Choosing to be lucky

Obinna Okoye opening for Jacqueees, August 2 2023. Photo: Logan Nikora.

At 10 years old, Obinna Okoye decided 33 was his lucky number. Okoye added the number of letters in each of his family members’ names and arrived at 33. He interrupts himself mid-sentence, “It kind of defeats the purpose of a lucky number,” he says, under the assumption a lucky number is something given rather than chosen. But still, Okoye chose his number. 

With a Nigerian father and Australian mother, Okoye is proud to be “half black and half white.” With some quick thinking, Okoye combined the two tones, which resulted in a shade of grey. Through thoughtful consideration of the two most important things in his life — his family and his background — 33grey was born. 

As someone who writes his own lyrics, his hip-hop music sheds light on his values and sense of humour. When asked what his favourite lyric is, he laughs and says, “You are what you eat, I’m Nigerian, I’m a GOAT.” Impressed with himself for coming up with it, he says, “I’m a goat because Nigerians eat a lot of goat in their soup.” But it could also mean, he’s the Greatest Of All Time.  

Okoye’s journey to being a music artist involves the summer after graduating high school, a good mate, and a gaming setup. With a mic that wasn’t even his own, Okoye and his mate started recording for fun. That summer marked the beginning of it. 

He began building his own setup at home. It didn’t matter that he’d used a cheap USB plug-in mic that went straight into his laptop, some cheap speakers, or free software. This setup is home to his most-streamed song, USA GTA.

“If the music is good, people are gonna like it regardless.”

Obinna Okoye

Though the song is now at 1.5 million streams, Okoye remains humble and says he’s lucky the Spotify algorithm worked in his favour. He gives a special shout-out to his Mexican fans for showing his music so much love. He’s not sure how his music wound up so far away from Perth, his home city, but according to Spotify, his biggest audience is in Mexico. 

As the stream count slowly increased, he was in a state of disbelief. As much as he liked the song, he never thought it would be the one. He confesses: “I couldn’t edit it any more than I already had, so I just put it out.”

For Okoye, no two songs are the same. He enjoys experimenting with cadence and melody but at the end of the day, it’s hip-hop. When writing songs, he considers his own experiences and tells a story, “I never rap saying I’m rich because I’m not,” he says, “I’m at uni, I’m in debt.”

Two years after discovering his love for music, Okoye was invited to perform at a university fundraising event. This was his first official event in front of an audience. With a wry expression, he says, “It was the most nervous I’ve ever been for anything in my entire life.”

Although his dream is to pursue a career in music, he was raised to value his education. He’s currently in his last semester of a Bachelors in Psychology, but this wasn’t always the plan. In his senior year of high school, Okoye wanted to be a criminal lawyer. Only, there was one problem, he feared having to defend a guilty criminal. Doing so went against all his values. Laughing at the thought, he says, “I feel like I’d just tell the judge, ‘This guy did it for real, put him away’.”

When asked if he fears the possibility of not doing music in the future, he responds instantly: “Yes, definitely.” But it doesn’t mean he can’t see himself being a forensic psychologist, if the future had other plans for him.

The pressure of time lingers at the back of Okoye’s mind. As he approaches his mid-20s, he wonders how much time he’s got left to make it in the business. When he first started experimenting with music at 18, he knew he had plenty of time ahead of him. “Now I’m 22 and I’m like, ‘hmm, might get a bit of a move on’,” he says.

And that’s exactly what he did. In August this year, Okoye opened for American rapper and singer, Jacquees. On a Perth Wednesday night, the Jacquees show was sold out. For non-Perth residents, the city is usually asleep by 6pm. But this August night was an exception. The venue was packed and everyone was excited for the night ahead; the two main ingredients you need for a good show. As the opening act, Okoye’s plan was to simply bring good energy and warm up the crowd for what was to come.

Although Okoye had learned to manage his nerves during performances, TikTok was testing him. The night before the momentous event, Okoye was scrolling through the app and unlocked a new fear: getting booed. “I’d never even considered the fact I could be booed until I saw that video,” he says, “It just wasn’t something in my head.”

As he scrolled, he saw a video of Allan Cubas, an artist signed under Lil Wayne’s label. According to Okoye, once you’re signed by Lil Wayne, you’re verified — so how can someone like Cubas get booed off stage? It seems the algorithm wasn’t in his favour this time. He remembers thinking, “Oh my god, they could really just boo me.” Nonetheless, the show was a success.

But Okoye understands the value of a backup plan. Earlier in his music career, he recalls the thought of hitting 100,000 streams and dropping out of university to pursue music full-time. After hitting one million, dropping out was far from an option. “I needed to finish my degree, this doesn’t mean anything,” he says. 

But three things have told him to keep going. The first is what Okoye describes as his “best set to date.” In August last year, Okoye performed at Jack Rabbit Slim’s to support Sydney-based artist, Jaecy. It wasn’t just the crowd, but managers from around Australia and other Perth artists praised him for his performance. Second was hitting 1.5 million streams on Spotify and third, opening for Jacquees. 

These events proved to him he’s got the potential to do something with music. “If I know I have that, it would be a waste to not try and do something with it.”   

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