For Nigerian rapper Ladipoe, football has always been at the centre of his life, forming a core element alongside music. And for him, that love has been centred around Liverpool, a team he has followed ever since he was given an LFC shirt as a child.

Ladipo Eso, better known simply as Ladipoe, is riding high on the back of two number 1s this year: the first being his hit single, “Feeling”, and the second, as he proudly stated on Instagram recently, being the birth of his first child. And that double of firsts follows Liverpool’s first Premier League title last season, a team that he not only has a passion for, but that he also shares an affinity with, as we found out recently.

With one eye fixed on a massive fixture this week against Chelsea, we caught up with Ladipoe to talk about his love of the Reds, the part football plays in Nigerian culture, and crossing his passion for football with his music.

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To kick off, can you tell us about your football upbringing, what was it like to grow up loving football in Nigeria?

Football is a passion in Naija. You only have to look at how the recent jerseys took everyone by storm to know how much football means to people. Nigeria is a religious country and football is probably the third religion out there; after Islam and Christianity, there’s football. That’s how it is. You don’t have to think about liking football, it’s just the way it is.

We played it for as long as I can remember. I remember one time when I was outside playing with the ball and my dad saying to me as he smiled, “football is not your thing” [laughs]. It crushed me, I was so upset. He was right though, I love everything about the game, it’s always been around me. Every member of my family supports a team.

What’s the occasion of a football match when it’s on TV out there like?

We cluster together. It’s an occasion. If you’re at home and watching it in your house then it’s fairly typical. But I’d say most of the demographic of Nigeria don’t have access to that kind of comfort so everyone clusters in bars, in roadside pubs and all kinds of different places to go watch games. That for me is more interesting.

The man on the street needs an escape from his life, and football gives him that. That is how I see it. There’s so much passion when a goal is scored, sadness when that penalty is conceded. So yeah, out there, you’re either watching it on the streets, surrounded by people or you’re watching it at home. Either way, it’s all you’d be talking about the next day at school.

Icons like Jay Jay Okocha, Kanu – what do they mean to you and who else really struck a chord for you?

The team of 96, the olympic team, that brought a lot of joy to Nigerians. That’s where the likes of Kanu and Okocha were young guys, stepping into the game.

I think one of the icons that probably doesn’t get spoken about enough is Rashidi Yekini. He had this iconic pose and celebration. He scored Nigeria’s first ever goal at a World Cup and it was against Bulgaria. He grabbed the net, he’s shaking the net – it’s iconic. I have this line in one of my songs, “today I’m shaking the net, they call me Rahidi Yekini, I’m breaking the net” – there’s a double meaning in there with the net being the internet. That celebration means so much.

Other players like Daniel Amokachi stand out too. That ‘96 Olympics though, beating all these teams like Brazil and Argentina, I think that was a moment where football took on a new level in Nigeria, especially for my generation. It gave us the confidence in knowing Nigeria has talent.

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Nigeria is a religious country and football is probably the third religion out there; after Islam and Christianity, there’s football."

Where did the love for Liverpool come from? What is it about the club that makes them your club?

Every time I try and describe why Liverpool are my team, I always try to think of some deep reason. However, in reality, I think it came from when my dad or grandad came over here to the UK and when they came back they brought football jerseys back for us. They brought Manchester United for my brother and Liverpool for me. That’s where it started. I was a young kid but that moment made me start watching and paying attention to what Liverpool were doing. From there, that love grew and to now, we can’t be separated. It shows the power of a football jersey. It was one with Carlsberg on it.

I also feel now that Liverpool and I embody the same traits. They are a hard working team that people have grafted to get where they are. They reach out to people too. I believe that when we won the title, so many fans of other clubs wanted us to win that because we deserved it. There was just this emotion that everyone realised – Liverpool have had success but it’s been so long since they lifted a league title. They are good and they are killing it right now – everyone realises that.

I feel like that is like my career; I’ve been in that position. Bubbling under the surface with people telling you all these great things but it is not happening. Finally last year I had a hit song, this year I’ve had another and it’s like people are happy for that win because they’ve been wanting it for years. That’s why Liverpool and I embody that same hard working, persevering feeling.

It’s nice that you can see your traits in the club…

Fully man. Steven Gerrard: that man fully is the embodiment of perseverance and hard work. What a guy. I see a lot of similarities. I have a belief that runs through my music, I don’t make taglines or punch lines, I make lifelines. Lifelines resonate with you. Punchlines are nice and flashy but lifelines stick with you. Liverpool’s tag of You’ll Never Walk Alone for me is a lifeline. It’s great to say that to somebody – “You’ll never walk alone” – to tell someone you have their back like that is huge.

Your style works well with a football shirt. Where did that creative edge come from?

My dad is an architect and from young, he’d always encourage me and my brother to express ourselves. So we’d always be making comics and drawing a lot as kids. We used to ace all our art projects. When I was in primary school, we made a comic book which my dad helped with and I remember that so well as it was him fostering our creativity. I feel like creativity is something you can’t bottle so it flows out. If you’re a creative person then that flows from drawing into what you wear – it’s all linked, it’s all expression.

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I feel like football jerseys are the new NBA jerseys. There was a time when you had to have a jersey from the NBA. Now, even Drake is rocking football jerseys."

Have you seen how football shirts have become far more wearable in a lifestyle sense now?

I feel like football jerseys are the new NBA jerseys. There was a time when you had to have a jersey from the NBA. Now, even Drake is rocking football jerseys. LeBron being part of the wider Liverpool team is cool and it works so well. Aside from the passion from the game, fashion is becoming so evident in football. Look at Juventus and what they’ve done – always such fire.

