Two hours, twenty minutes, seven seconds.
Laid out in bald numbers, Wayo and Eirwolf’s 2016 seems paltry. After relentlessly releasing one song every Thursday for 52 straight weeks, their total finished work amounts to a mere tremble on the hour hand of the atomic clock, a solid year of work distilled into an end product shorter than the runtime of a Marvel movie.
But Wayo Season -- the four-album, 52-track weekly project that rapper Wayo and producer Eirwolf wrapped up in January -- was never just about the outcome.
“As far as writing and recording is concerned, my craft got improved from the whole process,” says Wayo. “I’m more in tune with what’s going on right now. I have a better understanding of music -- not just hip-hop or reggae, but also other genres in different parts of the world. I’m on a different level right now as an artist.”
The concept of Wayo Season resides in the process. If you follow Wayo through each of the four 13-song collections, you’ll hear the Nigerian-born rapper’s progress laid out in linear time. Wayo Season 1 begins as a punchline-driven Lil Wayne emulation (Wayo’s “Bang” is a near rehash of Dedication 2 track “Cannon”), but by Wayo Season 2, a darker tone takes over, with more Southern rap and trap influences seeping in. On Wayo Season 3, Afropop, batida, and funk carioca elements bubble up in Eirwolf’s beats, begetting bangers like “Dilemma” and “Loco.” By Season 4, the pair cut ties with anything canonical to focus on hyper-contemporary genres like UK grime (“G’s”), reggae fusion (“XO”), and mumblerap (“Hey Mona Lisa”).
“I knew from Season 1 that my style would change because I knew what was going on in music,” Wayo says, though he admits he wasn’t exactly sure where his sound would go over the 52 weeks. “In 20 years, all the stuff people are doing right now is gonna feel like the ‘80s. I already know that’s gonna happen, and I’m just trying to be ahead of that curve.”
Wayo Season didn’t begin as some grand exploration of the iterative artistic process. Wayo drew inspiration for the yearlong project from how seasons of live TV are structured, with one show produced every week for an anticipating audience. He and Eirwolf initially conceived of Wayo Season as a seven-week cycle with clear handoffs between producer, artist, engineer, and press agent -- basically a musical assembly line.
“I was like, ‘We should automate the process of producing,’” Wayo says. “To get anything done, it’s a summation of decisions -- where to put the drums, what kind of sound to use, it’s a decision. The quicker you get those decisions made, the quicker the project will be done.”
This mode of musical creation is antithetical to the freewheeling model most artists subscribe to, but both Wayo and Eirwolf saw it as an opportunity. Friends since enrolling in St. Cloud State together, they always vibed over their mutual love of music -- Lil’ Wayne and Wiz Khalifa at the time -- but they’d never worked together on a track. Wayo Season was their way to make up for lost time.
“He never let me see what he was working on, he never showed me his music,” remembers Eirwolf, who moved to Seattle for a year after graduating in 2012. “I was making beats every day, just trying to learn my craft, and right when I came back, we went to this hookah lounge, and he told me he had this idea to make some tracks. Then he dropped this game plan to release them every week. I still have the paper.”
By imposing the regular weekly deadline, Wayo and Eirwolf pushed themselves to produce regardless of the outcome. With each Thursday crossed off on the calendar, they became better working artists together. A lot of rough tracks made it to the final records -- weeks when the obligation to create outweighed the inspiration -- but those are still important documents of their growth.
“There might be some weeks where that shows, honestly,” Eirwolf says. “There might be some times in Season 2 where the beats were not good or just OK, but I had fun doing it.”
Wayo and Eirwolf aren’t dwelling on those weeks. Instead, they’re looking at ways to accentuate their successes. They’re currently working on repackaging some of the moodier content into an offshoot EP titled Autumn Nights and filming a series of interlinking videos to go along with it. The pair’s dancehall tracks will also be given a new life alongside some new material as a full-length, but the lessons of Wayo Season extend beyond the pair’s work on wax.
While Eirwolf takes time to perfect his role as a producer/manager, Wayo is setting the Wayo Season mechanism to his live show. Once a week for three months, he’ll take to the stage in hopes of refining his performance the same way he did his work in the booth. Though the details of those shows are nebulous -- he says they’ll most likely be at the Red Sea on Tuesday nights -- Wayo’s still riding the momentum of 2016.
“It was an accomplishment, but we saw it coming,” Wayo says. “I still got the instinct to make music, so now it’s like, ‘What’s next?’”