NBA Star Victor Oladipo Talks New Album ‘Tunde,’ Musical Roots and The Importance of Afrobeats

On Friday (February 17), two-time NBA All-Star Victor Oladipo released his latest album, a seven-track record called Tunde. The Afrobeat-centric release comes on the heels of several single releases, “Symphony” and “Exercise,” for the All-NBA guard in the past few months.

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Oladipo, who has released two previous albums, Songs for You in 2017 and V.O. in 2018, also appeared on The Masked Singer in 2019. For the athlete-musician, making music and celebrating the culture is not some fly-by-night hobby. It’s a passion, through and through. As much so as basketball for him—perhaps even more.

[RELATED: NBA Star Victor Oladipo Shares New Single “Symphony” Ahead of New LP ‘Tunde’]

The artist, who grew up singing in church and in school choirs in the Washington, D.C.-area, used to use his prowess to flirt with girls as a student. On his bucket list, he says, is singing the National Anthem. He even once sang a bit before an NBA Slam Dunk Contest he participated in. Indeed, singing is in his blood.

Below, American Songwriter caught up with Oladipo to talk about his musical roots, the genesis of his albums, his love for Afrobeats (a genre featured heavily last week at the NBA All-Star game), and what he loves most about being a singer.

American Songwriter: When did you first find music?

Victor Oladipo: Honestly, I’ve been listening and singing for a long time. I think music kind of entered my world from the very beginning. As long ago as I can remember. My family, obviously, is of Nigeran descent, so music is a very big thing in our culture. So, I’ve been listening to all kinds of music for a really long time. I started singing in church when I was young. I started singing probably when I was like seven years old in church. Music has played a big role in my life from the very beginning—just as long as playing basketball, really, if not longer. 

AS: What was it like for you to grow up in a household with different cultures like that, especially from a musical perspective?

VO: It kind of helped me be more diverse, especially in the music field, and be open to just all kinds of music. Growing up, I was exposed to everything, from Christian music to, obviously, Afrobeats to country music, R&B, everything. It wasn’t just like I was listening to the same thing every day. So, it was like a melting pot of music growing up. And I think that helped me be very diverse and be able to relate to different types of music, different types of genres, as well. So, I enjoyed it. 

AS: When did you realize you could sing well and, from there, what made you want to invest in singing more?

VO: I mean, I could sing for a while, but I didn’t know I was good probably until like high school. In high school, I got a chance to hang out with friends, and, growing up, we used to go to these little dances and stuff, and they used to bet me $5 to sing to girls and see if I could get their numbers and stuff like that. That’s where it all started. I remember one of my close teammates and friends, Quinn Cook, I used to go over to his house, and we used to have our own little mini-concerts. 

After that we used to go—there were these things called “mixers,” they were like these little dances they used to have for our high school and other high schools in the D.C. area. It was co-ed, and it would be all the high schools and all kinds of ages at the dances. After the dance, we would just see who could get the most numbers. And I used to try to get the most numbers. I don’t think I ever lost, either. I was pretty much undefeated in that category.

AS: That makes sense because, as we’ll get to, the music you make is very romantic. So from those initial days singing, how did you get better along the way? What kind of work did you put into the art form?

VO: Growing up, I had a lot of free time. My parents are really strict, so I wasn’t really able to do a lot, you know what I’m saying? Especially outside of basketball. So, if I wasn’t really hooping, I was making noise, a lot of noise, to the point where my family used to tell me to be quiet and shut up a lot! Because it used to get a little excessive. But obviously going to church, and singing in the choir, was definitely great practice for me. I was in my high school choir at DeMatha for a little bit as well. That helped definitely increase my versatility. But overall, it would just be like every day. Literally, growing up, I would sing every day and that’s what people knew me for. 

AS: I was going to ask, did people know your passion for singing? It can be obvious with basketball when someone is obsessed with it. But did you make it known? For instance, did you ever sing the National Anthem at a game or anything like that?

