R&B-pop singer-songwriter Obai talks music, memories, and his debut EP ‘svnteen’
By Tiara Starks
Photos by judicieuxhi
Obai is young. His first song, “NO MORE,” was released in 2021, while he was still in high school. Now, in 2024, the Rebel Music/Geffen Records artist has just released his debut EP “svnteen.” Although his journey started from humble beginnings in Phoenix, Arizona, the 18-year-old R&B-pop singer-songwriter has already paved a path to success in the music industry.
Obai’s artistry is doubly inspired by his Western American upbringing and Sudanese roots. He reminisces about listening to Sudanese music greats such as Mohammed Wardi in his home.
“The Sudanese... they tend to sing a lot of soulful lyrics, like they tend to really speak about a story and the beats that they pick are very theatrical and very big, and they sound huge and sound like they're supposed to be in stadiums.”
He also lists his contemporary inspirations. Established artists such as The Weeknd, Bryson Tiller, and Frank Ocean make the list.
“I try to take everything that I can listen to and comprehend and try to put it into my own stuff,” Obai proclaims.
Obai expressed that he experienced a range of emotions regarding the confirmation that his debut EP would be released.
“It was a beautiful day when I got that text message like, ‘Oh, we finally got this clear. Finally we're getting this going. We got these nine songs.’ I was very ecstatic. I'm not going to lie. I was very happy. I think the nine songs that we ended up picking off top, it wasn't too much that was changed. I'm not going to lie. I maybe had one song that I really wanted to be on there that wasn't able to be on there. I'm probably going to drop it after the project. I'm probably going to find a way to drop it after, but I was very happy.”
One of his songs, “The River,” was featured in Season 19 of ABC’s medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy.” When asked about how he felt about having more of his music be in the background of famed television shows and movies, Obai responded with ease saying, “If I'm making a certain hook or if I'm writing a certain verse, I'll be like, ‘OK, this would be dope with Spiderman and [me] singing in the background,’ but it doesn't really come to mind like, ‘I should make a song for this show,’ but it definitely does come into mind sometimes.” He notes that his favorite Spiderman is “Tobey [Maguire], because that's the original.”
Obai was also the focus of one of streamer and YouTuber Kai Cenat’s streams, in which he reacted positively to one of Obai’s previous releases, “Missed Call,” which may act as his industry calling card garnering over 500,000 streams on Spotify.
While Obai was appreciative of the promotion, he initially was in disbelief.
“I started getting hella notifications on YouTube, like comments and Instagram follows,” he says. “Weird. It was crazy. I tap into the stream and I'm not there. I was just super confused and I didn't think I was on it for real until later that night. I go back into the stream and I see he was reacting to the video. It was dope. It was a crazy experience.”
Obai is not shy about sharing his experience making music videos too. One of his most recent releases, “girls like you,” has an accompanying video which showcases the artist sitting in the passenger seat of a drop top convertible with his love interest.
“I think probably the best part was playing ‘passenger princess’ because I don't have my license, I can't drive. I was super hyped. I was hyped. So I think that was cool. We went to the Papago Park area. It's like in deep Phoenix. That was also very dope. The scenery in that was crazy. I think one thing about Arizona that people don't really realize about it is that we have the best sunsets.”
He speaks fondly of his home state, stating that, “We got LA back home in Arizona, so it's cool. I think we have a bunch of great videographers, a bunch of great artists, a bunch of great songwriters, and it's our own little hotspot.”
His love of performing also supersedes his preference for where he wants to go next.
“I have a show next month on the 24th, so I'm excited for that. I'm trying to do more. I'm definitely trying to do more. I would love to tour. I don't care. I'll be in a hotel lobby performance. Really. I'm on a hotel lobby tour. I'm cool with anything. I'd love to perform.”
Obai wants his music to double as both a safe haven for his listeners and a means for self-expression. As an artist who already knows his sound, how it resonates with his fans, and the power that he has as an emerging Gen Z artist, Obai is like a bullet train that shows no signs of slowing down.
You can find Obai on Instagram and Twitter. Make sure to listen to his debut EP, “svnteen.” Obai will be performing at Walter Studios in Phoenix on Feb. 24. To keep up with Obai and find out where he will be performing live, visit obaimusic.com.