…
But he's a man, so no one told him what to do. Whereas in my case, having that same creative hunger as the person that gave birth to me wasn't an easy journey. I had to fight for a lot of the leniences that I experienced. I had to rent things out and sell merch, to raise enough funding to buy equipment. I was a serial entrepreneur due to circumstance.
I understand that your parents didn't support you financially until further into your career. What was their reaction to you doing all you had to do to pursue what they probably thought was a hobby?
At the beginning, the little wins that I'd get and the little bit of popularity — people in the church saying "We saw her content from my daughter's phone" or one thing or the other — I think that's when my parents had an element of there's something to be proud of rather than be ashamed of me as a daughter. It became easier along the way.
But it definitely was tough. Very tough. Especially production; beat making, they really couldn't fathom or understand. It came to a point where they understood that I wanted to become a singer but this beat making thing, why not go and work with a producer?
And did they take you to a producer?
Yes, the first producer my mother took me to and paid for a session, I did most of the work. And I could tell that it wasn't easy taking instructions from a 12-year-old. I could see how hard it was. But I think in that session, him trying the things I asked for and seeing that it worked out, and he'd kind of give me this look of she knows.
I went to the studio, didn't know much. I was fascinated by the mic — stared at it for, like, a while [laughs]. I still remember looking around. The deafening sound of a studio; I was just taken back by it. Everything was just so fancy. Production started out as equal parts bad belle [Nigerian slang for resentful, jealous or bitter] and equal parts necessity.
**On "Family Meeting” off Anger Management, you sing: "Before you return me back to God, I think I'm going to pack my s— and run” hinting at how you moved to Lagos. Did you really run to Lagos?**
Something like that, yeah. I had to leave Abuja…urgently. And ending up in Lagos was definitely something that was a do or die, but not necessarily die. More like do or nothing.
It's been two years since you moved to Lagos from Abuja. How much of an adjustment was that move for you?
When I came, I was slightly more impressionable and very gullible. Typical JJC ["Johnny just come," a Nigerian term for a newbie/ novice to a place or situation]. And that's something about my psychology that really shocks me. I have a chameleon-like ability to evolve over a short period of time. The last two years of being in Lagos, I'm almost unrecognizable to my old self.
When I came to Lagos, I was the person I needed to be. I connected with different creatives. I went to people with experience and a good heart to get advice. I knew where to go to listen, I knew where to go to record. I knew different things because I explored a lot. And the reason I'm not in a screwed up situation is that I went and got advice from Osagie [Osarenz, Director of A&R and Operations at ONErpm]. It is because of her that I didn't sign a contract that I'll be crying about today. She basically told me "don’t sign anything, make sure you show me."
Honestly, I was just lucky. I didn't have anything that differentiated me from anyone. I'm just lucky I met the people I met and was coincidentally lucky to listen when they spoke.
How did you get signed to 0270 Def Jam?
I got signed off of a demo tape. A bunch of songs I wanted to sell to other artists. I wrote "How To Kill A Man" to sell [and] a lot of the tracks on the EP [like] "Escapism" to sell. I wanted to kind of just write for other people. But because of the way I put the tracks together, people felt, this is an EP and you're an artist.
I just kept getting nudged to take the artist route. And I always wanted to be an artist even prior to coming to Lagos because when I write songs, I write from my perspective; it's my voice, it's my music. Someone else could sing it out, but it's my story. I was pretty ready to become a writer-producer, but the way things panned out, [the EP] kind of sent my name around town.
But two women put me here. Remove those two women, I'm in the trenches.
The second woman was in the creative scene, high up. She was at an event with top executives and sent my music to multiple people, hoping a few would respond. Well, pretty much everyone she sent it to was sending me offers. My life changed [snaps fingers] in that instance. That's when I shut down all conversations with everybody in Lagos. I said, "I'm definitely not signing my deal here" because it was hard to get people to see the value in what I was doing. We're here today because two women decided let me clear some time in my schedule to talk to this girl.
Take us on the journey of how your song "Wake Up," which is featured on the GRAMMY-nominated Black Panther: Wakanda Forever album, came to be.
Since the film is about Africa and had a very women-led cast, they really wanted to portray the strength of women in general. So, even with the way they made the music, they wanted it to involve women creatives. They wanted female songwriters, producers, and when you run a search for female producers in Nigeria, there's very few that come up. I just happened to be one of them.
Got in the studio, met [composer] Ludwig [Göransson], played beats for him. He took the one that you hear and worked on it, added some cool synths and stuff. They had brought instrumentalists, and they spent a year sampling traditional music, so they pretty much had a bunch of sounds that he was playing with. He took it from what the demo beat was to what it is now.
What ranks higher for you, producing or creating your own music?
Producing, then music. You wouldn't even have me if I couldn't produce. Maybe now in Nigeria, you can go 'round and find people that are experimenting outside of the norms [of conventional music]. Now it's a better time. These songs were made years ago. I was there before everyone else.
My first viral video on Instagram was because I carried a Travis Scott-type melody loop, and I put on Afrodrums. It went viral because, one, no one does this combo — and then a girl did it. I had a hunger; I wanted to create a specific sonic, and I was just struggling to piece it together.
I can tell you that production came first. It was when I put that part of my artistry together that my lyrics started to shine.
You've spent years crafting your sound we hear today. There's a trend of Afrobeats artists trying to break away from the label and form subgenres, like Burna Boy with Afro fusion and Rema with Afro rave. Is "Afro-escapism" your attempt at that break away?
[Laughs.] Why are they attacking me with that Afro-escapism? It's weird, I love the different Afro subgenres: Afro-depression, Afro-escapism, Afro-sapa. There are no bad songs. I hate it that we eat away at each other.
There's so many styles of intelligence. You can't come and say this person's music is more deep or profound than another person's music. Everyone has their perspective, their language, but the content of what they're saying has value. As listeners, we should just never forget that it is important for us to also train ourselves to be good listeners for the music to thrive.
The cover art for Anger Management represented you being sort of alone, but Anger Management: At Least We Tried looks different with bright colors. Is it safe to say that this depiction represents how you feel now?
Yeah, it is. Being the "number one breakout artist of 2023" [laughs] made me see that Nigerian music is in trouble. [My team] worked hard, but it definitely just lets you see how hard it is to break in new acts. The way I see it, if you're not expressing yourself and you're not being authentically yourself, whatever you stand for, it's gonna be harder now than ever.
Looking back at [Anger Management], it wasn't really a happy time. But despite that, on-air-personalities literally reached out to me and were playing the music before we had worked out business and everything. It was very organic.
With a lot of my accomplishments, I usually have to be made to understand the worth of it because it doesn't really dawn on me. I just felt this EP was made with me in a sunken place. I'm no longer in a sunken place, but I want to remix my EP.
I'm feeling happy, excited. And it feels like a point in my life where so much can happen. It was also the first time people would see me interact with other artists, which for some reason fans like to see.
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