Was there much rivalry as a kid? Your brother and his Manchester United shirt…

I’d say many Nigerians were typically Arsenal fans first. If we had to do a poll, I’d say it probably went, Arsenal, Man Utd, Chelsea. Maybe Chelsea has become a little closer. Kanu started it all. Him at Arsenal made it huge. Everyone has a passion and a love for Thierry Henry though.

In my house, my grandfather – my mum’s dad – he was a general in the army and he is a staunch Man Utd fan. That made its way through the family. There are lots of Man Utd fans, a lot of Arsenal fans but I’m the sole Liverpool fan in the entire family. We don’t have a rivalry – there's respect there – we enjoy each other's success rather than fighting about it.

Me and my partner though, she’s an Arsenal fan, we don’t watch the games together [laughs]. It’s a rule in the house. There was a season when we beat Arsenal at the start of the season – we were there watching it and I couldn’t celebrate! That hurt but it wasn’t great for her either because she knew I wanted to celebrate. It stings. So we decided for the sake of the relationship, we’d keep our teams separate.

At what point did music come into your life and when did it overtake football to become a main passion?

I think for me passions can co-exist, and they have to. The thing about music is that it is like a relationship. A lot of emotional relationships suffer for artists because they truly treat their music like a relationship. Football has always been the thing – I have the whole week to write my lyrics but Saturday and Sunday are for the games. I wouldn’t say I know all the stats and all that detail in the Premier League.

I choose to dip in as much as I do because I don’t want the anxiety when we’re going through a bad patch on the pitch. It still hurts when I think about Gerrard’s slip. It actually hurts more thinking about him. I feel like someone can always bring that up to him in conversation and I wonder how that must make him feel. He doesn’t deserve that

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Turning music into a career, did it ever feel like an achievable dream?

I’m definitely living a dream right now. I wouldn’t call it taboo but as a Nigerian boy, there are expectations. Making music is not what you did. There are careers deemed respectable, like doctors, lawyers and engineers – things that people can see and understand their value. This was not something that fits into that category.

To this day, my mum has come to understand what I do and I still think she’s hoping I segway into other things in the future. I went against the odds of my family and culture to make music. It gives me great satisfaction and validation to see how it is now bearing fruit, however, there were many years when it didn’t seem like it would. I think that is what it must feel like when you go many years without winning a trophy. You have to rely on your self belief.

You must be proud to have got to the level you have – how do your family feel now?

Yo man, it’s crazy. When a song comes on and it positively affects your family it’s different. It feels so good. When your sister or your dad say “this is amazing”, it’s such a nice feeling.

‘Leader of The Revival’. A beautiful title to carry. Can you tell us about that…

You’ve done your research. It’s a phrase I coined to mainly give me motivation. I feel like as a rap artist coming from the country that I do, that rap music is loved but there’s this old narrative that it can't be successful. It’s thought that if you are doing it, it’s a hobby because it’s not the popular sound.

I went through an identity crisis at one point thinking about what I should do that reflects me. When I found my thinking on lifelines, no punchlines, I needed another mantra to validate the decision and remind me that I’m leading something. I’m creating something new in this space. I want to bring back this sound of happiness. So I did it for myself but it’s started to grow and now other people feel like they’re part of the revival too, which is a beautiful thing. It was a call to arms for myself which has now become a movement. Leader of The Revival.

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So much positivity about you and what you stand for. Where do you want to take your music next? What would you like to explore creatively?

I have a line that goes “You’re trying to raise the bpm, I’m trying to raise the gdp”. My whole point about my music, as a rap artist and an entrepreneur is that my music can help positively affect my country. It can improve us as a country and take us away from the reliance as a country on one source of income, which is oil. This is another way for people to change their lives. I believe that.

Also, Afrobeats is a common sound in Nigeria but I believe that I can usher in another lyrical, rap based movement as well, in time. I believe all those things about the music and I believe I can be a change agent.

Crossing football with your lyrics, how have you enjoyed that?

Lyrically, definitely. I have a track called revival and in there I say “I’m just attacking my goals like a false nine”. I like that line because I am attacking my goals in that way but also, literally, the false nine has been a very effective role for my team. Firmino has been that guy.

I feel like there’s more space for my music to cut into football. I’ve never been to Anfield – I need to go there. I’d love to be invited there one day. I was told once, I don’t understand how people can support a team of a place they’ve never been to. I think that guy is crazy. I’ve loved this team since I was first introduced to them. This passion is no different to someone who believes and dreams in anything else. Obviously there’s a different connection and a different kind of love from those people who have grown up and lived there but you cannot take away the passion just because one hasn’t been there. If that was the case, people wouldn’t believe in anything. We all believe in things that are not tangible. I see there being a lot more ways for me to connect my love for football into my music. It starts with going to Anfield though.

How would you feel going there – would you be overcome with emotion?

I think so. I want to go there and watch a game but I want to meet the players. I need to explain to them, I know you know, because we are in a social media generation, but what you’re doing is inspirational. Even on those days when you feel like you’re not on it, we feel your energy. You need to also know that you’re not walking alone. That’s all I want to say.

What about the future for you, the months to year ahead, what are we saying for Ladipoe, what are the aims?

It’s been a great year musically for me. It’s had a big impact in Nigeria but I’d like for it to have more presence in the UK. I can feel a positive trajectory around me. I don’t feel caught up in the hype because I know there’s a lot of work to do. That’s a Liverpool fan right there: you win the League but you know there’s still more to achieve. I’m not caught up in the hype. More music, an EP, bigger all the time.

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