I know, I know, I’m late to the news.
Rema rose to prominence in 2019 in Nigeria, then in the U.S., then the world. And I fall into the “the world” group. But after listening to Calm Down repeatedly for like 3 days, and digging into Rema’s other songs and history, I discovered more than just a talent with a couple of great songs. I see some common truths about how to enjoy and excel in our life.
1. Let your inner voice beat all the outer noise
Last time I checked, Nigeria is way poorer than China, where I am at. Yet I grew up with all kinds of people telling me what I should do, what role I should play, what responsibility I should take, and what expectation I should meet. From the moment you were born, shit had been arranged for ya, life long.
What’s scarier is, even if you have doubts like “is this how my life gonna be?” “shit just doesn’t feel right”, but when you take a look around, everybody is doing the same thing and the moment you step one foot out the track, somebody will pop out and yell “Dangerous!” to you.
Now imagine Rema, an 11 years old kid in Nigeria, who lost his father and brother, had to support his mother and family, and decided to do rapping to make a living, where everybody likes Afrobeats instead of rapping. I am sure there were tons of doubts and naysayers and “kid is crazy, that will never work out” along Rema’s road.
Is Rema the only one in Nigeria who had this talent? or there are no haters in the US? maybe not. It takes a strong belief in his inner voice, and immense grit (or a thick skin if you will) to break through all the environmental drag and get where he is now.
“I want to give hope to my young teenagers back in the city who think they have to abandon their sound to make it. Give me a beat, give me a sound, I can do anything—and so can my youths in Nigeria.”
And that’s something we ALL need to get where we WANT.
2. Follow your love, let it gravitate
Cliche, I know.
This passion thing is mistaken by a lot of people. Because it’s not a thing. It’s not a job, a career, a hobby, or a person. It’s a feeling. it’s the feeling of being energized and empowered. If you take passion as a thing, you will meet the following typical struggles:
- It takes a lot of time to find “the” passion. in fact, most people never do their whole life.
- It’s not A thing, it’s A LOT OF things. What you do is just one path to get to the destination, the feeling. But there are a lot of things that generate the same feeling. Why Elon Musk did Paypal, Tesla, and SpaceX, which are three utterly different things? because they all are part of his human future program.
- Most of the jobs we have today doesn’t exist 100 years ago. So most people before 1900 had no passion? jobs are just human-created stuff, but the feeling is inside you, inside your grand(100x) grandfather too.
The list continues. But more on this later.
So don’t try to rush to a destination (something like “my dream career”), it’s not about the destination, it’s about the path. Life itself is a path. as long as you are following this energetic feeling, you are on the right path. keep exploring and trying out stuff, as you gravitate, your next destination will be more and more clear.
By the time Rema was 11, he discovered he could do more than just draw comics. He had a genuine talent for music. Then he found that rapping is his music. Then he started rapping and became a member of 3 different music groups in church singing gospel songs. Then he tried creating a band called the RNA. And his next stops kept getting clearer.
“I want the youth to know that if you put your heart and passion into something, it’s possible to make it out here.”
I heard you.
3. A clear WHY
Your WHY is the energy source that keeps you forward and points the directions when you make decisions.
Without a clear WHY, as different people give you all sorts of “kind suggestions” along the way, you will certainly be lost half the road.
Rema knows clearly WHY he does what he does. “I listened to Afrobeats growing up, but I never thought that was something I would do. I really, really loved rapping. Most of the time people want me to make Afrobeats because it’s the biggest genre in Nigeria, but I don’t really like doing what people want.” “My sound is for the young people of my generation and the older people who want to feel young again. I really want to take the Nigerian flag over all the world.”
And look, he made it to all over the world.
4. The moon is always glued with sixpence
Humans are programmed for survival. Reality always comes before dreams.
After losing his father and older brother, young Rema was forced to get a job to support his mom. “We were hungry. I was the only man in the house. I had to do something.” He worked some menial jobs like doing stuff on Ghana’s beach just to make a living.
When he started the rap group in the church, he had to add certain elements to the music. “Everyone just listens to Afrobeats here, so we had to attract them with costumes and dance moves,” “It’s where I learned that if I want to impress someone I have to do what they like plus what I like.”
Your dream is something inside your own head, but the reality is something out there.
The reality gives no fuck about what YOU want.
