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Tunde Olaniran Refuses To Dilute His Creativity

Tunde Olaniran's <em>Stranger</em> is out now via Magic Wheel.
Jordyn Belli
Courtesy of the artist
Tunde Olaniran's Stranger is out now via Magic Wheel.

Tunde Olaniran is a shapeshifter. He's a Flint, Mich. native who's quickly embedded himself into the Detroit music scene; a singer, rapper, dancer, choreographer, producer and activist. Olaniran's first big single, "Namesake," was an unexpected hit, with lyrics about self love and a video full of explosive choreography.

NPR's Ari Shapiro met with Olaniran in his hometown — at a bookstore that, like Olaniran, has refurbished the local community — to discuss his latest album Stranger and how the musician weaves Flint's history into his flashy stage presence and dynamic sound. Hear their conversation at the audio link and read interview highlights below.

Interview Highlights

On Flint's cultural influence

Being in Flint influences my music because Flint has a really radicalized history, in terms of the working class, so I feel like that seeps into a lot of the work that we do. Our history, you can't really escape it, and I think that when it comes to a song like "Symbol" is really about the history of people of color and I just don't think I would've had this same mentality if I'd grown up somewhere else. I think a lot of the people I was raised with made me a more critical thinker.

On wearing your history on your body

When you travel internationally and you're in a black body, oftentimes you're seen as threatening or you're seen as nonexistent. I think larger bodies mean different things to people as well. So I was just thinking about how my body means so many things that I don't intend it to.

It's weird, because I don't feel like I'm trying to be flashy. I'm just trying to be myself. I'm trying to express myself in a way that feels real to me. ... It's really simple, sometimes, but the act of it, on the outside for people, it comes across as a radical statement because so much of what we're able to do as artists gets boxed in so much.

On choosing vulnerability over marketability

I think the songs [on Stranger] are challenging, in some ways, because I think our ears are not calibrated to be on a Spotify playlist. Everything you listen to, you need to not want to skip it on your jog. Artists now are writing to be on Spotify playlists, and I think they're watering down and diluting their own creativity.

On empowerment, visibility and being a role model

It feels surreal, honestly. I feel lucky. I also feel like I have worked really hard to create something that I'm proud to share and that people can connect to. And I hope that, not just be an example but use any kind of social capital that I have as an artist to make a lane for other people that are pushing against a lot of these boundaries. That's the example I'm trying to be.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Sam Gringlas is a journalist at NPR's All Things Considered. In 2020, he helped cover the presidential election with NPR's Washington Desk and has also reported for NPR's business desk covering the workforce. He's produced and reported with NPR from across the country, as well as China and Mexico, covering topics like politics, trade, the environment, immigration and breaking news. He started as an intern at All Things Considered after graduating with a public policy degree from the University of Michigan, where he was the managing news editor at The Michigan Daily. He's a native Michigander.
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