The first single from the eclectic performer’s Yung Archetype EP is a poignant work written for a family member who was diagnosed with cancer. “It’s an emotionally-charged, intense ride,” Raymer wrote. “Olaniran works the gaps between hip-hip, R&B, dance music and punk, weaving together aggressive beats, noisy electronics and an intuitive knack for melody into a seamless, pop-friendly whole.”
That’s hardly the only high praise Olaniran’s work, which incorporates a smorgasbord of genres, has received. Yung Archetype is his third EP, and even the New York Times offered a glowing review along with admiration for his ability to infuse hip-hop, soul, techno, rap and African pop with a voice boasting a four-octave range. “Mr. Olaniran can rap in distinct voices and can sing in an agile R&B tenor and falsetto, supplying his own melodic choruses,” the Times’ Jon Pareles wrote. “His productions are a deluge of ideas.”
Not bad for somebody who finds time for music while remaining devoted to his day job as Outreach Director for Planned Parenthood of Mid and South Michigan. “For my work to be recognized like that feels great because every artist wants positive reviews,” said the well-spoken Olaniran, also MTV “Iggy’s Artist of the Week” in April of 2011. “The creative process can be nerve-wracking, and I can go back and forth so many times when it comes to how I should write a song, what it sounds like and everything else, so praise like that validates what I am doing. Plus, it’s just cool to tell people to see the Sunday New York Times because I will be in it.”
Bloggers and critics have attempted to sum up Tunde’s sound, which also features plenty of vocal, electronic and other kinds of sampling, but the task has proven difficult given his wide-ranging tastes – he has a Nigerian father, an American mother and has lived on three continents during his 30 years. He also choreographs his stage shows and conceptualizes videos.
So, how does Olaniran, who signed with Detroit-based Quite Scientific Records last year, describe his work? “I would say it is sample-based music with a catchy dance beat and very future-focused,” he said. “I tend to go for a very modern sound, kind of percussion-based soul with R&B-influence that offers a message of hope with some great grooves. That’s my goal.”
While some of his songs tackle issues like the challenges of today’s economy (“The Highway”), potential dangers of technology (“The Internet”) and sometimes being judged by appearance (“Brown Boy”), Olaniran insists it’s most important to incorporate any message into a catchy track. “Honestly, I’m kind of superficial when it comes to music,” he revealed. “If there is a song that might have a good message but not a very likable beat, I am usually not interested. I would much rather make a great-sounding song first and then worry about any message. It’s important for me to make songs easy to listen to.”
Olaniran was born in Flint after his parents met as students at the University of Michigan-Flint. His father had been sent to the U.S. by his wealthy Nigerian parents to obtain a college education. The family moved to Nigeria when Tunde was a toddler and later settled in Germany. Young Olaniran also spent time living with his father’s relatives in London before returning to Flint with his mother following his parent’s divorce in middle school. He later graduated from Flint Central High School.
“Obviously, I didn’t remember much about living in Flint after I was born, so it was kind of a scary change living here because life in Africa and Europe was very different,” he recalled. “Flint ended up being my favorite place to live, however, and pursue my interests.”
Yes, Tunde had strong musical interests growing up and even made the top 15 at the first “Chicago Idol” competition when he was 19, but his mother insisted her son also find “a real career.” To that end, he obtained a master’s degree in health administration from the University of Michigan-Flint and began working in that field. His creative juices were overflowing, however, and he was not about to put musical aspirations on the backburner.
Among other things, he fronted a techno-band called Taste This before connecting through MySpace with the Berlin-based producer and performer known as Phon.o.
“I contacted him, he heard some stuff I was working on and invited me to do some songs for his next album,” Tunde said. “That was not was I expecting and it was really exciting.” He toured Europe with the producer’s act, known as Christ De Luca vs. Phon.o. “To be able to get into a studio with them, create music and then get out and perform it on the stage really made me want to see what I could do with music,” he said. “The experience was such an eye-opener.”
He returned to the U.S., worked his way into the Detroit music scene, and began playing bigger venues with the indie-pop group Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. before releasing his first EP in 2011.
It caught the attention of MTV Iggy, a website of the cable network which spotlights new talent. The video for Tunde’s song “Cobra,” shot with a small budget in Flint’s Capitol Theatre, was featured along with the an article entitled “Is the World ready for Tunde Olaniran?” He released another EP before signing with Quite Scientific in 2013. “That was my second big break after working with Phono.o,” he said. “I started to play sold-out shows with Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. (Owner) Jon Zott and his people really know what they are doing when it comes to the music business. I really feel like my career is in good hands.”
Olaniran is working with Zott on his first full-length album, which he plans to release next spring. “Right now, we’re adding a few more songs and then will begin work on videos,” he said. “It’s a major process that also involves planning the choreography of songs before playing them live, but I can’t wait to see the reaction we get on stage.”
While Tunde has no plans to leave a day job he’s also passionate about, it’s clear his musical career has only begun. “It’s an exciting time with the album and a tour next year,” he said. “In the future, I would love to do a tour with a more elaborate and artsy show. But I also want to make lasting songs; 20 years from now people will hear them on the radio and say, ‘That’s my jam.’” ♦
Photography by Mike Naddeo