Fireboy DML Locks in at EMPIRE’s Africa Writing Camp as Terrace Martin’s Next Dinner Party Project Takes Shape at Company HQ

The meeting room on the 22nd floor of Empire’s San Francisco office is brightly lit and the walls are adorned with plaques. King Fung’s ‘Crazy Story’ gold single and Kendrick Lamar’s gold album. Section 80, DRAM and Lil Yachty’s “Broccoli” certified seven times platinum. All the chairs around the large central table are filled with EMPIRE staff members. Each is responsible for a different aspect of bringing to life the next project of The Dinner Party, a collective made up of Terrace Martin, Robert Glasper, Kamasi Washington, Ninth Wonder and more. Their first His EP was released in 2020 on His EMPIRE and was subsequently nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Progressive R&B Album.



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Standing by a table near the door is Martin, a versatile producer, saxophonist and vocalist. He introduces the project to the staff and explains his vision on how he wants it to unfold.

“I think of dinner parties like a hip-hop version of Steely Dan,” says Martin, citing the classic rock group’s notorious touring dislike. “Let this be like an expensive piece of art.”

Later in the afternoon, the EMPIRE crew is hosting another day of Africa Lighting Camp at their San Francisco studio for Nigerian stars Fireboy DML, Asake and Olamide. But before that, he has other business to attend, and dinner his party project is high on the agenda. Martin sat in court for nearly two hours, physically discussing his plans for his release, spot dating him performances, brands when the project unfolded, and discussing potential tie-ups and content plans. But he’s also played a near-final mix for the album, which he hopes will be done within a week, and has a story about how it all came together (“I We’re all in our 40s now,” he jokes about him and his dinner party buddies.) “You brought us all together and it’s just story time, story after story.”)

For example, one song originally sampled Mtume’s ‘Juicy Fruit’, which has recently become famous as the basis for The Notorious BIG’s ‘Juicy’. When Martin heard of it, he called his Mtume son and asked about clearing the sample. This allowed Martin to bypass clearing the master recording, having to clear only the publishing side. On another song, Martin avoided the drums entirely. I learned this from his 19-year-old daughter, who is now a producer. “I come from a time when drumless beats were interludes,” he says. “I’m following her now.”

The YBNL and EMPIRE teams meet in Studio A to hear newly recorded records from Olamide, Asake and Fireboy DML

Daniel Aziz

The meeting ended just before 6pm and it was time to head to the studio. It’s a little different tonight. Asake and Oramid were staying at a hotel, with Oramid recording vocals in his room. In the kitchen, Tupac is running in place of Kevin Gates, and Nigerian vegetable soup, fried catfish, braised turkey wings, and mac and cheese are dinner main events. (The only thing everyone is talking about is the spiciness of the pepper sauce.)

Fireboy and Asake stayed in the studio until after midnight the night before preparing another collaboration. (The guitarist’s tone sports a Fender Telecaster Deluxe with black triple humbuckers, for those curious.) and then loop the vocals over and over on the hook to compose an anthemic plea to get them. I quickly went back to the vocal booth and added harmonies and ad-libs while reading the lyrics from my phone. Steadily over the course of 45 minutes, the two of them add layers to the track, enhancing the melody and creating different textures. Fireboy sits back in his chair and looks up at the ceiling to take it all in.

It’s been over a week since camp started, and the conversations around the studio are diverse. Topics include the benefits of vocal coaching for touring artists. Nigerian presidential election. Who is in and out of camp (songwriter Ivory Scott left this morning, Rexx Life Raj is due to arrive tomorrow, and Nigerian producer Magicsticks is on the move). Many renovations in the studio. EMPIRE also plans to open a space in Los Angeles, and more recently a similar space in New York, but San Francisco will always be its home.

YBNL & Empire

Daniel Aziz

Shortly after 8pm, EMPIRE Regional Head for West Africa, Moboraj Kareem, pulls us into Studio A to hear the final mix of the new Kizz Daniel track that engineer Jacen Joshua finished that morning. I told the custom lighting what color it needed to be and promised to go to a new studio if possible. But it’s early morning for everyone involved. The exception is his Fireboy, whose voice has stayed in the studio long after many have left, even though his voice is tired from constant recording. Tomorrow is another day and more work is expected before things wrap up in another week.

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