Don’t be totally idealistic and ignore reality. To get where you want to be, you need to first get a full stomach, then get whatever chances that YOU can get, maybe all you have now is a bike, then just go with the bike, next stop you might catch a bus, eventually get your own car.
Of course, there are better places for rapping, but all Rema got is the church, then church it is, it’s already a perfect starting point.
Don’t let perfectionism drag your ass down.
5. All stars rise in a tide
Is Rema the first or the only Nigerian singer who made it to the world? No. There are other Nigerian singers out there too, like Banner Boy, and Wizkid. Is Nigeria the only “minority” country that made this worldwide influence in music? No again. Caribbean musicians already stormed America, like Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Bob Marley (Jamaica), Sean Kingston (Jamaica), and a lot of others. And remember Despacito?
This is a trend. A global trend.
The internet makes people’s voices heard no matter where they are, and people from all over the world are migrating to America or Europe, with their culture, and music included. Rema’s Instagram posts can be seen in any country, and he is touring around the globe. I am sure middle east Arabic music will have its day too, not soon.
Take a look at all the great people in history and right now, you will notice that they are just the ones standing on a tide. When the time comes, someone will be the icon no matter who it is, and it’s unstoppable.
6. There is at least one mentor behind every giant
In Chinese, we call this kind of people “贵人”. They are the ones that have a great impact on these “successful” people. They introduce them to a career, or teach them certain critical skills, or change the way they see the world, or shape their values.
Rema met his first mentor In 2018, when he dropped a freestyle to Afropop star D’Prince’s “Gucci Gang” on Instagram. This led to a DM from D’Prince, who later introduced Rema to his brother Don Jazzy, and then naturally his company – Mavin Records, where Rema really took off. Later there are more of them, Chris Brown, Selena Gomez, and Barack Obama, all significant points on Rema’s map of journey.
To reach higher, stand on the shoulders of giants.
7. You need a team
Humans dominated the planet mainly because we can corporate in large teams. Countries, companies, for example.
One person can only go so far, because you have limited time, energy, knowledge, etc. Steve Jobs won’t make such a big impact if he is alone, even with his genius ideas and massive balls.
For Rema, all the people in Mavin Records, all the professionals, helped him grow far more rapidly than when he is just playing a band with his friend. You might not see these people, but they did 80% of the work. Open any New York bestseller book and turn to the final pages, you’ll find the long lists of people that the author is thankful for making the book a reality.
You need a team to make it.
8. Really know your thing
The solid skill of your niche is the foundation, no matter what your field is. Even if you have great mentors, great opportunities, and great luck, or you are standing on the tip of the tide, if you don’t really know much of what you are doing, you won’t go far, or worse, you will fall even harder.
To be the best in the world, you need to be the first class in the skills. You don’t need to be the #1 skill-wise, but you do need to be at the top.
9. Marketing is a must
No matter intentional or natural, some marketing moves helped Rema to get this scale of well-known.
That Gucci Gang post @ D’Prince? Marketing.
Song feat Selena Gomez? Marketing.
Be in Barack Obama’s song list? Marketing.
That “Another Banger” (which sounds exactly like “Anada Banga”) in each song? Marketing. This is some symbol technique, just like the “Mr world wide” in every Pitbull song, or “Gaga” in every Lady Gaga song.
Marketing might be subtle and out of your awareness, but they are everywhere.
Some great artists are actually also great marketers. Picasso, Claude Monet, Salvador Dali, all good at marketing.
Art is a beautiful blessing in our human life. It has the power to move all people no matter the country or ethnicity. Just like the intro of the song Calm Down, when the melody rise, a mood instantly rises with it. For some reason it makes me wanna cry, don’t know why (shut up, you).
Maybe Rema will do some dumb shit later, which is the result of his upbringing and understanding of the world, but we as the audience, should have more tolerance towards artists and their work. Because everybody makes mistakes.
And the single most beautiful thing in the world? Humanity. The flawed, raw, true self. The courage, grit, honesty, sharing, and help that every one of us was born with, somewhere in the heart.
Never shut it up.
Reference video about Rema:
More about excellence:
Wild Pyramid of Life: How To Be Good At Anything
Do you have the same crying feeling to Calm Down? Or how do you think about these points? Feel free to leave a comment below!