Zlatan Has Strong Foundation For 2021 Success

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

For globally recognized rapper, Zlatan Ibile, a whole career began with a simple ask. It was 2011 and Zlatan, who grew up in Lagos, Nigeria, in severe poverty, was focused on completing his education. At the time, however, neither he nor his family had the requisite money to continue his higher learning. So, Zlatan was forced to push pause on the effort and reflect on his next move. It was then, though, that he encountered a friend on the way to a recording studio. In an instant, Zlatan had an important realization. He knew that his friend wasn’t an operatic singer or virtuosic instrumentalist. So, Zlatan thought, if his friend could go to the studio to cut a track, so could he. Since that important moment, Zlatan, who is known for his joyous rapping, singing and dancing, has garnered millions of fan followers, released popular songs like the recent track, “Lagos Anthem,” and is set for a bright creative future in 2021.

“I said to him,” Zlatan says, “’I have never seen you singing before. If you are a musician than anybody can become a musician. Next time you go into the studio, I would like to follow you. If you can do it, I can do it!’”

Zlatan, who grew up in his father’s church playing drums for the choir, had a basic but natural sense of rhythm at the time. He knew about staying on beat and when to come in a song on time. And with these rudimentary skills, he began his career, first exploring tracks and then believing in his own ability. He made his first song for the equivalent of six dollars and got a good reception from it from other friends in his neighborhood. Then another important life event occurred. Zlatan’s father sold the family’s old, non-working car to get the money to send his young artist son to study. With that help, Zlatan began to learn and invest more in his work. And, as luck would have it, a few months later, Zlatan won a brand new car in 2014 at the Airtel-sponsored One Mic talent show.

“My whole life changed from that moment,” Zlatan says. “From there I took it very serious.”

The new car, which was a luxury unheard of for Zlatan’s family, stood as a metaphor for his talent. It became the new family car and they drove it around the neighborhood with pride. For a family subject to spotty electricity and a dearth of potable running water where they lived, Zlatan’s new, blossoming success was a godsend. Zlatan, who remembers carrying drinking water in buckets on his head for his family and, later, crates of bricks for odd jobs, music was the way out.

“I lived a proper ghetto boy life,” the emcee says. “There was actually no hope other than hoping on god. Out of my friends who grew up together, I can’t really explain how I became who I am today.”

Ever since winning the car, Zlatan has been a student of hip-hop. During the contest, he wrote every day for each of the competition’s many stages. Today, he has released several videos that have amassed millions of views on YouTube and a great deal of the visual works are rich with colors, landscapes, buildings and people from his native Nigeria. Zlatan has even become known for his own dance – the Zanku Dance. The name of the stomping, bow-legged move is a Nigerian acronym that translates loosely to, “Zlatan Please Don’t Kill Us,” pointing to Zlatan’s prowess as a respected, effectual artist who has a great deal of power behind his pen. Zlatan released his debut studio album named after the dance in 2019. Today, the artist says, the dance has shown up in a number of his own songs and videos, along with other Nigerian tracks and video game soccer celebrations. The dance even showed up in a video by the world-famous artist, Beyoncé, for her track, “Already,” which features the Ghanaian singer and dancer, Shatta Wale. Today, the Zanku Dance is one of many achievements attributed to Zlatan.

“I can make twenty songs a day, depending on my mood,” he says. “I start from scratch, someone sends me a beat. I can make music anywhere.”

Zlatan, who has collaborated with famed artists like Burna Boy, recently bought his parents a chic house in Nigeria to show them his appreciation. In addition, Zlatan is continuing to work on music and will release new projects in 2021. He just completed a deal with Coca-Cola and has been a prominent voice in the important #EndSARS movement in Nigeria, which was successful in helping the region to adopt police reform and end the hated “Special Anti-Robbery Squad.” And as the artist looks ahead to the future, he says, he is as much focused on helping other local artists on his label, Zanku Records, as he is continuing to build his own career.

“Greatness, to me,” Zlatan says, “is ceasing to be a dream. For my artists who have the talents, with a little help, I can do it for them. I know I’m supposed to concentrate on myself but the kind of person I am, it doesn’t matter if I concentrate on myself or other people. Because music is everything to me. Music changed my life. Music makes everything I look at that seems impossible possible.”

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