Benjamin Askinas

When a 20-year-old wants to give you advice on love, you'd be wise to have your doubts. But give Mayo a listen and take a second to digest his story and you’ll find that his words more than carry their weight in experience. Born Mayowa Oluwasegun Arogundade, the up-and-comer opened up to Fuse about the woman who inspired his newest single, "My Girl (The Letter)," premiering below, and how being raised in a single-parent household affected his outlook on relationships.

"My Girl (The Letter)" is the first in a series of songs Mayo is releasing this summer, which will chronicle the struggles of leaving his family and relationship behind while trying to achieve the dreams that he previously encouraged others to strive for in Dream Big. The college dropout is taking risks, but he isn’t playing dumb: His recent move to Los Angeles has already taught him to prioritize his time away from distractions and to cherish the family he left behind in Chicago. 

When it comes to love, Mayo has learned the hard way that the little things are the glue that keep the relationship intact. And when it comes to music, Mayo's bringing in the type of producers that can bring out eccentric enough melodies and dense enough layers to complete his progressive sound.

We got to know Mayo a little better in an email back-and-forth about his new music, Asian cuisine and the trials of long-distance lovin'.

Who are you? Introduce yourself and tell me something I won’t read in your bio.

Your girlfriend is going to be my biggest fan this summer, and I’m pretty sure your mom will be too. You should also know that I’m African, but I’m sure you could’ve guessed by looking at my long ass name. Although I was raised in Chicago, I was born in Nigeria. I relocated from Nigeria when I was three. By the way, I’m an Asian food fanatic.

You are so young, yet you are releasing a series of songs dedicated to a long-distance relationship. How does your youth play a part in engaging in something serious with someone?

Most people I’ve encountered have told me that they admire my maturity. Whether you’re a stranger or a close friend, people generally tell me that my demeanor doesn’t reflect my age. Growing up I lived in a single-parent household, where I was the “man-of-the-house” at a very young age. Maturity, even in my younger days, came to me very naturally. And being the oldest of four boys, I had to assume the role of a “father figure” automatically, making me a more serious person in all aspects of my lifestyle.

This seriousness and maturity is definitely noticeable in the way I handle my relationships. Physical appearance and surface level beauty may be important to a lot of people my age, but not for me. The qualities I value most—within myself and the women I’m attracted to—are having goals, ambition, and passion. Personally, I want to be with someone who’s as motivated as me, wants to do something with their life, and looks good by my side.

I was expecting a bass or hip hop, rhythm heavy intro in “My Girl" and was surprised by the a cappella groove start. What inspired this?

A balance of pain and joy—I talk about the highs and lows of everything that comes with being in a long-distance relationship. The intro’s a cappella chopped-n-screwed, doo-wop groove has a real sense of melancholy, which reflects the dynamic of my long-distance relationship. 

“My Girl” is super catchy with its layers of melodic piano chords beneath the chorus and easy hip hop beats throughout. How would you describe this song and what inspired the thickness of it? 

First off, I can’t take credit for the production of “My Girl.” All production credit must go to Gravez for that flawless beat. The instant I heard the instrumental, the hook’s melody came to me like an epiphany, and it just felt right. Soon after I wrote the lyrics for the chorus and verses, and it all came together. 

“My Girl” sonically is a fusion of R&B, doo-wop, soul, blues, and hip hop. Credit must also be given to my close collaborator Mike Wavvs, who is an up-and-coming songwriter/producer. His harmonies really carry the hook and made the song complete. And as far as the song’s thickness, I’d have to give all the credit to my girl’s physique for that.

Tell me what we can expect to hear on the rest of the songs musically and emotionally.

Honesty. I’m going to give you all me, with complete authenticity and transparency. You’ll get to hear about my flaws, my inhibitions, my story. You’ll get everything—the good and the bad. I know there are many people out there going through similar struggles (if not worse), and I want to be able to relate and bring joy to their pain. I feel it’d be an injustice not to tell my story truthfully, whether it’s about love, family or struggle. It’s time for people to hear Mayo.

Long-distance relationships suck. It’s constant anticipation. What was the hardest part of it for you?

The hardest part is being unable to experience those everyday activities that “normal” couples have. I wish I could do even the simplest with things with my girl, like going to her favorite food joint Chipotle—even though I prefer Chinese food myself—or bowling. Those everyday moments may taken from granted by some but for me they’re privileges. While we can express our feelings and longing all we want, nothing can replace the physical connection when we’re together. To make up for it, we’ve had to maintain an exceptional amount of communication, and I’ve learned that communication is everything.

Artists usually find it easy to write songs about love and heartbreak, but it usually comes at a price. What was it specifically about this relationship that inspired you to share the narrative?

My main sources of inspiration for “My Girl” were the realizations I’ve had from being in a long-distance relationship. From learning how to cherish those everyday moments in-person, to enjoying one another’s company, I want my audience to learn that even the most ordinary experiences with their partners are privileges, and should be appreciated. 

What’s next for you? You’ve opened for some hot names already. Will we see you on stage soon?

I have a bunch of different surprises that I can’t reveal just yet, but as far as concerts go I’ll be performing in Cincinnati with Ja Rule on June 6th.

Benjamin Askinas

What is the biggest difference for you between making these new songs and what you’ve done before, like on Dream Big?

Haha, someone did their homework! The biggest difference between my old and new material was my state of mind during the creative process. While working on Dream Big, my mindset was focused on motivating people to literally dream big. But in hindsight, I admittedly was a little naïve, because I was telling people to dream big without really knowing what it takes to achieve that dream. Since then a lot has gone by, including me dropping out of college and moving to Los Angeles. Now I’m trying to fulfill that dream in L.A., but I’m realizing that it’s nothing but a struggle. My new music wants to address all of the struggles from my point-of-view, with the first one being my long-distance relationship. 

What’s the struggle?

Not seeing my family. It sucks not being able to see my youngest brother grow up.

Tell me about L.A. now that you’re giving it a go out here. Do you like it so far?

L.A. is cool, but a lot of smoke and mirrors. There’s a lot of distractions out here, and plenty of ways to get yourself into trouble, but I honestly don’t really go out and party much. I prioritize my work. Turning up is secondary. I want to make the most of everything while I’m out here. 

What're your favorite places to eat out here so far? Give us some pointers.

Honestly anything Asian, but my favorite spot is Chin Chin on Sunset Boulevard.

Find details on Mayo's upcoming shows at @itsmayo_ and stay tuned for Mayo Love Clinic: Advice for an Amorous Summer of Love, a series of advice columns appearing exclusively on Fuse.