Culted Sounds: Mr Eazi & DJ Edu’s “Chop Life VOL 1: Mzansi Chronicles” is more than just an album

Culted Sounds: Mr Eazi & DJ Edu’s “Chop Life VOL 1: Mzansi Chronicles” is more than just an album

by Juliette Eleuterio
11 min
MR EAZI & DJ EDU©

Mr Eazi needs no introduction, but here’s one anyway. He’s a leading visionary, one of the biggest African artists who specialises in Banku music, a blend of Nigerian chord progressions and the Nigerian highlife. While you’ve probably heard of Mr Eazi, DJ Edu’s name is one for those in the know, though equally important. DJ and producer, DJ Edu is the man who knows everyone and to who record-mixing comes almost too-naturally to believe.

When two legends of music come together, like Mr Eazi and DJ Edu did for “Chop Life Vol 1: Mzansi Chronicles”, the product of their genius is bound to be absolute fire. But “Chop Life” isn’t just an album – it’s part of a wider dance project called Choplife Soundsystem. Spreading feelings of joy and wellness, “Chop Life” is a compilation of music that just makes you want to get up and dance. Today, we chatted with Mr Eazi and DJ Edu, and they gave us all the behind-the-scenes secrets of the making of the album, as well as their ongoing tour experience.

Hey Mr Eazi, hey DJ Edu! How are you both today? Where are you joining us from?

DJ Edu: Hi! I’m just getting ready to leave the house, going into central London to grab lunch. I haven’t thought that far as to where I’m going though.

Mr Eazi: Hi, I’m in London. I’m going to Paris [soon]. Things keep changing every now and then. I love the movement.

MR EAZI & DJ EDU©

Congratulations on the new album, “Chop Life, Vol. 1: Mzansi Chronicles”, which just came out last Friday. How does it feel now that the project is live, ready for the world to hear it? How has the reception been?

DE: The reception has been, we could say amazing in that it’s what we expected. The name of the group as well, Chop Life Soundsystem, is about chopping life, enjoying life. The aim of the project was to share that with the audience. So the fun and the freedom we had making the project translates to how people listen to the project as well. You get that vibe when people are posting their videos of them doing stuff. Majority of the time they’re doing stuff that’s fun – they’re dancing in a club, they’re on holiday. It’s about taking that whole soundscape of South Africa in Cape Town, and the whole backdrop of amapiano and what it brings to African music and sharing it with our fans. That’s what the album has actually done. So, we’re really proud of that.

What struck me about “Chop Life”, which seems to ring true for South African dance music and scene in general, is its constant flowing energy, even on the slower tracks like Die For You. Where does all this energy come from?

ME: We made the record, most of it, in South Africa in Cape Town. That’s what you can hear. Aside from the location, it’s also about the people we were with when making the record, right. The energy of the producer, the energy of the artists in the room, even the friends of the artists that are in the room. The song Collect, the song that ends the project, we had tried to make so many songs that we were tired, this was like 1AM, mellow and sleazy and had a show later that night. I had only done the “Anybody wey fuck up go collect / Me I no get respect” bit. And we’re trying to figure out where the record will go. Somebody that was there, he just started vibing and dancing and I was just looking at him and the next thing he just started going like “totoo, to, to, to, to” (the melody). Next thing was, I just ran to him and said, “Please, please go record it”. And he went on to record it. So, it’s just about capturing that energy.

MR EAZI & DJ EDU©

You obviously worked on this album together. What was that process like? Did you both come up with ideas and sounds individually or were you together in the studio all the time, bouncing off each other?

ME: There wasn’t even a studio, most of the record was recorded in the kitchen. We put the laptop and the speakers on the kitchen table, that open plan kind of kitchen. There were these sliding doors left open and the pool was right there, some people were playing football, some people were playing table tennis, some people were just drinking in the background. It was very relaxed and rinse and repeat. We just did that every day and just recorded. If we’re not recording on Sunday, I will sit with Tarico and discuss “let’s make this kind of sound” or “we want her to sing emotionally, we want this to be more like this”. Then, he would go upstairs to his room and he would make beats. Sometimes, I would send samples of songs and not even not even just South Africa sounds, any song. Maybe a Calvin Harris song or I remember sending Troye Sivan My Youth Is Yours – I said “you see how these chords make you emotional, now let’s do something like that” and that’s how we ended up with Die For You. That’s how that’s how it works. Edu’s role on this project was more [focussing on] selection, how it should flow. You should feel like you’re listening to one song. You feel like you’re on one journey. So every song had to flow to the other one and that involved careful song selection, BPMs, the modes and that’s all DJ Edu. 