VO: Nah, I actually have yet to ever sing the National Anthem, so that’s one thing on my bucket list. But I’ve sung at Hoosier Hysteria, which is this really big thing at the university I went to [Indiana University]. They pack it out with fans. I performed there. Obviously, I did a little snippet before the [NBA] Slam Dunk Contest, as well. So, I’ve performed a few times. Then The Masked Singer, obviously. But it’s interesting. Overall, I didn’t think that when I was doing that it would be this big, in a sense. It was just something I did for fun and made me feel good. But if you have a gift, why not share it? So, that’s what I’m focused on doing—sharing it to the best of my abilities. 

AS: What was the genesis, the origins of your 2017 EP, Songs for You, and your 2018 LP, V.O.

VO: Well, Songs for You was my first album. I just really started doing music. It was around that time when the NBA was bridging the gap between sports and music. It was okay for athletes and people, in general, to have more than one talent and flourish in it. At that point, it was like why not put out music, why not share it? You know, you’re pretty good, so let’s just try it, let’s try something new. It was something new for me, it was different. I definitely was pretty nervous. But it did pretty well, shocking a lot of people. And that was me getting my foot wet. It was—I don’t want to say immature, but the younger version of myself. 

And then the V.O. that was next, I gained a little more confidence, I was a little more comfortable and I showed a different confidence and versatility with the next record, the V.O. album. I got a little more features on there, you know what I’m saying? More people started to recognize the talent and stuff like that. So, hopefully, as I continue to grow, people will start taking me a little more seriously, I guess when it comes to music, and will want to collab with me. Because there is definitely a list of people I would love to do that with. 

AS: Can I ask who a couple of those names are?

VO: I mean, everybody, bro. Like, literally. All the Afrobeat artists from Wizkid to Burna Boy to Drake to everybody. I love music. To the utmost degree. If you go through my playlist, it’s not just one kind of genre. It’s all kinds. So, I’m trying to tap into all facets of the world. 

AS: You mentioned The Masked Singer. You finished fifth on the show in 2019 as the character Thingamajig. What was that experience like for you?

VO: Yeah, that was definitely a great experience. I had a great time during the show. It was definitely new, something different from the standpoint of performing in front of a live audience. But also doing it with a mask, with a whole costume on. That was definitely different. But I had a good time. During that time, I was [also] dealing with my first surgery, so I was dealing with the battles of getting hurt and kind of, essentially, starting over. Obviously, I didn’t know at the time that my injury wasn’t necessarily done progressing. But that was a bright spot for me going on that show and doing as well as I did and people liking it. It was a bright spot during a tough time. I’ll always remember the feeling of being successful on the show, and having people cry when I was singing. It was a crazy experience and a crazy feeling, and it was something I’ll always remember. 

AS: What was the genesis of your 2022 single, “Symphony,” and of your new LP, Tunde, as a whole? What are your hopes for the new album? 

VO: Honestly, I just hope that it continues to grow, that other Afrobeat artists recognize my talent and want to collab and do special things. Not just for me and my personal success but for the culture’s success. I used to tell people all the time, I remember when I used to listen to Afrobeats and no one would listen to me. Now, it’s kind of a known thing and it’s spread its wings. I just want to be a part of it because, you know, I wouldn’t be here without that culture. I wouldn’t be who I am without the Nigeran blood that runs through me. The culture, the people, and Africans, in general, have just shown me so much love. Even before I was, you know, who I am now. 

And I just felt like it was time for me to get back to the culture and tap into a different space. Tap into this space that I need, a space that will always support me, that I love, and that I want to continue to blossom in. Being able to work with [producer] Harmony [Samuels] and to be able to, like I said, tap into this space, that’s something special for me, because like I said it’s a big part of my life. Afrobeats are a big part of my life, the culture is part of my life. To be able to give back to it is something that’s very special and means a lot to me. 

Photo courtesy Big Hassle

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