You spent a year making this album, recording in Johannesburg and Cape Town, inspired by the local dance music scene. Are any specific places/venues/clubs that you find specifically inspiring?

ME: We always knew we were going to make this Choplife Soundsystem album and all of that, but we didn’t know what sound the first one would have, because it’s supposed to be a journey. Being in Cape Town, over New Year’s Eve, four hours of South African dance music from just the instrumentals to the ones with vocals, I went into a trance. That was what influenced what we’re going to put on for this first volume. Aside from that, I won’t say the city influenced any of the music because most of the collaborators came from outside the city. They flew in to record and we barely even went out, in one month we probably went out maybe twice.

How did you choose which artist to bring onto this project?

Shazam.

Shazam?

Yeah. There’s nobody on the project that Edu doesn’t know. It happens all the time that I find artists that I think I’ve discovered, I send them to Edu and Edu already knows the artist because he’s a nerd like that for music. So being at the club on New Year’s even, there was a song playing and I’m like “what the fuck is this?” So, I Shazam it and I see Focalistic is on. That’s when I message him saying “Yo Foca, I’m in your country, let’s make some music!” So I’d say Shazam was the A&R for this album. This is not a Shazam ad by the way.  

Talk to me about your wider Choplife Soundsystem dance project. How did this project come to life? When did you two first get together for it?

DE: Eazi and I have been going back and forth since late 2016. We connected through music. We’ve always been trying to find a way to work together. The timing either wasn’t right, or the project wasn’t right with the music, we’re busy as well. We managed to do a couple of gigs while we were out in the UK. We did a gig in Coventry. We were supposed to be following a set and an hour later, we were still on stage, Eazi enjoying himself while I’m throwing down some records. We did a repeat of that in Madrid. We were supposed to do 15 minutes, but we ended up doing it for two hours. The owner of the club was like “ I have no drinks, you guys need to stop”. With that, Mr Eazi went and sat back like “Yo, there’s something here”. There was the freedom of just being able to party with people, enjoy with them is fun. Eazi came up with this Choplife Soundsystem after also having played Detty Rave which happens in Ghana. It’s just DJs performing and artists come in and jump on if they’re about or around in the country, they’ll come through. It’s not structured like a concert for artists. So we were like “why not package this thing here and make it a thing”. Fast forward [to now], it becomes one the first Afrobeats Soundsystem and the rest is history. The beauty of Choplife is about enjoying life, and the freedom that comes with it. We’re just creating soundtracks for people enjoying themselves and living their best life.

@mreazi ©

Celebrating the release of “Chop Life, Vol. 1: Mzansi Chronicles”, you are currently touring all over Africa, in the UK and Europe. What has that been like? Have you had a favourite city/crowd you’ve played for?

ME: You’re trying to trap me because if I say one city or country, my fans in the other place will be upset.

DE: It’s like asking where the best food comes from. It depends who cooks it. Each city has a different type of energy. You live with something special [in each city], even if you’re playing exactly the same song, the same music.

Okay let me rephrase. Has there been a crowd or city that has surprised you with the energy they brought?

ME: Madrid! When we played in Madrid, everyone of us was surprised because we didn’t expect the amount of energy for Afrobeats. It ended up being like an educational session. I was so late, I started shouting “Afrobeat University” and Dj Edu just understood what I was talking about. I didn’t even know what I was talking about. He started to play Afrobeats records from like the 90s to 2000s to the present the afropop and amapiano so it was like a journey. He then put in my songs with J Balvin Lento, Como Un Bebé, Arcoíris. Then he had some reggaeton, it was kind of like reggaeton but also Afrobeats toplines. Everything was just so special. One thing I remember was the owner of the club coming towards me to say, “Please, we need to end the show. I’ve run out of champagne”. 

@mreazi ©

Patek has quickly become a fan-favourite, having been released before the album and already having received over 5 million streams on Spotify. Do you have a personal favourite song off the album?

ME: I know what Edu is going to say. He’s going to give you a speech about how it depends. But for me, I know that right now, I’m in love with Die For You.

DE: When I first heard the album, the one that was screaming at me was Tear Chain. But when you get to really digest the project, and the mood that takes you through, I was just finding myself having a different song than I like every other time, which for me is amazing. That way I can get to listen to the whole album over and over again. In a day and age when people just listen to one song or one, if you can get a body of work that you can really listen to like your background. I mean, it’s working perfectly for me.

Considering your album is just Volume 1, can we expect more Chop Life volumes in the future?

DE: We were actually joking yesterday, we were saying you could even have a volume two tomorrow. That’s the freedom we have to release stuff as if there’s no barriers. We are literally ready to go.

@mreazi ©

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